A former Morristown mayor is headed to court next month in a bid to run as an independent in a rematch with the incumbent who unseated him 12 years ago.
Donald Cresitello, a local officeholder and perennial candidate in Morristown politics since Richard Nixon’s first year in the White House, was denied a place on the general election ballot after Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi found that he didn’t meet the residency requirements for a rematch with Mayor Timothy Dougherty.
He was mayor twice – from 1977 to 1981, and again from 2005 to 2009 – won and lost multiple races for town council – ran for the State Assembly and Morris County Freeholder and sough a U.S. Senate seat in 1982 and 2008. He’s sought public office as a Democrat, Republican and independent.
Cresitello moved to Manasquan several years ago – he ran for office there in 2015 – and his driver’s license still lists the Jersey shore municipality as his residence, Grossi said in invalidating his petitions. She said that Cresitello changed his voter registration to Morristown on November 1, 2020, voted in Manasquan two days later.
His attorney, Alan Zakin, says that Cresitello “spent over 65 of his 75 years in Morristown.”
“He is an iconic Morristown figure who has maintained inexorably binding ties to the municipality,” Zakin said in a court filing.
Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz has scheduled a hearing for July 19 to determine if Cresitello may continue a political career he launched in 1969, at age 22, when he won a seat on the Morristown Board of Alderman. After a change in the form of government, he was elected to the Town Council in 1971 representing the Fourth Ward.
If Cresitello prevails in court, this will be his 24th bid for public office.
He’s won twice for mayor and seven times for town council.
But Cresitello has also lost four mayoral races, three council bids, and ran against Frank Lautenberg in his first and last U.S. Senate primaries.
At the Morristown Council’s January 1975 reorganization meeting. Cresitello ran for council president. He lost 4-3 to fellow Democrat David Edwards in a race decided by the council’s lone Republican.
He survived a Democratic primary challenge from Elaine Berman by just 73 votes in 1975 after Berman accused Cresitello of using his corporate bulk rate mailing permit.
Cresitello challenged Mayor David V. Manahan in the 1977 Democratic primary. In an extraordinarily close election, Cresitello defeated Manahan by 11 votes. In narrowly won the general election, beating former Republican Mayor Emilio Gervasio by about 70 votes.
He sought re-election in 1981, taking Eileen Cornell in the Democratic primary by about 165 votes. But, in a general election rematch with Gervasio, lost by just 39 votes.
When New Jersey’s U.S. Senate seat opened up in 1982 – four-term incumbent Harrison Williams had resigned after his conviction in the Abscam scandal – Cresitello decided to run statewide.
The early front runner for the Democratic nomination was Rep. Jim Florio (D-Runnemede), who had come within 1,797 votes of winning the governorship against Tom Kean the previous year. But when Florio decided to pass, ten Democrats got in the race that was eventually won by businessman and self-funder Frank Lautenberg.
Cresitello dropped out of the U.S. Senate race when Kean nominated Assemblyman James Barry (R-Harding) to serve as state Consumer Affairs director. Cresitello became a candidate for the Democratic nomination to fill Barry’s Assembly seat.
At a special convention held by Morris County Democrats Rockaway Borough Mayor Bob Johnson defeated Cresitello by 13 votes, 73-60, for the chance to take on the Republican nominee, Rockaway Township Mayor William Bishop. (Bishop won the general but lost the 1983 primary to Morris County Freeholder Rodney Frelinghuysen.)
Cresitello’ s name had remained on the ballot for U.S. Senate and finished last in the primary with 1% of the vote.
In 1983, Cresitello became the Democratic nominee for Morristown Council, this time in the 3rd Ward. He defeated Republican Michael Spagnola, who had ousted Councilman Ted Denman in the primary, by about 200 votes.
He ran for mayor again in 1985 but lost the Democratic primary in a rematch with Manahan.
Later that year, after Mary Frueholz withdrew from the race, Cresitello became the Democratic nominee for State Assembly in the 25th district against Republican incumbents Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) and Arthur Albohn (R-Harding). He lost by 19,043 votes.
In 1987, Cresitello kept his council seat after defeating Republican Michael Andrisano by about 35 votes.
After Manahan declined to run for re-election in 1989, Cresitello became an independent and ran against Democrat Norman Bloch and Republican Mary Rolio. Block won by about 70 votes, with Cresitello finishing more than 800 votes behind.
Seeking re-election to his council seat in 1991, Cresitello switched back to the Democratic primary. Andrisano also became a Democrat and beat Cresitello in the primary by about 10 votes.
Two years later, Cresitello sought an a-large Town Council seat, but lost the Democratic primary. He finished seventh in a field of ten candidates for three seats and lost by over 300 votes.
In 1995, Cresitello ousted Andrisano in the 3rd Ward Democratic council primary by a solid 90 votes.
His general election opponent, George Burke, died of a heart attack on September 22. Burke’s name remained on the ballot and Cresitello received 72% of the vote.
Cresitello switched parties in 1997 and became a candidate for the Republican nomination for mayor. A former councilman, Jay Delaney, defeated him in the GOP primary by a 56%-44% margin.
In 1999, Cresitello sought re-election to his council seat as a Republican. He defeated Edward Ramirez by a 2-1 margin in primary and took Democrat Ann Hamilton in the general by a 54%-46% margin.
Cresitello won a three-way Democratic primary for mayor in 2001 by a 38%-32% margin against Council President Timothy Jackson, with Councilman Christopher O’Brien – who had the backing of Morris County Democratic Chairman Paul Bangiola — winning 30%.
In a general election contest with Delaney, Cresitello lost by over 800 votes, 58%-39%.
He still had enough support to become council president in 2002, and after returning to the Democratic Party, he was re-elected councilman by a 57%-43% margin against Spagnola in 2003.
Delaney declined to seek re-election 2005, Cresitello mounted another bid for mayor.
He won the Democratic primary by a 54%-42% against Block, the former mayor.
In the general election, Cresitello defeated independent Scott Whitenack by a 49%-39% margin, with Republican Tom Schmitt receiving just 12% of the vote.
That put Cresitello back in the mayor’s office for the first time in 24 years.
Cresitello sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008 as an anti-immigrant candidate.
The incumbent, Lautenberg, won the primary by a 59%-35% margin over Rep. Rob Andrews (D-Haddon Heights). Cresitello finished third with 5.7% of the vote; in Morris County, he won 11%.
When Cresitello sought re-election in 2009, he faced Dougherty, the Planning Board Chairman, in the Democratic primary. Dougherty beat him by a 62%-38% margin.
He won a Democratic primary for Morris County Freeholder in 2013 but finished 36,370 votes behind Republican Tom Mastrangelo in the general election.
In 2010, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission fined Cresitello $11,375 for campaign finance violations after finding that he filed late reports with incorrect personal information about donors.
In 2015, Cresitello ran for local office again – this time for the Manasquan Borough Council. He won the Democratic primary as a write-in candidate, but finished fourth in a race for two seats, far behind the Republican candidates.