The 2019 mayoral election is worth watching since Monroe (pop. 39,132) is perhaps the only large municipality in the state that is trending away from being a Democratic stronghold toward the GOP.
Democrats have controlled Monroe Township in Middlesex County since 1987 when Republican Peter Garibaldi lost two elections on the same day.
Garibaldi lost his bid for a fourth term as mayor when Richard Pucci beat him with 72% of the vote. He also lost his State Senate seat, ousted after four years when Tom Paterniti, an assemblyman and former Edison mayor, beat him by eighteen points.
Local Republicans have endorsed councilman Charles Dipierro to run for mayor against incumbent Gerald Tamburro.
Tamburro is just the fourth directly-elected mayor in Monroe Township history. He beat Republican Martin Herrmann in 2015 by 1,097 (56%) when Pucci stepped down after 28 years in office.
Dipierro started out as a Democrat. He ran against Tamburro in the 2015 primary and lost by a 2-1 margin. He switched parties and ousted incumbent Michael Leibowitz in 2017 by 338 votes (54%-46%).
Leibowitz was also a party-switcher. He had run for State Assembly as a Republican in 1985, when Gov. Tom Kean’s coattails were enough to flip four seats in Hudson County.
S. Elliot Mayo, who had been a Metuchen councilman before winning a seat on the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders on Richard Nixon’s 1972 coattails, came within 2,389 votes of ousting Assemblyman Frank Pelly (D-North Brunswick) and Paterniti defeated Leibowitz by 3,889 votes.
Leibowitz made a political comeback in 2009, at age 66, defeating Democrat Steve Dalina by just 34 votes. He was the first Republican on the Monroe council since he gave up his seat to run for the Assembly 25 years earlier.
In 2013, Leibowitz was re-elected by a 55%-45% margin against Democrat Robert Zeglarski, a former mayor of Roselle Park.
Running on Dipierro’s ticket will be a throwback to the Garibaldi era: former council president David Rothman was first elected to the Monroe Township Council in 1979, defeating Democratic incumbent Charles Case by a near 2-1 margin when he ran on Garibaldi’s ticket.
Rothman was re-elected in 1983, the same year Garibaldi won his third term despite being outspent 2-1 by Pucci, the former Perth Amboy business administrator under Mayor George Otlowski.
The next four years were marked by substantial infighting between Garibaldi and the Republican-controlled township council. Several lawsuits were filed, among them the challenging Garibaldi’s appointment of Mario Apuzzo as municipal attorney. Apuzzo had tried to sue the council for defamation.
Among the Republicans Rothman feuded with was Liebowitz, then the Monroe Republican municipal chairman.
Rothman lost the Republican primary when he sought a third term in 1987 and endorsed Pucci for mayor against Garibaldi.
Monroe once delivered massive pluralities to Democratic candidates, but the margins have shrunk in recent years:
* U.S. Senator Bob Menendez won by 545 votes in 2018 after winning by 3,349 in 2006.
* Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) carried the township last year by 2,368 votes; Rep. Rush Holt (D-Hopewell) won it in 2006 by 5,579.
* Gov. Phil Murphy’s margin in 2017 was 84 votes; Gov. Jon Corzine’s margin in 2005 was 2,917.
* State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) had a plurality of 1,263 in 2017; as an Assembly candidate in 2005, Greenstein won Monroe by 3,767 votes.
* Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in Monroe by 1,191 votes in 2016; John Kerry’s margin in 2004 against George W. Bush was 2,557.
Monroe swung Democratic as a result of a massive influx of senior citizens who began moving to the township in the late 1970s. Now the township is seeing an increase in Republicans-leaning voters, many emigrating from Staten Island.