Click play for audio version of this story
The Morris County GOP fired back at Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo following his call for the resignations of the county’s Republican leadership.
On Wednesday, Mastrangelo attacked Morris Republicans, claiming they backed divisive primary challenges against incumbents, failed to financially support the county’s Republican candidates and lost competitive races since Ron DeFilippis took control of the party last year.
In a letter to Mastrangelo, Morris GOP counsel Peter King laid the blame for many of those shortfalls at Mastrangelo’s feet, pointing to the fundraisers the freeholder in 2013 that then-Republican Chairman John Sette said hurt the party’s ability to raise funds.
“You have continually and unabashedly run multiple fundraisers solely for your own benefit which, since 2013, has been hurting the Republican party. As a result, you have continued to degrade the ability of the MCRC to raise money for county and local races,” King said. “In fact, since June of 2018, you have waged a war on MCRC’s ability to raise money by telling vendors not to contribute to MCRC.”
The MCRC has yet to file its October quarterly report with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, so it’s not possible to verify the organization’s fundraising figures.
King further accused Mastrangelo and his allies of scolding Republicans for attending events hosted by the county party and of attempting to cancel a Morris GOP event backing the 2019 Republican ticket.
The county party also took issue with Mastrangelo’s position on primary challenges.
In June, Mastrangelo and the other two incumbent freeholders whose seats were up faced primary challenges from a slate headed by Donald Dinsmore, an ally of DeFilippis.
Mastrangelo claimed the MCRC’s leadership pushed those challengers.
Republican primaries in Morris are open, and DeFilippis did not endorse any of the candidates in the race.
To King, the attack over primary challenges was particularly egregious because Mastrangelo won his first term by ousting a Republican incumbent.
“It seems that although in 2010 it was alright for you to challenge incumbents, you believe, as an incumbent, you should not be challenged,” King said. “In fact, John Cesaro, Dave Scapicchio, and John Krickus, as well as Hank Lyons, all challenged incumbent Freeholders in 2011 and 2012, however you were silent at that time.”
Morris Republicans will meet twice to fill vacancies in the Assembly over the coming weeks, once for the seat State Sen. Anthony Bucco gave up when he took his father’s seat last month and a second time for the seat he won last week and will decline next year.
DeFilippis could be vulnerable to a challenge. He won his post last year by just four votes, and he’s since presided over the loss of two once solidly-Republican House seats and a handful of seats at the local level.
The party’s fundraising has also floundered under DeFilippis’s reign, and while that’s not much of a change from before his tenure, the MCRC lost close to $6,000 at a fundraiser headlined by Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld last year.
Inexplicably, King touted the Gutfeld event, hosted at the Trump National, in his letter slamming Mastrangelo, though DeFilippis didn’t start the trend of high-cost fundraisers in Morris.
King also attacked the freeholder over his claims that Republican leadership was creating a toxic environment for county Republicans.
“You have a history replete with complaints, police reports, and charges evidencing anger issues, as well as a pattern of bullying and intimidating women and anyone who disagrees with you,” he said. “This is evidence of a person who does not have the capacity to refrain from ‘negatively charged political environment, nastiness, and harassment’ that voters are tired of.”
The disunity in Morris comes after Republicans there defended every Democratic countywide challenge in the last two years.
Republican losses would have been upsets, but the defenses come as Republicans in other counties once considered GOP strongholds lose their grip on county government.
In Somerset, where two years ago Republicans held every countywide post, Democrats now control the government, the sheriff’s office and the clerkship.
Morris hasn’t seen a similar Democratic tide.
Still, there’s disunity in Morris, and while it might last long enough or rage hard enough to hurt Republicans at the polls a year from now, it certainly won’t help, and it shows no sign of flaring out.
“We most respectfully deny your request for resignations of the MCRC and would ask that you clean up your act and truly follow Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment of ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,’” King said.Mastrangelo Let1_11.14.19 V.3