The General Assembly has 80 members and you need a scorecard to keep up with the quick changes and seemingly rapid turnover in the lower house. I received a phone call the other day from a District 40 resident and was asked if my senate office could help with an issue they were having. To this moment, some think that I am still a legislator and I’ll receive an occasional telephone call or email from residents asking for help.
After a few decades in the field, I sometimes can reflexively help and point them in the right direction or, more often, I forward the inquiry to Senator Kristin Corrado and she and her competent staff figure out the issue.
In this instance, I let the caller know that I was no longer a state legislator but will forward the cumbersome issue to the District 40 delegation — without missing a beat the caller asked “if the former freeholder from Wayne, Michael something or other was the assemblyperson?” I responded not to my knowledge. I rattled off the names of the current State Senator and her running mates, Assembly members Kevin Rooney and Christopher DePhillips.
I added that the only Michael’s that I know who served as Republican Passaic County Freeholders were Adamo, Mecca and Marotta. The caller added that Assemblyman Marotta sounded familiar.
I responded that under no circumstances was Marotta an Assemblyman.
Let’s go to the you can’t make this up category:
Twelve years ago, Michael Marotta was a low to mid-level player in the Passaic County GOP pool who was selected to fill a spot on a seemingly hopeless freeholder ticket in 2009. The county ticket had little money and little chance to win, except for the unknown truth that Chris Christie would perform well in Passaic and kept the loss margin to about 9K in the November election. Coupled with the incumbent District 40 assembly members (Dave Russo and Scott Rumana) winning their seats by a nearly 2-1 margin in the Passaic portion of the district, they built a 10,000-vote cushion. Layer in that then-County Clerk candidate Kristin Corrado headed up the county slate, producing a 3,000-vote victory in her upset race. Those factors paved the way for the 3 GOP freeholder candidates to win in an upset race for the ages. After the election results were announced no one was as surprised as then soon-to-be-freeholders Deborah Ciambrone, Ed O’Connell and Michael Marotta.
Fast forward a few years, in 2016, all three of the District 40 legislators were in a dynamic that would foreshadow the retirement of the entire delegation from elective office. When Assemblyman Rumana was appointed Superior Court Judge, a special county committee election was called for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Now-former Freeholder Michael Marotta and current-GOP chair of the Wayne Republican County Committee, thought he had a lock on the election — by all rights he had a lock on the selection.
He had huge name identification in the Passaic portion of the district, had a phenomenal gig at the Passaic Valley Water Commission that afforded him the ability to campaign without restraint and he had the backing of three of the politico honchos (who on paper mattered most), then-Passaic County GOP Chair John Traier, then-Bergen Chair Paul D. and then-Morris GOP Chair John Sette – 3 out of 4 county chairs that made up 95% of the district!
Being the municipal chairman of Wayne, where the convention was held by the way, Marotta was the sure-fire favorite walking in the door. Wayne is the largest town in the district and comprised nearly a THIRD of all the county committee votes in the district. His hold on the Wayne county committee was significant along with the support of the Bergen and Morris chairs, that should have been more than enough to sail to victory.
Here comes the BUT, but he didn’t have the support of the Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas and soon-to-be Chair of Passaic County, Peter Murphy — huge mistake!!
Al ran the campaign for the county committee election for Kevin Rooney – which is an election unlike any other. Al and Peter cajoled and counted every possible vote. Early morning calls were had to discuss the day’s schedule, as well as late night calls to recap the day’s events. Doors were knocked on. Mailings sent out. Meetings took place. Lots of “let’s get some coffee and talk about this” conversations occurred. Spreadsheets were constantly updated. Commitments were confirmed and reconfirmed. Kevin Rooney won by 8 votes – Al had modeled the vote count the day before the election and the final vote was 2 votes shy his calculation (two county committee members couldn’t make it because one broke their arm and the spouse had to stay home and tend to the ailing patient).
There was a moment in the “counting room,” as Al tells it, where Tim Howes (state committee lawyer) was reading the slips aloud while two folks from state committee counted, that everyone in the room thought it was going to be Assemblyman Michael Marotta. His name was rattled off 20 some odd times in a row. Then Al realized that Wayne county committee members were lined up together to vote.
But what Team Marotta didn’t realize was that Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano was on our side. He was good for 15 of the 70 some odd votes Marotta had brought that night – an ace in the hole only a few people knew about.
A county committee election is no different than any other election but for one thing – the pool of voters is small! If you don’t know how they will vote walking in – you’ve already lost. And you better be prepared to keep them there as long as it takes. In this case we had a second ballot and no one left (save the loser of the first round and their team).
Anyhow, to finish the riddle — there is no Assemblyman Michael Marotta. As sometimes in politics, much like in life, David does beat Goliath.
This column originally appeared on InsiderNJ.