Montgomery Township Voters Trigger a Local Blue Tidal Wave
Barbara A. Preston, Editor | NOVEMBER 11, 2020
Americans voted in record numbers this year, electing Democrat Joe Biden with more than 75 million votes — the highest number for a presidential candidate in history. Trump received more than 70 million — the highest total for a losing candidate, according to the Associated Press. For many, the margin was too close for comfort.
In Montgomery Township, however, a “blue wave” did materialize, with 60 to 81 percent of township voters casting ballots for Democrats, depending on the race. Local voters elected Democratic candidates from the top of the ticket right down the line to the municipal elected officials.
On the municipal level, Democrat Shelly L. Bell garnered 81 percent of the Montgomery vote as of November 11. An unknown number of provisional ballots were still being counted in Somerset County. Bell had 7,797 votes to Independent Challenger Hossein Zolfaghari’s 1,786. There were also 80 write-in votes, presumably for Conservative Tea-Party candidate Jeff Grant. The Montgomery Township Committee of five elected officials will be all Democratic again in 2021.
Votes for President
Given that Republicans did not field a candidate for the township committee, it should come as no surprise that Montgomery Township cast the vast majority of votes for President Elect Biden. Biden earned 69 percent of Montgomery Township votes, while about 30 percent voted for Trump. These preliminary results are still incomplete. Votes will continue to be counted, and are expected to be certified on November 23.
Even four years ago, when the Montgomery Township Committee consisted of five Republicans, voters still elected a Democratic president. Montgomery voted for Hillary Clinton (6,849 votes) over Trump (3,806 votes).
“Donald Trump has always lost in Montgomery Township,” Mayor Sadaf Jaffer (D) said in a telephone interview. “Montgomery residents listen to scientists and value facts. The Democratic Party has been the party of social justice and science.”
For US Senate, Montgomery Township voters chose Cory Booker (D) over Rikin Mehta (R), giving Booker 65 percent of the township vote (7,848 to 4,070) to Mehta’s 34 percent.
The freshman US Congressman Tom Malinowski (D) won 64 percent of Montgomery Township’s vote, to Republican Thomas H. Kean, Jr.’s 36 percent. That’s 7,720 votes for Malinowski and 4,284 votes for Kean. A small number of provisional ballots are yet to be counted.
Somerset County Freeholders
Montgomery also elected an all-Democratic Board of Chosen Freeholders. The five-member Somerset county board will be led by five Democrats in 2021, in part due to the blue wave in Montgomery. Democratic newcomers Douglas Singleterry and Paul Drake handily defeated incumbent Republicans Brian Levine and Brian Gallagher. (As of January 1, this governing body will undergo a name change. A new state law will change the name to “Board of County Commissioners” for all 21 counties in New Jersey.)
Somerset County Surrogate
Montgomery Democratic Organization (MDO) Chairman Paul Blodgett attributed the Democratic victories to “having really good candidates,” but also to having a phenomenal voter turnout.
“It looks like 85 percent of registered Democrats turned out to vote,” he said. “It’s important to note we had good instruction from Gov (Phil) Murphy (D) and Somerset County Clerk Steve Peter on how to vote.”
Blodgett, from Belle Mead, said the MDO worked hard to get the vote out. Montgomery Township has 19 districts. "We had two people in each district to make sure voters voted. We like to get out and talk to people. Our mission is to let people know how important these local offices are to Democrats. Our future leaders come from these levels."
"It helped that our Democratic mayor, Sadaf Jaffer, has truly engaged people on a local level," he added.
What's next for the Democratic Party in Montgomery Township?
“We still have one Republican in our district,” Blodgett says, noting that NJ State Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman was not up for election this year. Elections for the office of New Jersey State Senate will take place on November 2, 2021. The MDO will be there to help get out the vote again next year.
The Montgomery News attempted to reach out to Mark Caliguire, the highest ranking Republican in Montgomery Township, for comment on this article. Phone calls to his office and friends did not result in a call back.
Former Montgomery Township Mayor Mark Conforti (R), who is retired and now living in Florida, admitted that local elections are influenced by the politician at the top of the ticket. Though Conforti is a solid Republican, he said he is no fan of Donald Trump.
Republicans and even some democrats have lamented the loss of Republican Committeeman Ed Trzaska, who lost his seat in last year's blue wave.
"But this has not always been the case," Conforti said. "Montgomery has changed from blue to red to blue again on the local level while voting blue on the national level."
Montgomery Township last voted for a Republican president in 2004, when township voters cast 5,086 votes for George W. Bush and only 4,950 votes for John F. Kerry, according to the Somerset County Clerk's Office.
Victoria "Cookie" Franco-Herman, a member of the MDO who served as part of the "Steering Committee to Elect Tom Malinowski (D) to US Congress" in 2018, said "Montgomery had a blue wave, and it has been building."
To Franco-Herman, Montgomery voters overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates because the township demographics have changed. "If you look at the new census numbers, there are more people of color than before," she said. "Also, the township's values are more in alignment with Democrats, who share the value of compassion and empathy."
Where do we go from here?
Looking forward, Franco-Herman quoted author Mitch Albom in asking, "Where do we go from here? How do we settle our differences?"
Albom recently wrote in The Detroit Free Press, "Whichever path we choose next, nationally and locally, it needs to respect the danger of a single voice thinking it knows best, or a single dogma proclaiming it holds control. Mahatma Gandhi once wisely said, “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” (He was assassinated.)
"It won’t be by gloating, mocking, or shoving one another aside to grab the reins," Albom wrote. "It will start with humility, a recognition that we are all fallible, and more alike than different. We can only build from there."