SAYREVILLE, NJ—Local elections were a mixed bag in Middlesex County, with an array of blowouts, dozens of seats going uncontested, but also many close races and even some votes that are still too close to call.
Thirteen of the 25 towns in Middlesex County held Mayoral elections on November 5. In five communities, only one candidate ran for the government’s highest office without any opposition.
But there will definitely be some changes next year, with new Mayors now set to take office in Dunellen, Middlesex, Milltown, and Sayreville.
Who will be the new Mayor of Sayreville remains to be seen, with as many as 96 votes still left to be counted in the close race to succeed outgoing Mayor Kennedy O’Brien.
Republican Arthur Rittenhouse, Jr. currently holds a slim lead of 18 votes over opponent Victoria Kilpatrick, but both seemed optimistic at a recent hearing on mail-in ballots.
New Brunswick Today recorded the Board of Elections hearing on November 8, three days after the election, where Democrat Victoria Kilpatrick closed some of the gap between her total and that of Republican Arthur Rittenhouse, Jr.
Notably, Dan Frankel, a longtime member of the election board who also serves as Sayreville’s Business Administrator declined to recuse himself from votes on ballots in that race after a request from Rittenhouse.
At the conclusion of the hearing, it was announced that Kilpatrick pulled down 30 additional votes in the tight race, and Rittenhouse gained fifteen.
Going into the evening, she had trailed Rittenhouse by 33, but after the remaining “late” mail-in ballots were counted, the gap was just 18 votes.
According to a document provided to the public, Sayreville also saw 96 provisional paper ballots cast at polling stations. The Board of Elections will ultimately decide which of those to count on Tuesday, November 12.
The hearing is open to the public and scheduled to begin at 4pm at 11 Kennedy Boulevard in East Brunswick.
While some cities like New Brunswick saw no contests or nothing but blowouts in the November 5 races, many were hard fought and some came down to just a few votes.
Sayreville was said to be of great importance to some Democrats, with the Chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, Kevin McCabe, promising his candidate, Kilpatrick, would win the seat during his own campaign for re-election to lead the party in June.
The numbers in Monroe, where Democrat Gerald Tamburro prevailed over Democrat-turned-Republican Councilman Charles Dipierro, were also probably much tighter than Democrats were hoping for.
There, mail-in votes made the difference between a win and a loss.
Dipierro prevailed over the octogenarian incumbent at the polls by a score of 5,349-5,225. But Tamburro banked 2,220 mail-in votes, far more than the 1,420 Dipierro did and more than enough to clinch a victory for the Dems.
Democrats also held onto offices in Edison, Woodbridge, and North Brunswick, as expected, but they also prevailed in a somewhat close race in Milltown, where a new Democrat will now take over for one who is stepping down.
Trina Jensen Mehr, the next Mayor of Milltown, was one of four candidates who sat down for interviews with New Brunswick Today the weekend before the election.
Democrats were also victorious in Jamesburg, Metuchen, and Highland Park, where their incumbent Mayors ran unopposed by any Republicans or Independents.
Meanwhile, Republicans narrowly held onto Mayor and Council offices in South River, won by larger margins in Old Bridge, and managed to wrestle control of Middlesex Borough from the Democrats.
All told, incumbent Mayors prevailed in contested races Monroe, North Brunswick, Old Bridge, South River, and Woodbridge, while they faced no opposition in Helmetta, Highland Park, Jamesburg, and Metuchen.
Power shifted significantly in at least one town in the county.
In Middlesex Borough, Republican Councilman John Madden defeated Democrat Mayor Ronald DiMura to take his job. Two Council seats there also flipped to Republicans.
In neighboring Dunellen, voters didn’t have much choice when it came to the Mayor’s race, while there was a contested race for two Council seats.
With only his name on the ballot, Councilman Jason Cilento easily clinched the Dunellen Mayor spot, after running to replace fellow Republican Robert Seader.
Cilento’s running mates also prevailed over their Democrat opponents in Council races.
Sayreville’s contests were far from the only close races in the county, with many Board of Education races coming down to less than 100 votes, as well as Council contests in smaller towns like South River, Cranbury, and Jamesburg.
But it appears that provisional ballots might only make a difference in a few races, mostly Board of Education contests.
New Brunswick’s neighbor Highland Park re-elected Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, two Council members, and three Board of Education members, all without any opposition on the general election ballot.
In the spring, Brill Mittler was challenged in the Democratic Party’s primary election by Board of Education member Monique Coleman.
This time around, voters there only had choices for county government and State Assembly offices, which Democrats won overwhelmingly, plus a yes or no vote on a state ballot question, which passed overwhelmingly.
Metuchen also elected all three local offices, but the only local choice on their ballots was a school question, which passed by an 8-point margin.
In both Highland Park and Metuchen, it was Democrats fielded all of the candidates for Mayor and Council, while Republicans sat out the contests.
School board elections, which are supposed to be non-partisan, saw only three candidates running for three seats in both communities.
Meanwhile, in the county’s tiniest town, Helmetta, Chris Slavicek was re-elected Mayor and carried his independent running mates to victory in the Council races over Republican challengers.
In two of the higher-population Democratic strongholds, North Brunswick and Woodbridge, Republicans ran campaigns, only to get blown out by wide margins.
Those races only bolstered the political prospects of two longtime Mayors who go by the nickname “Mac,” North Brunswick’s Francis Womack and Woodbridge’s Jon McCormac.
The closest election right now is Jamesburg Board of Education, where the difference between winning and losing is just 10 votes.
In Plainsboro, where two Democrats won Township Committee seats unopposed and Cranbury, where Democrats and Republicans split the two seats between them, the members of each Township’s Committee will meet in January to select the Mayor from among their current members.
That means as many as six towns might see new Mayors in 2020.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.