Emotions were across the board at Gatwyns II in Lake Shawnee last night, where all the candidates gathered to hear the Republican primary election results for mayor and the two available town council seats. Co-owner and town council candidate Patty Fallon and co-owner David Sturrock invited all candidates to meet at their restaurant to hear the election results together. “We were friends long before the election, it is only right that we all be together”, Fallon told The Jefferson Chronicle.

As the night progressed, frustration grew with lack of data from the polls. Numbers from several districts was delayed and some polls closed before tallies could be collected. With incomplete information, it was difficult for anyone to project winners in the council race. However, despite the absence of some data, it was still clear that incumbent mayor Russ Felter could not catch up to the several hundred vote lead by mayoral candidate Eric Wilsusen. Preliminary numbers show Wilsusen with 1445 votes and Felter with 1048.

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Tight Race for Council Seats

The town council race was a much tighter race. Council candidate Melissa Senatore is currently in the number one spot with 999 votes and incumbent council president Debi Merz is in the number two slot with 937 votes. Merz is separated from incumbent council member H. Ronald Smith by 50 votes and newcomer Patty Fallon by 51. Absentee and provisional ballots could play a role in the outcome for the council seats.

All candidates will have to wait about three days for the absentee and provisional ballot count and confirmation of the vote tally to be released by the Morris County Clerk’s office.

Attendees expressed disappointment with the low turn-out at the polls. Although Lake Hopatcong polling stations reported a steady stream of voters, only 22 percent of registered Jefferson voters showed up at the polls. County statistics were even more disappointing, with only 17.47 percent of registered voters showing up, according to the Morris County Clerk.

Mixed Emotions

The mood of the crowd at Gatwyns II was mixed and perhaps in hindsight, some would have opted for separate venues for their team to receive results. Felter and Wilsusen worked very closely together for many years. Wilsusen served in the Jefferson Police Department for 31 years and Felter was mayor for 20 of those years and a councilman for four years prior to serving as mayor.

Incumbents Debi Merz and H. Ronald Smith worked together on the town council. All the candidates dine at Gatwyns II regularly and all have known each other as friends for many years. Emotions on both teams were torn. There are preliminary winners and losers on both teams as voters appeared to “split the ticket” and vote for individuals. Tears flowed but no one shed tears for themselves; all who cried did so for the losses of friends.

Felter supporters opined about the collective knowledge and experience that will be lost with Felter’s departure and administrator James Leach’s impending retirement. Meanwhile, Wilsusen supporters look forward to the changes promised by his campaign.

Gracious Responses

Felter graciously congratulated Wilsusen on his win before the final numbers were tallied and Wilsusen was equally gracious. When asked if he would consider a run as an independent in November, Felter politely declined.

Defeated candidate Robert Vander Ploeg, Jr. told The Chronicle, “God has other plans for me”. Some candidates left the crowded scene before interviews could be obtained and others were too exhausted from the long night.

What started as an exciting evening turned out to be a difficult night as some friends celebrated, others were disappointed and some resolved to move on to other things. Jefferson Township comprises a large amount of land but is a small town where less than six degrees separate most residents. This election brought out the best and the worst in this close-knit community. As the primary election ends and the November general election approaches, let’s hope the rift that has divided Jefferson can be healed so that the township can move forward in a united, positive direction.

How You Voted, Jefferson

The Jefferson Chronicle has gathered preliminary voting tallies directly from the Morris County Clerk’s office. When totals are final, we will post those tallies as well. Our goal is to keep our community fully informed: “From the Community, For the Community.”

Preliminary mayoral votes by district. (Graphic: Morris County Clerk)
Preliminary town council votes by district. (Graphic: Morris County Clerk)

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