Tuesday, May 24, 2016


While the upcoming Township Committee primary is essentially a done deal with Democrat Frank McGehee and Republican Mike Summersgill running unopposed in each, the general election may well be the strongest in years.

Yes, November is a ways away, but it's already shaping up to be a potentially
heated battle as McGehee comes in with some of the strongest party support in many year, and Summersill plans a campaign more involved than any GOP hopeful has waged in a long time in Maplewood.

Frank McGehee
"I'm focusing on the primary, I'm campaigning, walking, knocking on doors and meeting voters and gaining support," said McGehee, 43, who has lived in town for three years. "There is a big (Democratic) presence, but you have to be out there and let the people know who you are and what you stand for and that is what I am doing."

McGehee, who serves on the Maplewood Library Foundation Board and the Community Coalition on Race, had one of the strongest showings ever in the Maplewood Democratic Committee endorsement vote, garnering 26 of 28 votes. He also has the support of Mayor Vic Deluca and former Mayor Fred Profeta, who rarely agree on anything. 

Mike Summersgill
But while Maplewood's political affiliation has leaned Democrat at least 4 to 1 in recent years, Summersgill believes he has a real chance.

The 35-year-old father of two appears to be taking the campaign more seriously than most recent GOP candidates. Last year the Republicans nominated just one candidate even though two seats were up for grabs. That candidate, Phyllis Scalera, eventually missed a debate because of health issues.

But Summersgill appears to be planning for a stronger campaign and he says being a Republican is different at the local level.

"The national parties don't have a lot of relevance in local politics," Summersgill said. "We are all neighbors in our community. On social issues, I try to take a look at the individual level and think about the people that I love, respect, trust and how it would impact them."

Maplewood's history had a strong Republican presence as recently as the early 1990's when former Mayor Robert Grasmere, who served on the TC for 33 years -- with the last 23 as mayor -- and was seen as a strong community leader.

This is also a time of change on the Township Committee with two seats already switching hands earlier this year when Greg Lembrich and Nancy Adams replaced Jerry Ryan and Kathy Leventhal. Marlon Brownlee, whose seat McGehee and Summersgill are vying for, will be the third person to leave when he steps down in January after choosing not to seek re-election.

"My observation is that the town could benefit from a little more rigor," Summersgill said. "Each department should set objectives at the beginning of the year, report back to the committee and then they should follow that into the budget process." 

But the current political affiliation remains strongly Democratic and McGehee, who is already attending Township Committee meetings and meeting voters around town, appears ready to campaign heavily as well and not take any vote for granted.

"I want to be a voice for all of Maplewood and work on some core issues: pedestrian safety, taxes and shared services," said McGehee. "I think I can be a unifying candidate."

Stay tuned!

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