TOMS RIVER – In January, Maurice Hill will be sworn in as mayor, but he said that he is already planning on working with officials to make a seamless transition.
No stranger to township government, Hill has been on the Township Council for 12 years.
“We’ve got our transition team, headed by (Assemblyman and former Councilman) Gregory McGuckin,” and they will be meeting with township administration to hit the ground running, he said.
There are a few challenges he wants to tackle in his term.
Downtown redevelopment is an ever-present goal, and he envisions townhouses and condominiums above restaurants and beautique shops – things you can’t buy online.
The township has had trouble filling volunteer boards, such as those for rent leveling. Filling them will be a priority, he said.
Hill, a Republican, narrowly won 11,135 votes to Democrat Jonathan Petro’s 10,870. There were 58 write-ins.
The race was extremely close. He attributes that to the negative campaign that the Democrats mounted, claiming he had sold out to the Orthodox Jewish population, for instance.
“If you tell a lie long enough, sometimes people believe it,” he said.
Before facing off against Petro, he had to fight for the primary against former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato and Councilman Daniel Rodrick.
“It was a brutal April and May,” he said, regarding the primary race. He thought it was going to let up over the summer, but the campaign started immediately. There were times he got frustrated with the negative ads, and wanted to fight back. He had to make a decision: “Do you want to pick a fight or put out a positive message for what you want in the town?”
Instead, he said his team knocked on every door belonging to a registered Republican or unaffiliated voter. “It paid off because I think we made a personal connection,” he said.
He said he won because he has the experience, knowledge, and skill to lead.
Petro agreed that it was a rough few months. It was his first campaign for public office, and he said he’d have to think long and hard before getting back into the ring again.
When it comes to the negativity of the campaign, he said that was coming from both sides. For example, the Republicans saying immigration changes would lead to a “Sanctuary City” to scare people.
“We took some of the same positions (about overdevelopment) in north Dover and were called different things for it,” he said.
“They ran a great campaign,” Petro said. “We ran a great race as well.”
However, the challenge the Democrats faced was that the Republicans, having a strong majority in the county, had a decades-old structure in place to get their message out better.
“It’s hard to dislike the councilman,” Petro said of Hill. “I like him. He’s a good person. It’s hard to fight someone who is a good person.”
His advice to Hill and the council is to think of how your decisions will impact Toms River for the next 30 years, not just the next four years.
Toms River Council
The political stakes were high for this election. In fact, it was one of the few in the overly Republican county worth watching. Currently, there are two Democrats on the seven-member Township Council with a Republican mayor.
The Township Council will remain in Republican control.
Hill ran with Republicans Matt Lotano, a principal in the commercial Lotano Development Corporation; Josh Kopp, a veteran and director of Kopp Electric Company; and former Councilman Kevin Geoghegan, a retired Toms River Police Officer and member of EMS and fire departments.
Interestingly, the Republicans had more of a margin of victory in the council election. All three council candidates received more votes than the mayoral candidate. Lotano received 12,112 votes; Kopp received 11,609 votes; and Geoghegan received 11,612 votes.
Petro ran with Democrats Michele Williams, a Toms River school board member and former principal at St. Joseph Grade School (9,187 votes); Karin K. Sage, an attorney and shareholder on the Business and Commercial Litigation team at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A. in Woodbridge (9,039 votes); and Drew Boyle, a math teacher in Brick (9,040 votes).
There were 39 write-in votes.
Toms River Schools
The Toms River Regional School District has members from each of its sending districts, including Beachwood, Pine Beach, and South Toms River.
In Toms River, there were an incredible six candidates for one, three-year position. Kathleen Eagan was the top vote-getter in this crowded field, with 5,728 votes.
Lisa Natale-Contessa received 4,905 votes; Jeffrey Dingsor received 2,055 votes; Sean Monahan received 1,892 votes; Brian Quinn received 862 votes; and Wendell Ferandos received 464 votes.
In Beachwood, Alex Mizenko narrowly bested Melissa Morrison 734 votes to 721. There were 8 write-in votes.
Pine Beach also had a close race, where Kevin Kidney received 269 votes to Anthony Trump’s 267. There were three write-in votes. Those three write-ins could impact the results.