Stafford Leader

Both Sides React to Stafford Republican Primary Upset

Spodofora, Longtime Councilman and Mayor, ‘In Shock’ at Loss
By VICTORIA FORD | Jun 07, 2018

The morning after sweeping the Republican primary election in Stafford Township, presumed mayor-elect Greg Myhre and his Stafford Conservatives running mates for township council were letting the victory sink in and looking ahead to the next several months of preparation for the general election.

“The campaign is certainly not over,” Myhre said on the phone Wednesday.

A write-in campaign for the general election in November is the only hope for Democrats or Independents to prevent a full Conservatives takeover.

By a narrow margin Tuesday, the seven Republican primary election candidates in Column A bested the seven in Column B, meaning the entire current governing body will step down and be replaced come Jan. 1.

Tuesday’s vote totals were: Myhre, 1,318 (51.5 percent), and current Mayor John R. Spodofora, 1,232 (48.2 percent). A total of 2,557 residents spread over 21 voting districts cast ballots on Tuesday.

Among the council candidates, the six top vote getters were: Thomas Steadman – 1,314; Anthony R. Guariglia – 1,291; Michael T. Pfancook – 1,275; Paul S. Krier – 1,270; George S. Williams – 1,253; and Robert E. Henken-Siefken – 1,243.

Every candidate in Spodofora’s Column B was defeated: Sharon McKenna – 1,196 votes; David Taylor – 1,189; William Stephen Fessler – 1,166; Raymond Fix – 1,164; Paul Marchal (council president) – 1,157; and Gordon ‘Rich’ Carlson – 1,150.

While no Democrats were on the primary ballot, prior to the election Stafford Democrat Brian White on behalf of the party had sent letters to voters instructing them to write in the following seven names: Brian White for mayor, and Joanne Sitek, Kevin Teeple, Denise Pobicki, Jill Dobrowansky, Nicole Downs and Thaddeus Niemiec for council. Enough write-in votes would secure a place on the ballot in November.

The Ocean County Clerk’s Office tally on Tuesday night revealed that despite the lack of Democrat candidates for the primary election, local registered Democrat voters cast 949 write-in ballots for Stafford council, and 190 write-in ballots for Stafford mayor.

Though not officially confirmed, word out of the Stafford Township offices on Wednesday was the requisite number of write-in votes for Democrats had been achieved. But the Ocean County Board of Elections could not say; the actual results, including the write-ins, take about a week to tabulate manually.

Meanwhile, Spodofora and his team are feeling blindsided.

Spodofora admitted he was somewhere between “a bit surprised” and “in shock,” given he had run on his record of keeping taxes stable and providing what he felt was reliable leadership for the town. This upheaval brings to an end his 30 years of service on the council, six of them as mayor.

“I look at this and I don’t understand, because I didn’t see a message from the other side.”

Councilwoman Sharon McKenna said the same thing. She had gone door to door asking residents to share their concerns about the town to suggest improvements, and the feedback she got was all-positive. Ultimately, however, “the people have spoken,” she said. The winners of the primary “ran a better race.”

Spodofora said he was planning to call Myhre Wednesday to congratulate him.

“I don’t like losing, but I will work with (the incoming mayor and council) to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.” Spodofora said he hopes to set up a series of meetings to discuss some ongoing projects he would hate to see abandoned, and to help them understand some of the complexities of running a town.

“I can only hope for the best for the town,” Spodofora said.

Myhre said he would be willing to meet with the current officials as needed and hopes they can “finish on a high note.”

For Myhre and company, the win reflects a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent visiting with residents in every neighborhood in the town, listening to what they had to say. “Fortunately we have time to plan” for how to step into their new roles, he said. Myhre, for one, is “used to taking on new challenges.” He has experience as a member of the Ocean County Republican Committee. Tom Steadman has spent eight years on Stafford’s zoning board, and Paul Krier was previously on the council before he was voted out in 2014.

“Everybody on our team brings something unique to the table,” he said. “We’re not a bunch of yes-men.”

Myhre said his political aspirations began three to five years ago. If his team’s platform is built on one word, that word is integrity, he said. “The town needs a new approach,” in his opinion – one that falls more in line with conservative ideals such as “holding the line on spending” and upholding federal immigration laws.

Myhre envisions a more transparent, accessible town hall. “We want to show the people what’s going on up there,” he said.

Spodofora said it’s too soon for him to determine whether he’ll give up his political career, but he’ll always remain active in the community because he truly loves the town, which is the reason he ran for council in the first place.

McKenna does not see herself quitting politics altogether. “Politics runs deep in my blood, and I love this town,” she said. “I’m not fading into obscurity, that’s for sure.” In some ways, she added, being a private citizen can make it easier to effect changes in the community; so, she plans to continue to work for the town in whatever capacity she can.

In the meantime, McKenna plans to spend her remaining six months in office working on leaving the best possible legacy. “As far as I’m concerned we’re moving forward with the plastic bag ban in August,” she said, and she still has her sights set on bringing a bike path to town.

But the fate of the plastic bag ban is uncertain at this point, as is Township Administrator Jim Moran’s job, which came under scrutiny at a recent council meeting.

Myhre said he and his team would need to conduct a comprehensive review of the town to determine where the real priorities lie, to “focus on needs versus wants.” Supporting the town’s police, fire and rescue organizations is high on the list. “We shouldn’t put barriers between agencies,” he said.

“We do not have an aggressive agenda,” Myhre said. “We want what’s best for the town.”

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