Democrats seek to redevelop county's political landscape

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SUSSEX COUNTY-There never seemed to be any choice; not for lifelong Sussex County resident Nick Irons, a Democrat at heart and a card-carrying Republican by name. The 61-year-old retired Sparta policeman was among some 90 others residents who attended a meeting this week of the Sussex County Democratic Party hoping for a breath of fresh air in a political atmosphere they believe has become much too stagnant. "Stagnation breeds contempt and a populace that just doesn't care," said Irons, who now resides in Wantage and teaches criminal justice at Sussex County Community College. "We don't have a dual party system in Sussex County. The Republicans have a lock on everything. That has to change." That's the kind of sentiment, the Democratic leaders want to encourage. The Democrats have been meeting twice each month at the Hampton Diner in Newton to increase the visibility of the party, said Howard Burrell, the newly elected Sussex County Democratic Committee chairman. But he acknowledges that what the party needs is real change. "We have to change the structure of our party," said Burrell, a former member of the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. "If we do the same things that we've always done, we'll get the same results that we've always gotten. We have to present ourselves to the people of Sussex County in a professional way and let them know that we share their values and we champion their financial interests." In addition to the regular meetings throughout the year, Burrell said the committee has upgraded a Web site at and activated a 1-800 phone number so that county resident can become aware of the party's presence in county affairs. Burrell said he has been reaching outside of the county to get the support of Democrats at the state and national levels. He hopes to convince Sen. John Corzine to make a campaign stop in the county during his run for governor before the fall election. "The Democratic Party has to stop ignoring Sussex County," said Burrell. "The fact that Democrats haven't been successful here is the fault of Democrats." Burrell said that 11 percent of the registered voters in Sussex County are Democrats, but more importantly, 60 percent are considered independents. Burrell said he hopes to attract a piece of that electorate to the party by developing and implementing creative and dynamic outreach programs. "If we build a party, those people will come home," said the Glenwood resident. "It's not going to happen today or tomorrow. It's a long journey." Burrell said most municipal seats in the county go unchallenged by Democratic candidates in what has long been the most heavily Republican supported section of the state. "We need to fix our infrastructure," said Burrell, a county resident for close to 25 years. "I inherited a party that is in desperate need of infrastructure." Burrell said he is willing to do his part. The past week in Franklin, Burrell said he led what he believes was the largest group of Democrats to ever march in the Sussex County Saint Patrick's Day parade. He is optimistic that someday soon the Democratic Party will give Sussex County voters a real choice at the polls. "There are opportunities," he said. "We're taking small ste