Twenty Fourth District Dems miss mark but reenergize local party

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:08

    Sparta — They knew it was a long shot, but Sparta residents Leslie Huhn and Jim Nye launched their campaign for state Assembly last summer, along with Democratic Senate candidate Ed Selby, in the staunchly Republican 24th Legislative District against highly favored Republican incumbents. On Tuesday night they lost by a nearly two to one margin. They stepped out into the political fray on a wing and a prayer and with simple goals. They wanted to take a stand for public education and get their message of “putting people first” to the voters. They hoped that even if they missed their mark in terms of the election, they would at least leave their mark on the voters by sending a strong message that Democrats in northwest New Jersey have a voice and are ready to reorganize and unite behind their candidates. Although all three lost their bids to Republican incumbents Assemblywoman Alison McHose, Assemblyman Gary Chiusano and Senator Steve Oroho, the Democratic 24th candidates gained more support and raised more money than they ever expected. They held a “victory party” at Arthur’s St. Moritz Tuesday night with over 80 people in attendance. All three candidates counted their experience with the campaign as a win instead of a loss because they said now the voters know the local Democrats are recharged and reenergized and ready to work to build more support going forward. Leslie Huhn, who began getting involved in local politics when she founded Sparta Unites for Our Schools (SUfOS) in 2010 to work for more equitable public school funding, got involved in the Assembly race to further her efforts at the state level and bring about serious education funding reform. She said Tuesday, “I will not stop fighting for public schools.” Huhn said local Democrats are stronger now, citing campaign funding as one example. She said in 2009 the Republican incumbents only spent around $50,000 to defeat their Democratic challengers. This year, she said, they spent over $200,000 to defeat Selby, Huhn and Nye. Huhn told supporters, “We must continue to do what’s right for our police officers, firefighters and teachers. We should never take for granted what our teachers do for our children.” Huhn said she plans to jump back full-force into SUfOS and continue the work she began on school issues. Nye said, “It is so amazingly clear to me how very different we (Selby, Huhn and Nye) are from the incumbents.” He cited such issues as public education and the environment as major areas of disagreement. “Winning would have been nice, but we can’t stop now,” Selby said to supporters. He said all those who worked on their campaign helped to build the infrastructure for the local Democratic Party. “Now the voters know we’re here and we have to build on that.” Selby said that he will likely not run for office again, having been involved in 15 campaigns over the years, but he plans to work within the party to support other candidates. Mary Bowers, the Byram Democratic Committee Chair, said, “Win or lose, we’re building a strong Democratic Party in Sussex County now.” Bowers, a school nurse, said she got involved with the local Democrats at a grass roots level out of frustration over Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts in school aid and the effects on the schools. Sparta resident Lisa Murphy said, “Democrats are energized now, so tonight is a win.” Because New Jersey follows a 2-4-4 election term cycle, the recently elected incumbents, should they choose to run again, will have to campaign again in only two years. If local Democrats continue to build on the momentum Selby, Huhn, and Nye have begun, that race could be even more expensive.