By Matthew Gilson | The Save Jersey Blog
While the nation knows about the saga of Fort Lee and its famous bridge, Save Jerseyans, the man behind the story is really not that much different than any other suburban mayor.
Mark Sokolich is a Democrat running for re-election. Working in Sokolich’s favor is the fact that the only thing Fort Lee seems to have more of than traffic (the organic kind) are Democrats. A bustling outpost across the Hudson, the town is about to hold its first mayoral election since Bridgegate made their non-descript mayor the talk of the state and eventually the nation.
If Republicans can have anything to do about it, local residents will head to the polls next month and focus on the irresponsible tax and spend policies advanced by Sokolich and his party rather than the fame that Bridgegate has brought him.
“I think this election is different because residents now are experiencing the negative impact of the policies the current leadership put into motion years ago,” said Jeff Valacer, a 28-year-old lawyer who is running for a seat on the council this November, in an interview with Save Jersey. “Fort Lee is becoming less affordable for everyday working people. Taxes and fees continue to rise, increasing housing density is straining our infrastructure and public resources, and the quality of life in the Borough is going down.”
He’s confident that the Republicans can finally capitalize on a series of electoral close calls over the last few years despite the town having not elected Republican local candidates in quite some time.
Valacer is joined on the ticket by Margaret Ahn who is running for council. Ahn, an Asian-American, seeks to better represent a segment of the population which is large and ever-expanding the borough, but has only one appointed councilman on the dais. As usual, Republicans are showing a true commitment to diversity while Democrats give it lip service. Asian-Americans made up nearly 40% of Fort Lee’s population in the 2010 census, and that number continues to only rise according to estimates.
Challenging Sokolich himself will be Eric Fisher, a previous council candidate and husband of BCRO Secretary Judith Fisher. The ticket has been campaigning much harder than Republicans have in previous years there and the results may be showing. Door-to-door recruitment efforts have increased and club meetings are held regularly and are well-attended, something that often does not happen enough in Democratic towns or even a lot of Republican ones. If nothing else, the party is growing stronger for the future.
The Democrats in Fort Lee, behind the leadership of Sokolich, has been responsible for numerous tax increases. Despite being a former Republican (an under-reported fact), he is now an entrenched member of the Democratic team. The town’s transient commuter population may further exacerbate what’s expected to be an anemic voter turnout rate across the state. Republicans hope it will provide them with a chance to capitalize on their hard work and score an upset.
Fort Lee may have become known nationally for their mayor and his reluctance to endorse Governor Christie, folks, but here’s hoping that, come January, the 37,000+ community has a new mayor who is a tried-and-true Republican.
You can follow the GOP campaign on Facebook here.