The next mayor of Toms River is Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill, according to unofficial results showing a 1% majority to the republican candidate.
In a hotly contested race for mayor and three at-large council seats, a call to squash overdevelopment in North Dover ruled the campaign rhetoric, with each team pointing to the other as the one who would create the largest negative impact to the quickly growing neighborhood.
In the end, voters chose Hill for mayor, with a narrow gap of about 300 votes separating the longtime Republican councilman and Jonathan Petro, the Democrat candidate.
From the County Republican Election Night party, Hill’s speech to his supporters and partymates included that he was nervous. “I knew it was going to be close,” he said. “It was a tough campaign. I thought it was going to be more of an issues campaign but it turned into more of a personal attack, but it’s over and we won.”
The unofficial results, according to the Ocean County Clerks Office, with all districts reporting:
Rep. Maurice “Mo” Hill: 11,135 votes (50.47%) √
Dem. Jonathan Petro: 10,870 votes (49.27%)
Council At-Large Seats (3 up for grabs)
Rep. Matthew Lotano: 12,112 votes (19.34%) √
Rep. Joshua Kopp: 11,609 votes (18.53%)√
Rep. Kevin Geoghegan: 11,612 votes (18.54%) √
Dem. Drew Boyle: 9,040 votes (14.43%)
Dem. Karin K. Sage: 9,039 votes (14.43%)
Dem. Michele Williams: 9,187 votes (14.67%)
Although unsuccessful, this was the strongest showing from a Democratic slate and mayoral candidate, building on the momentum of the previous council race for the ward seats, which flipped three seats to Democrat from the previously all-Republican council in the historically Republican majority township. Although one of the elected Democrats, Dan Rodrick, announced early in his term he had switched to the Republican party, two seats on the council are held by Democrats for the first time since Toms River switched from a committee to a council form a government.
With this election’s results, the council makeup will remain the same, with two Democrats and five Republicans, and a Republican mayor.
Petro’s campaign had pushed for a “clean sweep” to elect his three runningmates to council, which would have left two Republicans on the council – Rodrick and Maria Maruca. But according to unofficial results about 2,000 votes separated the Republican council candidate victors from the Democrat council slate.
The Democrat campaign mailers criticized Hill as someone who let developers eat up farm and woodland in the North Dover and Pleasant Plains neighborhood, while Hill countered that he spearheaded the preservation of hundreds of acres in those areas as part of the township’s open space fund.
From his campaign site on facebook, Petro’s concession message pledged his dedication to the town he loves would continue. “Tonight, the voters of Toms River made their choice as to the future of our hometown,” wrote Petro. “While we did not get the result for which we strived, we are grateful for all of the wonderful people who supported us. On behalf of our amazing team, we want to thank the volunteers, supporters, and campaign staff for their tremendous effort. We will continue to be dedicated to the future of the Toms River we love.”
The election also had no incumbents running for seats, as current mayor Thomas Kelaher announced he would not seek reelection. Neither did incumbent Republican Councilmen-At-Large George Wittmann and Brian Kubiel. Hill’s was the third at-large seat.
Hill faced a grueling primary fight as the county Republican party pushed candidate Joseph Coronato, the previous county prosecutor, as its mayoral candidate. Councilman Rodrick also vied in the primary, but Hill swept that test to become the party candidate.
Meanwhile, Petro used his party’s uncontested primary to ramp campaign efforts early, crafting a message that criticized plans to revamp downtown with taller apartment buildings and mixed-use buildings, saying Toms River needed to ward off threats it would grow into a city instead of the smaller town he grew up in. Petro, a longtime chamber of council leader who has also served on several local boards, is a local lawyer.
The at-large council contest sees a return for Geoghegan, who previously was a ward councilman losing reelection in 2017. He is a retired sergeant in the Toms River Police and currently serves on Silverton EMS and Silverton Fire Department positions.
Lotano, a local real estate/construction business owner, is 39 and serves on the chamber of commerce, SUP the Toms River, and House of Hope.
Kopp, 27, is the director of Kopp Electric and serves as a volunteer on Silverton EMS, as well as having served as a sergeant in the NJ Army National Guard.
This was Lotano’s and Kopp’s first run for elected office. Considering that and their younger age, Hill called them “the future of Toms River” from the county headquarters party tonight.
“It’s a great team. We bonded instantly. We’ve got great energy, especially with the younger guys on the team,” Hill said to party applause. “Kevin (Geoghegan) and I have experience, we are older, we are the bridge…these guys are going to be the leaders of the future.”
As districts reported their results to the county, the spread between the two mayoral candidates was at times less than 50 votes, with Petro leading half way through the night. But after all 63 districts had reported, the unofficial winner for mayor was Hill by about 300 votes. Those counts represent mail-in and voter booth ballots cast; provisional ballots are certified by judge in about a week’s time.