A look back at some of West Milford's past political seasons

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:01

The modern political arena can trace its roots back to the early democratic foundations of the country, and West Milford is no different. On the second Monday in April, back in 1834 the first ever annual town meeting and election of West Milford representatives was held at the home of Newfoundland innkeeper Peter Demarest Among the myriad of elected appointments made that day included five committee men who would serve as town fathers for a term of one year. The records show that Stephen Terhune, Daniel G. Smith, James Dickinson, James Van Ardin and Stephen Bailey were duly elected. It is worth noting that the first Constitution in New Jersey which wouldn’t be updated till 1844 declared that “All inhabitants of this colony of full age, who are worth fifty pounds (British monetary unit still in use at the time) and reside within the county in which they claim to vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote.” As a result only landowners and farmers were able to vote, the hired hands as well as women and freed slaves prevented from playing any part in the ”democratic” process. Women and slaves had been allowed to vote in New Jersey up until 1808 when the legislature moved to exclude both groups. While the town took its first steps into democracy, the eastern tribes of Native Americans, many of them Cherokee, were forcibly moved west of the Mississippi by President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. Slavery had just been abolished in the British Empire but it would take another 30 years for the US to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The year West Milford elected its first representatives, a young man by the name of Abraham Lincoln had just gained a seat in the Illinois legislature. The minutes of those early West Milford council meetings are still held in town hall. The first town budget declared the town would generate a total of $1,350 — most of which would be spent on roads. The system of town government barely changed at all over the next 120 years until in 1953 when it was decided a mayor would be elected. Noble Rhinesmith won the honor and held the position for two years before ceding to Chester Pullis. Maria Harkey in 1999 remains the only female mayor the town has chosen. West Milford — just as with the significant majority of rural New Jersey — tends to vote for Republican candidates. The actual numbers held by the Superintendent of Elections in Paterson show that of the current 16,603 registered voters in West Milford 3885 of them are also registered Republicans as compared to 2192 Democrats. This leaves 10,526 who either consider themselves independent or undeclared. When the partisan form of government was reintroduced to West Milford in 2003 the Republicans swept the board taking all six council seats as well as the mayoral position. A year later, however, the Democrats confounded the odds and won two seats on the council reducing the balance in favor of Republicans to 4-2. In the 2005 election on November 8 the balance of power in West Milford is in the hands of the electorate, two wins for the Democrats and they would hold a council majority. The Republicans will however be seeking to maintain their position in what will be a crucial and hugely significant vote for the town.