TOMS RIVER-Tuesday’s mayoral election in Toms River could be decided by a growing, powerful bloc vote in Toms River as voter turnout is expected to be low in an otherwise uneventful election.
With the absence of important federal level elections this year, the historically low voting numbers during these off-years could give more levereage to the Orthodox Jewish bloc vote, which had surfaced during the primary elections, that gave Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill a significant boost over his two opponents, Daniel Rodrick and Joseph Coronato. Hill overwhelmingly won voting districts in North Dover by more than 3 to 1 margins in June.
Hill is expected to maintain the bloc vote with support from the Toms River Jewish Community Council, which has in the past signaled their support for the former Naval reserve dentist, but to date have not yet issued a formal endorsement. Hill has defended his support from the community after receiving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and dozens of signatures on his mayoral nomination ballot.
He faced intense scrutiny this year over his personal and political relationship with Scott Gartner, an Orthodox Jewish resident who threatened to sue Toms River if it did not reduce the 10-acre minimum zoning requirement for houses of worship.
“Scott Gartner is my friend,” Hill said. “He’s my neighbor.”
In Facebook live session produced by Hill’s campaign, he said, “I won’t refuse money from anyone.” when asked about the endorsements and contributions.
Hill garnered more support in the Orthodox Jewish Community this fall after he received support from Rabbi Moshe Gourarie signaled his endorsement of Hill’s team. Gourarie’s Toms River Chabad sued the township over religious discrimination and won. Days after Hill’s campaign signs were printed, they appeared outside Gourarie’s Church Road Jewish community center.
According to the Asbury Park Press, the central issue in this year’s campaign has been overdevelopment and the growing Orthodox Jewish community in the township.
“A simmering dispute over zoning for houses of worship has taken center stage in the township’s mayor’s race, marking the latest election where Toms River’s growing Orthodox Jewish population has become a central issue in a campaign,” the newspaper reported.
This week the Asbury Park Press slammed Hill’s opponent Jonathan Petro, calling him anti-Semitic for running a campaign that opposes overdevelopment that has plagued the community in the past 15 years. Petro also opposes the township ordinance that was leaked to the public that seeks to reduce the house of worship 10-acre zoning to just two acres in North Dover.
Petro defended his campaign’s position against overdevelopment and to enforce existing zoning laws.
“I am outraged that the Asbury Park Press has called me an anti-Semite. I’m sorry, but it’s not anti-Semitic to oppose overdevelopment,” Petro said. “Their accusation points to my opposition to zoning changes proposed by Toms River officials. I am appalled that the APP would use such divisive rhetoric while we are fighting for Toms River’s future.”
The impact of the bloc vote, estimated to be between 700 and 1,000 votes in Hill’s favor could be negated in a higher turnout election.
With rising tensions and feverish passion driving both sides of the debate, Hill has also been the victim of “fake news”. On a Facebook page entitled “Say No to Lakewood Mo”, a false advertisement claiming the TRJCC has endorsed Hill was published. To date, the TRJCC has not yet officially endorsed Mo Hill in writing.