In Dover election, former mayor Dodd readies for debate, eyes return to office

Sidelined for the past four years following a seismic election loss, former four-term Dover Mayor James Dodd appears close to reclaiming his familiar seat in Town Hall.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” the Democrat told the Daily Record last week, days before he and the Board of Aldermen candidates on his “Rescue Dover” ticket take part in an in-person candidate forum this Wednesday.

Dodd will debate independent candidate Dennis Touhey at 6 p.m. in the Dover Moose Lodge. No Republican is on the ballot in the heavily Democratic town.

The Aldermen forum follows at 7:45 p.m.. In contrast to the mayoral race, the election for Dover’s governing council features Republican and Democratic candidates in all four wards.

Downtown Blackwell Street in Dover.

The forum will be cohosted by the League of Women Voters Morristown Area, the NAACP Morristown Branch and the Daily Record. The League of Women Voters will livestream both sessions.

A fixture in Dover politics

A fixture and at times a controversial figure in local politics for two decades, Dodd had a falling out with the Morris County Democratic Committee as he was approaching re-election in 2019. He lost the party’s endorsement and then lost a close election to then-Alderwoman Carolyn Blackman, who became the first African-American woman to lead the town.

Dodd, the longtime owner of an auto and truck repair business in town, was first elected mayor to a two-year term in 2005, followed by three four-year terms after the town ended the two-year cycle for the office. Prior to 2005, he served four terms on the town board.

“I don’t think it’s any secret I had a separation with the Democratic Committee for a few years under [former Chairman] Chip Robinson,” Dodd said. “That’s pretty much what that was. I always had a great relationship with the county under former chairmans Paul Bangiola and Lew Candura. Chip and I just didn’t see eye to eye.”

This June’s Democratic primary, however, flipped the party in Dodd’s favor. In a three-way race, Dodd dominated with more than 50% of the vote. Then-Dover Democratic Committee Chairman and former Ward 3 Alderman Edward Correa finished a distant second, followed by Blackman.

Mending fences

Dodd appears to have mended fences with party leaders. Current Morris County Chairwoman Amalia Duarte and U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), who represents Dover, have both appeared at fundraisers for Dodd and his ticket since the primary.

“I think that it’s proven I am a proven leader,” Dodd said “You obviously see the results of what has happened now under the current administration. Dover has been set back quite a few years in progress.”

Former Dover mayor James Dodd, seen in a 2018 news conference, was unseated in 2019 but is on track to return to the office in this year's election.

With a regular presence at Alderman meetings, Dodd has been an outspoken critic of the Blackman administration, alleging mismanagement that has alienated developers and put the town in a financial hole.

“They entered into a shared-service agreement – this is the crazy part – with West Orange for our finance department,” Dodd said. “So not only do we have another town managing our finance department, but it was actually in another county. We spent a lot of money on consultants and did not really get any results. That turned out to be a disaster for Dover. We’re financially in difficulty right now.”

Dodd slams ‘out-of-control spending’

The next mayor, he said, will need experience to dig Dover out of its fiscal hole.

“They took $1.8 million out of surplus and $971,000 from the water utility to balance the budget,” Dodd said. “So for me, it’s basically leaving the town in a difficult situation next year if we’re fortunate enough to come in. The out-of-control spending from this administration has to stop.”

Dodd also said the current administration could not prevent devastating attrition among town workers.

“At one point, we had 40 employees less, but the budget has grown by $4 million,” he said. “So I’m curious to see where the money has gone when I step in. I think it’s important to realize what happened.”

More:Dover fire chief resigns, saying ‘broken’ promises have left department short-handed

Blackman defended her record in a candidate forum prior to the June Democratic primary. She accused Dodd of coercing employees to leave and said her administration had to cope with the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Correa said he and Blackman “inherited a train wreck” when they came into office because Dodd “indebted the town to $52 million.”

Touhey did not respond to the Daily Record’s inquiry about his campaign. Dodd has little to gain from debating the independent, but said “I think it’s important for people to know both sides, myself and Mr. Touhey’s side of where we stand.”

Board of Aldermen candidates

The Board of Aldermen forum includes one Democratic and Republican candidate in all four ward:

  • Republican Gaile Rodriguez and Democrat Claudia Toro are running in Ward 1.
  • Republican Wendy Huron Carmona will challenge Democrat Sergio Rodriguez in Ward 2.
  • Ward 3 features a race between incumbent Democrat Michael J. Scarneo and Republican William Shuler, Jr.
  • In Ward 4, GOP candidate William Inglis faces incumbent Democrat Arturo Santana.

Toro, Rodriguez and Santana are running with Dodd on the Rescue Dover ticket.

Responding via email, Shuler says the GOP aldermen candidates “are running as one team, the Our Town-Our Future team.”

“We all agree that in Dover, our neighborhoods must be first and foremost in the minds and efforts of our Mayor and Town Council,” Shuler wrote. “We agree that the safety of our neighborhoods and our downtown must also be paramount. We agree that financial awareness is one of the mayor and council’s primary fiduciary responsibilities. The mayor and council must seek the best values and access the best resources available to us to improve the quality of life in Dover. We all agree that smart development is mandatory.”

Homeless:Three homeless deaths in two weeks have Dover, Morris officials searching for solutions

Submit questions for the forum

The public may submit questions in advance by 6 p.m. Monday, September 18, to The forum also will be live-streamed on the LWV Morristown Area YouTube channel.

Election deadlines

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7. The deadline to register to vote this year is October 17.

William Westhoven is a local reporter for For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: Twitter: @wwesthoven

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