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Gearing up for November 8

Political clubs prepare for 58th quadrennial presidential election

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October 14th, 2016
(L-R) Democratic program committee member and assistant treasurer Gerry Lavner,  Democratic Club President Fred Palace, and Republican Club cofounder Marion Spilatro.

(L-R) Democratic program committee member and assistant treasurer Gerry Lavner, Democratic Club President Fred Palace, and Republican Club cofounder Marion Spilatro.

Regardless of their political differences, one thing both the Republican Club and  Democratic Club of Cedar Crest have in common is that they encourage people of all ages  to vote. 

The community of about 2,000 residents is one of Pequannock Township’s 12 precincts. On-site voter registration and polling add a higher level of convenience to living (and working) at the Pompton Plains, N.J., Erickson Living community. 

“Voting is one of our responsibilities as a citizen,” says Republican Club cofounder Natalie Saunders.

She and Marion Spilatro founded the club in January in response to the community’s large Democratic Club, which has been lauded by the Morristown Democratic Committee as the largest and most active Democratic club in Morris County. 

“A lot of people think there aren’t any Republicans here, and we found out there are actually several registered voters who are Republicans,” Natalie says. Their monthly meetings attract about 100 people, about 20 fewer than the Democratic Club. 

Voter education

Although their opinions differ on whom to elect, the two groups share another common goal: to educate community members on issues and candidates for office.  

“It takes three minutes to vote, but it takes time and energy to get educated. The Democratic Club helps educate our community members,” says club president Fred Palace. 

Founded by John Devine and Millie Eisenburg in 2008, the Democratic Club began as a committee to elect Barack Obama as President. According to the club’s mission statement, they “support Democratic organizations and candidates for office at the local, county, state, and federal levels; support issues and legislation of interest and benefit to our nation, our members, and to Cedar Crest residents generally; and provide educational opportunities concerning important issues for the residents of Cedar Crest.”

“I think we’re doing a real service to the community,” John says. As a member of the program committee, his role has been to identify and invite speakers to the monthly meetings, including New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, who visited in August. 

While he’s pleased to help educate his neighbors and friends, John also enjoys the camaraderie of the group. “I enjoy the friendship and the ability to talk about political issues in a very open and forthright way,” he says. He’s forged strong friendships through the club, as well as a men’s group. 

“I enjoy living here very much; it’s the perfect place for me. I consider myself very fortunate. It’s turned out to be a good decision,” says John, who has been interested in politics since the early 1960s when he was a Jesuit priest studying in Europe.

Fellow program committee member and assistant treasurer Gerry Lavner also discovered her interest in politics in the 1960s. “It was the election of John F. Kennedy,” she recalls.

At Cedar Crest, Gerry continues her lifelong involvement in politics. Previously, she held positions on the Democratic Committee of Montclair County for 30 years and served as vice chair of the Montclair Democratic Party for 10 years. 

“People should be engaged in what’s going on in their immediate life and the world, and it’s important to elect people who will unify the country,” she says on the importance of voting. 

Republican Club President Harry Smith says both clubs’ involvement pushed Cedar Crest to turn out the greatest number of registered voters “by far” for the primaries among Pequannock Township’s 12 precincts. “We’ve very proud of it. We were really concentrating on it,” he says.

They use the community’s resources, such as the on-site TV studio, monthly resident newsletter Mountain Matters, bulletin boards, and residents’ mail cubbies to support the vote. 

“We’re doing everything we can from print to word of mouth to encourage people to register and vote,” Harry says, adding that older adults carry their weight come election time. 

“We can turn people out. We’re not working, we’re involved, and we want to see good government,” he says of his fellow Cedar Crest community members. 

On-site polling

In November, Cedar Crest will have voting available on site. Republican Club cofounder Marion Spilatro will likely be working the polls, as she has for 20 years. 

“It was during the Reagan administration that I became very interested in politics—when he first gave that memorable speech supporting his running mate,” she recalls. “Then after that I started working the polls and served in my former town [Middlesex, in Middlesex County] as a committee member.”

She moved from there to Cedar Crest almost five years ago to avoid isolation. “I think I’m better off here. I can maintain my friendships because when I lived by myself I didn’t see the people I was friendly with as often as I’d like. Here, you can see friends every night if you want to,” Marion says.

At Cedar Crest, she serves on the Republican Club’s telephone committee, calling members with meeting and voter registration reminders. “We always ask: ‘Are you registered?’” she says. She also helps people register and vote by mail if they won’t be able to vote on site come Election Day.

Marion says this year’s presidential election has made her and her neighbors as passionate as ever. “It’s like no election that I’ve ever experienced,” she says. 

Similarly, Fred says, “This election is very important at this time. So much is at stake!”

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