Richard Babcock kicks off his bid for Morristown council at the Dublin Pub

Richard Babcock, an executive with A. Walsh Imaging, Pompton Plains, launched his first bid to become a Republican councilman in Morristown from the outdoor garden of the Dublin Pub on Monday. He is unopposed in the June 2 primary.

Morristown council candidate Richard Babcock told fellow Republicans yesterday that he wants "more transparency" in town government, and more study of burgeoning development and its impact on traffic and other quality-of-life issues.

Babcock is the first of three Republican council candidates to hold meet-and-greets. Both Frank Vitolo, an attorney with the Morristown-based Riker, Danzig law firm, and Ed France, a local Weichert realtor and Hope House volunteer, promised events of their own, as did Republican mayoral candidate Jim Gervasio, owner of Morristown T-Shirt on Cattano Avenue.

The slots are uncontested in the June 2 primary. In November, they will face a full slate of Democrats that may include incumbent Democratic Mayor Donald Cresitello.

"We're going to take Morristown this year. The Democrats are really going to kill each other this year and we're going to win," predicted Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette, who lives in Morris Township.

Babcock, an executive with A. Walsh Imaging in Pompton Lakes, concurred with Democrat mayoral challenger Tim Dougherty that "there seems to be a definite need for a diversity of opinion. There doesn't seem to be an open ear on the council."

When asked what issues he was referring to, Babcock said the issues "were across the board" and yes, they include development. Morristown has several major projects under construction or in the planning stages.

Babcock said he wanted to ensure there are future ratables. But he added: "You reach a threshold where more development has a detrimental effect on the town. It's really about volume."

Babcock cited a "finite infrastructure," and choked traffic on narrow streets where it "takes you 15 minutes to get across town in rush hour for a mile and a half."

One project that has raised skepticism in Republicans and from Dougherty is the proposed six-story, 151-unit mixed used development across from the Morris County courthouse on Washington Street. The council awarded the project in March to Hugh DeFazio and Texas-based Criterion Development Partners.

The vote was taken six minutes into a special redevelopment meeting where three council people Republican Alison Deeb; Democrat Michelle Harris-King, who seeks re-election; and Independent Rebecca Feldman -were not present. The hasty vote raised eyebrows on both sides.

"We were late," Feldman at the Babcock event. Ultimately, she supported the project on a related vote, even though she noted that usually there would be some time for public debate.

Mayor Cresitello has said that all development projects have had to go through the planning board, where Dougherty's wife, Mary, is the chair.

Council president John Cryan, who is up for re-election, said the first March 11 vote was taken to move council matters quickly, because Morristown is meeting-happy and meets more often than any other Morris County body.

Another hot issue is a proposed merger with Morris Township, which Cresitello has called inevitable. His swagger on the issue has brought pushback from Morris Township Mayor H. Scott Rosenbush and others who have criticized his style.

"I don't think we're there yet," Babcock said of a merger. "It's something that needs to be mutual." He also warned that Morristown has "unfortunately seen a rise of drugs, guns and gangs," but he did not provide statistics.

Babcock welcomed supporters behind the Dublin Pub on a warm, sunny afternoon. John Sette, the county GOP chairman, was joined by state committeewoman Cindy Ramirez of Morristown and her husband, Ed, the Morristown Republican chairman.

Morris County Sheriff Ed Rochford was there, too, along with Freeholders John Murphy and Margaret Nordstrom; state Sen. Anthony Bucco Sr. and his son, Anthony Jr., a Republican primary candidate for the 25th district assembly seat.

Well wishers also included Morris Township Mayor H. Scott Rosenbush, Morristown council members Alison Deeb and Rebecca Feldman, Republican council candidates Frank Vitolo and Ed France, and Republican mayoral candidate Jim Gervasio.

Although it was not a fundraiser, said Babcock, "checks were coming in."