For a number of residents on Cloverhill Place, there was no choice but to cast their ballots for Democrat Phil Murphy in the state’s Nov. 7 gubernatorial election, who defeated Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. Now they just hope that the governor-elect follows through on his progressive campaign promises.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that Murphy, unlike the Christie administration, will represent the people of New Jersey with honesty and integrity,” James Cotter said. “That said, only time will tell if Murphy can harness the energy of the voters and deliver a real progressive agenda. We need a commitment to education, pension funding, infrastructure and economic growth. He’s got a lot of work to do and I sincerely hope he will succeed, for all of us.

Cotter and his wife, Mary Sok, are Cloverhill Place residents who participated with Montclair Local in Voting Block NJ, a New Jersey collaborative reporting effort. The mission was to encourage civil political discussion and more informed voters in neighborhoods across the Garden State ahead of the gubernatorial election.

Montclair Local was one of more than two dozen news organizations that followed a group of neighbors, in our case on Cloverhill Place, this fall as the race developed. The paper’s reporting partners include 15 hyperlocal and six ethnic-news organizations across the state as well as WNYC, WHYY, NJ Spotlight and The Record.

As part of the initiative, Montclair Local wrote two prior stories about the residents of Cloverhill Place. The first was a profile of the neighbors, and the second was about a political potluck dinner before the gubernatorial election where they discussed its ideas about the race.

At the dinner Reina Smith said she was not sure whether she would even vote, because she was not entirely pleased with Murphy. But ultimately, she said, she voted for Murphy.

James Cotter, left, Mike Peinovich and Matt Knutzen share a laugh at an Oct. 1  political potluck that was held at Cotter's home on Cloverhill Place. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
James Cotter, left, Mike Peinovich and Matt Knutzen share a laugh at an Oct. 1  political potluck that was held at Cotter's home on Cloverhill Place. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

“Someone told me about his father lamenting that he had only once actually voted for a candidate rather than against another,” Smith said. “And that was for Teddy Roosevelt. Seemed to me that might be a while so [I] decided not to let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”

Mike Peinovich and Billie Gleissner, a married couple, voted by absentee ballot because they left for Mexico a few days before the election. Murphy was their choice.

“I’m glad Phil Murphy won,” Peinovich said. “The alternative was too horrible to contemplate. But we still have work to do: address infrastructure and school funding, and create a more equitable tax system. Plus, those of us in high-tax, progressive states like New Jersey, New York and California have an even more important challenge on the federal level.”

Gleissner said that as she and Peinovich were away, they didn’t get the New Jersey election results right away.

“I was relieved to have it over and that a Democrat won,” Gleissner said. “Of course I’m wary and waiting to see if he fulfills his promises. The Virginia election results were more encouraging for me and now I’m focused on Alabama. The news is filled with one more disgusting report from Washington every day.”

New Jersey and Virginia were the only states to have gubernatorial elections this year, closely watched races that were considered a litmus test of how President Donald Trump’s administration and his policies were faring with voters. Democrats won in both states, with Ralph Northam besting the GOP’s Ed Gillespie in Virginia.