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Sunday, May 19, 2024


Middle Business Leaders Gather to Hear from Candidates

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd)

By Bill Barlow

BURLEIGH – Most of the people on Middle Township’s ballot, from a state Senate candidate to some running for school board, made an appearance at a meet-the-candidates event, at The Shore Club Oct. 15.
The event was held outside because of the amount of people attending, on a back patio overlooking the golf course, which was formerly known as Wildwood Golf and Country Club. The Middle Township Chamber of Commerce organized the dinner.  
Participants included candidates for Middle Township Committee, five people running for freeholder, and U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd). His opponent, Democratic candidate Amy Kennedy, sent a video introduction.
Rik Mehta, the Republican candidate for state Senate, also made an appearance, saying New Jersey needs to send someone to Washington who will fight for the state. Sen. Cory Booker did not attend. 
In her recorded comments, Kennedy cited her local connections and said her campaign is focused on the needs of small business owners.
“Not only in this pandemic, but the difficult struggles that you’ve had over the past several years, and how we could have a plan to move forward and make sure that our economy is strengthened in the process,” she said.
Van Drew spoke about American exceptionalism, a topic he often raises in speeches. He said citizens need to protect that exceptionalism and respect the American flag andall it stands for. 
His campaign called for a strong America, and he said he believes in strong education, a strong economy, and strong support for police and those serving in the military.
Van Drew was the first to speak at the event. His staff members said he had another event that evening, part of a packed schedule in the final weeks of a campaign where many have already voted.
Polls have shown the congressional race as close to a dead heat. In the Senate race, Booker maintains a commanding lead over Mehta statewide.
At the chamber dinner, Mehta said the priority is to defeat the novel coronavirus, which, he said, will require protecting medical innovation. He also said he would fight for small businesses in every county. 
“We need a senator who represents the entire state. That’s what I will be,” he said.
Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti and Sheriff Robert Nolan, twoincumbents running without opposition gave presentations.
Nolan spoke of COVID-19, the opioid epidemic, and his department’s controversial agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He said no inmate in the county jail contracted the virus, noting it was the only jail in the state to accomplish that.
Many inmates have had health issues or struggle with substance abuse, which can weaken immune responses, according to Nolan.
“If COVID gets in there, it’s going to spread like wildfire,” he said. “The opioid problem did not go away because COVID is here.”
He spoke of his son’s death from an overdose, something he hasn’toften done in public, calling it the toughest day of his life.
“I committed, at that time, to use the full power of the office of sheriff to do whatever I could to help in the opioid addiction crisis. It’s not just cuff ‘em and stuff ‘em and throw away the key. That’s not ever going to help anybody.”
He said he worked with the drug court and tries to get inmates into rehabilitation centers when beds become available.
He also stood by his decision to renew a contract with ICE, which ran afoul of a state directive and with Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
“I want to be clear. I’m not the guy who says, ‘I don’t want immigrants in this county.’ That’s not the case at all,” he said, adding immigrants should assimilate with the society and work toward citizenship, “not commit crimes and violate the sanctity of our community.”
When an immigrant is in the country illegally and ends up in the county jail, he said, they should face consequences.
“I still, to this day, contact ICE and say, ‘come get these people and get them out of our county,’” he said.
Fulginiti spoke of the clerk’s office archive of historical records dating from 1692 and keeping people’s information safe while providing public access to records.
This year, because of the pandemic, the election will take place primarily by mail.
“It has been quite a year for us,” she said. The county sent out more than 71,000 vote-by-mail ballots, which can be returned by mail or dropped off at secure locations throughout the county. Most years, she said, there would be about 6,000 ballots sent by mail.
As of the end of business the day before, she said, 30% of county voters had returned their ballots. She said she watches lines of voters lining up at the drop-off box at the clerk’s office each day.
“It is quite an astounding election,” she said.
The race for Middle Township Committee pits former West Cape May Mayor Bob Jackson, the Democratic candidate, against incumbent Republican Mayor Timothy Donohue for one of three seats on the governing body.
Jackson said he was not a politician, and that he would not throw mud as part of his campaign.
“If bullying is bad for kids, it’s bad for us,” he said.
He cited his faith in introducing himself at the event.
“Who’s Bob Jackson? First and foremost, a son of the living God,” he said. “I believe in Jesus Christ. Most of what I do is inspired by that.”
Jackson’s comments were light on specifics or policy. He called for long-term planning for municipal improvements and said he conducted his life with integrity and if elected would work hard.
“I can tell everybody, I’m not going to do a wink, wink or a nod, nod to the in-house buddy system. That’s going to end if I get in because I’m going to call it out,” he said. He did not offer any explanation for what he meant by the buddy system.
Donohue spoke of extraordinary times and said how nice it was for everyone to see each other in person, even though some complained about the cold, as the sun went down, and others gathered around a gas fireplace on the deck.
“It’s just great to be together,” he said.
Donohue said running for reelection is like a job performance review, and asked voters to judge him on how the municipality operated while he was in office.
“You’ve elected me three times. I’m going to ask for your vote again tonight. I hope you trust my leadership, and I hope you renew my contract,” he said.
He noted there have been no increases in the local purpose tax rate when Republicans were in the majority.
Donohue praised the Middle Township Police Department, citing the handling of peaceful protests for racial equality this summer, and how the community handled the challenges of the pandemic.
Even with that challenge, he said, the municipality added $24 million in new ratables.
The municipality is committed to responsible business development while preserving the rural character of the area, he told the business owners.
The event’s longest portion was when incumbent Republican Freeholders Jeffrey Pierson and Will Morey faced off against Democratic candidates Brendan Sciarra and Elizabeth Casey, as well as independent candidate Ryan Troiano.
Much of the discussion covered areas the candidates discussed the night before, at a debate moderated by the League of Women Voters ( A chamber member asked for clarification on plans for the name of the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
In August, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law abandoning the historic name, as of Jan. 1, 2021. The winners of this election will be sworn in as county commissioners. The move was not welcomed at the chamber event, with a mention of it being met with some boos.
In answer to a question, Pierson said the effort was led by the governor and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney. He pointed to the history of the term when the only people who could hold public office held free title to land.
Some advocates of the change argue that at the time the term was first used, only white men could hold land or vote.
“We’re the only state in the union that still uses the term,” Pierson said. He added there have been female freeholders and black freeholders in history. “That’s the impetus. Right now, it’s socially not acceptable.”
Troiano took issue with the change and said it should be opposed at the local level.
“I think if we just continue to roll over and accept things being forced down our throats, things being (called) racist that aren’t racist,” Troiano said. “We need a voice that will step up.”
He said the local officials should say the change makes no sense.
“When you pander to people, it doesn’t benefit anybody,” he said.
To contact Bill Barlow, email

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