NEWTON, NJ – April 1 marked the deadline for candidates for political offices, to have their petitions in for elected positions, to the respective county clerk's office.
According to a list released yesterday by the Sussex County Clerk’s Office, the county roster of candidates, along with their respective slogans, is as follows:
Sheriff (three-year term) – Michael Strada, “Hometown Conservative Republican”
Surrogate (five-year term) – Gary R. Chiusano, “Hometown Conservative Republican”
Surrogate (five-year term) - Alicia Ferrante, “Republican Party”
Freeholder (three-year term) – Richard Vohden, “Hometown Conservative Republican"
Freeholder (three-year term) – Gary Larson, “Your Kind of Republican”
Freeholder (three-year term) – Helen Wilson LeFrois, “Independent-Minded Conservative Republican”
Freeholder (three-year term) – George Graham, “Regular Republican Organization”
There are no Democrats who have filed at the county level.
In terms of petitions filed, Larson told The Alternative Press, he filed his in early February, and Strada, Chiusano, and Vohden filed theirs on March 27, with New Jersey Senator Steve Oroho, Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, and Assemblyman Parker Space, there to support their teammates.
“This is part of the true democratic process, which allows anyone the opportunity to run for the office of their choice,” said Chiusano. “This is the point of the true American Democratic Process.”
On March 27, Bader George Qarmout filed his petition as well, for Republican State Committeeman, as did Ferrante for Sussex County Surrogate. Space had been Republican State Committeeman for Sussex County, who planned to give up his seat when he became assemblyman.
"I wanted to be sure I am working to support the party, and make sure the party is as conservative as can be," said Qarmout, as The Alternative Press caught up with him on March 28, when he worked the phone bank, at GOP Headquarters in Sparta last week.
During last week's phone bank, which ran from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Qarmout, and other volunteers reached out to Republican voters who are new to Sussex County from other counties in the state, to remind them the primary is June 4. There was no endorsement of candidates, only promotion of the party itself. It is a team effort for the entire party, as all involved will volunteer their time weekly until June 4, with volunteers within the party as well, even providing meals on a rotating basis. Last week, George Graham made that offer to help with meals for the team, and this week, Gary Chiusano is scheduled to have meals provided for the volunteers.
"I want to be sure Sussex County does not get ignored in the state," Qarmout said of his decision to run. "The position allows the committeeman to speak on issues at the state level."
Jill Space, Parker Space's wife, is currently the female delegate for the position, which each county has one male, and one female representative.
According to an email received by The Alternative Press on April 2 from the Sussex County Clerk's Office, Parker Space submitted his petition for the state committee seat again yesterday. In addition to Qarmout, there is one other contender for the male seat, Richard Shaftan. Shaftan filed a joint petition with Deborah DeLuca, who is running for the seat currently held by Jill Space.
Yesterday, there were two other last minute contenders for Sussex County Freeholder that officially filed their petitions, Helen LeFrois, at 2 p.m., and George Graham, shortly after 3 p.m., making it in just before the 4 p.m. deadline.
At the state level on the Republican side are Oroho for Senator, and Littell-McHose, and Space, for Assembly. Democratic Candidates challenging them are: Richard Tomko for Senate, and Susan Williams, and Bill Weightman for Assembly. Both Chiusano and Space will have to run again for their seats, in which they were voted in through the end of the year.
The Sussex County Democrats held their convention on March 23, selecting Barbara Buono as their choice for New Jersey's next Governor.
The Changes In The State, County, and Local Lineup
In Sussex County, there has been a domino effect of movement, beginning with the retirement of Sussex County Surrogate Nancy Fitzgibbons in Dec. 2012, which has created a stream of vacancies.
In Fe. 2013, then-Assemblyman Gary Chiusano received a nomination from Governor Chris Christie for Sussex County Surrogate, which was then confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate floor, with votes cast unanimously in favor of Chiusano. From there, Chiusano was sworn in a few days later in Sussex County.
That, in turn, created a vacancy, in the Assembly, which required filling.
On Friday, Feb. 22, LeFrois sent out to the media, the announcement she made to fellow Sussex County Republicans, of her intent to run for Sussex County Freeholder. Last year, LeFrois ran for the position in the primary, with Gail Phoebus, and came in behind Dennis Mudrick, with Mudrick’s win dividing the Phoebus and Le Frois ticket (Phoebus had 5,135 votes or 26.99 percent, Mudrick 4,431 or 23.29 percent, and LeFrois 2,913 or 20.56 percent). Mudrick and Phoebus are now on the freeholder board, with Mudrick having received 32,825 votes or 32.68 percent, and Phoebus, 31,063 votes, or 30.93 percent in November.
Previously, LeFrois had been the Mayor of the Town of Newton, having been active as well serving on various committees, as well as the Newton Town Council since 2008.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, Sussex County Freeholder Director, Parker Space, was appointed as Assemblyman, during a convention of the Sussex, Warren, and Morris County Republican Committees. After Space won at the convention, he told The Alternative Press, he had planned to go to Trenton to be sworn in to his new post, on Feb. 26. On Feb. 28, The Alternative Press reported that Space led one of his final Sussex County Freeholder Meetings.
It was at this point, when some questioned if Space was holding two offices at once, because Space had not yet stepped down from the freeholder board. A convention to fill Space’s seat as freeholder was scheduled for March 20, and then cancelled only a few hours later, on March 9.
The Alternative Press spoke to Sussex County Clerk Jeff Parrott the day of the convention cancellation, and although Parrott said he could not speak about the details of the change with the convention, he was one of three interviewed that said Space was not holding two offices, an act that is barred in New Jersey.
“He does not hold two offices, he is assembly select,” said Parrott. “Parker is an honorable man, it is a matter of timing.”
Ailish Hambel, Chairman of the Sussex County Republican Committee, responded as well about Space. “He’s not assemblyman yet, he’s not sworn in. Right now, I’m under the impression Parker will step down after the next [freeholder] meeting. Parker mentioned being involved in the budget process and wanted to complete it.”
The viewpoint of George Graham, Stanhope Councilman, and Sussex County Freeholder Candidate, agreed with both Parrott’s and Hambel’s.
“I truly believe Parker is a man of his word,” Graham said. “He told me he was resigning March 13, and I believe him. I’ve always known him as a man of his word.”
What Graham and Hambel said was correct about the date as was later reported in The Alternative Press, on March 14.
Hambel responded about the cancellation of the convention, when The Alternative Press also asked on March 9.
“I wouldn’t call it cancelled,” Hambel replied. “I was trying to have a tentative date.”
Hambel said she literally had to stop the press herself, in terms of the process, with the date of the March 20 convention, because Space had not officially resigned. “When legal counsel tells you that, I’m not taking any chances.”
Filling the Assembly Seat
When questions arose about Space’s move to the assembly, and delay in getting there, some in different political circles had argued and stated that the process to swear in a new assemblyman or assemblywoman, had historically been an arduous process in the past, with some quoting the process to take up to 60 days in some cases. The Alternative Press questioned why Space, who could have been sworn in on Feb. 26, as he had stated, was not, and especially when there was a light legislative session that day, and then the Governor’s budget message. It would turn out to be 26 calendar days between when Space was chosen for assembly, and then sworn in.
“I don’t know more than the next person,” said Hambel of the process in the assembly, when asked on March 9.
The Alternative Press studied some previous examples, which those who argued for in the case for the delay of Space’s swearing in, had referred to, although they had not delved in depth with the reasons behind these cases. The 60 day lag between some past members of the assembly's appointments and then swearings-in, was only correct in one instance, with most taking an average of 24 days, and one taking only 11 days. Most were simply based on the availability of the legislative calendar in Trenton. The cases The Alternative Press analyzed from the examples given, were for the following members of the New Jersey State Assembly: John DiMaio, Nancy Munoz, Gerry Nardello, Donna Simon, and BettyLou DeCroce.
DiMaio (R-23) was chosen by a special election on Feb. 21, 2009 after Marcia Karrow took Leonard Lance's seat. He was not sworn in on the date the next Assembly Session on March 5 of that year, but on the following date of the next Assembly Session on March 16 (23 calendar days).
Munoz (R-21) was the pick at a convention held on April 27, 2009, following her husband Eric's death on March 30, from an aortic aneurysm. Munoz was sworn in the date of the next Assembly Session on May 21 of that year (24 calendar days).
Nardello (R-8) took her seat after the resignation of Patrick Delany, who told the press he was resigning for family issues (his wife Jennifer, sent a controversial email to the Carl Lewis campaign). Delany made his resignation announcement on July 23, 2011, to be effective August 12, according to published reports. Nardello was chosen for the seat on August 11, by her district's Republican Committee, with Chris Brown as their choice for the seat's full-term. Brown won the election on Nov. 8., and was sworn in after the New Year, 2012. Nardello was only slated to serve the six remaining weeks of the legislative session. There were no Assembly Sessions that fall, and two Assembly Quorums, starting on Nov. 10, and Nov. 21. Nardello was sworn in on the same date as the second Assembly Quorum (101 calendar days). The next Assembly Session was held on Jan. 9, 2012, which had an intensely packed schedule, and was the same day Alex DeCroce died. Brown was sworn in the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 10, when the Reorganization of the General Assembly took place at noon, at the War Memorial.
Simon (R-16) took over Peter Biondi's seat, after he passed away on Nov. 11, 2011, from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, after being elected to his seat only days prior, on Nov. 8. Simon, a member of the Readington Township Township Committee, was chosen on Jan. 19, 2012, for the seat, by the Republican Party Municipal Committee. She was sworn in on Jan. 30, the same day when an Assembly Quorum took place, and Committees met (11 calendar days). The agendas for her township shows she was present at the township reorganization meeting on Jan. 3, and the Jan. 17 committee meeting, but not the Feb. 6 meeting. Betty Ann Fort was chosen to replace her on that date, and was sworn in as well, to fill Simon's vacancy.
Alex DeCroce (R-26) passed away on Monday, Jan 9, after being found deceased from a heart attack in a bathroom in the Statehouse at 11:30 p.m., following a long legislative session. Wife BettyLou was chosen by the Morris County Republican Committee on Jan. 25, 2012, to take her husband's seat. The next Assembly Session took place on Feb. 16, 2012, the date she was sworn in (22 calendar days).
The Alternative Press then had the opportunity to speak to Space himself on March 13 for clarification, as to why he he was not sworn in on Feb. 26, as he had initially stated. Space and wife Jill, had been on vacation, scheduled far in advance, while the questions about this swirled on March 9.
Space confirmed at the time of the interview with The Alternative Press on March 13, he would be sworn in on March 21. It would have been more desirable for him to be sworn in on Feb. 26, as he had initially stated on Feb. 23, with Jill Space now away for a three-week business trip for their family business, including during his swearing in, an event she ended up watching online from San Francisco.
Space said Jill Space had a hard time with being away, but had to for their business, Space Farms, which is adding an Extreme Pizza Franchise to their facility. Extreme Pizza’s headquarters is in San Francisco, where Jill Space went for three weeks of training.
“Our business is our business that’s the card that’s dealt,” said Space of Jill Space having to miss the swearing in.
“It’s never been customary to be sworn in during the budget,” Space explained further, as to why he could not be sworn in on Feb. 26, in spite of the light legislative session that day for the assembly.
When Space spoke with The Alternative Press on March 13, he said he would be resigning officially from the freeholder board later on in the day, after finishing up the business he told Hambel and Graham he had planned to.
“I’m not an assemblyman until I’m sworn in, I didn’t want to grab my hat, and walk out,” he said.
What Is Next For the Freeholder Board Vacancy?
With Space now sworn in to the assembly, and his freeholder seat vacant, the convention to choose a candidate to fill the vacant freeholder seat until the end of the year, is now scheduled to take place on Friday, April 12, at 7:00 p.m.
Out of the three freeholder candidates, only two will be headed for the convention, LeFrois, and Graham.
Larson told The Alternative Press, during a phone interview on March 28, he would be on the ballot, however, on June 4.
“I am not going to be involved in the convention in April,” he said. “I was originally not planning on running for freeholder. It took a week or two to think about it.”
Larson decided to run, he said, after he heard John Drake, Director of Client Services for the Sussex County Economic Development Partnership who considered running, decided not to run. Larson, who is a teacher retired from the Sparta Township School System, and became a committee member and later Frankford Township Mayor, decided there has been too much work to be completed in Frankford first. If he won in a convention, he would have to give up his seat on the Frankford Township Committee.
“I felt uncomfortable leaving,” said Larson. “There is unfinished business I’ve been working on for a while. I couldn’t walk away.”
One of those issues is related to Ross’ Corner, and the other, a Stop Sign near the Frankford School, coming out of Branchville, which has required coordinated efforts between State, County, and Local Governments, for close to a year.
Larson further clarified his stance on the current freeholder board.
“Rich Vohden is doing a great job,” he said. “My goal is not to unseat Rich, but to fill the empty seat.”
“I’m super excited to be running,” LeFrois told The Alternative Press yesterday. “I have support from every municipality. It’s my hope that who supported me in last year’s primary, will support me. And I’ll earn new votes, and learn the issues out in the county.”
LeFrois said during her hiatus from government, she has remained active, and is now on the board of Sussex County Community College, and has been nominated by Governor Christie to the New Jersey Advisory Commission on the Status of Women.
“I hope to be back in elected office, I hope to add a conservative and sound voice if elected,” LeFrois added.
Graham also stated he has support from all of the municipalities for his run. He not only currently serves as a Stanhope Councilman (serving since 2007, having acted as council president in 2012), he is also on the board of the Sussex County League of Municipalities, as its Secretary/Treasurer, and is a Trustee with the Friends of Waterloo Village.
Graham, who was accompanied to the Sussex County Clerk’s Office by his grandson, Seth Markle to drop off his petitions, said of the upcoming campaign, “I’m looking forward to this. I’ve spent a lot of time learning what it takes to make local government work, and I look forward to taking it to the county.”
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