FLEMINGTON, NJ - Hunterdon County Freeholder John Lanza, a Raritan Township resident, is staying committed to his opposition of a title change for the governing bodies of New Jersey’s counties from “Board of Chosen Freeholders” to “Board of County Commissioners.”
For the second straight county board meeting, he spoke at length on how the name change to County Commissioners would represent “an empty gesture.” Lanza pulled the phrase from State Sen. Shirley Turner, a Democrat and African American who represents three southern Hunterdon County municipalities.
Lanza said the name change of governing bodies falls in line in what he views as “questionable priorities of the New Jersey State Legislature.”
“There are so many other pressing priorities in the state, but at lightning speed, this legislation was passed in the last week of July, and it sits on Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s desk awaiting his signature,” he said. “Our days as freeholders are clearly numbered. A key question that’s been asked is why make this change and take up the legislature’s time with this matter. State Senate President Steve Sweeney is quoted in the media as saying ‘freeholder’ is an outdated term, and that it’s rooted in terminology and practices of bigotry. Many would question this opinion, as do I. Interestingly, during the 13 years that Sweeney served as a Gloucester County Freeholder, never once, in any those 13 years, did he mention any concern about his title symbolizing bigotry. That’s because it didn’t and he did not care.”
Lanza said the current climate of political correctness spurring the change, in the arena of statewide politics, “is about opportunism and subterfuge, it’s purely political.”
“This is about showing the public a shiny new thing, over here which we are doing by changing a name,” he said. “Meanwhile, with the other hand, the state legislature is doing absolutely nothing, or failing miserably, in anything that matters to residents in the state, whether that is getting their unemployment claims processed efficiently, getting lines shorted at the Motor Vehicle Commission, getting the upcoming school year launched in an appropriate and orderly manner that’s acceptable to parents or whether that is with New Jersey’s $10 billion debt pile coming down taxpayers’ throats, which is unconstitutional by the way.”
New Jersey State Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker is the prime sponsor on the bill approved by the state legislature. He recently authored a letter published in media outlets statewide, noting that Shanel Robinson, Somerset County’s Freeholder Director who was elected to office in 2018, was one of 19 Black county freeholders known as the “NJ Nineteen,” and she asked Zwicker to “revive the legislation” for changing the freeholder title.
Zwicker, a Democrat and physicist at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, is a Kingston resident who represents New Jersey's 16th Legislative District. The district includes the Hunterdon County municipalities of Flemington Borough, Raritan Township, Delaware Township, Readington Township and Stockton Borough; in Somerset County, Montgomery Township, Hillsborough Township, Rocky Hill, Manville Borough, Somerville Borough, Millstone Borough and Branchburg Township; South Brunswick Township in Middlesex County; and Princeton in Mercer County.
Zwicker stated in a recent letter that, “It is well past time we shed the title of freeholder, which by its very nature is exclusionary. A freeholder, historically, was intended to keep county-level office restricted to white, male debt-free owners; keep people of color and women out of public service; maintain power structures; and perpetuate the institutionalized racism and sexism we’re dealing with today. This is an opportunity to confront and address a larger issue for injustice and inequality in our state. While there is still much work to do, and some may say this is inconsequential, I’d argue the opposite. In the fight for equality and justice, even the smallest battles are worth winning.”
On Aug. 4, Lanza noted that Hunterdon County Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren, whose current term expires on Dec. 31 this year, will likely be the last official candidate for the position of freeholder in Hunterdon’s history in the upcoming 2020 election, “and so we salute you.”
“No matter what our title is on this elected board, we will continue to put the interests of Hunterdon County’s people ahead of anything else,” he said. “We are going to continue to work on the things that matter, in stark contrast to the people in charge down in Trenton.”