SOMERVILLE, NJ - History was made in the historic Somerset County Courthouse Thursday as local resident Shanel Robinson was sworn in as the first-ever African-American female Freeholder Director at the annual Somerset County Reorganization meeting.

“After a year of service on this board, I know how fortunate we are to have the team that’s in place. While our priorities will change our commitment to the people of Somerset County will not,” Robinson said in a news release. “I have been given the awesome responsibility of leading the county as the director and I am required to not only take an oath but to live by and uphold the oath along with my Air Force core values— integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all I do.”

Related: Shanel Robinson Shares Political Goals For New Role as Freeholder

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The day was also notable as the balance of power on the freeholder board shifted for the first time in 56 years, with Democrat Melonie Marano sworn to office, creating a 3-2 Democratic majority on the board. She defeated Republican Pat Walsh in November, who had served 12 years on the board.

Marano, Robinson and fellow Democrat Sara Sooy, who became the Deputy Freeholder director following a vote by her colleagues, represent the new Democrat majority, which was celebrated by a long guest list of local, county, state and federal Democrats, including Gov. Phil Murphy, who returned to the courthouse for the third time in three years to swear in the new Democrats to office.

Last year, Murphy swore in Robinson and Sooy to the board, and in 2018, the governor swore in Somerset County Clerk Steve Peter.

Related: Robinson and Sooy sworn-in as first Democrats on Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders in decades

Republican Freeholders Brian Levine, who resides in Franklin and Brian Gallagher voted with their Democratic colleagues Thursday to approve Robinson and Sooy as the ranking members of the board.

Democrat Darrin Russo, a former Franklin Township police lieutenant, and local resident was sworn in as Somerset County Sheriff by Murphy. He takes over from Republican Frank Provenzano, who chose not to seek reelection in November after serving 18 years.

“I am honored that the voters chose me as their Sheriff, and look forward to working with Somerset County’s sheriff’s and corrections officers to deliver innovative community policing for the people of Somerset County,” Russo said in news release.  “The opportunities presented with the new leadership at the Freeholder Board are many, and I look forward to partnering to make a difference in the lives of Somerset County’s residents.”

In addition to Peg Schaefer, Somerset County Democratic chair, other prominent Democrats and union leaders in attendance at the annual Reorganization meeting were:

  • NJ Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (LD17
  • US Representative Bonnie Watson-Coleman (NJ12)
  • US Representative Tom Malinowski (NJ7)
  • NJ State Senate Majority Leader Lorretta Weinberg
  • NJ State Senator Bob Smith (LD17)
  • NJ State Senator Nicholas P. Scutari (LD22)
  • NJ Assemblyman Roy Freiman (LD16)
  • NJ Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (LD16)
  • Somerset County Clerk Steve Peter
  • NJ Democratic Party Chair John Currie
  • Essex Democratic Committee Chair Leroy Jones
  • NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan
  • State Troopers Fraternal Association President Wayne Blanchard
  • Middlesex-Somerset County Central Labor Council President Wayne Martiak

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