SOMERVILLE, NJ: The Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders is no longer exclusively Republicans for the first time in decades. After their swearing-in by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, Shanel Robinson and Sarah Sooy are the first Democrats to hold the position since the 1980s.

The new board members joined the body for the first time in a courtroom brimming with present and past legislators – both Republican and Democrat – at the historic Somerset County Courthouse in Somerville on Jan. 4.

One of the board’s first acts was to elect Brian Levine as freeholder director and Patricia Walsh as deputy freeholder director.

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In a fitting show of bipartisan representation for the now 3-2 Republican-majority board, former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean delivered the oath of office for Levine.

Robinson and Sooy broke the longtime Republican control of the board by defeating incumbent Republicans Mark Caliguire and Patrick Scaglione in November’s elections.

To mark the occasion, Murphy emphasize the poignancy of the board joining bipartisan legislators throughout the county and state, many of whom were in attendance, to work across party lines for the betterment of residents.

“Something is working in Somerset County and democracy is at the core of it,” Murphy said. “We are first and foremost proud Americans, we are next proud New Jerseyans, and then we put on our political hats.”

After taking her oath, Robinson reminded her new colleagues and those in attendance that their common interests as county residents must come before party politics.

“We are 21 municipalities, but one county,” Robinson said. “And I encourage my colleagues to remember that we are five members, but one council.”

Sooy also urged unity, both in the community and on the board, in her remarks to the audience.

“I believe good government is defined by representation of all parties,” Sooy told the packed courtroom. “My objective is to humbly serve the people through unification and just plain old doing what is right for our community.”

If Robinson and Sooy had any doubt about their new coworkers, they didn’t have to wait long for Levine to double down on their commitment to put the welfare of residents before politics.

“I say to my colleagues old and new: you will always be kept informed, you will be an integral part of the process and you will be full partners in the governing of Somerset County because the residents deserve it,” Levine said during his state of the county speech.

Robinson and Levine are both residents of Franklin Township. 

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