NEWTON, NJ - The seats of The Newton Theatre were filled last night with citizens and government officials, who were present for a campaign debate for Sussex County Freeholder and Surrogate.
Toni Zimmer of the New Jersey League of Women Voters, which co-sponsored the event, introduced Louise Davis of the same non-partisan organization who posed as timekeeper during the debate.
There were three parts to the debate for each candidate: A one-minute opening statement, two minutes to answer questions generated by voters, and a one-minute closing statement as all answers will give voters the opportunity to know the candidates.
“This debate pertains to issues of office, not personal matters,” said Davis, who explained that she would interrupt if a candidate did not abide by the rule.
Rob Jennings, reporter for the New Jersey Herald, posed as mediator during the Sussex County Surrogate debate between Alicia Ferrante and Gary Chiusano.
Davis educated the public on what the job of a surrogate entails, which includes processing wills and adoptions.
Earlier, both candidates had flipped a coin to see who would speak first, with Ferrante as the chosen one.
Ferrante, a Republican with 16 years of law practice under her belt, said in her opening statement how she represents clients in wills, adoption and guardianship.
“My legal background prepares me, and you the voters now have a chance to vote for a candidate who does have a legal background,” Ferrante told the public.
Her opponent, Chiusano, has served the public for over 25 years as a freeholder, assemblyman, and former mayor of the Frankford Township Committee.
“My motivation for running is I love working with people,” Ferrante said. "I feel I can best serve the people in Sussex County.”
Jennings then emphasized the fact that Ferrante is a lawyer, and then compared her skills to Nancy Fitzgibbons, former surrogate for the county who did not have any background as an attorney.
Ferrante responded to Jennings with, “Nancy Fitzgibbons did not have a background in law, but she had daily contact with lawyers and became involved in guardianship.”
“For the past 26 years no surrogate has been an attorney,” said Chiusano. "As the surrogate, I will have the opportunity to help someone every day of the week.”
Jennings proceeded to bring up the question of campaign funds to each candidate, and asked Ferrante about funds she has received from out-of-county municipalities.
“I received their support because they decided on who they were going to support, and they chose me,” explained Ferrante.
Jennings also indicated the fact that Ferrante has volunteers working on her campaign, and Chiusano has chosen to pay one.
“I have one paid consultant who has had experience in the Republican Party for years,” explained Chiusano.
One thing both candidates agreed on is how they would not change how anything in office is presently.
“My position is I am qualified as an attorney,” said Ferrante as she then complimented Chiusano on his past qualifications. “It does not mean you are meant for the surrogate position.”
“As an attorney I don’t need to call another lawyer because I know the statutes,” said Ferrante, and received claps from the audience.
Chiusano shot back to Ferrante with, “As a practicing lawyer you have never needed to contact another lawyer for interpretation?” and received claps from the audience as well.
Ferrante told Jennings that if she is selected as Sussex County Surrogate, she must be prepared to leave her practice, and take the five year term surrogate position.
Chiusano had agreed that he would serve the whole five year term, and even a second term. Ferrante mentioned how Chiusano did not complete his whole terms as assemblyman and freeholder and voters may question it, however Chiusano stated, “It was never my intention to run full terms for those positions.”
In his one minute closing statement, Chiusano delivered his work background to the audience and stated, “I think I have the better skills to hold this office, I ask for your support on June 4.”
“I am motivated solely by the desire, and will give up my private practice to run the full five year term,” said Ferrante.
The second round of debates started around 8 p.m. with George Graham, Gary Larson, Helen Wilson LeFrois, and Rich Vohden for freeholder.
Dr. Tony Balzano, professor of Anthropology at Sussex County Community College and Bruce Scruton, beat reporter for the Sussex County Freeholder meetings, both posed as mediators during this time.
Larson, who has served his time as mayor, deputy mayor and committeeman in Frankford Township, is looking to fill the seat of current freeholder, Parker Space, assemblyman for New Jersey.
Vohden jokingly said to the public, “I’m Richie Vohden and I’m looking to fill Richie Vohden’s seat,” with his decision to run for a second term as freeholder.
“The freeholder budget is responsible for roads, bridges and social services. It is very important that freeholders are working together with municipalities,” said LeFrois.
“I think we can all agree that we need to repair our roads and bridges. What is an acceptable amount of debt?” asked Balzano to the candidates.
“I don’t advocate in making some serious changes in roads,” said Graham. “A lot of buildings do need serious repairs, but I do not want to spend a lot of money.”
“We need to keep costs as low as we can keep costs, if we do not maintain them they are going to deteriorate,” said Vohden.
Another question asked by Scruton was, “How do we get economic development into the community? Is there a downside?”
“Population [in Sussex County] had dropped 4,000 people in the last five years, taxes dropped 20 percent and jobs are two percent higher than Morris County,” explained Vohden.
“DEP [Department of Public Works] regulations makes a very limited community,” said Larson.
“So much of our land is restricted,” explained Graham as he related it to the DEP, Highlands and sewer service.
“I don’t think we should be pessimistic. I think there is a lot that can be done with the property we have,” said LeFrois.
“I provide significance experience and pledge to vote the time and effort to be your next Sussex County Freeholder. I really love this job,” said Graham.
“I worked hard my entire life and want to continue to use everything I have learned. I have the time to do the job, and would like your support to be elected again,” said Vohden.
“I want to represent you [the public] in office as Sussex County Freeholder,” said Larson.
“I want to work hard alongside our government officials and to bring jobs,” said LeFrois.
Guests at the debate included: freeholders Phil Crabb, Glen Vetrano, Dennis Mudrick and Gail Phoebus ; Assemblyman Parker Space; Byram Township Council Members Nisha Kash and Carlos Luaces and former Byram Township Mayor, Skip Danielson; Stanhope Borough Mayor Rosemarie Maio; Vernon Township Mayor Vic Marotta and Council President Pat Rizutto; Newton Councilman Dan Flynn; County Republican Chairwoman Ailish Hambel; Diane Land, President of the Sussex County Tea Party; Senator Steven Oroho; and members of members of the Republican committee.
The debate was hosted by The New Jersey Herald. It also was streamed live on the njherald.com website, and recorded by Service Electric Cable. The debate will be broadcasted frequently in the following weeks.
Citizens will cast their votes for freeholder and surrogate in a primary on June 4.
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