Ocean County Decides: Statewide battles, local skirmishes in Tuesday’s primaries
Voter turnout for Primary Election Day, June 6, is expected to be light throughout New Jersey. Here at the shore, the promise of rain doesn't help any efforts to reverse the trend. Yet, Ocean County voters have the potential to reshape the state, county and municipal landscapes.
Ocean County represents a sizable bloc of voting power. "Exactly 394,229 registered voters," says County Clerk Scott Colabella. "Of that, 126,114 are registered as Republicans. Another 82,602 are registered as Democrats. The largest number, 185,513, are unaffiliated, or undeclared, voters."
Many of us labor under the misconception that undeclared voters are required to sit out the primaries, but Colabella counters the idea.
"If you've never voted in a primary, you've never declared as a Democrat or Republican, you can go to the polling place and declare your party," he said. "Then, you're limited to vote in whatever party you opt to declare."
Colabella says that some people don't want to align with either party, but that shouldn't stop someone from casting ballots. "You can declare yourself in a primary for a party, as long as you haven't previously. Then, afterwards, you can go back to 'undeclared." You can change your registration. If you are a Republican, you can change to Democrat, or vice-versa. Now, there are deadlines to do all that, but you certainly have the right to do it."
The Republican gubernatorial primary attention has largely been directed at Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and a formidable challenge by Somerset County Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. However, votes for any of three other candidates can reorient the landscape: Ocean County businessman-actor Joseph Rullo, Atlantic County engineer Hirsh Singh, and Nutley Township Commissioner Steven Rogers.
On the Democratic side, former investment executive and U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy commands the spotlight, but four other candidates have the potential to steer the political dialogue, depending on their totals: Union County Senator Ray Lesniak, Sayreville Assemblyman John Wisniewski, former Treasury official and federal prosecutor Jim Johnson of Montclair, Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna, and Bergen County firefighter and activist Bill Brennan.
Only one Ocean County state legislative delegation faces an intra-party challenge - District 12. Art Haney competes with longtime Senator Sam Thompson. Assemblymen Ron Dancer and Rob Clifton grapple with Eleanor "Debbie" Walker, Alex Robotin, and John Franklin Sheard.
Ocean County Freeholder Director Joe Vicari hopes for another term, and this year he is challenged for the right to run in November by Jenny Heinz.
Contested local races include Brick Township Republicans vying to be the township's Mayoral candidate this fall. Voters have a choice of retired township police officer Domenick Brando and businessman Martin Ebert.
In Lakewood, Republican Township Committeeman Michael D'Elia has four opponents - Michael Berman, Aaron Hirsch, Yosef Travis and Avrahan Sharaby. Incumben Democrat Ray Coles is on the ballot, challenged by Moshe Raitzik and David Gruman.
Toms River Council member, Maria Maruca, representing Ward 1 on the northern barrier island, faces a primary challenge. Lavallette police officer Justin Lamb seeks the right to run in November, along with Chris J. Grimes. In Ward 3, Jeff Carr has no Republican opposition, but waiting for him in November will be one of two Democrats, Wendell Ferandos or Laurie Huryk.
In Beachwood, two borough council seats will be decided in November, and three Democrats seek to represent the party - Anthony Vicente, Bonnie Verga and Helen Fitzsimmons.
Polling places stay open until 8 PM.