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Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura at the Essex County 9-11 Memorial ceremony in West Orange on September 11, 2018. (Photo: New Jersey Globe.)

A look at the races for Sheriff

Bergen, Camden, Essex, Gloucester and Salem will elect Sheriffs in 2018

By David Wildstein, October 22 2018 12:18 am

Five New Jersey counties will elect a Sheriff on November 6.  Four of them – Camden, Essex, Gloucester and Salem – have incumbents running that are favored to win re-election.  Bergen County has an open seat.  It’s possible that the only Republican victory will come in Salem County, where a popular incumbent is running in a county about the size of Old Bridge.

Bergen County: The race with the most attention is in Bergen, where an unexpected special election will be held to replace Michael Saudino.

Saudino resigned in September, the day after WNYC released an audio tape of him making racist and homophobic remarks.  Even though voting had already begun, Secretary of State Tahesha Way ordered a special election anyway.

Bergen County now has nearly 90,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Democrats nominated Anthony Cureton, a former Bergen County NAACP president, to run for Sheriff.  Republicans have picked Hasbrouck Heights Mayor Jack DeLorenzo.  Three independents are also running: Jim Ahearn, an attorney and former Rutherford police officer; retired state trooper Robert Tormo; and Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert Kugler, who challenged Cureton at a Democratic convention earlier this month.

Saudino was elected as a Republican in 2010, ousting two-term incumbent Leo McGuire by 9,210 votes (52%).  He was re-elected by 21,117 votes (55%) against Democrat James Mordaga in 2013.  After switching parties in 2016, Saudino won a third term with an 88,447-vote margin (63%) against Republican Michael Afonso.

Way’s ruling means the Bergen electoral clock will reset and the Sheriff’s office will be for three-years, not for the fourteen months remaining on Saudino’s term.

Bergen County was one New Jersey’s premier swing county, but Democrats now control all five countywide elected offices.  There are 219,582 Democrats, 129,935 Republicans, and 253,897 unaffiliated voters.

Camden County: Sheriff Gilbert “Whip” Wilson is seeking re-election to a second term as Camden County Sheriff.   He faces former Magnolia Mayor Joseph Adolf, the Republican nominee.

Wilson has held public office for most of the last 25 years, serving as a Camden city councilman and then as an Assemblyman from 2010 to 2015.  He won 46% of the vote when he ran for mayor in 2001 against Gwendolyn Faison.  He won the Sheriff’s race with 62% of the vote three years ago after incumbent Chuck Billingham retired.

Adolf is a Republican stalwart against a formidable Democratic organization.  He has run for State Senate three times.  Adolf challenged Democratic State Sen. John Adler twice, receiving 39% in 2003 and 38% in 2007.  After Adler resigned from the Senate to take his seat in Congress, Adolf ran in a 2009 special election against James Beach (D-Voorhees) and lost 58%-42%.

Democrats have held the Camden County Sheriff’s post since 1994, when Democrat-turned Republican William J. Simon lost his bid for a sixth term to retired state police captain Michael McLaughlin by a 2-1 margin.  Simon was a legendary figure in Camden County politics who went to war with then-County Chairman George Norcross and switched earlier that year.  The story of that campaign could be the topic of a full book.

The last time the Republicans won a race for Camden County Sheriff was in 1968, when Martin Segal was re-elected to a fifth term.  He retired in 1971 and was succeeded by a Democrat, Arnold Cream.  Cream was best known as world heavyweight boxing champion Jersey Joe Wolcott and was the first Black Sheriff in state history.

Democrats have a 3-1 voter registration edge in Camden County, where there are 163,852 Democrats, 52,279 Republicans, and 126,368 unaffiliated voters.

Essex County: Democrat Armando Fontoura is extraordinarily popular and is a shoo-in to win his 10th term as Essex County Sheriff.  He faces Republican Pasquale Capozzoli, a Caldwell councilman who won 30% of the vote against State Sen. Richard Codey last year.

Fontoura was elected in 1991 after Sheriff Thomas D’Alessio was elected Essex County Executive.  He was re-elected three years ago with 79% of the vote and is the longest-serving Sheriff in Essex County history.

Democrats have a 5-1 voter registration edge in Essex County, with 260,275 Democrats, 50,263 Republicans, and 193,070 unaffiliated voters.

The last Republican Sheriff in Essex County was Charles Cummings, who was elected in 1979 and defeated for re-election by D’Alessio in 1982.

Gloucester County: Sheriff Carmel Morina, a Democrat, was elected in 2006 and his seeking his fifth term.  He faces Republican Jonathan Sammons, a retired Army officer and pistol and shotgun instructor.  Sammons won the GOP primary as a write-in after the party failed to file a candidate.

Morina was re-elected in 2015 with 59% of the vote and is the favorite to win.  But Gloucester is a must-win for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin, and some Republicans are hopeful that he will have some coattails.

Democrats have an edge in voter registration over the GOP: 81,722 to 46,380, with 82,697 unaffiliated voters.

Democrats have held the Sheriff’s post since 2000, when Republican Chuck Gill did not seek re-election.  Gilbert Miller, a retired state police captain, defeated Republican Carmen DiNovi, who has worked for the U.S. Marshal.

Republicans ousted two Democratic freeholders in 2010 by a little more than 100 votes to break the all-Democratic lock of Gloucester county government, but never added to that.  Those seats went back to the Democrats in 2013.

Salem County: Republican Sheriff Chuck Miller is seeking re-election to a fifth term against Democrat Bob Gant, a lieutenant who works for Miller in the Sheriff’s Department.

This is Miller’s first contested election since 2006, when he won his first term with 52% of the vote

Miller was elected twelve years ago with 52% of the vote against Democrat Gilbert Higgins, a former state police captain, after four-term Republican John Cooksey retired.

There is a lot of job security as the Salem County Sheriff: Republican Norbert Williams was elected in 1973 and served until he retired in 1973; and Hubert Layton was elected in 1932 and except for three years off when another Republican replaced him, served until he retired two years into his 14th term.  Salem used to have a traditional of one-term and out for Sheriffs, so Layton stepped down in 1935 and became the Undersheriff.  When Republican Peter Hoff stepped down, he ran again and won.

The last Democratic Sheriff of Salem County was George Dixon, who beat Republican George Brown by 87 votes in 1929.

Democrats have a slight edge in voter registration over the Republicans, 13,960 to 11,138, with 19,405 unaffiliated voters. Democrats control the Board of Freeholders and countywide races are often close.

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