Zenon Christodoulou, a prominent Democratic fundraiser and Branchburg businessman, is preparing to run for Somerset County freeholder against incumbent Patricia Walsh.
“The timing seems to be right for my family,” Christodoulou told the New Jersey Globe. “Changes need to be made. Everybody needs to take an active role.”
Democrats won two freeholder seats last year and can take control of county government for their first time since 1965 if they can oust four-term Republican Patricia Walsh in November.
He has spent the last few years as vice chairman of the Somerset County Democratic party and would be viewed as a formidable candidate to win their convention, if he wants it.
Christodoulou, 54, has flirted with running for office before. He considered challenging State Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg) in 2019 and had briefly challenged Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) in 2010.
He said he would make up his mind within the next few weeks.
“Everybody needs to step up at the right time,” Christodoulou said.
He won prominence in New Jersey as a top fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns, and as a fundraiser for Gov. Phil Murphy in 2017. His ability to raise money stems from contacts made in the Greek Orthodox Church where his father was a major player.
Once a Republican stronghold, Somerset has become a swing county in recent years.
The county has 15,798 more Democrats than Republicans. A decade ago, Republicans had an edge of 879. In 2018, Sara Sooy and Shanel Robinson ousted two GOP freeholders – the first Democrats to win Somerset freeholder seats since 1979.
Somerset has gone Democratic in the last three presidential elections, with Clinton winning by 20,184 votes in 2016. Murphy and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez won Somerset in 2017 and 2018, respectively. With the election of Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill), Somerset is now represented entirely by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2017, Somerville Councilman Steven Peter unseated veteran Republican County Clerk Brett Radi by 407 votes; the Democratic Freeholder candidates lost by 1,489 votes.
Democrats are also preparing to make a run at the Sheriff’s office.
Six-term incumbent Frank Provenzano announced last Friday that he would not seek re-election. Provenzano won just 50.4% in his 2016 re-election bid.
Retired Franklin police lieutenant Darrin Russo, the Democrat who nearly toppled Provenzano three years ago, is running again. He is facing Art Akins, a school resources officer in Bridgewater and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, for his party’s endorsement.
Provenzano endorsed North Plainfield Chief of Police Bill Parenti as his successor. Tin Pino, a retired captain with the Sheriff’s Department, is already in the race and has the backing of State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford).