Robert M. Damminger, a popular South Jersey vote-getter who served 24 years on the Gloucester County Board of Commissioners, died on June 2. He was 65.
As a county official, Damminger was a strong advocate of shared and regional government services and led efforts to establish a regionalized correctional system in Gloucester county. He also pushed for farmland and open space protection and maintaining local infrastructure.
His political career came to an end in 2021 when he lost his bid for re-election to a 9th term.
Damminger launched his political career in 1986, at age 29, as a candidate for councilman in Paulsboro. He ran with incumbent James Sabetta and faced Republicans Albert Feldman and Wayne Wurtz. Damminger ran about 100 votes ahead of Sabetta and roughly 800 votes in front of the Republicans.
He won a second term in 1989. He defeated Republican Mozelle Dansby by more than 400 votes and again topped Sabetta. After Sabetta left to run for mayor, Damminger teamed up with a new running mate, Elwood Hampton. They ran unopposed for council the same year Democrat John Burzichelli, who went on to serve 20 years in the State Assembly, ran as a Republican for mayor and unseated Sabetta.
In 1997, Damminger and Robert Smith, an attorney from Washington township became the Democratic candidates for freeholder against two GOP incumbents, Daniel Mangini and Stephen Atkinson.
Damminger was the top vote-getter, running about 2,000 votes ahead of Smith. Smith edged out Mangini and Atkinson by approximately 1,200 votes.
After Smith became an assemblyman from the 4th legislative district in 1999, Damminger ran with Logan Councilman Bill Krebs.
A growing war between eight-term Democratic State Sen. Raymond Zane and two party leaders, Freeholder Steve Sweeney and county chairman Michael Angelini, led to a freeholder primary. Zane recruited East Greenwich Mayor Dalyn Currey and former Monroe school board member Willie Carter to challenge Damminger and Krebs. Zane’s candidates got destroyed – losing by more than 40 points despite running on a line with U.S. Senate candidate Jon Corzine. (Former Gov. Jim Florio had the Gloucester line in his primary challenge to Corzine.)
In the general election, Damminger and Krebs defeated Republicans Harry Kennedy, a former freeholder, and Woolwich Deputy Mayor Sam Casella by about 15,000 votes.
In 2003, Damminger and Krebs defeated Republicans Jeff Morris and Loren Oglesby by over 6,000 votes. He ran with Joe Chila in 2006, 2009 – he won by 4,000 votes — and 2012, and with James Lavender in 2015 and 2018.
Last year, Republicans scored an upset victory in Gloucester County and Damminger was defeated by Nick DeSilvio and Chris Konawel. Damminger ran 2,384 votes behind Konawel and 992 votes in front of his running mate, Denice DiCarlo.
Damminger spent 11 years as the board director. He had served as deputy executive director of the South Jersey Transportation Authority and previously was a maintenance mechanic for a petroleum company.
He is survived by his wife, Debbie and his daughter, Kimberly.
“Bob Damminger was a longtime dedicated public servant. He cared deeply about his community and country. He was a visionary for affordable community college and job training programs,” said Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden). “He was a good man who remembered his working-class labor roots and worked tirelessly to ensure Gloucester County families had a chance at the American dream … So many lives are better today because of Bob.”