Laurelle A. Cummings, a well-liked South Jersey Democrat who served as a Camden County Freeholder and mayor of Waterford, died on August 17. She was 83.
“Laurelle was a tireless public servant throughout her tenure in elected office, but that official capacity is only a fraction of the work she did by volunteering her time in our community over the last 60 years,” said Louis Cappelli, Jr., the director of the Camden County Board of Commissioners. “She was the epitome of integrity and gave everything she had to building a better county for generations to come. She was a caring and smart elected official who always put people first and that will be the cornerstone of her legacy here in Camden County.”
Cummings launched her political career in 1988 as the Democratic candidate for Waterford Township Committee against incumbent Anthony L. Clark, the mayor. Republicans had a 5-0 majority in local government at that time and Clark was the first Black mayor in township history.
Clark was also on the ballot as the GOP challenger to Camden County Sheriff William Simon. Cummings opposed Clark’s decision to see both posts in the same election.
He lost the sheriff’s race – Simon won by about 10,000 votes, 53%-47% — Clark kept his township committee seat in Waterford. He defeated Cummings by about 440 votes, 56%-44%.
That same year, the venerable Jeannine LaRue was re-elected to a seat on the Winslow Township Committee, defeating Republican Melvin Anthony with 73% of the vote.
Cummings ran again in 1989 on a ticket headed by local Congressman Jim Florio (D-Runnemede), the Democratic nominee for governor. George E. Norcross III won his first race for Camden County Democratic Chairman that June.
Republican Anthony Melven was seeking re-election with another Republican, Gary Zito. Incumbent Robert Macauley declined to seek re-election. Cummings ran with Robert J. Wolfe.
This time, Cummings won a close race. She was the top vote-getter, running 81 votes in front of Wolfe. Wolfe unseated Melven by 10 votes to reduce the Republican majority to 3-2. Zito ran 62 votes behind Melvin.
Cummings became just the second woman to win local office in Waterford; Leah Wilhelm had won in the 1970s.
Among her first actions as a newly elected township committeewoman was to oppose the selection of Republican State Sen. Lee Laskin (R-Haddonfield) as municipal solicitor and Camden County Republican Chairman George Geist as the municipal prosecutor. She also voted against the appointment of Melven as the Waterford Township Insurance Commissioner.
Cummings and Wolfe were easily re-elected to second terms in 1992, defeating Republicans Barbara de Buono and Robert Denton. Cummings finished more than 450 votes ahead of the top Republican vote-getter.
Democrats flipped Waterford in 1993, winning two township committee seats – incumbent Stan Banes was defeated – and taking a 4-1 majority. Cummings became mayor in January 1994 and held the post again in 1998.
Cummings and Wolfe won third terms in 1995, with a plurality of about 200 votes over Republicans Warren Thompson and William Richardson, Jr.
After Freeholder Scott Goldberg decided not to seek re-election in 1998, Camden County Democrats picked Cummings to run countywide on a ticket with incumbent Edward T. McDonnell.
They defeated Republicans Laura Ann Adriano and Timothy Ferguson. That race also featured the maiden campaign of Edward “Weedman” Forchion, who ran for freeholder on the “Legalize Marijuana” slate. Cummings won more than 26,000 votes.
In 2001, Cummings and McDonnell were re-elected by more than 34,000 votes against Republicans Catherine Kidd Engime and Ralph Trovato.
After two terms on the freeholder board, Cummings did not seek re-election in 2004.
Norcross, who declined to be inconvenienced by April filing deadline, put 89-year-old John Kerfoot, the Audubon Park Democratic municipal chairman since 1953, on the primary ballot as a placeholder to run with McDonell. Kerfoot had also been a placeholder in 2000 and briefly served as an interim freeholder that year.
Later, Camden Democrats picked Carmen Rodriguez as their candidate. She served until her secret resignation earlier this year.
Cummings had worked as a recruiter for the American Red Cross in Camden County, and as the volunteer coordinator for Samaritan Hospice, the American Cancer Society, Lighthouse Hospice, and for Goodwill Industries. She also served as a Democratic county committeewoman.
Predeceased by her husband, Bill, and son, Billy, Cummings is survived by her seven children, 23 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
A viewing will be held at the Leroy P. Wooster Funeral Home and Crematory in Atco on Tuesday from 6-8 PM and on Wednesday at 10-11 AM. A celebration of life service is set for Wednesday at 11 AM.