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The Road to Mike Testa

A history of State Senate races in Cape May and Cumberland counties

By David Wildstein, December 02 2019 12:23 am

When Michael Testa., Jr. takes his seat in the New Jersey State Senate next week, he will become just the sixth senator to represent the 1st legislative district since it was created in 1973 when New Jersey first adopted a 40-district map.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision, the State Senate had 21 members – one from each county.

For the 1965 election, the Senate was expanded to 29 seats.  The largest counties, Bergen and Essex, had four Senate seats and some of the smaller counties were combined into Senate districts with one or two members.

The 60-member State Assembly was elected in countywide at-large races.  Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties each had one seat, while Atlantic had two.

Cape May County was placed in a district with Atlantic and Gloucester; the three counties had two senators.

Senate President Charles W. Sandman (R-Cape May). Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange.

Senate President Charles Sandman (R-Cape May Court House) was giving up his Senate seat to seek the Republican nomination for governor.

That allowed incumbents Frank Farley (R-Ventnor) and John Hunt (R-Pitman) to run in the First Senate District without facing a primary fight.

The Second Senate District comprised Cumberland and Salem counties into a single-member seat.  That put Senate Minority Leader Robert Weber (D-Greenwich) and State Sen. John Waddington (D-Salem) into an all-incumbent primary fight.  Weber dropped out just before the filing deadline.

Waddington was re-elected with 57% of the vote against former Bridgeton Mayor John Spoltore, who later served as Cumberland County GOP Chairman and New Jersey Republican State Chairman.

Farley and Hunt defeated Democrats Edward Savage, the mayor of Deptford, and Leo Clark, a retired FBI agent from Margate.  Hunt, a former Gloucester County sheriff, ran more than 15,000 votes ahead of Savage.  Farley, the legendary Atlantic County political boss, finished about 5,600 votes behind Hunt and beat Clark by 4,708.  Cape May and Gloucester went narrowly for Clark.

The closeness of the race was attributed to Sandman’s allegation that Farley was behind a massive voter fraud that caused him to lose Atlantic County by a near 2-1 margin against State Sen. Wayne Dumont in the gubernatorial primary. Dumont beat Sandman statewide by 12,911 votes, 50%-46%.  Sandman wound up endorsing Farley, but without all of the wounds healed.

In 1966, Farley patched things up with Sandman and backed him for a congressional seat against freshman Rep. Thomas McGrath (D-Margate).

McGrath had ousted four-term Rep. Milton Glenn (R-Margate) in the 1964 LBJ landslide.  Glenn ran for his old seat, but Farley backed Sandman, who won the primary with 75% and the general with 52%,

Hunt was also elected to Congress in 1966, winning an open seat after redistricting moved the Essex County seat of freshman Rep. Paul Krebs (D-Livingston) to South Jersey.

Legislative redistricting

Amidst a series of court challenges on the 1965 map, New Jersey redrew legislative districts

The new First Senate District combined Cape May and Cumberland counties.  Farley ran in the Second Senate District, which was comprised entirely of Atlantic County.

Republicans nominated Assemblyman Robert Kay (R-Wildwood), a bitter Sandman rival, for the open Senate seat.

Sandman had never been an organization favorite.

After State Sen. Anthony Cafiero (R-Wildwood) resigned to become a Superior Court Judge, Cape May Republicans picked Assemblyman Nathaniel C. Smith (R-Ocean City) to run for the open Senate seat in a special election.

Sandman, then a 33-year-old attorney and World War II veteran, challenged Smith in the primary and lost by about 550 votes, a 52%-48% margin.

Smith wanted to run for a full term in 1955, but the organization line went to former Assemblyman John E. Boswell (R-Ocean City), who had left his post as president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to run for the Senate.

Smith declined to run in the primary.

Instead, Sandman, then a 34-year-old attorney and World War II veteran, ran for Senate and beat Boswell by about 750 votes, a 53%-47% margin.

When Sandman ran for re-election in 1959, he was challenged in the GOP primary by Kay, who had succeeded Smith in the Assembly. Sandman won by about 700 votes, 52%-48%.

Kay returned to the Assembly in 1961 after defeating his successor, Assemblyman Anthony Volpe (R-Ocean City), in the Republican primary.  Volpe later endorsed the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Richard Hughes.

The Democratic Senate primary in 1967 featured a fight between Weber, who wanted his Senate seat back two years after redistricting forced him to step aside, and Robert Halpin (D-Vineland), the sitting Assembly Speaker.

Halpin won the primary, defeating Weber by 1,160 votes (57%-43%).

The sixth year of Hughes’ term was heavily Republican across the state.  Kay won the general election by 1,692 votes, 51%-48%, over Halpin.

Reapportionment in 1967 also joined Cape May and Cumberland into Assembly District 1, which had two seats.  Republicans James Cafiero (R-Wildwood), the son of the former senator, and Cumberland County Freeholder James Hurley (R-Millville) won the two seats, ousting freshman Assemblyman Marvin Perskie (D-Wildwood Crest).

Perskie was the uncle of Steven Perskie (D-Margate), who represented Atlantic County in the Assembly and Senate and later served as a Superior Court Judge, Casino Control Commission chairman, and Chief of Staff to Gov. Jim Florio.

The Cafiero and Hurley years

Assembly Majority Whip James Cafiero, a Cape May Republican, in 1968. Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange.

In 1971, Cumberland County Republicans refused to support Kay for re-election to the Senate and instead backed Hurley for the Senate seat.

To avoid a primary fight, the Cape May and Cumberland GOP organizations agreed to a compromise: Cafiero would run for the Senate, with Cumberland getting both Assembly seats.  Hurley was re-elected to the Assembly on a ticket with Freeholder Joseph Chinnici (R-Bridgeton).

Cafiero’s assent to the Senate was not automatic.

Cumberland County Democrats nominated former Millville Commissioner Paul Porreca for Senate.    Porreca had won 47% of the vote in a 1962 bid for Congress against Glenn.

At that point in 1971, there was peace among Cumberland Democrats.  Weber had become the county chairman and Halpin was seeking a political comeback as a candidate for freeholder.  Weber gave his old rival the line over

Cafiero beat Porreca by just 916 votes, 50%-48%.  Cafiero won Cape May by 5,274 votes and Porreca carried Cumberland by 4,358.

Hurley and Chinnici were easily re-elected.

By 1973, Cafiero had secured the Senate seat.  He won 58% despite the Watergate Democratic landslide that swept New Jersey.   He was the Senate Minority Leader in 1976 and 1977 and was re-elected to a third term in 1977 with 62%.

Cafiero bowed out of the Senate in 1981 and Republicans picked Hurley, then the Assembly Minority Leader, to run for the open Assembly seat.

Hurley won the open seat with 54% of the vote against Cumberland County Freeholder Edward Salmon, a former Millville Commissioner.

The open Assembly seat was won by Wildwood Mayor Guy Muziani.

Hurley faced some ethics issues in 1973 when the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards reprimanded him for accepting a $10,000 fee for helping Wawa sell an environmentally compromised piece of property to the state under the New Jersey’s Green Acres program.

Salmon skipped a rematch with Hurley and instead ran for the Assembly.

The Wawa scandal didn’t hurt Hurley, who won a second term with 60% of the vote against Christopher Riley, a 35-year-old Millville attorney and the husband of former Miss New Jersey Therese Hanley.

Salmon came within 208 votes of ousting Muziani.

In 1987, the two Republican assemblymen decided not to seek re-election.

Assemblyman Joseph Chinnici (R-Bridgeton)

Chinnici, who owned a coat manufacturing company, had been indicted on charges that he bribed a civilian purchasing agent to get a contract to manufacture coats for the U.S. Department of Defense.  Muziani had been diagnosed with cancer.

Salmon ran again for the Assembly on a ticket with Raymond Batten, a Sea Isle City attorney.  The Republicans ran Cumberland County Freeholder Frank LoBiondo and Cape May County Freeholder Gerald Thornton.

LoBiondo was the top vote-getter, running 1,077 votes ahead of Salmon, who won the second Assembly seat.  He beat Thornton by 2,379 votes.

Hurley faces a challenge from Bridgeton Mayor Donald Rainear.

Rainear continued to make an issue out of the Wawa scandal and for taking consulting fees from the Cumberland County Utilities Authority.

Hurley won by 3,760 votes, 53%-47%.

In 1990, Hurley resigned from the Senate to become a Casino Control Commissioner, an appointment made by Gov. Thomas Kean during his final days in office. That triggered a November special election for the remaining year of his term in the Senate.

Salmon, without having to give up his Assembly seat, got into the race for Senate.

Republicans held a special election convention to replace Hurley and picked Cafiero, who had agreed to return to his old Senate seat as a caretaker.

Cafiero has specifically said he would not be a candidate in the 1990 general election.

The first choice of the GOP to run for Senate was LoBiondo, who ultimately demurred.

The nomination went to Sea Isle City Republican Municipal Chairman Jack Gibson.

Two weeks after the primary, Cafiero changed his mind and said he would run in the special election.  Gibson dropped out of the race.

The race turned out to be the most expensive State Senate contest in New Jersey history, up to that point.

Backlash over Florio’s tax increases helped Cafiero crush Salmon, who had been considered an exceptionally strong candidate to capture a Republican Senate seat.

Cafiero won by 8,887 votes, 58%-42%.

He held the seat in 1991 and 1993, winning 62% in each race.  He beat Democrat John Rauh with 61% in 1997.

In 2001, Cafiero faced the toughest campaign of a 34-year political career.

His opponent was William Hughes, Jr., a  former federal prosecutor and son of popular former Rep. Bill Hughes (R-Ocean City) who had been born the year Cafiero first won a Senate seat.

Hughes outraised Cafiero and criticized the 74-year-old incumbent for failing to help lure jobs for Cape May and Cumberland counties.

After a recount, Cafiero held on to his seat by just 441 votes out of nearly 62,000 cast, 50.4%-49.6%.

The era of Jefferson Van Drew

Republicans took back a second Assembly seat in 1991 when Gibson returned to run for the seat Salmon was vacating to take an appointment to the Board of Public Utilities.  He won easily.

After LoBiondo won a congressional seat in 1994, Republicans picked Vineland school board member Nicholas Asselta to serve in the State Assembly.

Asselta won the seat in 1995 by 2,117 votes against Democrat Louis Magazzu.

Jefferson Van Drew (D-Dennis)

Then the mayor of Dennis, Van Drew won a seat on the Cape May County Board of Freeholders in 1994, defeating Republican incumbent Gary Jessel by 2,648 votes, a 54%-46% margin.

He gave up his seat in 1997 to run for Assembly but lost Asselta by 1,811 votes after holding the incumbent to an 824-vote win in the Cape May portion of the district.

Asselta, by then the top vote-getter, won by 15,950 votes against Democrat Mary D’Arcy Bittner in 1999.

In 2000, Van Drew reclaimed his freeholder seat when he ousted his successor, incumbent Mark Videtto, by 11,513 votes, a 63%-37% margin.

With Democrat James McGreevey opening a wide lead against Republican Bret Schundler in the race for governor, Democrats recruited Van Drew to run for the Assembly in 2001.

Schundler carried Cape May by just 353 votes that year against McGreevey, 17,471 to 18,118.  Van Drew unseated Gibson by 1,204 votes.   He beat Gibson by 1,309 votes in Cape May, while Gibson carried Cumberland by 92 and Atlantic by 14.

Cafiero announced in 2003 that he would not seek re-election to the Senate.

With McGreevey’s approval numbers upside-down, Van Drew decided to stay clear of a Senate race against Asselta.

Indeed, no Democrat challenged Asselta for the Senate.  He won 81% of the vote against two independent candidates.

Van Drew won a second term in the Assembly by 2,153 votes over Upper Township Mayor Drew McCrosson.  But Van Drew had no coattails; Gibson was able to mount a comeback outpolling Democrat Maria LaBoy by 4,663 votes

Two years later, Van Drew was re-elected to a third term in the Assembly in a landslide.  He received 41,381 votes and ran 8,881 votes ahead of his running mate, Nelson Albano (D-Vineland).  Albano ousted Gibson by a margin of 7,176.

Van Drew pulled the trigger and ran for the Senate in 2007.  With the help of George Norcross and the South Jersey Democratic campaign operation, he outspent Asselta by a 3-1 margin.  He won by 5,771 votes, 56%-44%, taking 57% in Cape May and 53% in Cumberland.

Democrats also picked up Van Drew’s open Assembly seat with Matthew Milam (D-Vineland).

The pickup Senate seats in the 1st and 2nd districts in 2007 – James Whelan (D-Atlantic City) unseated incumbent Sonny McCullough (R-Egg Harbor Township) – gave Steve Sweeny a base of six South Jersey Senate seats that helped him launch a challenge to Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) in 2009.

Just days after he left the Senate – and after voting for a school funding formula during the lame duck session – Gov. Jon Corzine nominated Asselta to the Board of Public Utilities.  Van Drew backed the confirmation of his former opponent with the hope that it would take the Vineland Republican out of contention four years later.

Republican fantasies of ousting Van Drew never happened.  He won 54% against former Wildwood Municipal Court Judge and high school basketball coach David DeWeese in 2011, 59% against Upper Township Zoning Board member Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt in 2013, and 65% against former Cumberland County Freeholder Mary Gruccio in 2017.

The GOP only won once during the Van Drew era.

In 2013, Republican Sam Fiocchi, a Cumberland County freeholder, took out Albano by 928 votes after video of the assemblyman’s “do you know who I am?” traffic stop went viral.   Two years later, Democrat Bruce Land defeated Fiocchi by 2,322 votes.

The return of the GOP

State Sen. Rob Andrzejczak, left, and Assemblyman Bruce Land. Photo courtesy of The Van Drew Team.

Van Drew went to Congress in 2018, flipping a Republican House seat following the retirement of LoBiondo.

That put the 1st district Senate seat back in play for the Republicans for the first time in a dozen years.

The new senator was Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle), an Army veteran who lost his leg in Iraq when his convoy was attacked by an armor-piercing grenade.

Van Drew handpicked Andrzejczak for an open Assembly seat when Milam resigned in 2013, and helped him win three races for the lower house.

Andrzejczak won a special election convention in January, pitting him against Testa, the Cumberland County GOP Chairman.

Sensing Van Drew’s move to Washington, Testa began eyeing the Senate seat last year in a district that Donald Trump won by five percentage points.

He ran more against Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and congressional Democrats than against Andrzejczak.   Testa made illegal immigration into a local issue and defeated Andrzejczak by 3,585 votes, a 53%-47% margin.

Testa won Cape May by 2,691 votes (54.5%), Cumberland by 516 votes (51%), and 378 votes in Atlantic (61%).

In the Assembly race, Republican challengers Erik Simonsen, the mayor of Lower Township, and Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan, unseated Land and Milam, who had returned to the Assembly to replace Andrzejczak.

This was the first GOP sweep of three 1st district seats since 1997.

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