While they may not have the same allure as top-of-the-ticket races, county-level offices are a critical backbone of governance in New Jersey – and there will be 61 of them on the ballot this year.
In two South Jersey counties, Cumberland and Gloucester, Republicans are seeking to wrest control of the county commission from Democrats. The GOP is also hoping to make a dent in Democratic governments in other counties around the state, from Burlington to Bergen. And while Democrats have little chance of making many gains this year, their performance in Republican-governed counties like Atlantic and Morris could portend future results.
Here’s a look at every single county election that’ll be on the ballot this November.
Commissioner (2 seats): Darlene Barber (D-inc.), Priscilla Ocasio-Jimenez (D) vs. Douglas Albrecht (R-inc.), Victoria Groetsch-Lods (R)
Can Mike Testa remake Cumberland County in his image? With control of the county government up for grabs, 2022 presents an important test for Testa, the county GOP chairman and a rising star in the State Senate.
In 2021, with Testa and Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli running up the score in Cumberland, Republicans flipped two commission seats and brought the Democratic majority down to just 4-3.
This year, one commissioner from each party is up for re-election, so Republicans would need another clean sweep to take control. Democratic Commissioner Darlene Barber and Republican Commissioner Douglas Albrecht are running alongside Priscilla Ocasio-Jimenez and Victoria Groetsch-Lods, respectively; both Ocasio-Jimenez and Groetch-Lods have waged unsuccessful campaigns for commission seats in the past.
In 2019, Barber and Albrecht managed to win alongside one another, and another split result is certainly a possibility. That would keep Democrats in control for the time being, but three Democratic-held seats are up 2023, so Testa would get another crack at a majority before long.
Commissioner (2 seats): Frank DiMarco (D-inc.), Denice DiCarlo (D-inc.) vs. Adam Wingate (R), Stephen Pakradooni (R)
Clerk: James Hogan (D-inc.) vs. Tom Narolewski (R)
Bordering Cumberland County is South Jersey’s other big battlefield: Gloucester County, a swingy county that took a sharp turn right in 2021.
Gloucester is home to former Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who famously lost re-election in a huge upset last year. Less discussed was that Republicans, who haven’t controlled Gloucester since the 1980s, managed to flip the county sheriff’s office and two county commission seats, bringing the Democratic majority down to 5-2.
Two other commission seats are up this year, meaning that Republicans could eke out a majority if they manage to beat Commissioners Frank DiMarco – currently the commissioner director – and Denice DiCarlo, chosen earlier this year to replace Commissioner Dan Christy despite being rejected by voters for a commissioner seat in 2021. Republicans are running Adam Wingate and Stephen Pakradooni, the latter of whom ran for State Senate in 2021.
In the county clerk race, five-term Democratic incumbent James Hogan faces Tom Narolewski. Hogan is a Gloucester County stalwart, but so was Sweeney – and that wasn’t enough to save him.
There’s also been some chaos in Gloucester Democratic politics over the summer. State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington) quietly stepped down as Democratic chairman in June, and the new chairman, Chad Bruner, is still trying to defuse an unpleasant scandal involving a Democratic Mantua committeeman and a K9 dog who died in his care.
Democrats have a solid shot of holding their seats in Gloucester and Cumberland Counties, especially if the political environment is relatively neutral (as it appears to be right now). But Republicans could very much sweep both counties, and if they do, that would set up a solid wall of Republican county governments throughout South Jersey, one more nail in the coffin of South Jersey Democratic dominance.
Commissioner (2 seats): Terry Duffy (D-inc.), Pat Lepore (D-inc) vs. Troy Oswald (R), Alex Cruz (R)
Sheriff: Richard Berdnik (D-inc.) vs. Mason Maher (R)
While Republicans came close in a number of North and Central Jersey county offices in 2021, the only seat they actually flipped was in Passaic County, where Democratic Commissioner Assad Akhter narrowly lost to Republican Nicolino Gallo. Invigorated by that victory, Republicans are running hard for two county commissioner seats and the county sheriff’s office this year.
Passaic is a county sharply divided by geography and demographics; incumbent Sheriff Richard Bernik and Commissioners Terry Duffy and Pat Lepore will have to run up the score in Paterson and Passaic, while support for Republicans Mason Maher, Troy Oswald, and Alex Cruz will be based in Wayne, West Milford, and other right-leaning suburbs.
Oswald, the former chief of the Paterson Police Department, was originally the Republican candidate for sheriff, but his recent residence outside Passaic County precluded that campaign. Maher, a police lieutenant in Paterson, took his place, and Oswald later joined the commissioner race after 2021 candidate Bill Marsala dropped out. (Cruz is the president of the Paterson PBA, meaning Republicans are running an all-law enforcement slate.)
Commissioner: Melonie Marano (D-inc.) vs. Amber Murad (R)
Clerk: Steve Peter (D-inc.) vs. Suzanne Maeder (R)
Sheriff: Darrin Russo (D-inc.) vs. John Sheridan (R)
Somerset County has undergone the swiftest transformation from red to blue of any county in New Jersey: from a fully Republican-controlled government in 2018 to a fully Democratic-controlled one by 2021.
Republicans are hoping they can snap that streak this year by flipping a commissioner seat, potentially setting them up to retake the majority in 2023, as well as two constitutional offices. Last year, Republican Michael Kirsh fell just 842 votes short of a commissioner seat, so Republican victories this year certainly seem plausible.
Commissioner Melonie Marano faces 2021 commissioner candidate Amber Murad; Clerk Steve Peter faces Manville Councilwoman Suzanne Maeder; and Sheriff Darrin Russo faces retired Hillsborough police detective John Sheridan. Republicans are hoping Somerset’s Republican ancestry makes a comeback, while the three Democratic incumbents will count on the county’s recent leftward turn is a lasting one.
A curious factor that could assist Republicans in both Passaic and Somerset Counties is the state’s congressional map, which splits the two counties among multiple districts.
The more Republican areas of each county are in competitive districts – the 5th and 11th districts in Passaic, the 7th district in Somerset – while strongly Democratic towns like Paterson and Franklin Township are in the uncompetitive 9th and 12th districts. Without any statewide race to draw voters to the polls, there might be significant turnout differences from one district to the next, which would likely benefit Republicans running countywide.
Races worth watching
Commissioner at-large: Amy Gatto (R-inc.) vs. Habib Rehman (D)
Commissioner, 1st district: Ernest Coursey (D-inc.) vs. Vern Macon (R)
Commissioner, 4th district: Richard Dase (R-inc.) vs. Kathleen Galante (D)
Though Atlantic County tends to vote for Democrats in most federal and statewide races, its county commission has long been dominated by Republicans, something that’s unlikely to change this year even with a new, more Democratic-friendly commission map in place. (The body has five district-based seats and four at-large seats; Democrats currently control one of each, for a total of two out of nine seats.)
Republican At-Large Commissioner Amy Gatto is up this year, but it’s unlikely Democrat Habib Rehman will be able to unseat her, and Republican 4th District Commissioner Richard Dase is even safer in his Galloway-based district.
Democratic 1st District Commissioner Ernest Coursey, meanwhile, faces a slightly closer race than he has in the past; his district is based in Atlantic City, but redistricting took out heavily Democratic Pleasantville and added more Republican towns in its stead. Coursey is still the clear favorite against Republican Vern Macon, though.
Even if Democrats did somehow sweep every seat up this year, they’d still be one seat of a majority. The real action in Atlantic will more likely come in 2024, when Republicans will have to defend the substantially redrawn 2nd district (which now includes Pleasantville) as well as an at-large seat in a presidential year.
County executive: Jim Tedisco (D-inc.) vs. Todd Caliguire (R)
Commissioner (3 seats): Thomas Sullivan (D-inc.), Mary Amoroso (D-inc.), Germaine Ortiz (D-inc.) vs. Douglas Holden (R), Ronald Lin (R), Dierdre Paul (R)
Todd Caliguire, a Republican former Bergen County freeholder who has become something of a perennial candidate in recent decades, is running for county executive this year against incumbent Democrat Jim Tedisco, who is seeking a third term. Three incumbent Democratic commissioners are also running for re-election against a slate of Republican challengers.
Republicans haven’t won any countywide offices in Bergen since 2013, and Caliguire – who has been roundly criticized for a race-baiting mailer from 2007 – is an imperfect candidate. And as the most populous county in the state, Bergen requires a lot of resources to run countywide, something Democrats have and Republicans do not.
Still, a Republican came within six points of flipping the county sheriff’s office in 2021, so if Democrats truly collapse this year, Bergen could theoretically be in play.
Commissioner: Allison Eckel (D-inc.) vs. Jeff Fortune (R)
Sheriff: James Kostoplis (D) vs. Mike Ditzel (R)
Fresh off of flipping every countywide office in Burlington over the last five years, Democrats will spend 2022 working to defend their gains against a spirited, if longshot, Republican campaign to reclaim a foothold in the county.
Democratic Sheriff Anthony Basantis is retiring after just one term, and Undersheriff James Kostoplis is the party’s nominee to replace him. Kostoplis’ running mate, County Commissioner Allison Eckel, is technically an incumbent, but only barely; the former Assembly candidate was appointed earlier this year to fill the vacant seat of now-Superior Court Judge Linda Hynes after an extended court battle. They’ll face Republicans Mike Ditzel and Jeff Fortune, respectively.
The ultimate result will likely depend quite a bit on the concurrent congressional race between Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) and Republican Bob Healey Jr., also a Moorestown resident. If Healey keeps that race close, Burlington Democrats may struggle, but if Kim performs as well as he did in 2018 and 2020, Republicans have little shot at victory.
Commissioner (3 seats): Doug Cabana (R-inc.), Tom Mastrangelo (R-inc.), Christine Myers (R) vs. Judy Hernandez (D), T.C. McCourt (D), Alicia Sharma (D)
Sheriff: Jim Gannon (R-inc.)
The ultimate outcome of this year’s Morris County elections isn’t really in doubt; county-level Republicans have weathered far more difficult years recently and still came out victorious, so they should be fine this year. The last time Democrats won a county race in Morris was in 1973.
Still, Morris is the only Biden-won county in the state that doesn’t have any Democrats in county office, and it will be worth watching the margins of this year’s commissioner contest as a harbinger for future years. (Republican Sheriff Jim Gannon is uncontested.)
The three-candidate slate that Republicans are running for county commissioner is the product of months of complex and often bitter infighting.
Commissioner Kathy DeFillippo announced in December 2021 that she was calling it quits, and incumbent Commissioners Doug Cabana and Tom Mastrangelo backed Pequannock Councilwoman Melissa Florance-Lynch to replace her. But Republican county committeemembers completely ignored their alliance, giving the line to Cabana, former Freeholder Christine Myers, and Mendham Township Committeewoman Sarah Neibart instead.
While Florance-Lynch ended her bid there, Mastrangelo forged ahead with an off-the-line campaign – and he won, narrowly beating Neibart for the third spot in the Republican primary. Now, the cobbled-together slate of Cabana, Mastrangelo, and Myers faces Democrats Judy Hernandez, T.C. MCourt, and Alicia Sharma, and while all three Republicans are strong favorites, it will be interesting to see if Mastrangelo faces a general election penalty (or reward) for his difficult primary campaign.
Commissioner (2 seats): Cordy Taylor (R), Dan Timmerman (R) vs. Charles Hassler (D), Nelson Carney (D)
In spite of how Republican tiny Salem County has become in statewide and federal races, Democrats have retained enough downballot strength that there’s still a Democratic commissioner in office, and Democrats held a majority on the board as recently as 2018. But that lone commissioner, Lee Ware, is retiring from his seat this year after 21 years – a seat his brother held for decades before him – and Democrats have little chance of holding it.
Republican Commissioner Scott Griscom is also retiring, so both parties are running new slates: 2021 candidate Nelson Carney and former Freeholder Charles Hassler for Democrats, Planning Board member Cordy Taylor and surgeon Dan Timmerman for Republicans. Given that Republicans held two seats last year by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, there’s little doubt about the outcome.
Commissioner (2 seats): Edward McDonnell (D-inc.), Virginia Betteridge (D) vs. Ian Gill (R), Joe Miller (R)
The most important parts of this year’s county elections in Camden County are already in the past. Democratic Commissioners Edward McDonnell and Carmen Rodriguez easily dispatched progressive challengers in the Democratic primary; the New Jersey Globe later discovered that Rodriguez had resigned four days before she won her primary, and she was replaced as commissioner soon afterwards by former Runnemede Mayor Virginia Betteridge.
Betteridge now has to run for a full term alongside McDonnell against Republican challengers Ian Gill and Joe Miller, but that won’t be a difficult task in the prohibitively Democratic county, where Republicans haven’t won a county race since 1990.
Commissioner (2 seats): Marie Hayes (R-inc.), Andrew Bulakowski (R) vs. Julia Hankerson (D)
Surrogate: Dean Marcolongo (R-inc.)
Cape May County is Republican enough that Democrats only fielded one candidate for three different countywide seats up this year: Julia Hankerson, a 2021 Assembly candidate running for county commissioner.
Hankerson has no real chance against Republican Commissioner Marie Hayes and her running mate, Andrew Bulakowski, a union leader who will likely succeed longtime Commissioner Gerald Thornton. Surrogate Dean Marcolongo is unopposed.
County executive: Joe DiVincenzo (D-inc.) vs. Adam Kraemer (R)
Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, among the most powerful people in North Jersey Democratic politics, is up for re-election this year, but you’d be forgiven for not realizing an election was even happening. DiVincenzo, in office since 2003, will almost certainly trounce Republican Adam Kraemer in November and get a sixth term leading one of New Jersey’s most populous counties.
Clerk: Junior Maldonado (D-inc.) vs. Beth Hamburger (R)
Sheriff: Frank Schillari (D-inc.) vs. Hussain Kolani (R)
Two Hudson Democratic incumbents, County Clerk Junior Maldonado and Sheriff Frank Schillari, are both heavy favorites for re-election in November; Hudson hasn’t elected a Republican to countywide office since 1956, the longest such streak in the state.
2023 will bring more interesting county elections, with County Executive Tom DeGise stepping down and the county’s nine commissioners preparing to run in newly redrawn districts.
Commissioner (3 seats): John Lanza (R-inc.), Zachary Rich (R-inc.), Jeff Kuhl (R-inc.) vs. Hope Cohen (D), Don Becker (D)
Sheriff: Fred Brown (R-inc.) vs. Dominick Puzio (D)
Sometime in the future, suburban voting trends may finally engulf Hunterdon County and flip the county blue, a switch that has already happened in Somerset County and seems to be currently underway in Morris County.
But that day is still a long way off, if it ever arrives, and Hunterdon’s four Republican countywide officeholders up this year – Sheriff Fred Brown and Commissioners John Lanza, Zachary Rich, and Jeff Kuhl – are safe for another term. Kuhl is new to the board, having been appointed earlier this year to fill the remainder of former Commissioner Matt Holt’s term.
Commissioner (2 seats): Nina Melker (D-inc.), Cathleen Lewis (D) vs. Michael Chianese (R), Andrew Kotola (R)
Lawrence Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis emerged victorious from a packed primary convention to succeed Commissioner Andrew Koontz; she and incumbent Commissioner Nina Melker are overwhelming favorites this November in solidly Democratic Mercer County.
Assuming both Melker and Lewis win, their victories would add Mercer to the growing chorus of Jersey counties with majority-female boards of county commissioners, joining Bergen, Middlesex, Union, and Somerset.
Commissioner (3 seats): Chanelle Scott McCullum (D-inc.), Charles Kenny (D-inc.), Claribel Azcona-Barber (D-inc.) vs. Joellen Arrabito (R), Martin Hermann (R), Gerald Shine (R)
Sheriff: Mildred Scott (D-inc.) vs. Brian Wojaczyk (R)
Sheriff Mildred Scott and Commissioners Chanelle Scott McCulum, Charles Kenny, and Claribel Azcona-Barber, all Democrats, are set for another term in what is likely New Jersey’s second-most populous county. (2020 Census numbers put Middlesex 566 people behind Essex County, but 2021 estimates give Middlesex the edge.)
Commissioner (2 seats): Tom Arnone (R-inc.), Nick DiRocco (R-inc.) vs. Kristal Dias (D), Bonnie Kass-Viola (D)
Sheriff: Shaun Golden (R-inc.) vs. Larry Luttrell (D)
After comfortably overcoming off-the-line primary challenges in June, Republican Sheriff Shaun Golden and Commissioners Tom Arnone and Nick DiRocco don’t have much chance of losing this November.
Golden, who is also the chairman of the Monmouth Republican Party, briefly looked like he wouldn’t even face an opponent after Democrats’ first option failed to meet residency requirements, but backup Democratic candidate Larry Luttrell wrangled enough write-in votes to get on the general election ballot.
Commissioner (2 seats): Jack Kelly (R-inc.), Ginny Haines (R-inc.) vs. Catherine Paura (D), Roxanne Barnes (D)
Sheriff: Michael Mastronardy (R-inc.) vs. Eugene Davis (D)
As soon as they beat a set of right-wing primary challengers backed by 4th congressional candidate Mike Crispi, Republican Commissioners Jack Kelly and Ginny Haines locked in another term in New Jersey’s most staunchly Republican county.
Sheriff Michael Mastronardy is up this year too, and his assured victory against Democrat Eugene Davis is something of a consolation prize following his failed campaign for Ocean GOP chairman in July. That election, ultimately won by former chairman George Gilmore, worsened deep rifts in the county party, but intraparty troubles won’t swing Ocean’s deeply conservative electorate away from Republicans.
Commissioner (2 seats): Jill Space (R-inc.), Bill Hayden (R) vs. Camila DiResta (D), Damaris Lira (D)
Sheriff: Mike Strada (R-inc.)
Sussex is the only county that can realistically compete with Ocean for the distinction of being the state’s most Republican, and the three Republicans running for countywide office this year are completely safe.
Sheriff Mike Strada didn’t draw any Democratic challenger at all, while appointed Commissioner Jill Space (the wife of Assemblyman Parker Space) and Republican state committeeman Bill Hayden will easily defeat their Democratic opponents for two commissioner seats.
Commissioner (3 seats): Rebecca Williams (D-inc.), Sergio Granados (D-inc.), Betty Jane Kowalski (D-inc.) vs. Vincent Rettino (R), Carmen Bucco (R), Carlos Santos (R)
Surrogate: Christopher Hudak (D) vs. Peter Lijoi (R)
After an off-the-line slate managed by shadowy operative James Devine was booted from the ballot, Democratic Commissioners Rebecca Williams, Sergio Granados, and Betty Jane Kowalski won the June Democratic primary uncontested, and they’re all coasting to re-election. Republicans last won countywide office in Union in 1995, when Westfield and Summit were solid red instead of solid blue.
One of their colleagues, Commissioner Christopher Hudak, is the Democratic nominee for surrogate, following the death of longtime Surrogate James LaCorte; assuming Hudak wins, the board of commissioners will be gaining a new member come 2023.
Commissioner: Jason Sarnoski (R-inc.) vs. Theresa Bender Chapman (D)
Clerk: Holly Mackey (R-inc.)
Sheriff: James McDonald (R-inc.)
Surrogate: Michael Doherty (R) vs. Maureen McCabe (D, presumptive)
The biggest name on the ballot in Warren County this year is State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford), who’s departing his post in the state legislature to run for surrogate. Three-term Surrogate Kevin O’Neill died in April and Republicans picked Nancy Brown to succeed him, but she bowed out of the race when Doherty decided to run late last month.
Commissioner Jason Sarnoski, Clerk Holly Mackey, and Sheriff James McDonald are also up for re-election this year; of the three, only Sarnoski faces a Democratic opponent in the strongly Republican county.