Gerald Thornton, who has spent nearly 39 years as a Cape County Commissioner, will not seek re-election.
The 81-year-old Thornton was first elected in 1975 and was re-elected three times.
Party officials say the leading candidate to replace Thornton is Andy Bulakowski, a county planning board member and a senior representative of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. Republicans are expected to pick their candidate early next week.
County Commissioner Marie Hayes is expected to seek re-election.
Democrats have not won a countywide election in Cape May County since Jeff Van Drew won a freeholder seat in 2000.
Thornton is the longest-serving county official in the state, but due to the eight-year interruption in Thornton’s service, the longest continuously-serving county official is Hunterdon County Surrogate Susan Hoffman, who was first elected in 1983. The longest continuously-serving commissioner is Jeff Nash, who won a Camden County seat in 1991. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fountoura has also been in office since 1991; Essex County Commissioner Pat Sebold, who was elected in 1993, is not far behind Nash.
After two Republican assemblymen, Joseph Chinnici (R-Bridgeton) and Guy Muziani (R-Wildwood), declined to seek re-election in 1987, Thornton decided to give up his freeholder seat to run for the legislature. He teamed up with Cumberland County Freeholder Frank LoBiondo.
LoBiondo finished first, but another Cumberland freeholder, Democrat Edward Salmon, defeated Thornton by 2,379 votes.
After LoBiondo was elected to Congress in 1994, Thornton briefly sought support to run in a January 1995 special election convention for the vacant Assembly seat; Michael Testa, Sr., an attorney and the father of State Sen. Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland) was also a candidate. Republicans picked former Vineland school board member Nicholas Asselta.
Thornton returned to county government in 1995 and was re-elected nine times.