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Atlantic County District 3 Freeholder candidates Thelma Witherspoon and Andrew Parker.

Atlantic features race for county clerk, key county commissioner races

By David Wildstein, November 01 2021 12:05 am

Both parties are fighting to win a county clerk’s race in Atlantic County, one of the state’s few politically competitive counties. Edward McGettigan, a three-term Democrat, is retiring after a series of election mishaps. Hammonton Councilman Joseph Giralo, a Republican, faces Egg Harbor City Mayor Lisa Jiampetti, the Democratic candidate.

Democrat Thelma Witherspoon and Republican Andrew Parker are facing off in a do-over of their 2020 race for Atlantic County Commissioner in District 3 that was invalidated as a result of a screw-up by McGettigan, who failed to mail the correct ballot to 554 voters. Witherspoon outpolled Parker by 286 votes in an election that bounced through the courts until the summer, when the appellate division upheld an order to force a new election. Democrats tried to get Witherspoon seated, at least temporarily, but without success.

Republicans have a 6-2 majority on the Board of Commissioners – the District 3 seat is vacant – and while it’s mathematically possible for Democrats to take control, it’s unlikely. Democrats would have to win three of the four commissioner contests, including at least one in a district drawn to favor the GOP.

In the race for county commissioner at-large, incumbent Frank X. Balles is being challenged by Democrat Celeste Fernandez. Balles, a former Atlantic County sheriff, won a special election convention for the seat last year following the unexpected resignation of Frank Formica. Fernandez came within 381 votes of unseating GOP incumbent John Risley in 2020.

Maureen Kern, a Republican, is seeking her third term as a county commissioner from District 2, which includes municipalities in the southeastern portion of Atlantic County. Kern faces 23-year-old Democrat Jelani Gandy, the state director of United Rural Democrats. In 2018, Kern was re-elected with 58% of the vote.

In the Hammonton-based District 5, incumbent James Bertino is being challenged by Dr. William Beyers. A former Hammonton councilman and deputy mayor, Bertino has held county office since 2011 and won his 2018 race with 58.5% of the vote.

Republicans are seeking a big turnout in Hammonton to boost their chances at electing Giralo and re-elected Bertino –and to help swing races in the pivotal 8th legislative district. Hammonton Councilman Michael Torrissi, Jr. is the GOP candidate for State Assembly and a big margin could help Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton) unseated incumbent State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham).

Donald Trump won 60% of the vote in Hammonton last year, giving him a 1,603-vote plurality.

District 3 includes parts of Egg Harbor Township and Hamilton Township. The seat had been held by Republicans until 2017, when 32-year-old Democrat Ashley Bennett, a political newcomer, upset incumbent John Carman by 499 votes. Carman found himself in trouble after he was photographed wearing a confederate flag on his jacket and called out for a Facebook meme from the Women’s March on Washington that asked, “Will the woman’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?”

Witherspoon had come within 549 votes of winning a race for freeholder-at-large in 2017. Parker dropped his bid for re-election as an Egg Harbor Township Committeeman to focus on his county commissioner race.

If Torrissi wins, he’ll be the first assemblyman from Hammonton since Democrat James Colasurdo (D-Hammonton) unseated Republican Assemblyman Samuel Curcio (R-Hammonton) in 1971.

Municipal Races

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small, Sr. is heavily favored to win his first full four-year term. He became mayor in 2019 after Frank Gilliam resigned following his arrest on charges that he stole $86,000 from a youth basketball league. He won 70% in a 2020 special election and defeated former Assemblyman Thomas Foley in the Democratic primary by a 2-1 margin in June.

Small faces Thomas Forkin, a former Atlantic City Democratic municipal chairman who is running as a Republican. Four independents are in the race, including Atlantic City Councilman Moisse “Mo” Delgado and talk radio host Jimmy Whitehead.

Gilliam was elected mayor four years ago, unseating Republican incumbent Don Guardian. Guardian is now seeking a State Assembly seat in the 2nd legislative district.

Three at-large Atlantic City Council seats are also up. Small’s running mates – Stephanie Marshall Tibbitt and Bruce Weeks – are also favorites. They face Republicans Maria Lacca, Rizwan Khan Malik, and Matthew James Diullio-Jusino.

In Egg Harbor Township, Township Committeeman Ray Ellis, Jr. is seeking a full-term; he was appointed after Balles resigned to become a county commissioner. His running mate, Joseph “Tokyo” O’Donoghue, is seeking Parker’s open seat. O’Donoghue was the GOP candidate for Atlantic County Sheriff last year. They face Democrats James “Bear” Pesce and Shawn O’Brien.

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