Somerset County Freeholder Melonie Marano was Sworn in Friday, officially bringing an end to Republicans’ decades-long control there and ushering in a Democratic Majority that Democrats will keep through at least 2021.
“I am humbled and honored to take this oath today and am ready to serve the people of Somerset County,” Marano said.
Democratic Sheriff Darrin Russo also took his office, leaving Republicans with a single constitutional officer post.
Surrogate Frank Bruno’s seat is up for election in 2020, when the seats of the county’s two remaining freeholders, Brian Gallagher and Brian Levine, come up for a race.
Freeholder Shanel Robinson was appointed director of the Freeholder Board in a unanimous vote, and Freeholder Sara Sooy was appointed as the board’s deputy director. The two are the first Black and Hispanic women to hold leadership positions on Somerset’s board of freeholders.
“It has been 56 years since there has been a change in partisan control of Somerset County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders. Since the last Democratic majority, a lot has changed … The county’s population has more than doubled, from 144,000 to 330,000,” Robinson said. “The non-white population has grown from 3.2% in 1960 to 32%. 70% of our county residents were born since the last time Democrats held the majority on the freeholder board.”
In an unusual move, Levine was appointed as the board’s acting director, a position that would place him in command if both Sooy and Robinson were absent, though the freeholders are unlikely to convene in such a scenario.
Former Bernardsville Councilman Joe DeMarco was appointed to be deputy county counsel.
Sooy, Robinson, Russo and Marano were sworn into their respective positions by Gov. Phil Murphy, who was joined at the event by other top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, State Democratic Chairman John Currie, Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones and Reps. Tom Malinowski and Bonnie Watson Coleman.
“I can say with great conviction, this is the biggest crowd,” said Murphy, who has spent much of this week attending reorganizations around the state. “It’s got the most energy, and it’s the most bipartisan room that I have been in yet this year, so hats off.”
Other prominent politicians, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, Assembly members Nancy Munoz, Roy Freiman, Andrew Zwicker, Joe Danielsen and Linda Carter helped bring the Somerset County courtroom to capacity.
State Sens. Nicholas Scutari, Bob Smith and Kip Bateman were in attendance, as were Hunterdon County Democratic Chairwoman Arlene Quiñones Perez, Somerset County Democratic Chairwoman Peg Schaffer and Somerset County Republican Chairman Al Gaburo.
The victory is as much one for Schaffer as it is for the county’s Democratic Freeholders.
“I’m looking forward to working together. Everybody’s committed to keeping Somerset County moving forward,” she said. “I think they do have new ideas and new vision, and I think it was interesting that a lot of the things they’ve done already in the last year are now going to be under their control.”