HAMMONTON — Three former elected officials endorsed by the independent Hammonton First party are jumping back into the political fray, challenging three incumbent council members from the Hammonton Republican Party.

Tom Gribbin, Ed Marinelli and Ed Wuillermin announced their candidacies Sunday night at a campaign kickoff event at the Alley Bar & Grille at DiDonato’s Family Fun Center in Hammonton. About 100 people attended.

Mayor Steve DiDonato had already acknowledged he was running for a second four-year term with the Hammonton First ticket.

“We have our Main Street back, and it came back in the last eight years,” DiDonato said, of the time Hammonton First has led the town. “We have to continue. If we stand still, we’ll go backward.”

If his party stays in power, he predicted, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. will expand its Hammonton facility by 80,000 to 100,000 square feet in the next four years, employing another 200 people; that Richard Stockton College of New Jersey will open more buildings in town; and that a bed and breakfast or boutique hotel will open here.

DiDonato is being challenged by Hammonton Republican Party member and current Hammonton Board of Education President Joe Giralo.

Gribbin, 33, an attorney who specializes in corporate and labor law, was on Town Council from 2010 to 2011. He is a current member of the Zoning Board, and a former Planning Board member. He’s been a representative to the Villanova University board of trustees, his alma mater, and is the publicity director for MainStreet Hammonton.

Gribbin plans to run a positive campaign, he said, and would like to get back to work on redeveloping the White Horse Pike business corridor. That was a project he was involved in when he was last on council, backed by Hammonton First, he said. But when he lost his bid for re-election in 2011 by 13 votes, he said, the committee he started to work on the issue ended.

“Positive campaigns serve the town well. ... People don’t see it as politics, but as what is best for the town,” said Gribbin, who also hopes to bring July 4 fireworks back to town and to start a New Year’s Eve event for families.

Marinelli, 82, was Hammonton’s mayor from 1988 to 1989 and is the current chair of the Planning Board. He is a former U.S. Air Force staff sergeant and former New Jersey State Police captain. Marinelli and his family owned and operated Toni’s Custard in Hammonton for 30 years. He is president of the Edward H. Marinelli, Jr. Memorial Fund, a nonprofit charity that raises money in memory of his son.

“I think since the inception of Hammonton First, the town has been moving in the right direction. We feel that we have the town in fairly good shape, and want to keep the momentum going,” Marinelli said.

Wuillermin, 63, was a Hammonton First councilman and deputy mayor from 2006 to 2009, and is a former Planning Board member. He also is a former president of MainStreet Hammonton, a former member of the board of the Hammonton Education Foundation, and the town’s former public utility advocate. He co-owns Edward Wuillermin & Sons Farms, where he grows vegetables.

He has a degree in government from King’s College in Wilkes Barre, Pa., and has worked as a planner with Atlantic County and a local engineering firm.

“You see so many volunteers and so many different organizations doing so many good things for town,” Wuillermin said. “It can't help but excite you and motivate you to get back involved and stay involved.”

Wuillermin has been involved with Hammonton First since its beginning, he said.

All three candidates agreed that financial constraints facing municipalities in the next few years will be a big challenge to those who govern.

The Hammonton First candidates will run for two-year terms against Republican Town Council members Anni Carpo, Steve Furgione and Mickey Pullia. Pullia was first elected in 2009 on the Hammonton First ticket, but recently switched allegiance to the Republican Party.

There are no Democrats running.

The independent Hammonton First party was formed in 2005 by a coalition of independents, Republicans and Democrats. Its candidates have controlled the mayor’s seat and Town Council since then. Before Steve DiDonato was mayor, his brother, John DiDonato, held the job for one term.

For more information, visit facebook.com/hammonton1st or call 609-742-1333.

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Worked as a reporter for various weekly newspapers in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties before joining The Press many moons (and editors) ago as a business copy editor. Passionate about journalism, averse to serial commas.