HAMMONTON — After narrowly losing two of three council seats and the mayor’s race in November to independent Hammonton First candidates, local Republicans have formed a new club.
Spokesmen for both the new and original Republican clubs said they will run candidates in the June primary. But Richard Curcio said he’s trying to repair the split.
“As chairman of the Hammonton Republican Municipal Committee, I am working with Atlantic County Chairman Keith Davis to help unite all the Republicans in Hammonton,” Curcio read from a prepared statement. “We are confident Hammonton Republicans can resolve temporary differences and emerge as a stronger local party.”
The new Hammonton United Republican Club will announce its slate of candidates at a meeting Tuesday night at Annata Wine Bar, said President Michael E. Torrissi Jr., senior vice president of Coraluzzo Torrissi Transport in Vineland.
Its first organizational meeting in January attracted about 30 people, he said.
The original Republican club will announce its candidates sometime in March, said incoming President Charles E. Woolson Jr., a local attorney.
“The Hammonton Regular Republican Club formed over 30 years ago,” Woolson said. “Basically we are going to continue to do the same things we have always done,” like holding an installation breakfast for officers at Tomasello Winery in March, when Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis will be the featured speaker, and having pasta-dinner fundraisers in February and April.
Although the 2013 council race was close — incumbent Republican council members Anni Carpo and Steve Furgione lost by just 13 votes and 25 votes, respectively, and Republican Mickey Pullia kept his seat — some Republicans felt the club’s image was hurting candidates.
Republican mayoral candidate Joseph Giralo lost to incumbent Mayor Steve DiDonato, of the Hammonton First party, by 138 votes. Hammonton First now has a 6-1 majority on council, including DiDonato.
“Myself and a few other people felt the current club was getting a little stagnant,” said Torrissi, 39, who joined the Regular Republican Club in Hammonton High School and has been more active in the past six years. He has served as campaign treasurer and manager for candidates and was chairman of the club from 2009 to 2010.
In 2011, Torrissi was appointed to James Bertino’s council seat, after Bertino was appointed to the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Later that year, Torrissi successfully ran to retain his seat in a one-year, unexpired term.
“It really seems that, for whatever reason, with the Republican name — people are wishy-washy about it. We wanted to get re-energized,” said Furgione, the new club’s treasurer, who owns TLC Landscape Co. in Williamstown.
Torrissi and Furgione, who led the formation of the new club with Otto Hernandez, said the Republican club needs to be more civic-minded and reach out to the community more. But Woolson said the club’s members, and especially its officers, always have been active in other local community and business groups.
Woolson speculated the slim margins in November’s loss may be why a group is splitting off at this time.
“We were within a few votes of pretty much winning a substantial victory. It certainly is frustrating for me and everybody involved in the organization to lose that close,” he said. “They have said they want to get new people involved. Certainly that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Furgione, who has been active in the club for years, predicted that all town elections going forward are likely to be close. He said local Republicans must do a better job appealing to younger voters, particularly those 18 to 30, whom he said did not tend to vote Republican in the last election.
Torrissi said the new club will support Republican candidates up and down the ticket.
Furgione agreed, adding he isn’t sure if Bertino will join the new club.
“He’s got to figure out what’s best for him and for our town. This is not a county or state issue, but a local issue,” he said. “We 100 percent support Jim. Whatever he decides to do, we’re with him.”
Bertino said members of both clubs are all friends and all Republicans.
“Some people are telling me they are attending (meetings of) both,” he said. “We’ll wait and see whatever happens with it. The two are not that far apart on any issues.”
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