DENNIS TOWNSHIP — An Ocean City newcomer to politics was the surprise winner Wednesday night as the Cape May County Republican Party picked a new freeholder to fill an unexpired term.

Marie Hayes, 57, a retired detective with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, defeated Arthur “Stig” Blomkvest, 46, of Lower Township in a 123-89 vote by Republican committee members at the Cape GOP Convention 2013 at the Abbie Holmes Estates in Clermont.

Hayes will be sworn in to office Friday to fill the unexpired term of Susan Sheppard, who resigned her seat after being elected county surrogate in November. Hayes automatically becomes the party pick to run in the November election for a full three-year term.

GOP committee members from 15 of the county’s 16 towns — Cape May Point has two committee seats but both are vacant — also selected long-time Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton to run for re-election in November on the ticket with Hayes.

Hayes fought back tears after the vote total was announced by GOP Chairman Michael Donohue.

“I’m supposed to be the one with tears and Marie’s got the tears,” Blomkvest said.

“I’m a big, bad retired cop. I’m not supposed to cry,” said Hayes.

She didn’t have a victory speech prepared.

“I didn’t have anything prepared tonight because I didn’t think this was going to happen,” Hayes said.

Hayes only recently got involved in politics, after retiring from her 29-year career in law enforcement, and has never run for elective office before. Blomkvest is a former deputy mayor in Lower Township who grew up around politics as the son of former Cape May Mayor Mickey Blomkvest.

Blomkvest worked to get Thornton and Sheppard elected in 2010 when they ran against the party picks for freeholder and won a contested GOP primary. He also put in for the freeholder nomination numerous times. In 2003 he lost when the party went with Ralph Bakley, who won the election. In 2011 there were two seats and Blomkvest lost out to Will Morey and Kristine Gabor, who went on to win their elections.

Wednesday’s selection leaves the heavily populated southern end of the county, including Lower Township and the three Cape Mays, with no county elected officials. Lower Township is the most populated municipality, with 22,000 people, but it is also one the party just lost after years of control. A 4-1 GOP majority was lost in the 2012 election when three independents defeated three Republicans. Blomkvest worked for the three Republicans who lost.

The swing in representation to the north upset Blomkvest’s campaign manager John Armbruster.

“This loss was a tough loss, but the real losers are the people in the south end of the county. All the representation is up north,” Armbruster said.

He said most of the eight county elected positions come from the two towns at the far northern end of the county. This includes Hayes, Surrogate Sheppard, and County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti of Ocean City along with Sheriff Gary Schaffer and Freeholder Gabor from Upper Township. That’s five of the eight.

Central Cape May County has two elected officials with Freeholder Vice Director Len Desiderio of Sea Isle City and Thornton of Middle Township. The south end has a lone representative with Morey living in Wildwood Crest.

Blomkvest, however, supported the process, which used to be based more on party dues, with just a few people deciding the candidates. The geography of where the candidates came from was a huge factor as the Republicans fought to win votes from all the towns and defeat the Democrats.

But for the past few years the GOP has held a convention with voting machines brought in. Committee people vote privately. The new format came with reform candidates Thornton and Sheppard along with Donohue taking over as chairman after ousting long-time chair David Von Savage.

“I fought for the process. I fought for what we had tonight. We have a great ticket and a great organization,” Blomkvest said.

Hayes seemed to reach out to southern voters in her pre-election speech when she said she knows “the issues and the nuances” between Cape May Beach and Cape May Point.

“It’s shouldn’t be based on politics. It should be based on who is best prepared to serve. When my phone rings I won’t ask what is your ZIP code; I will ask how I can help,” Haynes said.

A Northfield (Atlantic County) native, Hayes said she supports fiscal responsibility, accountability, transparency, keeping people safe and “services second to none.”

Thornton ran unopposed and was a unanimous selection by voice vote. There are 254 committee seats but only 241 are filled and 212 cast ballots

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711