HAMMONTON — Atlantic County Democrats on Saturday chose Bill Hughes Jr. to top the party’s ticket in their bid to unseat longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.
Democrats also picked a union carpenter and two public school teachers to challenge Republicans for three seats on the county freeholder board.
The Atlantic County Democratic Party conducted its convention Saturday
at Kerri Brooke Caterers in Hammonton. County Republicans will have their convention Monday at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City.
Republican Freeholders John Risley and Alexander Marino are running for re-election. One seat is open with the retirement of Republican incumbent Frank Sutton. Egg Harbor Township Committeeman John Carman is expected to seek the nomination, Republican Party Chairman Keith Davis said.
Republican Sheriff Frank Balles is expected to seek re-election as well, Davis said.
Democratic delegates on Saturday chose union carpenter Steve Stokes, of Galloway Township; special-education teacher Kewy Santana, of Hamilton Township; and science teacher Barbara Rheault, of Mullica Township, for spots on the nine-member freeholder board.
Rounding out the ticket, Democrats chose U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in his re-election bid and county sheriff’s candidate Dennis Munoz, of Egg Harbor City.
Atlantic County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Schroeder said there were no surprises during Saturday’s convention. But he thinks Republicans could be in for some come November, he said.
“I think Bill Hughes Jr. has a great chance. Last year, we were excited and pleased to have an upset victory with Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo,” Schroeder said.
Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, beat three-term Republican John Amodeo in a close race.
“I had the privilege to work for Bill’s father,” Schroeder said of former U.S. Rep. William Hughes, of Ocean City. “Bill is cut from the same cloth. He’s going to make a great congressman.”
Schroeder said Democrats have a good chance to improve their standing at the county level as well this year. The three candidates are relative newcomers to politics.
Santana, who made an unsuccessful bid for Hamilton Township Committee last year, said she plans to campaign on improving education in Atlantic County, particularly after recent cuts that have made teaching more difficult. She is married with two children.
“I’m all for reform. But there are things happening that are causing a lot of wonderful teachers to leave,” she said.
Stokes, a military veteran who is married with two children, said he plans to campaign on veterans issues in Atlantic County. This is especially relevant with so many soldiers returning home from deployments and integrating back into civilian life in South Jersey, he said.
“We need to create jobs here. The NextGen project had years of negotiation, millions of dollars in site work and zero new jobs,” he said, referring to the as-yet unrealized potential of the high-tech aviation and research campus in Egg Harbor Township.
Rheault, a middle school science teacher and former newspaper reporter, said her family has roots in Mullica Township dating to 1854.
She said she plans to campaign on the economy and issues relating to children, seniors and women that often get less attention from public officials. She has two grown children.
“I want to be an advocate for people who are afraid or unable to speak,” she said.
Rheault said her husband, Tom Rheault, was among the 1,600 people laid off when Atlantic Club closed this year. He had worked at the casino for 29 years.
“It’s where we met. It’s unfortunate to see so many people losing their jobs,” she said. “Now everyone is struggling.”
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