MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A record of leadership or promise of change were the choices that nine federal, county and local candidates presented Thursday morning at a forum hosted by the Middle Township Chamber of Commerce.

In the race for Congress in the 2nd District, Democrat Cassandra Shober said the district has been underrepresented, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo said he always puts constituents first, and Libertarian John Ordille said his platform melds the best of both parties.

Democratic Cape May County freeholder candidate Walter Deegan said he is running to bring more high-paying jobs to the county, while incumbent Republican Freeholder Len Desiderio said he is proud of how he has moved the county forward.

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Democrat Jeffrey Sutherland and Republican Susan Sheppard both touted their law experience to explain why they would be the right choice to be Cape May County Surrogate, a quasi-judicial position that is being vacated for the first time in decades.

And in the race for Middle Township Committee, Democrat William Sturm said he has experience helping and supporting businesses, while incumbent Republican Mayor Dan Lockwood said he wants another term to finish the work he has already been doing for the township.

The event at the Links at Avalon Golf and Country Club is held annually and is an informal event that mainly allows the candidates to present themselves to a crowd of business leaders. The politicians did not debate, but rather had a few minutes to make a speech and chatted with the attendees over breakfast and coffee.

It was the second forum in Middle Township for most of the candidates this week, the first organized by The Cape May County League of Women Voters on Tuesday night at The Wetlands Institute just outside Stone Harbor. Lockwood and Sturm also spoke at an event earlier this month in Cape May Court House hosted by the Middle Township Taxpayers Association.

In the race for the U.S. House of Representatives, the three candidates at Thursday's event each made brief statements about why they could best serve the state's largest congressional district, which includes Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties and parts of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.

“We have so much to offer and yet we are lagging behind,” said Shober, who rattled off the rates of poverty and unemployment in southern New Jersey.

On the national stage, Shober said businesses would do better if the government's tax policies benefited the poor and middle class rather than the rich. Those with less money spend their extra income immediately on the things they need, creating more customers, she said.

LoBiondo said he has business experience that allows him to understand what businesses need, and on issues he is not familiar with he turns to his constituents. He said the Obama administration has created uncertainty in the market and stifled growth.

He said that he was most proud of supporting the local fishing industry on the federal level and working to keep the FAA Technical Center and the U.S. Coast Guard base in South Jersey.

“I will never take my constituents for granted,” he said. “I always put people before party.”

Ordille is one of four third-party candidates running in the Congressional race, and he said the Libertarian platform combines the “fiscal sanity” of the Republican Party with “social tolerance” of the Democratic Party.

He said his goals would be to bring soldiers fighting overseas back to the U.S., support balancing the federal budget and reduce taxes overall.

He also joked about his position in the race.

“Yes, I've seen the ballot,” he said. “I'm all the way to the right, and all the way at the bottom, so I'm very easy to find.”

In the race for freeholder, Deegan said he wants to “sell Cape May County to the world” by soliciting major companies to open facilities in the area and supply high-paying jobs for a mostly seasonal and service-based economy.

“I'm a fighter and I want to take on this challenge,” he said.

Desiderio said he has been working for the county's seniors, helped keep the county tax rate at a minimum and promoted the tourism industry, which he called the county's “economic engine.”

“We are predominantly small businesses in Cape May County, and we know how to get things done,” he said.

In the surrogate's race, the candidates talked more about their professional expertise since the surrogate mainly handles legal issues with wills and estates rather than making policy.

Sheppard had to first explain the position before making her case as the best candidate.

“Believe it or not, I love practicing law,” said Sheppard, an incumbent freeholder and attorney. “I enjoy the aspect of people, and that's why I went into public service.”

Sutherland, who is also a local attorney, said it is an unusual situation when prospective voters approach him about why he should get their vote since the surrogate mainly deals in situations that involve death.

“They say, 'What are you going to do for me,'” he said. “Hopefully nothing for a very, very long time.”

Sutherland said his goal would be to proactively tell people about how they should be prepared for those situations so they can spend time with their loved ones rather than deal with legal issues.

In the municipal race, Sturm said his experience with the United Auto Workers union and as an employee in the Wildwood Water Department gave him a familiarity with government and business that he hoped would lead the crowd to support him.

Lockwood said he sought a second term to continue refining the township budget and other work he started in his first term.

“I've already started working on next year's budget,” Lockwood said.

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