BRIDGETON — Cumberland County Democrats have taken steps to replace former Democratic Freeholder Louis Magazzu, nominating three people to replace him immediately and supporting an outgoing freeholder to serve out the balance of his term in 2012.

At the same time, county Republicans have sought guidance from the state about what their next steps should be.

Magazzu, 53, a regional powerbroker, resigned earlier this month after nude photos he sent to an Internet girlfriend were received and published online by a rival.

To replace Magazzu, county Democratic co-chairman Douglas M. Long said the party endorsed three people at their regular party meeting Wednesday night:

_Donna M. Pearson, 58, of Bridgeton, a former freeholder;

_Charles Thomas, 77, of Hopewell Township, a member of the Cumberland County College board of trustees;

_Frances J. Riley, 68, of Vineland, whom Long described as a disabled veteran, employee of the Federal Aviation Administration and a lifelong Democrat.

Long said in following with state law, freeholders will vote at their next meeting on which of the three candidates will take Magazzu’s seat for the rest of the year. 

Should the three-Republican, three-Democrat board deadlock, Long said, the county Democratic Committee would get to choose the replacement. He did not favor a candidate.

Democrats also chose outgoing Freeholder James A. Dunkins, 55, of Millville, to appear on the November ballot to run for the final year of Magazzu’s term.

Dunkins, a minister with Shiloh Baptist Church, was elected to the board in 2008. He did not seek renomination this year, saying in a statement in April, “The responsibilities in my life, my family first and my service to God second, have increased significantly. It has become difficult for me to dedicate the kind of time that is necessary in serving as a freeholder."

Dunkins, on vacation Thursday and unable to be reached, said in another statement Thursday, “This group of candidates has convinced me that there is still great work that I can accomplish as a freeholder. I want to be a part of this ticket, and I would have felt remiss to pass up this unique opportunity to serve on the board for at least another year.”

Long said party control of the freeholder board shaped his decision.

“It’s a control year, and the reverend thought he didn’t want to chance the Republican philosophy coming into control, so he decided to take on that challenge for one more year.”

Tony Surace, a Democratic candidate for one of the three county freeholder seats up in November, said the Democratic candidates were happy Dunkins chose to run, saying he brought credibility and experience.

Other Democratic candidates include William Whelan, the board chairman, and Deerfield Township Committeewoman Carol Musso.

The Republican ticket includes former county sheriff’s officer Bill Gonzalez, Sandy Taylor, of Downe Township, and Millville police Sgt. Jody Farabella.

Republican chairman Robert V. Greco said the party had not yet picked a candidate to oppose Dunkins. Instead, he asked New Jersey Secretary of State Kim Guadagno and the state Board of Elections to interpret the law before they acted.

“It’s subject to interpretation,” Greco said. “If you study case law, it does not set any precedent whatsoever.”

Greco questioned Dunkins’ choice to run, however, saying, “That leaves me quite baffled as to how he didn’t have time” to run before.

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046

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