CAPE MAY — Republican Marie Hayes took the oath of office Friday afternoon to become Cape May County’s newest freeholder, but her welcome to political office may include a contested Republican primary.
Republican Committee members on Wednesday selected Hayes, an Ocean City resident, over Lower Township resident Stig Blomkvest to finish
the last year of the term vacated by Sue Sheppard when
she was elected county
surrogate in November.
The selection of Hayes, a newcomer to politics, over Blomkvest, a former deputy mayor in Lower Township who campaigned for the other Republican freeholders, got the attention of Republican Lower Township Councilman Glenn Douglass.
Douglass was upset that there were no county elected officials from the far southern end of the county. Five of the eight elected officials come from Ocean City or Upper Township and there are none from the south end towns of Lower Township, Cape May, West Cape May and Cape May Point.
Douglass is currently seeking a running mate and said he will either run in the June primary against Hayes and Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, who is seeking re-election, or he will skip the primary and run as an independent in November.
“I haven’t decided either way yet. I’m still working on which way I think is better. I think I’m leaning more to the primary,” Douglass said on Friday.
County Republican Chairman Mike Donohue welcomed the competition.
“Hey, that’s fine. It doesn’t diminish the character and quality of our candidates. We’re happy to fight it out in the public arena,” Donohue said.
Hayes also seemed ready for her first real political battle before the voters, not just Republican Committee members.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Hayes after she took the oath of office with her husband, Lloyd, and son Lloyd Jr. by her side.
Thornton also welcomed a race.
“Come on in — the water’s warm,” Thornton said.
He disputed that south-end residents don’t get representation by not having an elected official from their area. He noted freeholders are elected at-large and represent all county residents.
Years ago the Republicans, who control all eight county seats, tried to have a geographic mix to win enough votes to defeat the Democrats. These days the Democratic Party is in such disarray it often doesn’t even field candidates.
Lower Township Mayor Mike Beck, an independent, said he will fully support Douglass. Beck said geography does matter, noting a recent decision to cut county funding to Historic Cold Spring Village, a Lower Township tourist attraction the county once owned, by one third.
“It’s devastating we don’t have a freeholder down here. A freeholder from here would say, ‘I’m going to get beat up on this.’ The freeholders now will just retreat back up north,” Beck said.
Beck said it will have a negative impact on the township and doesn’t make sense since the township has the largest population of any county municipality.
Thornton, who lives in Middle Township, noted he used to live in Lower Township and was the Republican leader of the township for 10 years.
“There is nobody who has been more of a supporter of the southern end of the county than Gerry Thornton. I have not forgotten my roots. The issue of (geography) is not an issue today with the technology that is available.”
But Anne Salvatore, who runs Historic Cold Spring Village, said having a representative from the area would make a huge difference. She has met with several freeholders to fight the $50,000 cut and said they were not listening. She said she was “very disappointed” in Thornton.
“We have no one to go to,” Salvatore said.
Douglass said the south end needs representation whether it comes from the township or one of the Cape Mays. He noted a small group of voters, 212 people, selected Hayes and the decision should be made by all the voters.
“I don’t know what’s going on in Ocean City, and they don’t know what goes on in Lower Township,” said Douglass.
Douglass said he intended to put his name in for the committee vote but the party did “a temporary by-law change” to close off the process early.
Donohue disputed this, noting the Sheppard resignation provided just 35 days to select a candidate. He noted it was “no secret” the seat would be available after Sheppard won the surrogate post in November.
“I didn’t hear from Glenn until January,” Donohue said.
Douglass said he contacted the township’s Republican leader on Dec. 18 and was told the cut-off date to apply was Dec. 15.
It may not have mattered since Douglass supported the three victorious independents who unseated Republican incumbents in Lower Township’s November election. Donohue said he “walked away from the party” a year ago.
Sheppard administered the oath to Hayes before about 100 people including a large contingent from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, from where she retired as captain of detectives in 2009.
Contact Richard Degener: