HAMMONTON — Three officers of the newly formed Hammonton United Republican Club — Michael Torrissi Jr., Otto Hernandez and Steve Furgione — will run in the June primary for three, two-year seats on Town Council, the club announced at a meeting Tuesday night.
“I don’t know if I would say we’ll be campaigning (right away),” said Torrissi, president of Hammonton United. “It’s a little early. We just felt so strongly positive about our group, we wanted to get our guys out there as soon as possible to let everyone know we’re very serious about these council seats.”
Five of six council seats and the mayor’s office are now held by members of the independent Hammonton First party, after two of three Hammonton Republican Club candidates narrowly lost in last November’s election.
The sole Republican council member is Mickey Pullia, who was elected as a member of Hammonton First and switched to the GOP last year.
Torrissi, 39, is senior vice president at Coraluzzo Torrissi Transport in Vineland and a graduate of Hammonton High School and Rutgers University. He and wife Katie have a daughter, Sophia, 2.
He and his running mates are always accessible at community events, and are planning to hold a fundraiser in May, said Torrissi, a councilman from 2011-12 and past president of the Hammonton Republican Club.
Hernandez, 60, has a doctorate in organizational leadership and is the Dean for Career and Technical Education and STEM Programs at Atlantic Cape Community College. He has been with Atlantic Cape 35 years, he said, and for many years taught in the computer department there.
Hernandez is vice president of Hammonton United, and a lifelong Republican whose parents and two older siblings escaped Cuba after the Communist revolution. Born in the U.S., he said he is running for office for the first time, after years of working on other people’s campaigns, to help rebrand the Republican Party in his hometown.
“Hammonton is traditionally a very Republican town. We help Republicans get elected all over the place, at the county and state level,” Hernandez said. “Then you look at the town and local politics, there is one Republican on council. People say, ‘How can that be?’”
Hammonton First got its start as an offshoot of the Republican Club in 2005, when there was a disagreement among Republicans and others in town over where to build a new Town Hall. Hammonton First members, a coalition of like-minded Republicans, Democrats and Independents, favored keeping it downtown. Republicans then in office wanted to build it on 11th Street outside of the downtown.
Hammonton First candidates have dominated elections since then, and went on to build Town Hall downtown, where revitalization has gotten the downtown national attention for its MainStreet Hammonton program.
Hernandez said he felt Hammonton First council people have done a good job overall, but doesn’t like one-party rule.
“I don’t think it’s healthy to have one dominant party like we’ve had,” he said. “You lose aspects of what a Republic should be when you don’t have checks and balances.”
Furgione, 38, the new club’s treasurer who had been treasurer for the Republican Club, lost his seat on town council last November by just 25 votes after serving one, two-year term. A graduate of Hammonton High School and Penn State University, he owns TLC Landscape Co. in Williamstown, and is married with two children.
He would like to see GOP candidates have a higher profile in town, and a more positive image.
“We’ve tried over the years, but it just doesn’t resonate,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the people in the room, but the image people have (of the GOP) in town. We just need to be fresh and new. In our town voters vote for the brand rather than the candidate.”
The Hammonton Republican Club, which has been in existence for more than 30 years, will announce its candidates sometime in March, said incoming President Charles E. Woolson Jr., a local attorney.
Richard Curcio, chairman of the Hammonton Republican Municipal Committee, has said he and Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis are working to repair the split.
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