CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Jim Norris has been having an exceptional year.
He got married in October, and in early November unseated longtime Middle Township Committeeman Mike Clark to give the Republican party a complete lock on the three-member governing body for the first time.
Results from the Cape May County Clerk’s office show a close race, with 2,813 votes for Norris compared to 2,620 for Clark.
It was a good night for the GOP in Cape May County, with strong showings for Republican challengers to the 1st District legislative team and the Republican Freeholder incumbents fending off a challenge in a far closer race than usual for the strongly Republican county.
Incumbent Freeholders Gerald Thornton and E. Marie Hayes kept their seats after a challenge from Democrats Joyce Gould and Elizabeth Casey. The unofficial total was 16,105 for Thornton, 15,833 for Hayes, 12,035 for Gould and 11,883 for Casey.
“I’m happy. Extremely happy. It was a good election,” Thornton said Tuesday night. “I was scared the whole time, I’ll tell you that.”
The Democrats ran on a reformist platform, arguing that county spending was too high and calling for more infrastructure investment. As the results trickled in, Gould, a Wildwood Crest commissioner, was philosophical.
“I still have a job. Liz still has a job,” she said.
There were races throughout Cape May County. In Wildwood’s nonpartisan race, Mayor Ernie Troiano is out. Voters supported incumbent Pete Byron and newcomers Steven Mikulski and Krista Fitzsimons for City Commission.
Amy Korobellis picked up a seat in West Wildwood in a three-person race.
In Upper Township, Republican incumbents John Coggins and Hobie Young fended off a challenge from Democrat Don Oral.
Even with wins at the county and district level, Cape Republicans spent much of the night Tuesday focused on Middle Township. What had been a Democratic stronghold for decades will now have an all-Republican committee.
Supporters placed a tall red crown on Norris as it became clear he would win.
The vote came after a hard-fought campaign that included attacks on Tim Donohue, Middle Township’s Republican mayor, over comments on white supremacy. At recent Township Committee meetings, residents slammed Clark, arguing that the campaign tactics went too far for a tight-knit community like Middle Township.
At Monday’s Township Committee meeting, Donohue said if it were 100 years ago, he would likely have challenged Clark to a duel.
On Tuesday night, as Republicans celebrated at the Bellevue Tavern, Donohue said the election brought out the best and the worst of the community. He praised Norris for his hard work in the campaign, and castigated Clark, saying he brought the worst of American politics into the campaign, calling it the “worst of the progressive poison.”
Donohue described it as the most personal campaign he’d ever been involved with, and he was not on the ballot. A moment later, he said his opinion of Clark shot up dramatically, as the Democrat strolled in and offered his congratulations to Norris.
Donohue and Clark embraced, and Norris described him as brave, and a gentleman for taking the step.
For the past two public meetings, led by former Republican Mayor Dan Lockwood, residents have called on Clark to repudiate his campaign advertisement, which they said painted Donohue as a racist. Clark said little at those meetings, although the night before the election, he told Donohue that he did not believe he was racist.
Several speakers questioned if the two men would be able to work together if Clark kept his seat. One resident decried the growing rift on Township Committee, saying it seemed more like West Wildwood than Middle Township.
Earlier Tuesday evening, where Democrats had gathered at Rio Station a few miles down Route 9, Clark said he did not believe the campaign ads hurt his reelection effort.
“I worked very hard. And my opponent worked very hard, too,” he said.
The vote puts two Cape May County municipal officials in Assembly seats. Lower Township Mayor Eric Simonsen and Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan beat out Democratic incumbents Bruce Land and Matt Milam, with a strong showing in Cape May County.
McClellan becomes the first African American to represent the 1st Legislative District.
Cape May County Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan said the Democrats ran a negative, vicious race.
“Are there any racists in here?” asked Simonsen. “Nah, I didn’t think so. Because we’re all one under God, baby.”
He said McClellan supports God, family and community, saying that is the Republican message.
At the event, Sheriff Robert Nolan, who has come under fire for his stance on cooperating with federal immigration authorities at the county prison, said the voters approved each of the candidates who supported his efforts.
Donohue told the crowd that the campaign made him question his involvement in politics.
“If the people of Middle Township do not reject this, I don’t know if I would run next year. It’s really about my faith in the process and what people would step up to vote for or vote against,” he said.