Republicans eye freeholder seats in Cumberland while Dems prepare to target Noto

Republicans are hoping to claw their way back to relevance in Cumberland County, where they are trying make up for

Republicans are hoping to claw their way back to relevance in Cumberland County, where they are trying make up for a crushing blow in last year's election by winning back some seats on the all-Democrat freeholder board.

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"Without a doubt it's a great year. With the anti-Corzine sentiment, I think we'll certainly see a good Republican backlash," said Bob Greco, the new Cumberland County Republican Chairman.

The GOP will also seek to re-elect County Clerk Gloria Noto, who is in the crosshairs of Democratic Chairman and Freeholder Director Lou Magazzu.

Cumberland County is traditionally Democratic-leaning, but Republicans were, until recently, a significant minority. Before being washed away by last year's Democratic wave, all three of the county's constitutional officers- sheriff, surrogate and county clerk – were Republican, along with one member of the freeholder board. Now, Noto is the last one standing.

Magazzu said that he has four potential candidates who want to take Noto on, although he wouldn't reveal any names.

Magazzu plans to stand for reelection this year, as does incumbent Nelson Thompson, who is currently serving the unexpired term of former freeholder and recently elected surrogate Doug Rainier.

Freeholder Joseph Riley, an obstetrician, told the Bridgeton News yesterday that he will not seek another term.

Democrats will pick the replacement for Riley and the candidate they will against Noto at a convention on Wednesday.

Three Republican candidates have stepped forward to take on the Democrats: Vineland businessman Sam Fiocchi, who toyed with an assembly bid last month; former Vineland City Solicitor Rick Tonetta; and Lawrence Township Deputy Mayor Tom Sheppard, who ran last year and was the top vote getter of the three Republican candidates.

Last year's campaign had a personal edge to it. Although he was not on the ballot, Republicans ran their campaigns partly on an anti-Magazzu theme. This year, he is on the ballot, but Magazzu predicts that his personality will likely be less of a campaign issue.

"It might have the potential to be a really nice campaign, not negative," said Magazzu, who graduated a couple years behind Tonetta at Vineland High School. "Rick Tonetta and I have been friends since high school. The biggest single complaint I have about Tonetta is he was an upper classman who took one of the prettiest girls in our class and married her,"

Magazzu said that the Democrats' campaigns will highlight the incumbents' decision to roll back salaries for constitutional officers to $75,000, along with the freeholder board's budget accomplishments.

"We're about to roll out a budget with a tax cut, no reduction of services and no layoffs," said Magazzu. "…My guess is they will run against Jon Corzine rather than the Cumberland Democrats."

Greco said that even though the tax rate has been cut, local tax bills have gone up.

"Although the freeholder director espouses that there's not a tax increase, the reality is when you look at our taxes in Cumberland County, our taxes have gone up."

One issue the Republicans will likely raise – if the situation remains the same – is the fact that Cumberland County got no stimulus money under the federal package that was just passed, which Greco said has "sparked quite an outrage." Greco said Cumberland's status as the poorest county in New Jersey and its high teen pregnancy rate could factor into the campaign as well.

Magazzu, for his part, has been working to secure stimulus money for the county. He spent part of last week in Washington, DC meeting with U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Vineland) and U.S. Senate staffers.

Republicans eye freeholder seats in Cumberland while Dems prepare to target Noto