As of today, there is no replacement waiting in the wings to take over for Sussex County Freeholder Hal Wirths, who was nominated by Gov. Christopher Christie today to be labor commissioner.
That’s because very few people knew about the nomination until it was announced today.
“I did know that Chris (Christie) really trusts Hal, has a lot of respect for him, and I knew he was on the transition team. So once I heard it I wasn’t surprised,” said Sussex County GOP Chairwoman Ailish Hambel, who was en route back to New Jersey from Disney World, where she and her husband celebrated their 25th anniversary.
Wirths is not expected to resign from the freeholder board until his nomination is confirmed by the state senate (state Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Franklin), said he will “definitely sign off” on the nomination). At that point, the Sussex County Republican Committee will have 30 days to pick an interim successor who will have to seek reelection.
A way to come up with an early shortlist is to examine the list of names that surfaced when Glen Vetrano announced that he would not seek reelection last year – before former Chairman Richard Zeoli stepped in and became the immediate favor of party leaders to replace him.
Local insiders say to look out for candidacies from Richard Vohden, a farmer who is the party’s vice-chair; Fredon Township Mayor James McCracken; Stanhope Councilwoman Staci Santucci; Hardyston Mayor Kenneth Kievet; Sparta Mayor Scott Silaggi and Hopatcong Mayor Sylvia Petillo.
But unlike last year, when Zeoli ran unopposed to succeed Vetrano, insiders say there’s a greater chance of a primary come June, since there are already several candidates for sheriff in the GOP primary: Dan Storey, Michael Strada, Wayne Yahm and Jay Ziegler.
In traditionally Republican Sussex County, the winner of the June primary typically wins in the November general election.
Hambel said that she is “anxious to get home” to start sorting the process out.