Five Vie for Two Ocean County Freeholder Spots

Dems and Libertarian Face Tough Challenge in County Trump Dominated
By Rick Mellerup | Oct 30, 2019

Toms River — Two Ocean County freeholders, Republicans John P. “Jack” Kelly and Virginia “Ginny” Haines, are up for re-election this Nov. 5. They’ll be squaring off against three challengers, Democrats Jean Czarkowski and David T. Wright and Independent-Libertarian Party candidate Daniel Valentine.

Kelly and Haines can tout their political and public service experience in their campaigns.

Kelly, 68, of Eagleswood, has been a member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders since 1993. More than 35 years ago he was elected to the Eagleswood Township Committee, where he served for 17 years.

Haines, 72, of Toms River, was first appointed to the board on Jan. 27, 2016 to fill the seat left vacant by Freeholder James F. Lacey after his resignation for personal economic reasons. Before that, however, she served as executive director of the New Jersey Lottery from July 1994 to February 2002, as a member of the Toms River Township Committee in 2002, as 10th Legislative District assemblywoman from 1992 to 1994, and as clerk of the New Jersey Assembly and legislative aide for state Sen. Robert Singer.

Kelly has long served as the board’s director of law and safety, so he is proud of the work that has been done in the past few years in upgrading radio communications, “the new towers, the new infrastructure,” for police and other first responders in Ocean County. He also points to his efforts in projects such as the construction of the Ocean County Fire and First Aid Training Center in Waretown, the expansion of the Ocean County Jail in Toms River and the Ocean County Police Academy in Lakewood, and the continuing development of the county’s Juvenile Services Department.

Kelly knew he had a big job when he had to replace the late longtime Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. as the board’s liaison to the Ocean County Department of Finance. He came through with a 2019 budget that dropped the county tax rate by a half-cent even though it increased funding for Ocean County College and the county’s vocational-technical schools. Plus, he said, the country maintained its AAA bond rating, allowing it to refinance debt that will result in a $5.5 million savings over the next 10 years.

When asked what he thought the Board of Chosen Freeholder’s biggest challenge would be for the next three years, he was quick to answer.

“Surviving this governor,” he said of Democrat Phil Murphy, who Kelly called a tax-and-spend liberal.

“This guy is a far left liberal. He makes Nancy Pelosi look good. He’s trying to turn New Jersey into California.”

If Kelly sounds like President Donald Trump and much of the national GOP, well, he knows his electorate. In 2016 Trump earned 179,079 votes in Ocean County while Hillary Clinton only managed 87,150.

Haines is the 2019 director of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the first woman in 40 years to lead Ocean County government. She is also currently serving as director of the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Committee so it isn’t surprising she focused on parks and open space when asked what the biggest challenge to the freeholders would be for the next three years.

“Ocean County is a great place to live, work, raise a family and retire,” she said. “It’s the priority of all of us on the Board of Freeholders to maintain the high quality of life here. Serving as liaison to the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Program, I know that saving open space in Ocean County is key to balancing and maintaining the delicate environment we have while accommodating a growing population. This year alone, the county land trust preserved close to 9,000 acres including the largest tract to date – the Forked River Mountains.

“Preserving and protecting open space helps in our continuing efforts to protect Barnegat Bay in addition to its many tributaries and our overall environment. To date, about 60 percent of Ocean County’s 400,000-plus acres is preserved as open space. That includes all country, state and federal lands.

“Additionally, open space is protected through the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation. As chairwoman of this department, we not only provide important recreational activities for out citizens from children to adults – we also act as the environmental stewards of another 4,000 acres that make up the Ocean County Park system.”

Some readers might think Haines sounds more like a Democrat that an Republican. But she went on to show her GOP bona fides:

“As a freeholder, I recognize that a key issue if not the key issue for our citizens is property taxes. This board makes certain Ocean County maintains a stable property tax rate. We have weathered very difficult financial times including the economic downturn which started around 2008 which was exacerbated by the devastation of Superstorm Sandy seven years ago. The board’s conservative approach to county finances allows us to maintain a stable tax rate while continuing to provide the core services for our citizens.”

Czarkowski and Wright, on the other hand, are political neophytes.

Czarkowski, 48, from Toms River, has a BA from Georgian Court University, a MSW from Monmouth University, and more that 45 graduate credits in education. She’s currently employed as a school counselor for the Old Bridge School District and has been a career social worker. She is a lifelong Ocean County resident.

“I have never run for office before,” said Czarkowski, “however I have worked on grassroots endeavors that I am proud of and have served the public throughout my career in various capacities. I was a volunteer firefighter, worked with families, survivors and first-responders in the aftermath of 911, developed award-winning programs in education and a guest lecture for Princeton University’s Pace Center for Civic engagement and am currently serving on the N.J. Department of Education’s Standards Review Committee.

“I am a trained therapist, quite used to addressing dysfunction within systems. I am a skilled researcher and systemic problem solver. I understand how systems run, and I have ample experience in generating change within agencies and organizations.”

What is her major issue?

“Corruption is first and foremost the issue that we, as freeholders, must end. Additionally, we need term limits. We need new ideas, fearless leaders to make bold changes.”

She also believes having some Democratic representation on the board is important.

“Our roads are in need of serious attention, and having two board members who could work with this (Gov. Phil Murphy) administration to strike agreements would be huge.”

Wright, 33, from Eagleswood, is a Southern Regional High School grad with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers and a J.D. From the Widener University School of Law. He’s currently a worker’s compensation attorney at the Wright Law Firm in Stafford.

His family moved to LBI during the summer after he completed fifth grade and except for his time at college and law school has been an Ocean County resident ever since.

“I believe the growing threat of climate change needs to be addressed,” he said, “which starts at the local levels. One thing we can do to deal with the development and rising sea levels is to create a Stormwater Runoff Utility that can address some of these issues. I envision a burgeoning economy built around our wonderful natural resources and an atmosphere of inclusion and participation in everything we do.”

Wright also wants to change the one-party rule that has long been a staple of Ocean County politics.

“There has not been a Democrat on the Board of Ocean County Freeholders since 1992. Almost everyone that we have spoken to during this campaign has had a litany of complaints with how the county has been run. On Nov. 5, we can make the changes for which people are clamoring. Voting one column and electing the same people for decades while simultaneously complaining about the way the county is being run doesn’t work.”

Valentine did not answer a SandPaper information request. But his Facebook page says the college-aged candidate lives in Toms River, works at the Main Street Alliance Church in Manahawkin, and is a “Jesus follower.” He also posted that “my platform is simply ‘Don’t hurt people, and don’t take their stuff.’”

— Rick Mellerup


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