GOP challengers oust 2 freeholders

By Katie Moen New Jersey Herald

Posted: Jun. 6, 2018 12:05 am

Republican challengers Dawn Fantasia and Joshua Hertzberg defeated incumbent Freeholders Carl Lazzaro and Jonathan Rose on Tuesday for their party's nomination for two, three-year terms on the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Fantasia and Hertzberg, who ran together, took the Republican nominations with 6,511 and 5,957 votes, respectively, in unofficial totals. Lazzaro and Rose, who also ran as a team, ended the night with counts of 3,911 and 3,855 respectively.

"When you look at Sparta and you look at Franklin, you might think we're coming from two different places," Fantasia said, taking a moment to thank those who supported the pair throughout the campaign. "The truth is, we all bleed red, and we all want the same things. No matter what part of the county you're from, we will move forward with your best interests at heart."

The four Republican candidates gathered under one roof on Tuesday to await the election results at the Irish Cottage Inn in Franklin, though Rose and Lazzaro left to attend another party event shortly before the final election results were in.

From the early days of the campaign season, local elected representatives including state Sen. Steve Oroho, Assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths, and Sheriff Michael Strada came forward to endorse the challengers.

All three officials were present for Tuesday's election gathering, along with about 150 party supporters.

"I'm very happy with the way this primary turned out," Oroho said. "I decided to support Dawn and Josh because I honestly believe that they will work incredibly hard to do the right thing for the people of Sussex County."

Though no Democrats filed to run in the primary, voters will still have a decision to make come November.

On Friday, The Sussex County Democratic Committee announced two write-in candidates: Patrick Curreri, 39, of Vernon, and Howard Zatkowsky, 73, of Hardyston.

Curreri and Zatkowsky, who each need 100 write-ins to qualify for a space on the general election, spent Tuesday night at Bell's Mansion in Stanhope.

Though official write-in tallies will not be available until later in the week, Curreri said Tuesday night that both he and Zatkowsky were feeling "very positive."

"Right now, we're just happy to be a part of this race," Curreri said. "We'll have to see how everything turns out, but we have been seeing a lot of good support from people around the county."

To make matters even more interesting, Newton Mayor Wayne Levante announced Tuesday morning that he had filed a petition on Monday with the county clerk's office to run as an independent candidate in November.

Levante, who was elected to the Newton Town Council in 2014 and appointed to serve as mayor last year, lost his bid for re-election to a second four-year term during Newton's May municipal election.

In March, Levante faced censure and a vote of no confidence by the other four members of the Newton Council after sharing a controversial social media posting in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting.

The council charged at the time that Levante had "exhibited inappropriate and unprofessional behavior" in the opinion of the majority of the Council, by engaging in "conduct unbecoming of a mayor in his interaction with the public and at Council meetings that reflects negatively on the Town of Newton as a whole."

Levante voted against his own censure and refused to resign as mayor.

"The residents of Sussex County deserve better than just standard rhetoric like transparency, accountability and 'change.' Our community has serious issues plaguing our lives and wallets that need to be addressed strongly and immediately," Levante said in the press release, which listed his platform as one based "on the core Republican principles of smaller, limited government."

In August of last year, Levante met with elected officials from around the area to discuss the possibility of county-wide school consolidation.

"School consolidation is by far the biggest issue of our generation and one that I have taken the lead on despite nasty retaliation by those who have much to lose," Levante said in the release. "With declining enrollments and increasing costs, Sussex County residents are being priced out of their homes. I've shown that I have the backbone to confront these issues, and ones like them, head-on without wavering. We simply can no longer afford status quo."

Fantasia, 44, has been a Sussex County resident for 30 years. She is the current president of the Franklin Borough Council and a former member of the Franklin Planning Board, Zoning Board and Sussex County Republican Committee.

"I've worked in urban education for the past 10 years as both an educator and executive team member in public charter school districts, where we are accustomed to funding inequities and doing a lot with very little," said Fantasia, a school principal at the Bergen Arts and Science Charter School. "Lack of fair school funding is also crippling Sussex County; I have testified in Trenton multiple times regarding equitable school funding."

Fantasia ran on a platform that highlighted fiscal transparency, prioritized spending and communication as major areas of importance for Sussex County residents.

"(We need to) listen to what municipal leaders need for their respective communities, and do not micromanage the towns or the county employees," Fantasia said in her campaign bio. "Our biggest asset in the county is our human capital, and county government must steward a vision of unity, respect, and true servant leadership."

Hertzberg, 43, was appointed as the mayor of Sparta in January. His resume includes stints working for the Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Border Control and Homeland Security. He is currently the director of business operations for the International Longshoremen's Association.

"As a Sparta councilman, and now mayor, we have lowered taxes, almost eliminated debt, earned a top credit rating all while increasing services to our residents," Hertzberg said in a campaign bio submitted to the New Jersey Herald. "I have a proven track record of making sound financial decisions, as well as life and death decisions as a federal agent. I will use all of this experience to make the right decisions for the Sussex County residents."

Hertzberg listed fiscal responsibility and better communication with local governing bodies as two of his key platform issues.

"We wouldn't be here without the support of everyone in this room," Hertzberg said Tuesday. "We still have some work to do, but the fact that we made it this far means that it has all already been worth it."