Cumberland County Democratic Primary Election Race Too Close To Call

By: Madison Starr, Writer / Follow South Jersey Bridgeton City Intern

BRIDGETON, N.J. — The unofficial results are here! Cumberland County held its county and municipal primary elections on July 7. While there have been declared winners for both sheriff primaries and the Republican freeholder primary, this year’s Democratic freeholder primary is a bit harder to get a gauge on at this time.

The Democratic race was contentious from the start, and the election didn’t do much to separate those who ran for Freeholder. Between running on slates, Freeholder Jack Surrency not getting the Democratic Party’s nomination, and the six candidates all receiving less than 20% of the vote, all the candidates’ hard work may result in a runoff election. The candidates are Carol Musso, Bruce Cooper, George Castellini, Jack Surrency, Donna Pearson, and Tracy Wells-Huggins.

Freeholder Musso was elected in 2011 and is currently the board’s longest-serving freeholder. She has worked in the banking industry for more than 35 years and is currently the Vice President of Business Development at Century Savings Bank, a Cumberland County-based community bank.

Cooper is currently an elected Millville City Commissioner and Director of Parks and Public property. He has owned and operated two service businesses within the last decade. Additionally, he’s a member of Cornerstone Community Church in Millville.

Freeholder Castellini took office in 2018. He served 13 years in law enforcement between the Vineland Police Department and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, and he also served five years as a volunteer for the Vineland Rescue Squad.

Freeholder Surrency was elected in 2017. He served on the Bridgeton City Council from 2011 to 2017 and Bridgeton’s School Board of Education from 2002 to 2010.  He currently serves as Chairman of CompleteCare Health Network Inc. 

Pearson was Cumberland County’s first Black freeholder director. She served in the position back in 2003. Before that, she was a freeholder from 1996 to 2003. Since then, she has served in several different roles such as the Director of the South Jersey Office of the Governor, an adjunct professor at Cumberland County College specializing in Business Education Social Service and Justice Studies, and an adjunct professor at Willmington University’s College of Business.

Wells-Huggins is an activist and professionally registered nurse. She began her community activism in 2007 after her son was in police custody for more than three hours without a legal guardian present. After that, she began Renewed Minds, which provides support programs for parents and youth. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in nursing at Wilmington University.

The winners of the Republican primary are Victoria Lods, Darwin Cooper, and Anthony Romero. Since there are three positions open for freeholders, the three Republican candidates ran unopposed.

Lods is currently an English teacher at Vineland High School. She also served as the executive director for the Cumberland County Habitat for Humanity. Lods has run for several positions before such as freeholder and county clerk.

There isn’t much public information about Cooper or Romero aside from Cooper’s avid support of President Donald Trump and Romero’s narrow losses for Vineland City Council in 2012 and 2016.

For sheriff, the winners are Sheriff Robert A. Austino, Democrat and incumbent, and Michael Donato, Republican. Sheriff Austino has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. The Cumberland County native was hired by Vineland Police Department in 1973 and worked his way up to Lieutenant before retiring in 2003. In 2009, he was elected as Sheriff. Former Lt. Michael Donato recently retired this past March with more than 25 years of experience.

Official results are set to be announced on July 24.

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.