Two Sussex County Democrats announced a joint election campaign for county commissioner seats in the latest effort to bring bipartisanship to the board that has been run by Republicans for the past two decades.
Scott Paul of Andover Township and Mike Vrabel of Sparta announced their candidacy over the weekend via a post on the "Vrabel and Paul for Sussex County Commissioner" Facebook page. "We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Sussex County, let’s do this!" read the post.
Vrabel and Paul released their three key initiatives for the race: support small businesses, ensure fiscal responsibility, and equal representation for all county residents regardless of background.
The duo also highlighted the importance of cooperation among local governing bodies, particularly in the wake of a year that was difficult for so many.
"At a time when we are all looking for leaders that we can trust to be competent, sincere, trustworthy and fair, this is the breath of life that Sussex County has been longing for," a statement from the candidates stated.
Up for reelection are Director Dawn Fantasia and the newly appointed Commissioner Chris Carney, who is serving the remainder of Josh Hertzberg's term, who resigned to serve on the Sparta Township Council.
Paul, 30, became a prominent local voice last summer with speeches at several county Black Lives Matter rallies. He has used his social media presence and overall platform to give back to the community and raise awareness about various issues and injustices, according to information released by his team.
"Scott makes it a point to be able to connect with people, regardless of political parties or agendas, but rather based on the content of their character," reads the candidate's statement.
Vrabel, 63, is an Air Force veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm and the United States invasion of Panama during his eight years of active duty and five years in the reserves. Like Paul, he is also heavily involved in community service, helping provide meals and other resources for homeless residents as a volunteer for Sussex County Family Promise since 1997.
Getting elected to the county commissioner board, known as the Board of Chosen Freeholders until this year, has proven to be an impossible task for anyone outside the Republican Party over the past 20 years.
Since 2004, nine county board elections have featured at least one Democrat or independent candidate, according to the county clerk's website. The closest race came in 2017 when Democrat Dan Perez earned 16,938 county votes (41%), falling roughly 7,000 votes shy of Republican Herb Yardley's 23,917 (59%).
Howard Burrell, currently the mayor of Vernon, was the last Democrat on the board when he won a seat in the 1999 election and served a three-year term.