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Toms River’s Impending Political Battles Take Shape as Primary Candidates Register

Welcome to Toms River Township sign. (File Photo)

Welcome to Toms River Township sign. (File Photo)

Toms River political environment has produced a tangled web of controversial primary battles for Republicans, however the Democratic party is not without its own insurgent challenge from a political newcomer.

Two full slates of candidates will be seeking the GOP’s nomination to represent the party in the June primary that will decide the ballot for November’s general election. The stakes are high in Toms River, where both the mayor’s seat as well as de facto control of the township council – depending on which candidates align once in office – are up for grabs.

The slate being led by Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill includes fellow incumbent councilmen Matthew Lotano, Josh Kopp and Kevin Geoghegan. The four current officeholders are representing the county’s party line against the hopes of Chairman George Gilmore, who is sponsoring his own slate of candidates, all of whom are well-known to township voters.

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Though they have yet to choose a campaign banner under which to run, the GOP challengers are Geraldine “Geri” Ambrosio, seeking the mayoral seat, alongside former assistant township attorney R. Garry Mundy, Norvella “Pug” Lightbody, the wife of the late Toms River political luminary Roden Lightbody, and Sergio Fossa, a Christian minister who ran an unsuccessful campaign for county commissioner last year with Board of Education member Ashley Lamb.

A third insurgent GOP ticket is being led by outspoken council member Daniel Rodrick, who was elected as a Democrat to the governing body before switching parties and garnering significant support on an anti-overdevelopment platform that connected with voters at the council level. Rodrick, running for mayor, will be joined by council candidates Thomas W. Nivison, Lynn R. O’Toole and Craig Coleman.

Yet another GOP candidate has also thrown his hat into the ring. Running for the mayoral seat without an adjoining council ticket is Robert A, Bianchini, seeking office under the “Responsibility and Accountability” banner.

The Democrats, who began to make inroads in Toms River politics with the election of Rodrick and Laurie Huryk in 2017, ultimately lost momentum between Rodrick’s party switch and Huryk’s decision not to seek another term. Jonathan Petro, an attorney and former chairman of the township’s Chamber of Commerce, represented a significant challenge to Hill, signaling signs of life within the party, which could seize upon the GOP’s civil war to overcome a gap in voters’ party affiliations come November.

Democrats have their own challenge to contend with, however.

Representing the party are John Furey, a former councilman seeking the mayor’s seat. He is joined by current Board of Education member Michele Williams, Rhetta Jackson Fair, the pastor of a church in Bayville, and Kajal Lol, a graduate student who recently became involved with the party.

Meanwhile, Paul C. Williams has announced his own at-large council campaign to seek the Democrats’ nomination. Williams, an unlikely candidate given a history of criminal convictions and disputes with the township’s police department over photographing law enforcement, launched his campaign via social media and formally registered to run. Williams pleaded guilty to a weapons charge in Middlesex County before pleading guilty to insurance fraud after falsely reporting his car having been stolen to Seaside Heights police and his insurance provider. He concurrently served a three-year prison sentence on the fraud charge along with a five-year sentence on the weapons offense.

Williams’ social media page announced he is “encouraged that he, like most people, is not the sum of his worst mistakes.” Williams has since become an advocate for prisoner re-entry programs and is presently serving as a Democratic county committee member, though he has feuded with the party at times, culminating in an unsuccessful lawsuit filed last year. He is also involved in litigation against the Jackson Township police department and has previously sued former Governor James McGreevey. Williams made headlines in 2017 after he was arrested after being accused of interfering with law enforcement while photographing an accident scene in Toms River. Nevertheless, Williams has garnered an online following and is seen by some as an advocate for civil rights and the downtrodden.

The primary election is held June 6 in New Jersey.

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