GOP Challengers Score Major Upset In Plumsted Primary

Thomas Potter and James Hagelstein (Photo courtesy campaign website)

  PLUMSTED – In a contest between two members of the original township Republican organization versus two members of the new GOP club, the challengers beat the incumbents by a vote margin of two to one in the June 4 primary race.

  The results had Republicans for Plumsted candidates Thomas Potter with 948 as the top vote getter, James Hagelstein with 943, incumbent Committeeman Michael Hammerstone with 497 and coming in with the least number of votes, was Mayor Dominick Cuozzo with 488 votes.

  This election was for two, three-year terms on the Township Committee. The five-member committee choses the mayor among themselves every year.

  This tally is unofficial until it is confirmed by the Ocean County Clerk’s Office in a few weeks, but the numbers aren’t likely to change the outcome.

  Cuozzo, who is serving as mayor this year and Hammerstone are members of the Plumsted Republican Club.

  As winners of the primary, Potter and Hagelstein will have their names on the ballot in November. They are not expected to face a challenge in the fall as no Democratic candidate filed to run in the traditionally Republican community, which made this year’s primary more critical.

  This marked Cuozzo’s first term on the Committee. Hammerstone joined the dais when he was appointed in February 2023 to fill an unexpired term of a committeeman who resigned. He was seeking a full term. All four candidates waged an active campaign.

  Cuozzo had received some criticism at a recent committee meeting for choosing conservative radio show host and potential 2025 gubernatorial candidate Bill Spadea, as this year’s Memorial Day grand marshal instead of a local veteran of the community. Cuozzo said he thought having a high-profile name as grand marshal was a great idea.

Plumsted Mayor Dominick Cuozzo, left and Committeeman Michael Hammerstone. (Screenshot by Bob Vosseller)

  Potter and Hagelstein received the endorsement of several former Plumsted mayors including Jack Trotta and Robert Bowen. The recently opened One North Main Street Ice Cream parlor owned by Stacey Reed served as the celebration point for Potter and Hagelstein supporters following the results count.

  “I am beside myself,” Potter told The Jackson Times. He said the campaign brought out facts and details about how the township was being run and the need for change. “I think we pointed it out. We’ve lost some good employees recently. Three just resigned and we may be losing more. Budget is not what he (Cuozzo) said it was. He has decimated the town.”

  Potter added, “I thought we might win but I didn’t know we would win this big.”

  Hagelstein expressed his excitement saying, “It has been a lot and it started back in January with the formation of the club. It is almost surreal but it is so good to see the town come together. We have about 100 people here tonight. It is like a breath of relief especially on the faces of those who work for the town.”

  Potter told The Jackson Times, that he ran for the seat “because the town, as a whole, is not being represented by a majority of the committee. It is evident that only a certain few are being served by the committee. There also seems to be a lack of fiscal responsibility that members of the committee were and are ignoring.”

  Hagelstein said he ran for the spot because he was “disturbed to find such a small body of people were dictating our local government and leaving the majority with no voice or options within the town. I watched these matters play out and have become increasingly disgusted by the treatment of the community, division, and authoritarian mentality that has been shown.”

  “I wanted to provide an additional option to the township and ultimately tipped my hat to enter the political realm of Plumsted Township with the intent of being a person of the people,” he added.

  Last year, Cuozzo faced a recall petition which failed due to it not meeting the necessary number of required signatures. He also faced censure by a request of 53 residents which failed because the petition involved complaints that went beyond Cuozzo’s role as a committeeman.

  Committeeman Robert Bowen, who served as mayor last year, also called for Cuozzo’s censure a month later related to an incident involving an exchange of words between him and members of the township police department. Cuozzo’s comments were captured on police body camera concerning enforcement of an ordinance governing solicitation within the community. Mayor Bowen and Deputy Mayor Herb Marinari voted in favor of the censure stating the comments by Cuozzo were inappropriate.

  Cuozzo was able to break the two-to-two tie with his own vote during the meeting when the resolution was brought up for a vote by the five-member committee.

  Since a censure is little more than a slap on the wrist, this was more a symbolic gesture than anything else.

  Cuozzo’s candidacy had been called into question in the past. Of the 13 people who signed for him to run for office, almost half are questionable. Cuozzo and his wife listed Cuozzo’s church, where he is a pastor, as their address. Christopher Kissam, another pastor, and his wife Loretta listed their address as 100 Lakewood Road, which is also the church.

  Daniel Clark used his address as 98 Lakewood Road, which is the church.

  Furthermore, one of the people who signed, Eric Williamson, lives at 167 Long Swamp Road. This is listed as vacant land on Plumsted’s Master Plan. On the master plan, their real address is listed as 2307 South Broad Street in Hamilton.

  Chris Lundy contributed to this story