PLUMSTED – Committeeman Dominick Cuozzo became the township’s mayor during the early morning reorganization meeting of the governing body on New Year’s Day.
Cuozzo’s wife, Nicole held two Bibles as he was sworn in by 30th District Assemblyman Alex Sauickie while family members watched from the audience.
He was cheered on by several guests including Manchester Mayor Robert Arace, Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore, conservative talk show host Bill Spadea and ministry spokesman Phil Rizzo who is part of the 29:2 Project, a ministry that Cuozzo serves as president of, which seeks to educate, activate and mobilize “faith leaders and people of faith, helping them leverage their influence and have impact within the civic, governmental, and political arena.”
“It is a very humbling thing and there is a special moment in my wife being here but there is a special moment in what she is going to be holding. I also wish to introduce a friend who has been with me in this arena of politics which is a new venture,” Cuozzo said as he introduced Rizzo.
Rizzo spoke about the two Bibles that Cuozzo swore an oath upon. “The first one is his personal Bible which is his preaching one that he uses (Cuozzo is the pastor of the Bible Baptist Church in Plumsted) given to him by his mother who has since gone on to heaven so it is an enduring book to him.”
Rizzo explained, “stacked on top of that is the Robert Aitken bible that was approved to be printed and endorsed by the people of America by the Continental Congress in 1782. There is this mindset of separation of church and state and we hold to that but what we believe is that is a one-way street. The government is to stay out of the church that does not preclude people of faith to be involved in the government and to serve the people that have elected them.”
Committeeman Herb Marinari was initially nominated to serve as mayor this year at the start of the meeting by Committeeman Robert Bowen who served as mayor last year. Committeeman Leonard Grilletto seconded the motion. Marinari declined the nomination.
“This is an honor for me. I served two years as mayor during covid. I thank the nominations of Mayor Bowen and Lenny but for the commitment I have for this community and for the need for this community to have some unity I am going to remove my name.”
Cuozzo was nominated by Marinari. He received a second from Committeeman Michael Hammerstone. Grilletto also voted for Cuozzo. When called to vote, Cuozzo remarked, “humbly, yes.” Bowen voted no.
Marinari was later nominated to remain as deputy mayor for another year and the vote was unanimous.
Cuozzo faced several challenges in 2023 including two calls of censure, one by 53 residents who requested he be censured.
Township Attorney Jean Cipriani recommended no action be taken by the Committee in that situation as the complaints did not involve his role as an elected official.
A month later another call for censure appeared on a committee meeting agenda. This one put forth by Mayor Bowen in response to police body camera footage where Cuozzo was recorded telling Plumsted police that he was their boss and not to cite members of his church who were in violation of an ordinance concerning solicitation in a township neighborhood.
The vote to censure him went two to two with Bown and Marinari voting for the censure and Grilletto and Hammerstone voting against it. Cuozzo himself broke the tie on that measure. The no-knock ordinance involving political and religious solicitation regulations was introduced and later tabled at the December 7 meeting. The ordinance will be revisited in 2024.
During the year, a petition to recall Cuozzo also failed to receive the number of required signatures by registered voters to place a recall election on the November ballot.
Grilletto and Hammerstone were also sworn in for their respective terms on the committee. Grilletto was re-elected to a full term during the November election while Hammerstone was elected to serve out an unexpired term.
The new mayor asked the guests of the day to speak and Gilmore remarked, “I want to say congratulations to Len and Mike on their swearing in as well as Dominick being sworn in as mayor. I know you will all do your best in serving Plumsted,” Gilmore said.
He also noted that per action of Ocean County Commissioner Jack Kelly who provided it to the municipality “you now have an Ocean County flag in your meeting room and I think that is a wonderful thing.”
Mayor Arace, who was sworn in by Cuozzo during Manchester’s 2022 reorganization meeting expressed “congratulations, you have a close friend with Manchester Township, the town over and anyone on the committee especially the mayor and deputy mayor ever need any assistance, feel free to reach out.”
Spadea, a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2025 commended Marinari, “anytime in politics when you get someone to say no, it is someone else’s time, I’m going to take a step back, that is impressive and that is what local government is about. Dominick congratulations to you. You will be a fantastic mayor.”
“I am very thankful to my wife and the decision to say yes to this nomination was not only mine. Nicole has always been unwavering in her support of me doing what is right and it is not always easy to do what is right,” Mayor Cuozzo said. He also thanked his son Frank and daughter Olivia.
Among the changes that were announced during the reorganization meeting included the removal of John Neyenhouse, who served on the Land Use Board for nearly a decade from that panel. He served as vice chairman of that board. He was replaced by Chris Neuert, the president of the Plumsted Township Republican Club.
Neyenhouse, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully in the township GOP primary and as a write-in candidate for Grilletto’s seat in November, said he was informed right before Christmas that he would need to come in for an interview as his four-year appointment to the Board was expiring on December 31.
He was interviewed by Hammerstone and Grilletto. Neyenhouse posted to Facebook that “I was asked a number of different questions and I was told that developers feel that our land use board asks too many questions and does not just agree with developers’ applications and that the developers are starting to not to want to come to Plumsted because they feel that it is too difficult to try to build whatever they want in our town.” Neyenhouse serves as the chairman of the township’s environmental committee.