For the first time in more than a decade, Republicans will be seated on the seven-member Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders following a bitter contest for two vacant seats.
Larry Wallace, a small-business man from Woolwich, and Vince Nestore Jr., a teacher from Deptford, won a narrow victory, according to unofficial results, after campaigning hard against what they said was a Democratic "political machine" that squelched dissent.
They defeated newcomers Heather Simmons, a public relations consultant from Glassboro, and Robert Zimmerman, a police captain and councilman from Mantua.
"I think it's clear our message of transparency and good government was heard by the voters," said Wallace, who ran twice before for the seat. He referred to a judge's recent decision to have a monitor observe the freeholders' meetings after finding they had improperly conducted business behind closed doors.
Wallace has proposed posting agendas and minutes on the Internet and having more debate at public meetings.
"I'm honored . . . that the residents of Gloucester County have entrusted their faith in us to make a change for them," said Nestore, a newcomer to politics. He vowed to keep spending in check.
Simmons said she was "very proud of the race we ran. . . . We knew all along it would be a tight race."
GOP representation on the board will not be the only change in January. Freeholder Director Stephen Sweeney, who has held the reins for more than a decade, has said he will resign by the end of the year to devote more time to his position as state Senate president.
The freeholder race turned nasty in the waning days. Last week, the Democrats mailed literature that depicted a bald woman with cancer and suggested that their political opponents were allied with "Trenton cronies" who voted to cut state funding for cancer screening.
Wallace, whose 9-year-old son died of brain cancer, and Nestore, whose fiancée succumbed to leukemia, said the mailers made it look as though they didn't care about cancer victims. Zimmerman later apologized and said he was unaware the men had lost loved ones to cancer.
A few voters interviewed in Woodbury on Tuesday said they were Democrats who voted Republican due to their dissatisfaction with the board.
"I think the Democrats haven't done a good job and need to be shaken up," said Judy Jackson, a college administrator.