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24-year-old ousts Sussex County commissioner in GOP primary upset; Assembly race decided

By Kyle Morel and Bruce A. Scruton, New Jersey Herald,


Republican voters rejected Sussex County Commissioner Herb Yardley and chose a 24-year-old political newcomer to run in his place this fall, according to preliminary results from Tuesday's primary election.

Wantage resident Jack DeGroot, the son of a Sussex County dairy farmer, pulled off the apparent upset, easily defeating Yardley, a two-term incumbent, and another challenger in the race for the GOP nomination for commissioner on November's ballot.

The team of Sussex County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia and Chester Township Mayor Mike Inganamort , meanwhile, earned the Republican Assembly nominations for New Jersey's 24th District , according to unofficial totals from the county Clerk's Office.

Just six years ago, DeGroot graduated from High Point Regional High School, where he starred on the basketball court. He is currently finishing his studies for a masters degree from the University of New Hampshire, received 5,896 votes while Yardley gathered 3,284 votes. The third person in the race, Wantage resident Nick D'Agostino, a member of the county Republican committee and the Sussex-Wantage Board of Education, received 1,868 votes.

There were 34 write-in votes on the Republican side.

For the Democrats, Damaris Lira received 2,969 votes with 45 write-ins.

There is just one commissioner seat on the five-member board up for election this year.

"It was a pleasure serving for two terms," said Yardley, in an interview after the results were posted. "The voters made their choice." DeGroot didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.

Yardley was the county's health officer for many years, retiring before he ran for his first term to what was then known as the Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2017.

24th District Assembly results

Fantasia and Inganamort prevailed over the team of Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens and Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski in a primary that turned nasty, with anonymous blog posts attacking Fantasia's ex-husband taking centerstage in the debate.

"Voters embraced our positive conservative message, rejected the negative personal smears against us, and made a clear statement about the future of our party and who they want to lead it," Fantasia said in a statement Wednesday.

"I’m overwhelmed with gratitude," added Inganamort. "This was a team effort and a team victory. I can't wait to represent my home county and my hometown in Trenton."

Fantasia and Inganamort received 7,851 and 7,324 votes, respectively, to emerge victorious. Aikens finished in third place with 6,586 votes, followed by Sarnoski with 6,215 votes and Rob Kovic , a Sparta resident and former Bergen County councilman, with 1,505.

The district's two current assembly members, both Republicans, chose not to run for re-election, setting up a wide-open race in which the candidates competed to prove they could bring the most conservative values to Trenton. All five said they would target New Jersey's new sex education curriculum standards, gun restrictions and what they call Democrats' bloated spending.

The 24th covers all of Sussex County as well as six western Morris County towns (Mount Olive, Netcong, Roxbury, the Chesters and Washington Township) and Allamuchy and Independence in Warren County.

Baramdai "Alicia" Sharma, of Hackettstown, was the lone Democrat who filed to run for Assembly in the district, where registration skews Republican.

The current assemblymen, Parker Space and Hal Wirths, both announced last year that they would not run for reelection . Space, running with the Fantasia and Inganamort team, is unopposed in the Republican nomination for the 24th's state Senate seat, as he seeks to replace retiring GOP Sen. Steve Oroho . Edmund Khanoo is running on the Democratic side for Senate.

Sussex County Commissioner

Because Sussex County leans heavily Republican, Tuesday's primary results are a strong indicator of who will likely go on to win the November general election. As an example, there were just over 11,000 Republicans voting in the primary out of more than 49,000 registered Republicans in the county.

On the Democrat side, there were 26,466 eligible to vote in Tuesday's primary with 3,014 turning out.

Municipal races

The other surprise aside from the county commissioner's race came in Hopatcong, where early totals show a team of three challengers defeating the mayor and two incumbent council members who ran together.

Marie Galate appears to have secured the Republican nomination for mayor, receiving 836 votes to Michael Francis' 672. Jennifer Johnson and Rachel Rodriguez, with 828 and 770 votes, respectively, defeated John Young (701 votes) and Richard Schindelar (644 votes) in the Hopatcong Council race.

The winners, who ran under the slogan "Bringing Hopatcong Back to Excellence," expressed their gratitude for residents' support on the campaign Facebook page Wednesday morning.

"Regardless of who you voted for, we thank you all for taking the time to mail in a ballot, vote early, and cast a vote on election day to let your voice be heard," the team said. "We are looking forward to serving every single resident within the community."

The Stanhope mayoral race also saw the challenger prevail, with Eugene Wronko earning 240 votes to 117 for Mayor Patricia Zdichocki.

In Andover Township, incumbent Tom Walsh (408 votes) and former mayor Michael Lensak (315 votes) secured the two nominations for the committee. John Carafello, the other incumbent in the race, finished third with 202 votes.

In Wantage, Justin VanderGroef (910 votes) secured a decisive victory over Justin Dudzinski (375 votes) in a battle of two newcomers for one Township Committee nomination.

Incumbents prevailed in the other two contested municipal races in Sussex County. In Hampton, longtime committee members David Hansen (381 votes) and Phil Yetter (369 votes) topped challenger Michael Rathbun (174 votes). Stillwater saw Mayor Lisa Chammings receive 488 votes to defeat Arlene Fisher, who earned 150 votes.

Kyle Morel is a local reporter covering Morris and Sussex counties.

Email:; Twitter: @KMorelNJH

This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: 24-year-old ousts Sussex County commissioner in GOP primary upset; Assembly race decided

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