Joseph F. Berenato
Hammonton First names local council ticket
DiDonato for mayor; Gribbin, Wuillermin, Oliva for council
HAMMONTON—On April 6, Hammonton First announced via Facebook its candidates for mayor and town council.
Current mayor Stephen DiDonato will be seeking reelection to a fourth four-year term, as will council members Thomas Gribbin and Jonathan Oliva. Rounding out the ticket is former Hammonton First councilman Edward Wuillermin.
According to the county and as of April 16, the registered political affiliations for the Hammonton First candidates are as follows:
• Stephen DiDonato: Current Political Party Affiliation - Republican
• Thomas Gribbin: Current Political Party Affiliation - Democrat
• Jonathan Oliva: Current Political Party Affiliation - Unaffiliated
• Edward Wuillermin: Current Political Party Affiliation - Republican
DiDonato, 59, said that he is seeking reelection because, after the pandemic, he wants “to be a part of seeing Hammonton flourish again, and seeing it come back better and stronger than ever.”
“I’d like to see some more of the debt paid off. Our debt goes away very dramatically; the town’s debt—and the water and sewer department—go away very dramatically in the next four or five years. I want to be part of that bridging today, or this moment in time, to 2025 when the debt goes away, because, if that’s the case, Hammonton could be on a trajectory where we could have, if we could bridge the next three or four years with no tax increases or little, and that debt goes away, we could literally have maybe 10 years as a municipality with no increase in taxes—if the right person bridges the future. I’d like to be a part of that ... Then, we could put the town on a trajectory, 10 years from now, with very little tax increases, and, if there’s inflation, we’ll probably be one of the cheapest communities in the state, if not the cheapest community in the state, to live for a property tax point of view. I’d like to see that through,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that the biggest issue facing Hammonton in 2021 is the pandemic and its effects.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a tremendous team, the coronavirus committee who’ve done tremendous work ... As many businesses are closed around in the community, and other areas, Hammonton has not experienced that. We’ve experienced a few, and there’s been some change, but nothing like other areas. I’d like to stay a part of that,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato also spoke highly of his running mates.
“When you have an Ed Wuillermin, who’s very versed in so many things, and Tom Gribbin and Jonathan Oliva, you have an excellent ticket. I’m honored just to be part of a ticket like that. It’s a very experienced ticket,” DiDonato said.
Gribbin, 41, noted his three daughters as reasons for seeking reelection.
“I want to continue to do my part, and to do all I can to make sure our town remains a safe town, a thriving town and a family-oriented town. I always said that my main goal in getting involved in this town was to do my part to make sure that I could help foster this community and a sense of community for my children to grow up in, and for their friends and families to make Hammonton a great place to live and raise a family,” Gribbin said.
Gribbin concurred with DiDonato in that the pandemic “has been a major issue for our country, and our state, and especially for our town.”
“I think getting through this pandemic is vitally important, helping our residents, helping our businesses and helping our local economy in the process will be a great challenge, and I think that is the number one issue we are facing ... We created the Hammonton Coronavirus Task Force with its three subcommittees, and organized countless volunteers to help tackle the issues that we saw that we would be facing through this pandemic. I think we still need to continue that, and that is definitely going to be at the forefront of the issues facing the town,” Gribbin said.
Oliva, 32, said that he is excited to be seeking reelection.
“I always said that I would never run for council until I knew that I had a skillset that could positively affect the town. I’m excited, in the last year and a half that I’ve been on council, to have the opportunity to do some good things, and I know I’ve got a lot more to give—and a lot more that I’m able to do. I think if there was ever a time that proven, dedicated leadership was needed, that time is now. I’d be honored to continue to fill that spot for the town,” Oliva said.
Oliva said that the effects of the pandemic have been “unbelievably challenging.”
“As we come out of this pandemic, how is the town going to reinvent itself to continue to flourish in a post-pandemic style? I think that’s going to be one of the biggest things that comes up out of this. How do we put our businesses back to where we were at about a year and a half ago, and our events, and continue to bring people into our community to have our businesses flourish, and make the appropriate investments in town to attract those businesses?” Oliva said.
Wuillermin, who last ran for council in 2015, said that he was approached by the party to see if he would be interested in running again.
“Quite frankly, I didn’t have to give it too much thought. I said, if I am needed, I will do what I can. I made the decision, after consulting with my two kids to get their opinion on it, and within 12 hours it was a done deal ... If you’re asked to get involved and try to do something, I think, unless you are a cynic of the first degree, you say ‘why not?’ You can’t sit on the sidelines and carp and complain about the way things are if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, get down in the trenches and see if there’s anything you could do to help out,” Wuillermin, 71, said.
Wuillermin said that there are trying times ahead coming out of the pandemic and “the kind of devastating effects it’s had on individuals, and people in general, and the town, and businesses.”
“How do we get beyond the flaws of this pandemic, and get us back on our feet and moving forward again the way we had been? Whether you’re an individual, a family, a business or a town, it hasn’t been an easy go of it. A lot of people have suffered in ways that I don’t think we even understand fully yet, and that goes for the town as well. I think, as a public official, you have an obligation to see what you can do to mitigate the adverse impacts that that’s had ... It’s a pretty broad task that lays before us,” Wuillermin said.
DiDonato told The Gazette that Hammonton First had not yet filed the petition for municipal office for its candidates.
“They will be filed. I believe we have until primary day, or the day before primary day. We don’t have all the signatures yet; we’re going to be getting those signatures over the next 30 to 45 days here,” DiDonato said.
According to Kelly McHenry at the Atlantic County Clerk’s office, as of press time on April 19, the Hammonton First candidates had not yet filed their petitions.
Gina Rullo contributed to this report.