By Donald Wittkowski
New Jersey’s Second Congressional District encompasses a vast swath of territory in the southern part of the state – eight counties and 92 towns.
Since 1995, Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo has represented the diverse district that includes the Jersey Shore towns, the Delaware Bay and some of the state’s broad farmlands. But the popular Republican’s impending retirement has opened the door for a wide field of GOP candidates vying for the party’s nomination in the June primary.
Without the incumbent LoBiondo in the race, the district is seen as one of the country’s key battleground races in the congressional mid-term elections.
The next major event in the campaign is the Cape May County Republican Convention on Monday at the Avalon Community Center. The candidates will be seeking the formal endorsement of Cape May County Republicans.
MediaWize, parent company of the news sites OCNJDaily.com, Seaislenews.com and Somerspoint.com, sat down with seven of the eight Republican candidates for video interviews leading up to the Cape May County Republican Convention. Their videos and bios are included in this story. Candidate Mark McGovern was not available for an interview, but his bio and campaign platform are included.
Candidates appear in alphabetical order:
Sam Fiocchi, 65, a longtime Vineland resident, is a former Cumberland County freeholder and former state assemblyman.
Fiocchi believes his experience in elected office gives him an edge in the race and would serve him well in Congress. He is also stressing his experience in the business world as he looks to bring jobs and economic development to the region.
“The challenge here always starts, number one, with jobs,” he said.
Fiocchi also wants to lower property taxes to make the state more attractive to residents and corporations. Too many businesses and residents have been chased out of New Jersey by high taxes, he believes.
“We have to make it affordable here,” he said.
Fiocchi’s business experience includes his former involvement with his family’s Vineland-based agricultural supply company, Lee Rain Inc. He is retired from the company, but continues in the business world as a real estate investor and agent.
Fiocchi was a Cumberland County freeholder from 2011 through 2013. He chose not to seek re-election as freeholder in order to campaign for the state Assembly in 2013, a race that he won. After serving in the Assembly from 2014 to 2016, he lost his re-election bid in the First Legislative District.
“I have held election posts that the other candidates don’t have,” Fiocchi said of the crowded Republican congressional field. “I think it makes me uniquely qualified and gives me more experience than any other candidate.”
At 28, Brian Fitzherbert is the youngest Republican candidate in the Second Congressional District race. This is his first run for elected office.
Fitzherbert, of Somers Point, regards his youth and his lack of political experience as among his strengths.
“I’m not a professional politician. I’m a businessman,” he said.
He added, “So many times, we have politicians of yesterday that have done nothing.”
Fitzherbert works as a senior project manager for Textron Systems, a $14 billion defense and aerospace contractor. At Textron, he manages a $30 million production program for drones.
Noting the importance of drones as an emerging technology, he believes they offer vast potential as a source of jobs and industry in South Jersey.
“The biggest challenge is, we need jobs. We need economic development in South Jersey,” Fitzherbert said.
He hopes to piggyback on drone development programs already underway at the Cape May County Airport and the William J. Hughes Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township to bring manufacturing, testing and high-tech companies to South Jersey.
Seth Grossman calls himself the candidate with the most name recognition among the congested Republican field for the Second Congressional District nomination. He also says he is the “most consistently conservative” of all the candidates.
Grossman, a 68-year-old attorney who lives in Atlantic City, is a former Atlantic City councilman and a former Atlantic County freeholder. He has practiced law since 1975 and has an office in Somers Point. He is also well known as a newspaper columnist and guest host on local talk radio.
“I believe I’m the only candidate who has the name recognition and funding to beat Van Drew,” Grossman said, referring to state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape, Cumberland, Atlantic, who is seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the Second Congressional District.
Grossman also serves as executive director of Liberty and Prosperity, a nonprofit constitutional advocacy group that promotes conservative causes. He said he used Liberty and Prosperity’s website to help the Tea Party and other conservative groups organize their political campaigns.
During his interview with MediaWize, Grossman blamed illegal immigrants for putting a strain on New Jersey and the nation’s welfare system, schools and police departments. He also criticized the Obamacare health system for forcing Americans to pay for “a whole lot of stuff we don’t want.”
“America’s problems are South Jersey’s problems,” he said.
Grossman has been an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump. He said the country needs to get beyond the distractions of “fake impeachment charges” and allow the president to do his job.
Grossman also said he has used social media to act as an “alternative media warrior” in defense of Trump.
Mark McGovern, 58, of New Gretna, has more than 35 years of experience in technology and operations in the financial services industry. He is a senior vice president at Citigroup.
McGovern wasn’t available for a video interview with MediaWize, but he briefly outlined his campaign in an email. In the email and on his website, McGovern, a motorcycle enthusiast, calls himself the “Biker for Trump.”
“My platform is simple: I am the only Biker for Trump running nationwide. I’m pro 2nd amendment. (I) used to own a gun shop.”
He also said intends to push for voter ID laws and is opposed to having New Jersey serve as a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants.
McGovern is trying to distinguish himself in the Republican primary by stressing his local roots and portraying himself as a political outsider. He says, like Trump, “he’s changing the rules.”
“Mark McGovern is NOT a politician,” his website says. “He’s a local. He lives and breathes South Jersey. He can go toe to toe with career politicians.”
Hirsh Singh, who finished third in last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, touts himself as a “problem-solver” as he pursues the GOP nomination in the Second Congressional District.
Highlighting his conservative credentials, the 32-year-old engineer, who lives in Linwood, maintains he is the only Republican candidate who has the financial resources to defeat the “Democratic machine.”
“This is one of the top five races in the entire country,” he said.
Singh wants to capitalize on his experience as a government defense, security and technology contractor to bring high-quality jobs to South Jersey and lower the region’s unemployment rate.
“I’m an engineer, and as an engineer, I’m a trained problem-solver,” he said.
Singh is the senior director of operations of Hi-Tech Systems, an Egg Harbor Township company headed by his father, Trib Singh. Hi-Tech Systems does business with the Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and other federal agencies.
Stressing his roots in Atlantic County, Singh characterizes himself as “a South Jersey guy” who is eager to go to Congress to fight for funding and better deals for the region. He is pushing for bigger state and local tax deductions to make New Jersey more affordable.
“We have ridiculously high taxes across our state,” he said.
James Toto, 48, a Somers Point councilman, has had a diverse work career that he believes gives him unique insights into the major industries in the Second Congressional District, including tourism, fishing, farming, aviation and casino gaming.
“I can speak intelligently about any industry that is going on here,” Toto said, noting that he has worked in those fields at one time or another.
Toto is a veteran who formerly served in the U.S. Army in special psychological operations. He is also a former federal air marshal, one of the armed agents that protect commercial airlines from terrorism. He said his military and law enforcement background makes him the most qualified candidate in the area of counterterrorism.
His background also includes experience in farming, trucking, airport management and as a helicopter pilot, among other careers. Currently, he works as a supervisor in the Ocean City Department of Public Works.
Toto believes he has the ability, more than any other congressional candidate, to connect with everyday men and women.
“I’m the perfect voice. I am of the people,” he said.
Toto scored an early victory in the campaign by winning the endorsement Saturday of the Salem County Republicans.
Although he is seeking congressional office, Toto emphasized he does not plan to make it a long-term career if he wins. He said members of Congress should serve no more than three terms, arguing that they become too heavily influenced by special interest groups over the long run.
“When you start taking money from special interest groups, that’s where you’re going to go,” he said.
Robert Turkavage portrays himself as a moderate Republican who already has valuable experience dealing with federal and local issues stemming from his 40 years in public service.
“I have a firm grasp of federal issues and of local issues and solutions to both,” said Turkavage, 63, a Brigantine resident.
Turkavage is a retired FBI agent who specialized in rooting out public and government corruption while working in the bureau’s New York office during his 32-year career.
His bid for the Republican nomination in the Second Congressional District is not his first run for federal office. As an independent candidate, he challenged U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., in 2012, but captured less than 1 percent of the vote. He then sought to run as a Republican against U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in 2014, but missed the filing deadline, according to news reports.
After announcing his candidacy for Congress, Turkavage conducted a “listening tour” throughout South Jersey to meet with voters about key issues affecting the region, including education, transportation, infrastructure and offshore drilling.
Like LoBiondo, Turkavage opposes a plan by President Trump’s administration to open up coastal waters to offshore gas and oil drilling. Critics of offshore drilling fear that an oil spill would severely harm the tourism and fishing industries at the Jersey Shore.
Turkavage said his listening tour allowed him to forge relationships with voters and to show that he has the temperament to be an effective congressman.
“That is the most essential ingredient a candidate can possess,” he said.
Up to this point, John Zarych has been more of a behind-the-scenes person in the political world. Now, he is stepping into the spotlight in his first run for elected office.
The 70-year-old Zarych, who lives in Galloway Township, has been a lawyer for 40 years. He is a criminal defense attorney with offices in Northfield and Wildwood.
Despite his lack of experience running for office, he believes he could step right in as a congressman if he wins.
“I could start the job today,” he said.
He cited his involvement as a campaign chairman or aide while helping presidential, gubernatorial and local candidates run for office.
Zarych served as the Atlantic County coordinator for former Gov. Chris Christie, was Bret Schundler’s South Jersey chairman during Schundler’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and was part of U.S. Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.
Zarych said his law career has also prepared him for political office. As a criminal defense attorney, he deals “with crises all the time,” he pointed out.
As a candidate, Zarych is focusing on creating jobs, supporting local industries, such as farming and aviation, and combating the opioid epidemic.
He said he decided to seek the GOP nomination in the Second Congressional District after he was asked to run by a county GOP chairman. Zarych said he was also encouraged by a “long, productive talk” he had with the Republican national campaign.