By Donald Wittkowski
Cape May County Freeholder Leonard C. Desiderio was showered with compliments from his political colleagues during his swearing-in ceremony Thursday, but the highest praise came from his elderly parents.
Leonard J. and Carmel Desiderio made it clear just how proud they were of their 61-year-old son after he took the oath of office for his sixth term.
“He’s a good son,” his mother said in an interview. “He’s always there for me. He’s taken care of two elderly parents.”
Desiderio’s parents have lived in Sea Isle City for 60 years. In addition to being a freeholder, their son has also served as Sea Isle’s mayor since 1993.
“I’m honored to be here and very proud of my son,” his 90-year-old father said. “I had two sons. I’m proud of them both. We had two good sons.”
Their other son, Gerard A. Desiderio, a leader in the business community, died of heart failure in 2003 at the age of 43. A fundraising walk named in his honor is held by the Desiderio family each year in Sea Isle for the benefit of the Deborah Heart and Lung Center.
During his swearing-in ceremony, Freeholder Desiderio paid tribute to his brother, along with his other family members, including his parents, his wife Carmela and his daughter, also named Carmela. His family stood with him when he was administered the oath of office by state Superior Court Judge Michael J. Donohue.
“My family’s been so supportive of me, and that’s the reason why I been able to be successful in 21 consecutive elections,” Desiderio said, referring to both his county and Sea Isle political campaigns.
He noted it was his brother who first got him interested in politics when he was just a child.
“My brother got me involved in politics at the age of 11,” he recalled. “So I’ve been doing it for 50 years, either campaigning or in office. I have to thank my brother for getting me involved and I know he’s looking down upon us and he’s very, very proud.”
Desiderio, a Republican, was first elected to the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2002 and currently holds the title of vice director. Re-elected in November, he will serve another three-year term.
As freeholder, he oversees the county’s Public Safety, the Animal Shelter, Consumer Affairs/Weights and Measures, the Fire Marshal, Department of Law, Medical Examiner, Prosecutor’s Office, Public Safety Training Center, Risk Management and Safety and the Sheriff’s Department and Correctional Center.
Recognizing the importance of public safety, Desiderio and the other freeholders thanked members of the military, police officers and firefighters for their service. They also acknowledged the military veterans sitting in the audience, including Desidero’s father, who was in the Korean War.
Amid the songs, prayers and pageantry of the swearing-in ceremony, Desiderio was praised by his fellow freeholders for the help and guidance he has given them during his time on the board.
“We’ve been together many years,” Freeholder Director Gerald M. Thornton said, giving Desiderio an affectionate pat on the back.
Desiderio told the audience that since his early days as an elected official, he’s “always realized that I work for the people.”
“In this job, you cannot have any ego,” he said. “You can’t have an ego and you can’t have a temperament which you think you’re going to explode if someone says the wrong thing to you. You’ve got to realize that you do work for the people. I think I’ve been successful because I do work for the people.”
He added, “Never have I gotten a call to help someone where I’ve looked them up to see if they were, first of all, registered to vote and, second of all, if they were Republican, Democrat or undeclared.”