By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON – To be perfectly clear, Cumberland County Freeholder Jack Surrency is running for re-election for his county seat and is not in the U.S. Congressional District 2 race.
In fact, he was never officially in the race, even though Surrency said he seriously thought about it and even created an exploratory committee to see if he had a chance in it.
The fallout from “thinking about it,” though, has led to Surrency into going against the local Democratic Party bosses to win his freeholder seat back.
‘My Own Man’
“I’m my own man, always going be my own man, and that’s exactly why the voters of this county placed their trust in me,” Surrency said. “I will not take orders from an unelected party boss who is lining his pockets with taxpayer dollars via county contracts.”
Surrency is a Cumberland County political veteran with nearly 20 years in elected office. His roots in Bridgeton run deep with his parents and grandparents involved in civil rights there growing up. Originally recruited into politics by now Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly, he served on the Bridgeton Board of Education from 2002 to 2010 and then transitions to Bridgeton City Council from 2011 to 2017.
He served part of that time as council president before winning seat as Cumberland County freeholder in 2017, the only African-American on the board.
“I’m very community oriented,” Surrency told Front Runner New Jersey this week. “I try to do whatever I can do for my community. When I was on the school board, I did things for the school board, for the kids. When I became a city councilman, I focused on things I could we do to better everyone in Bridgeton.”
With all of his community experience, which includes serving as chair of the CompleteCare Health Network board, with past stints on the United Way and Gateway Community Action Partnership, his eyeing of the Congress seat held by now Republican Jeff Van Drew that got him into hot water.
“I was contacted I think it was back in November by several people from Cape May County [about running for Congress],” Surrency said. “They left a message wanting to know if I’d be interested in running for Congress and that went through the county like wildfire. I never talked to the guy.
“The party bosses didn’t like it. They were calling me up saying, ‘Who do you think you are?’ I said, ‘Look, I’m going to do this.’ So basically to make a long story short, since they going to tell me I shouldn’t do it, I started an investigatory committee to see would it be feasible or if I could win,” he continued.
A New Line
Local party leaders, though, agreed to support Brigid Harrison, a Montclair University political science professor, in the race against Van Drew.
“We didn’t even vote [on Harrison],” Surrency claimed. “Nobody came to us. How are you going to say we’re going to vote for Brigid Harrison? Nobody knows her. And plus, what about me? I’m thinking about getting in the race. So you guys, you know, wouldn’t even think about nobody else.”
Surrency decided to run for re-election as freeholder, but the Cumberland County Democratic Party decided not to back him. Cumberland County Democratic Chairman Steve Erickson told Insider NJ last month party leaders just wanted “something new” when opting to add Millville commissioner Bruce Cooper to the official party ticket in Surrency’s place, yet keeping two incumbents.
That left Surrency to build his own Democratic ticket led by Congressional candidate Amy Kennedy, wife of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, in the June Democratic primary.
“I know her,” Surrency said. “I know her family. Everybody knows the Kennedy family. So I said, ‘Well, that is also a battle.’ So I decided, well, you know what? I’m going to continue to run for reelection as a freeholder and maybe help her.”
Deep Bridgeton Roots
Surrency, a 1973 graduate of Bridgeton High School, attended Cumberland County College and Tuskegee Institute, where he majored in chemistry and minored in business. Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that affects mostly the lungs and lymph glands, though, forced him to return home.
He said the illness helped him become a fighter and to overcome obstacles that have challenged him through life.
“My whole life there has always been some type of turmoil,” Surrency said. “When I came back in 1978 and didn’t go back to school because I was sick. I was hired as a supervisor and worked in food processing. I lucked up and got a job with ARCO Atlantic Richfield, because I majored in chemistry.
“I started working for Mobil in their research division in Paulsboro. I was there about 12, 13 years and in 1995, Exxon and Mobil tried to do a hostile takeover on each other and Exxon won. There were about 300 of us at Mobile research development lost our jobs so I had a lot of up and downs in my professional life.”
Knowing the Community
The family man with a wife and two sons said while party leaders are not backing him, he believes he has the support of something more important – the community created through a lifetime of networking, friendships and relationship-building.
“I’m very confident and I feel good about my line,” said Surrency about his impressive freeholder running mates – Donna Pearson, Tracy Wells-Huggins, and sheriff candidate Dennis D’Augustine – despite lack of campaigning because of the coronavirus.
Pearson is a former freeholder and became the first black freeholder director in Cumberland County history in 2003. Wells-Huggins, a veteran registered nurse, served on the Cumberland County Youth Services Advisory Council, and was chair of the Cumberland County Healthy Communities Coalition and the Young Women’s Action Alliance. D’Augustine was a well-respected Cumberland County undersheriff before retiring in 2014.
“I keep in touch with my family and friends on Facebook, Instagram and stuff like that and let them know what’s going on with the coronavirus and all that stuff,” Surrency said. “I’m not as visible as I normally am because usually I go to, any given day, five different type of functions. So I’m pretty well known in my community in the county. So I have a large variety of support throughout the county.”
Surrency has also served on the boards of Big Brother-Big Sisters, and Salem County College Educational Opportunity Fund. He said he is ready to fight to keep his freeholder seat and be a freeholder for the people and not just the powerful and well-connected.
“[My opponents] tried to stop us, but like I said, I’m persistent,” Surrency said. “We’re going to do what’s needed to push through. When I became a county freeholder, I just couldn’t think about just Bridgeton. I got to think about Hopewell, I got to think about Vineland, I got to think about Millville, I got to think about Port Norris and all the little communities that hardly get any representation. I represent everyone.”
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