Darwin Cooper Jr. Says He Will Run for Cumberland County Commissioner as Independent
BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media
VINELAND — Darwin Cooper Jr., the president of the Cumberland County Young Republicans and former Cumberland County Commissioners candidate, said he will run as an independent for a seat after being passed over Saturday to represent the local GOP.
Cooper, arguable the most visible young African American in the Republican Party in South Jersey opposite Assemblyman Antwan McClellan and Atlantic County Commissioner Andrew Parker III, said he was stunned by a move over the past week to exclude him from Cumberland County commissioner again.
On Saturday, March 4 at the Cumberland County Regular Republican Meeting at the Eastlyn Golf Club, members went with Sandy Taylor, Jimmy Sauro and Art Marchaund to make up the Cumberland County GOP Board of Commissioners ticket for this year.
“I’ve talked to several people who are pillars in the community after our convention on Saturday and they told me if I ran, they would support me,” said Cooper, a member of the Cumberland County Planning Board. “I’ve been loyal to the party, I ran in 2020 and I’ve been active since about 2017. I didn’t take time off or take a hiatus.”
Cooper said he was taken aback last week leading up to Saturday’s meeting with some of the leadership asked him to drop out of the Cumberland County race. He said he refused but learned phone calls were made to others downplaying his candidacy.
Cumberland County, whose Black and Latino population tops just over 50%, in currently represented by one African American, Democrat Donna Pearson, and one Latino, Republican Tony Romero.
“We live in a minority-majority county,” Cooper said. “The optics for us right now is horrible. We want to show that we are representative of Cumberland County. I’m going to run in November and let the chips fall where they may.”
Republican have had astounding success in the county over the past two election cycles, gaining a 4-3 advance on the Cumberland Board of Commissioners after Democrats held a 6-1 edge in seats. Now, Pearson’s seat is up re-election, and if the Republican trend continues, it could leave the county with one minority representative.
“It seems like we went 20 steps back,” said Cooper, part of the FRNJ’s Class of 2023 30 Under 40 Top Young African American Leaders of South Jersey. “I’ve talked to people and both sides and no one can understand why. I’m a Black conservative who can relate to everyone but there was this push to not put me on the ticket. You can fundraise all you want to, but if your messaging isn’t resonating, you’re not going to win.”
Cooper said that he believes representation is important and why he was surprised to be left off the Republican ticket. He said he doesn’t want to give the impression that he is swaying away from his conservative principles and want to run as a Republican.
He acknowledges, though, he may have to run as an independent to run in November and bypass the primary, which is often dominated by party loyalists that would favor candidates picked by the GOP leadership.
A text message sent to State Sen. Mike Testa, R-Vineland, the chair of the Cumberland County Regular Republican Organization, went unanswered on Tuesday.
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