Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio gives a boost to Republican legislative candidates Erik Simonsen, Michael Testa, Antwan McClellan and Freeholders E. Marie Hayes and Gerald Thornton.


Cape May County Freeholders E. Marie Hayes and Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton are running for new terms on the freeholder board with plans for the future to help the residents of the county.

In interviews with, the Republican incumbents gave their stances on the issues in Cape May County affecting residents the most.

Hayes, of Ocean City, is a retired captain in the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office. She has served on the board for seven years.

She said she wants to continue to help constituents and continue to fight for the county she loves so much.

Thornton, of Cape May Court House, began serving on the board in 1976. He served through 1987 and then again from 1995 to present.

He is a military veteran and wants to continue to work to make living in Cape May County even better for veterans.

They discussed the beaches, boardwalks, tourism, veterans affairs, transportation and the condition of the county bridges, along with other issues on the minds of taxpayers.

Specifically, in Sea Isle City, they spoke about how they would continue to work with local and state officials to help them maintain its beaches, Promenade and fight for more funding to repair and maintain the Townsends Inlet Bridge.

“In Sea Isle City, you have the beautiful beaches. You can stroll along the Promenade. And you also have night life. You also have the beautiful back bays to go kayaking and fishing,” Hayes noted.

For Thornton, who has, like Hayes, worked alongside Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio, who is also a freeholder, for years, Sea Isle is really his home away from home.

“Sea Isle is a 30-year-plus personal friendship with Len Desiderio and his family,” Thornton said. “It’s almost like two brothers working together.”

Freeholders E. Marie Hayes and Gerald Thornton at an event in March.

Hayes and Thornton were asked what the county is doing to try to drum up funding to repair or someday replace the aging Townsends Inlet Bridge, which was shut down for 10 months recently and is the main thoroughfare from Sea Isle to Avalon.

“For years we have been setting aside money for the bridges and the roads. Before you can get to the point of redoing the bridge, there is a long process,” Hayes pointed out. “The county engineering office is always searching for grants for work to be done. As we go along, we are doing maintenance to keep the bridges up to where they are safe. There is state and federal money available, but we don’t get our fair share. We are going after everything – grants, funding, whatever is out there.”

Thornton echoed his running mate’s sentiments.

“We have been working on this for some years now. We recognized all the bridges are from the 1930s and we place money for the bridges in reserve. We are out seeking federal and state funding to supplement the costs of the bridges. It is very expensive. To replace the bridges would be $600 million. We have an obligation to seek all the funding we can, and we have been asking for help.”

When it comes to tourism, both Hayes and Thornton agreed that it is the lifeblood of the county.

But what do they do as freeholders to promote the area?

Freeholder E. Marie Hayes addresses local supporters at a meeting.

Hayes, who oversees the county’s Tourism Department said she works with Diane Wieland, the director of the department.

“Long before I got here, Diane started romancing Canada. We have a representative up in Canada, too. Diane has created the travel shows and takes all the information from the different municipalities,” Hayes noted. “Diane and her people go out to travel shows to New York, Pennsylvania, Canada and other markets. We are all working together to boost tourism.”

She added that there are plenty of reasons why the county is so well known for its tourism.

“This county is rich in history and culture. You can come to our beautiful beaches, concerts at the ferry. You can go to our park and zoo,” she emphasized. “We have breweries, distillers, wineries and bird watching. At any given weekend you will see fireworks in a different town. Anything you want is here.”

Thornton said the freeholder board has been a major supporter of tourism for more than 50 years.

“We were the first county to ever have a tourism office in Canada,” he said. “That was generated by Cape May County and we are very proud of what we have done. Working with the businesses and the local Chambers of Commerce are also very important ways to help spur tourism.”

In a project key to sustaining the county’s tourism market, Sea Isle, Ocean City and Strathmere will soon undergo a $31.5 million beach replenishment project to add 2.4 million cubic yards of fresh sand to the storm-damaged shoreline.

The project is scheduled to get underway this fall and be completed in time for the 2020 summer tourism season.

In addition, geotubes, essentially a large, synthetic sock filled with sand, to help protect an area of the dunes that is vulnerable to erosion, have been working in Sea Isle and neighboring Ocean City.

Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton becomes a County Hall of Famer for his tenure on the freeholder board. (Courtesy of Cape May County)

Hayes and Thornton were asked with the beaches being at the center of the tourism industry, how is the county doing its part to make sure they are in good shape to continue to be the main attraction during the summer tourism season?

“The county is always available to help out as far as working with the regulatory agencies and talking to Trenton,” Hayes said. “We are also very in favor of the geotubes because they work.”

Thornton said while much of the issues with the beaches are handled by the local and federal officials, Cape May County has joined others including, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties, to fight for funding for the beaches.

“I was appointed to the Sandy Task Force. Back then, I said to them that every time beach replenishment is done you should put in geotubes. I am a big supporter of them,” Thornton said. “When you go to the south end of Sea Isle City you could see how well they work there.”


Cape May County Freeholder E. Marie Hayes

Political Experience: Freeholder since filling an unexpired term in 2013, then re-elected in 2014 and 2017. Term expires Dec. 31.

Hometown: Ocean City

Occupation: Retired in 2009 from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office as a Captain of Detectives. She was assigned to Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Investigations for the majority of her career.

Organizations and Affiliations: Member of the Impact Club of Cape May County, Member – ACCC School Board of Estimate, Member – Special Services School Board of Estimate and Member – Technical School Board of Estimate.

She received the Woman of Wonder award in 2016 and the Boy Scouts of America Woman of Achievement Award in 2018. Selected as a Woman of Excellence by the National Foundation of Women Legislators.

Freeholder Responsibilities: Board of Elections, Culture and Heritage, Fare Free Transportation, Library, Museum, Park/Zoo, Print Shop, Tax Board and Tourism and Public Information.

Education: Graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services, with a concentration in Criminal Justice from Thomas Edison State College, Associate Degree from Atlantic Cape Community College.

Family: Married to Lloyd Hayes. Two grown daughters Danielle and Megan, a grown son Henry Lloyd and six grandchildren.

Cape May County Freeholder Gerald Thornton

Political Experience: Elected freeholder in 1995 and is the Freeholder Director. A former freeholder for 11 years (1976-1987) and former director for three years. Term expires Dec. 31.

Hometown: Cape May Court House

Occupation: Retired from wholesale wine business

Organizations and Affiliations: Member of Southern New Jersey Freeholders’ Association, American Legion Post 193, Cape May County Union League, AARP, Villas Fishing Club and Local 18 AFL-CIO, Member – ACCC School Board of Estimate, Member – Special Services School Board of Estimate and Member – Technical School Board of Estimate.

Military Experience: U.S. Air Force veteran

Freeholder Responsibilities: Administration, Clerk of the Board, County Counsel, Emergency Management, Facilities and Services, Management Information Services, Purchasing Department, Special Projects, Treasurer’s Office and Veterans Bureau.

Education: University of Maryland Overseas Extension, Kellogg Community College. Attended technical schools including Air Traffic Controller, Space Tracking and Telemetry, Automatic Radar, Management and Supervision and Non-Commissioned Officers Academy.

Family: Married to Linda and between them they have four grown children and nine grandchildren.

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This article was paid for by: The Cape GOP