Leading Democrat to make rare stop in county

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SUSSEX COUNTYnMake room Essex County voters. Move over Hudson political strongholds. Sen. Jon Corzine plans to go where few Democrats like him have dared travel before. The New Jersey senator and gubernatorial candidate will make a rare campaign appearance in the most northwest reaches of the state, from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 17, at Perona Farms in Sussex County, as a guest of the Sussex County Democratic Committee. Corzine is one of few Democrats in recent years to visit Sussex County, long considered a bastion of Republican politics. "This is somewhat historic because he (Corzine) is coming up before the primary and he'll definitely be back again," said Howard Burrell, a former county freeholder and current chairman of the Sussex County Democratic Committee. "In the past, this kind of treatment has been reserved for counties like Hudson and Essex that have large populations of registered Democrat voters." Burrell said that 11 percent of the registered voters in Sussex County are Democrats, but more importantly, 60 percent are considered independents. Burrell said he hopes to attract a greater piece of that electorate to the party by developing and implementing creative and dynamic outreach programs. He said the senator's visit is a step in that direction. "Sussex County won't just be a place on the map any more," said Burrell, who lives in Glenwood. "Sen. Corzine's visit will only contribute to my efforts to increase his awareness and understanding of the issues that are important. I hope he gets to learn the needs of the people of Sussex County on a more personal basis so that he will be able to have a greater impact as governor." Burrell said he could not remember the last time an incumbent New Jersey Democratic senator visited Sussex County, although he did recall Corzine visiting the area before his election to the Senate in 2000; maybe during a stop to the county fair. Burrell and other Democrats have been meeting twice each month at the Hampton Diner in Newton in a grassroots effort to increase the visibility of the party within county borders. "It's a known fact that the state organizations of the two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, have for years not given Sussex County much attention or respect," said Burrell, a county resident for more than 25 years. "The Republicans have ignored Sussex County because they believe that they can always rake in campaign contributions and an abundance of votes, no matter who their candidates are or what position those candidates take on the issues of the day." Burrell said he has been reaching outside of the county to get the support of Democrats like Corzine at the state and national levels. In March, Burrell said Janice Campbell, executive director of the New Jersey State Democratic Committee, made a visit to the county. "The Democrats -- my party -- have ignored Sussex County because they have believed that they will never get any significant number of votes in the county, no matter what they do or how hard they try," said Burrell. "I don't share that belief." Corzine was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2000, after serving as co-chairman and co-chief executive officer of the investment company Goldman Sachs. During his time in the Senate, he has focused on economic and regulatory issues and the establishment of federal security standards for chemical facilities. He was also instrumental in securing $100 million to protect the Highlands region from development. Burrell said the senator's engagement is free and open to the public.