Elections: Two face off in race for Democratic nomination for county surrogate
By Brian Woods, staff writer Jun 1, 2016
One familiar face and one new one are battling for the Democratic nomination for Burlington County surrogate.
Sander Friedman, backed by the Burlington County Democratic Committee, and Jeff Epstein, who will be in a column with presidential nominee Bernie Sanders, will go head-to-head in the primary election Tuesday for a spot on the general election ballot in November.
The winner will vie for the seat against Republican Freeholder Mary Ann O’Brien, of Medford, who is looking to move into the surrogate’s office. She would give up her freeholder seat if she wins tge office.
Friedman is endorsed by the Democratic Committee along with freeholder candidate Reva Foster and sheriff candidate James Kostoplis. Friedman, Foster and Kostoplis ran unsuccessfully for the same offices in 2013.
Epstein is running with fellow Sanders supporter Michael Miller, the freeholder candidate.
Friedman, 51, of Medford, has nearly 25 years of experience practicing law and has his own legal practice in West Berlin, Friedman Doherty LLC, which focuses on consumer protection, citizens’ rights, and improving transparency in government.
“I have been helping people navigate through complicated transactions in difficult times throughout my career. I would like to serve as surrogate to help people throughout the county,” he said.
The attorney said that Surrogate Court-related functions such as performing wills and guardianships require a certain level of guidance, and that his experience makes him the best person for the job.
Friedman said that legal experience is the most important qualification for the surrogate position, but also that compassion and innovation are important. He questioned his opponent’s lack of legal background.
Friedman said one of his goals would be to “streamline the office and save taxpayer dollars to the greatest extent feasible without sacrificing important services.”
Epstein, 44, of Maple Shade, works full time on the Sanders campaign, but previously was a software programmer at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a programmer that made large programs for banks.
He is also a professional singer who has been in backup choruses for both Barbra Streisand at Madison Square Garden and Michael Crawford at Radio City Music Hall.
“Let me be totally upfront: I am not a lawyer. I am a Master’s-level college graduate who reads avidly, keeps up with current events, and intimately learns whatever he sets his mind to,” Epstein said.
While Friedman is an attorney, Epstein said his lack of a law degree isn’t necessarily a deficit. He said that the surrogate does not litigate, and that probates of any complexity are transferred to the New Jersey Superior Court.
“If it were required to be a lawyer in order to run for surrogate, I would not be running for surrogate,” said Epstein, who acknowledged that he has a lot to learn, but had confidence in being prepared by Jan. 1, when the winners would take office.
He said the Burlington County Democratic Committee hasn’t done a good job getting Democrats elected and pointed to the fact that the Board of Freeholders is all Republican.
He said the committee’s sponsored candidates have already run for the same positions and lost. He said it’s time for new blood.
As surrogate, Epstein has a list of goals he would like to see implemented, including providing consistent and ongoing access to the office regardless of income or demographics, being a full-time surrogate, and fighting for progressive fees so that those with the largest estates pay more than those with minimal estates.
“There is no reason why people with small estates should pay three dollars per page for noncertified documents, as is current policy,” Epstein said.