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Legislative District 5

Michael Daigle | October 18, 2011

In a legislative district that contains Camden, one of the nation’s most distressed cities, it is a foregone conclusion that politicians promise to create jobs.

In a legislative district that contains Camden, one of the nation’s most distressed cities, it is a foregone conclusion that politicians promise to create jobs.

The candidates in the 5th District don't disappoint: The two Senate candidates and four Assembly hopefuls all put job creation at the top of their campaign promise lists.

The 5th is also the home of George Norcross, the widely acknowledged Democratic Party boss of South Jersey. His brother, Donald Norcross, is the district's Senator. There’s no question of which party controls politics here: The Democrats have more than three times the number of registered voters than the Republicans.

Donald Norcross, a long-time union official, rose to the state Senate in 2010, shortly after joining the Asssembly. He faces Republican Keith Walker, a retired US Marine and former mayoral candidate for Camden.

In the Assembly race, incumbent Democrats Angel Fuentes and Gilbert "Whip" Wilson face Republicans William Levins and Terrell Ratliff.

Camden's unemployment rate in August was 9.5 percent, just slightly higher than the state average of 9.4 percent. But the larger city image is one of dilapitated homes, shuttered factories, and blocks of abandoned buildings, poor schools, and political corruption.

Norcross, in his effort to address these issues, supported the changes in state worker pensions and benefits, the senior citizen property tax freeze, and increases in state aid to public schools.

He has filed legislation that would, through the state's Economic Development Authority, set up programs to encourage the location of large grocery stores in the inner city. Another bill supports mobile farmers' markets in inner cities to increase the diversity of fresh fruit and vegtables available to residents.

Walker, running against Norcross, said a key to economic revitalization is better public safety. Business growth creates jobs and is a key to fixing the education system, reducing crime, and improving the lives of residents, he said. He is also calling for more accountability from elected officials who have shown a "disregard for the sensitivities and pocketbooks of our citizens."

Fuentes, elected to the Assembly in 2010, sponsored an Assembly version of the mobile farm market bill. He said he wants to restore tax cuts for working families and opposed tax breaks for millionaires. He has also filed a bill aimed at offering the vicitms of domestic abuse the chance to have their cases heard in Superior Court, rather than municipal court. Fuentes and his fellow Democrats are sponsoring legislation that purports to blunt the potentially severe impact of Camden's first revaluation in decades by allowing an easier path for homeowners to appeal the assessment.

Wilson co-sponored the law that requires certain state and public officials to live in New Jersey, and has filed a bill that would allow the creation of weapons-free zones around schools.

Levins said he would support small business, reduce government spending and waste, and promote shared services to reduce property taxes. The saved funds could be then used to promote job creation, he said

Ratliff was placed on the ballot in late August to replace primary winner Ari Ford, who dropped out. Ratliff said job creation is his top priority, and wants to see more emphasis placed on math and science education.

Michael Daigle is a freelance writer and journalist from Phillipsburg. He has worked for newspapers in Massachusetts, Maine, and for the past 20 years, in New Jersey. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting on housing policy, politics, environmental issues and as a columnist.

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