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Candidates: Legislative District 5

In the troubled 5th, which includes Camden, candidates kick around ideas to kick-start the local economy.

Presenting ideas to kick-start a stalled regional economy and fighting for fair school funding are keeping candidates in the 5th District busy.

This heavily Democratic district in Camden and Gloucester counties is the home of George Norcross, the Democratic Party boss of South Jersey. His brother, Donald Norcross, is the district's senator. The Democrats have more than three times the number of registered voters than the Republicans here.

Donald Norcross, a long-time union official, has been in the Senate since 2010. He faces Republican Keith Walker, a retired U.S. Marine and former Camden mayoral candidate.

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

Camden has long been an economic trouble spot as its large manufacturing companies pulled out.

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

He has sponsored legislation that would, through the state's Economic Development Authority, set up programs to encourage the location of large grocery stores in Camden, and another to allow mobile farmer's markets in cities to increase the diversity of fresh fruit and vegetables available to residents. He also filed a bill that would streamline the state's approval process for solar energy installations.

"This bill will create good-paying construction jobs, as well as green jobs, for our residents, at a time when they are desperately needed," he said. "It will allow stalled projects to move forward so we can begin to produce more clean solar energy."

His opponent said business growth creates jobs and is key to fixing the education system, reducing crime and making lives better for residents.

"The return of big business to the area is key in the revitalization of the district," Walker said. "Camden City, once a business powerhouse, has been diminished to an impoverished city while under the control of careless politics."

A teacher, Walker offered several steps to move the economy forward: mandatory work programs, short sales of real estate and renegotiation of mortgage loans, the suspension of trade agreements and investments in new, energy-related technologies. He is also calling for more accountability from elected officials.

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 opposes tax breaks for millionaires.

He has sponsored legislation aimed at offering the victims of domestic abuse the chance to have their cases heard in Superior Court, rather than municipal court, and co-sponsored a bill to protect the rights of senior health care facilities.

He and his fellow Democrats also filed legislation aimed at blunting the potentially severe impact of Camden's first revaluation in decades by allowing an easier path for homeowners to appeal the assessment.

Fuentes, like his fellow Assembly Democrats, objected to the steep school funding cuts made by Gov. Chris Christie.

"The governor seems intent on widening the gap between wealthy and working class families in New Jersey," Fuentes said. "The budget approved by the legislature would have secured $520 million for the schools in the 5th District, but instead the governor chose tax breaks for the state's wealthiest over fitting school districts with adequate funding to educate our children."

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

Like Fuentes, he criticized Christie for the education cuts.

"The governor has failed working class taxpayers and students,” he said. “Bellmawr and Barringon saw over 30 percent of their school funding cut because he thought it would be wiser to give tax breaks to the wealthy. The governor's priorities are distorted."

Republicans Levins and Ratliff want to see more job creation. Levins said he would support small businesses, reduce government spending and waste, and promote shared services to cut property taxes. The saved funds could be then used to promote job creation, he said

Levins calls for more competition in education and supports a plan to allow private businesses to pay for scholarships.

"Competition, even in education within and between private and public schools, provides for innovation, better services, new techniques, and lower costs," he said.

Ratliff was placed on the ballot in late August to replace primary winner Ari Ford, who dropped out. At that time, Ratliff said job creation is his top priority and he wants to see more emphasis placed on math and science education. He did not respond to requests for comment.

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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