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Late Congressman’s Wife Seeks to Reclaim 3rd District Seat for Democrats

Annie Knox | October 11, 2012

Shelley Adler tackles GOP incumbent Jon Runyan, a former NFL player, in hard-fought contest

Voters in South Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District will decide what observers are calling the state’s closest race.

The major party candidates are Democrat Shelley Adler and Republican incumbent Jon Runyan.

Adler, a former Cherry Hill councilwoman and lawyer, hopes to reclaim for Democrats the seat formerly held by her late husband, John Adler, even though Adler no longer lives in the district. Five independent candidates are also on the ballot.

The election is Nov. 6.

The 3rd District became friendlier territory for Republicans after the state redrew its congressional districts last year, said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University.

“I think that what makes it interesting is, first-off, that it has been a somewhat competitive district in the past,” Harrison said.

The redistricting, she added, will likely heighten that competition between Democrats and Republicans this November. That’s due in large part to its loss of the heavily Democratic township of Cherry Hill, Harrison said.

The reconfiguration means Adler, who lives in Cherry Hill, doesn't live in the district and won’t be able to vote for herself.

That’s unlikely to affect her standing with residents in the district, Harrison said, because voters pay more attention to whether politicians live in their counties and towns. In congressional districts, she said, “there isn’t that kind of us-versus-them mentality that plays out” among voters toward candidates who don’t reside in the district.

With the new boundaries, the district picked up these municipalities: Burlington, Florence, Mansfield, Springfield, Fieldsboro, Bordentown, Shamong and Brick. It lost the Long Beach Island communities of Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Surf City, Ship Bottom, Long Beach and Beach Haven. To the south, the 3rd District lost Bass River, Little Egg Harbor, Eagleswood, Tuckerton and half of Stafford.

The newly redrawn district is now split into near-equal parts “red” and “blue.” It is 27 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican and 48 percent unaffiliated, according to May 2012 registration records.

Democrats in Washington have highlighted the race as an important one for their party. The 3rd District race is the only New Jersey election to make the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list of Red to Blue races.

As of June 30, the DCCC had given Adler about $13,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. But Runyan has the deeper pockets. As of June 30, Runyan had $900,000 in the bank. At that time, Adler had tallied less than $500,000.

Adler, 53, grew up in Chicago and moved to South Jersey after meeting John Adler at Harvard Law School, from which she graduated with honors, and marrying him. Shelley and John Adler were co-managing editors of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, according to her website. She clerked for a time for a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., before joining a Philadelphia law firm. The Adlers had four sons, and Shelley Adler took time off to be a full-time mother and volunteer with a number of organizations. She served as president of the local Parent-Teacher Association and was a Cherry Hill councilwoman. She is working as a lawyer again, this time for a mid-sized New Jersey firm.

She is running on the platform of safeguarding Medicare and Social Security from budget cuts.

“We think the Medicare issue is critically important,” said Adler spokesman Patrick Muller. “There’s a large number of these senior communities” in the 3rd District. Muller said Adler is an ally of middle-class families who would oppose corporate tax breaks.

Runyan, 38, of Mount Laurel Township, is the Republican incumbent. He is running on a platform of not raising taxes and cutting government spending. He won the 3rd District seat, his first political office, in 2010, when he beat John Adler in a close race. A former professional football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, Runyan studied kinesiology at the University of Michigan, which he attended on a football scholarship. He also studied entrepreneurial management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, according to his Congressional district website.

He played football for 15 years and is only the fourth pro football player to be elected to Congress. He and his wife, Loretta, have three children.

His union endorsements include those of the Teamsters, Policemen’s Benevolent Association and United Transportation. Runyan spokesman Chris Russell said Runyan understands unions because he was brought up in a union family – his father worked for General Motors in Flint, Mich.

“He can speak that language,” Russell said.

Probably the best-known, or at least the most colorful, independent running is Robert Edward Forchion, running under the banner of the “Legalize Marijuana Party.”

Forchion listed a Browns Mills address on his petition, and his website, njweedman.com, states that he “claims dual residency” in both Pemberton Township and Los Angeles, although when he ran last year for a state Assembly seat, he told NJ Spotlight that he had moved to California. He states on his website that he is running “as a form of ‘civil disobedience.’”

A longtime marijuana activist, he is an Army veteran, a former member of the National Guard and a former Marine, according to his Wikipedia entry, which he cites on his website. That entry also states he spent about 21 months in jail on two separate occasions in the early 2000s, once for drug-related charges and the second time for “advocating criminal activity” for “attempting to air political ads calling for the end of the war on drugs.”

Forchion is due back in court in Burlington County next week to face a drug-distribution charge stemming from an arrest in 2010. A jury convicted him last May of possession of marijuana but could not reach a unanimous verdict on the distribution offense and a judge declared a mistrial on that count, which carries a penalty of between five and 10 years in jail. Forchion testified that he is licensed in California to use marijuana to treat bone cancer.

Frederick John LaVergne is running as a Democratic-Republican. The 50-year-old Delanco man is a financial planner who has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stockton State College and did graduate work in microbiology at the Selman Waksman Institute in Piscataway.

“I’m one of the founding members,” he said of the Democratic-Republican Party. He is currently involved in a court case seeking to require the moniker “Democratic-Republican” be placed with his name on the ballot. The official filing from the Secretary of State’s office lists “No Slogan.”

Making his first run for public office, LaVergne said his platform centers on limiting corporate campaign finance contributions, changing all government bills into plain language and limiting congressional districts to fewer people.

Independent Robert Shapiro’s slogan is “Bob’s For Jobs.” A lawyer, Shapiro received his law degree from Stanford Law School and has a doctorate in history from Harvard University, according to his campaign website. He lives in Haddonfield. Shapiro did not respond to requests for comment.

Robert Witterschein, 36, of Brick, is running under the banner of “None of Them.” According to his website, he has a degree in accounting and has worked in that field for the last seven years. He has received the backing of Liberty Candidates, a group that, according to its website, “is in synch with (U.S. Rep. and presidential hopeful) Ron Paul’s campaign.” He did not return requests for comment.

Christopher G. Dennick, Jr., also of Brick, is running as an independent. He could not be reached for comment.

Annie Knox is a freelance reporter based in Hopewell, N.J.

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