In the Assembly race, veteran Democrat Herb Conaway, a physician, and his first-term running mate Troy Singleton, an executive assistant in a carpenters’ union, face a challenge from Republicans Anthony Ogozalek, a self-described “street cop turned lawyer,” and Jeff Banasz, a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and now works as an insurance broker.
With only one term in the Assembly, Singleton faces a tougher re-election challenge than Conaway but supporters point to his activism as a member of the legislature’s Budget, Education, and Commerce & Economic Development committees, and his work on behalf of higher education while also finding construction-industry jobs for unemployed ex-soldiers.
According to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, Singleton was the best-funded candidate at the time of primary, with a closing balance of $246,341. He is followed by Allen with $179,034, Conaway with $112,634, and Catrambone with only $10,050.
Banasz and Ogozalek show a joint balance of zero in their primary filing, reflecting a transfer of $44,625, since when they have raised about another $30,000, Ogozalek said.
Singleton’s re-election is important to the Democrats, who have high hopes for him, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
For that reason, he’s a prime target for the Republicans, Dworkin said. “He doesn’t have the benefits of years of incumbency, and if they are going to beat him, this would be the time to do it.”
In the predominantly Democratic district, Singleton and Conaway are likely to prevail, Dworkin said. But that could be upset if their Republican challengers attract more support from Christie or if the GOP decides to spend aggressively on TV advertising.
Singleton said voters are concerned mostly with jobs and the rising cost of living, both areas where he claims success as an assemblyman.
He and Conaway are primary sponsors of the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, which provides tax credits for employers to encourage them to expand their operations.
In Burlington County, the law provided $40 million in tax credits to two major local employers – Burlington Coat Factory and the defense contractor Lockheed Martin – helping to save more than 1,700 jobs, Singleton said.
To ease the property tax burden, Singleton has proposed a bill that would return to municipalities some of the $1 billion a year they collectively pay the state for the use of public lands. The bill would pay local governments $300 million over five years, easing the pressure for higher taxes, Singleton said.
He called the 7th District race “very competitive” and said the Republicans are mounting a “very spirited challenge” but that the incumbents are “cautiously optimistic.”
With a Republican state senator and two Democratic assemblymen, the 7th is a swing district where voters don’t necessarily adhere to one party, Singleton said.
“Voters don’t just vote along party lines,” he said. “They make value judgments.”
One such voter is Burlington resident Umesh Shah, a registered Democrat who said he will vote Republican for both Senate and Assembly because he thinks they stand a better chance of reducing the $10,000 he pays annually in property taxes on his 2,800-square-foot, four-bedroom home.
Shah, who owns a local convenience store, said he also will vote Republican because he likes Governor Christie.
“He understands New Jersey’s problems better,” Shah said in an interview outside the Walgreens on Route 130 in Burlington. “He has balanced the budget and cut down on a lot of stuff that wasn’t necessary.”