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Republican Hopes to End Democratic Dominance in 1st District

First-term Rep. Norcross is just the latest in 40 years of Democrats in District 1, and challenger Patterson thinks it’s time for a change

Donald Norcross
Credit: philly.com
State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden)

Bob Patterson, the 1st District’s Republican challenger thinks this year’s political volatility is on his side. Patterson is running for office for the first time against incumbent Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross. Although he acknowledges it’s not easy running for a seat that has been held by Democrats for more than four decades, Patterson emphasizes that a lot of his positions are atypical for a Republican and hopes people have had enough of politics as usual and are ready to vote for a change on November 8.

“For the 1st District to elect me might be a tall order in most political years. I think the voters are fed up with the reigning political class,” said Patterson, who is one of four candidates seeking to replace Norcross. The other three are running on third-party lines.

For his part, Norcross said he has worked hard in his first term to meet and talk with residents and respond to their needs and concerns. He’s hoping that the district’s left-leaning voters and his first term effort will return him to office.

Bob Patterson
Bob Patterson, Democratic challenger for Congress in District 1

The two major-party candidates, Norcross and Patterson, say jobs are high on their agendas. But they differ over what types of higher-paying jobs can be created in the struggling South Jersey district. Patterson of Haddonfield wants to create 50,000 jobs, many in new shipbuilding yards including one in Camden to revive what was once a thriving industry in South Jersey. He says it could help rebuild the U.S. Navy’s fleet. Norcross believes a more diverse job base is realistic.

“Shipbuilding is a big part of what I’m pushing in the district,” said Patterson, adding “At the heart of my proposal is bringing back manufacturing jobs to southern New Jersey.”

He said reintroducing shipbuilding would help the region’s beleaguered economy, which has suffered from decades of policies that failed the area and led to its decline.

Patterson, 63, stated that the number of manufacturing and other jobs New Jersey has lost equals about 1,000 jobs a month over the past 25 years. He proposes funding the potential $10 billion cost of replacing them with savings found in the Department of Defense budget and other areas. His platform includes starting up a Civilian Conservation Corps with a 3,000 person workforce to rebuild national parks and help put young people on the path to manufacturing jobs.

First-term Rep. Norcross, a lifelong South Jersey resident, thinks new manufacturing plants will boost the area’s economy. He said a Camden shipyard is not feasible because the land needed for the facility is no longer available at the site of the former New York Shipyard.

“I would love to see the shipyards come back,” he said, but asserted the best option for jobs is to attract manufacturing centers such as the under-construction high-tech Holtec Technology Campus in South Camden. Norcross said Holtec based its decision on groundwork he put in place while in the state Legislature.

According to Norcross, the district’s turnaround is starting. He noted that there has recently been $2.5 billion of investment in the Camden City area, including the nearby Port of Paulsboro, which is set for exporting worldwide and an increase in jobs from a few hundred to up to 2,000.

Norcross led the push to increase New Jersey’s minimum wage and is a sponsor of the Fair Wage Act of 2016 to raise the federal minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2023.

“It would make families less reliant on federal assistance and put them on the path to financial independence,” said Norcross.

Although he understands the need for higher wages, Patterson opposes a $15 federal minimum wage and characterizes it as an ineffective response to stagnant low wages. “A $15 minimum wage is a Band Aid. It will not solve the problem,” he said. Patterson said the underlying cause is the loss of good-paying jobs which need to be replaced.

During his first term, Norcross, 57, has served as an assistant whip and as a member of the House Armed Services and House Budget committees. When he was elected to Congress in 2014, he stepped down from the state senate seat he had held since 2010.

Norcross was appointed to the state senate seat vacated by Dana Redd following her election as mayor of the City of Camden. Prior to the senate, he briefly served as an assemblyman. A retired electrician and business manager, Norcross was the former president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO and assistant business manager for IBEW Local 351. He is a member and former chairman of the United Way of Camden County and founding member of the Home Port Alliance, which brought the Battleship New Jersey to Camden’s waterfront. He helped start the Union Organization for Social Service, a nonprofit labor agency devoted to community service. Norcross is the father of three children and he and his wife live in Camden City.

Patterson, now retired, was previously an editorial contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer and vice president for government relations at the U.S. Business and Industry Council. He had held positions as a senior public policy advisor to former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and adjunct professor of government at Patrick Henry College. A New Jersey native, Patterson and his wife are the parents of three children.

The 1st Congressional District covers most of Camden County, including the City of Camden, one of the nation’s poorest and most dangerous urban enclaves, along with parts of Burlington and Gloucester counties. The district is a Democratic stronghold with the seat held by the party for more than 40 years. Out of the district’s population of 732,065; there are 213,974 registered Democrats; 76,736 registered Republicans and 199,883 registered Independents.

FEC reports show Norcross raising significantly more money than Patterson but over a longer period of time. From Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016, Patterson brought in $165,532 primarily from individual donors. As of Sept. 30th, he had $47,401 available.

From Jan. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016, Norcross received donations of $2,021,191 from a mix of individual donations and special interest groups. At the end of the third quarter, he had $93,098 on hand.

Norcross is the younger brother of Democratic South Jersey powerbroker, George Norcross.

Norcross points to the ongoing reconstruction of the heavily congested I-295/I-76/Route 42 interchange as an example of improvements to the region he has been pushing since he served as a state senator. He said he has been working hard on advancing the project to improve traffic flow and safety in Camden County. The ramp, viaduct and bridge construction program, known as The Direct Connection, is the state’s largest infrastructure project.

Patterson wants to make more infrastructure funding available through a federal infrastructure bank to provide 50-year-loans at zero interest. Among the projects he described as “prudent investments” are extending NJ Route 55 into Cape May County and expanding PATCO to Glassboro, Atlantic City and University City in Philadelphia. “It (PATCO) hasn’t been expanded since it opened in 1969,” he pointed out, adding part of the extension is in place. “We already have track bed and right-of-way to Glassboro.”

Patterson voiced support for building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico along with implementing a sensible immigration policy to keep out terrorists, criminal illegal aliens and drugs. He said polls show a majority of Americans supporting the idea put forward by Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.

“We need greater border security which includes a wall,” said Patterson.

His opponent dismissed the idea.

“The suggestion that a wall will address issues of illegal immigration is just absurd,” said Norcross, who favors a legal path to immigration and implementing common sense gun safety and background checks including Congressional passage of “No Fly, No Buy” legislation.

Norcross and Patterson, as well as three third-party candidates, are expected to debate at Rowan University at Gloucester County Friday evening.The other three candidates include Libertarian William Sihr, 27-years-old, an educator and Williamstown resident; Michael Berman of Haddonfield, 58, is a patent attorney running on the American Independents line; and Scot John Tomaszewski of Cherry Hill, a locksmith and electrician, running on the We Deserve Better line. The forum, being co-hosted by the Gloucester County NAACP, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., South New Jersey Chapter and League of Women Voters, begins at 7 pm. Audience members can ask questions during the final half hour of the 90-minute program at Rowan University’s Nursing and Allied Health Center at 1400 Tanyard Road in Sewell.

Berman and Tomaszewski also ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2014. In that election, Norcross received about 45% more votes than his Republican opponent, Garry Cobb of Cherry Hill.

Robin Traum's career is in the field of communications with extensive experience as a journalist, most recently as editor of two Patch news sites, freelance writer, and public relations and marketing professional.

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