South Jersey’s 6th Legislative District is likely to remain in Democratic hands come November, but its primary race is an interesting one. It pits two long-term Assembly members against two new candidates who promise diversity and progressive ideals, having become involved in politics since the 2016 presidential election.
The entrenched incumbents are both leaders in the Democratic Party and have the support of the powerful South Jersey Democratic machine. Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, of Voorhees, is Majority Leader. Pamela Lampitt, from Cherry Hill, is deputy speaker and is the chair of the Assembly education committee.
But their opponents think it’s time for a change. They are Danie Moss-Velasco of Collingswood and E. Julian Jordan III of Voorhees. Moss-Velasco is a Spanish professor and freelance interpreter. Jordan is a Drexel student and entrepreneur. Both are running on a platform they say is focused on creating opportunities for people of color, those in the LGBTQ population, and those in the disabled community. Jordan is also making an issue of the current scandal at the Economic Development Authority, saying tax incentives should be given to locals.
The district is firmly blue, claiming 45 percent of registered voters as Democrats, 17 percent as Republicans and the remainder unaffiliated. The district is 76 percent white, 12.4 percent black, and 7.24 Native Indian and Native Alaskan, according to the most recent census data.
The 6th District includes 15 communities across Burlington and Camden counties: Berlin Township, Cherry Hill, Collingswood, Gibbsboro, Haddon, Haddonfield, Hi-Nella, Maple Shade, Merchantville, Oaklyn, Pennsauken, Somerdale, Stratford, Tavistock, and Voorhees.
During her time in office, Lampitt said she’s proven her worth to her district by sponsoring and contributing to legislation that achieved equal pay for equal work, earned sick leave, and a package of sexual assault bills that would give more voice and protection to victims.
Lampitt said that if re-elected she would work to lower property taxes and tackle mental-health issues in schools. Specifically, she’s looking to pass legislation that would mandate children over age of 12 should be evaluated for mental and behavioral health and require family practitioners to do so. The cost, she said, would be billed through insurance companies.
“I brought my family up here in Cherry Hill …. I really truly understand families and life struggles,” said Lampitt. She noted her desire to work on the issue of climate change and environmental damage. To that point, an NJ Spotlight report recently highlighted the shipment of toxic PFAS chemical substitutes to nearby Salem county outside the 6th district’s limits. “I’m very concerned about climate change and the chemicals around us, how we absorb them, breathe them, consume them. I’m a real person that tackles quality of life issues that are important to the community in which I live.”
Greenwald meanwhile touts his successes in the healthcare field, advocating to bring a branch of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey to South Jersey, stopping, as he put it, “the outmigration of 33,000 cancer patient visits” across the Delaware to Pennsylvania. He also notes the work he contributed to changes in the school funding formula which meant, he said, “communities in our district got some of the largest public education funding contributions in the history of state.”
He said if re-elected he would continue to work on New Jersey’s commitment to fully fund employee pensions, form a “citizens’ convention” to make recommendations on the state’s property-tax burden and “get off the addiction to property taxes to fund all government.”
He also noted that South Jersey has some of the highest foreclosure rates in the state and said he would work to address that problem. An NJ Spotlight and Reveal investigation found that Camden and Burlington counties are facing a serious redlining issue, with home loans denied at a much greater rate due to a person’s race, ethnicity, or religion.
With these challenges and many others for minorities in mind, Moss-Velasco, 40, and Jordan, 27, are running on a platform they said is representative of the people and communities in the district. The professor-and-student team were brought together by Our Revolution, a grassroots group that supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign and has been recruiting supporters to run for positions in local governments. The two said that though they are nearly a generation apart in age they are united in their beliefs.
Their platform is focused on three main issues: lowering taxes, reforming the education system with a special focus on creating pathways for special needs students and Spanish-speaking students, and increasing budgetary transparency in Trenton, essentially by closing “pay to play” loopholes in the political system.
Moss-Velasco teaches Spanish for lawyers as an adjunct professor at Rutgers University, Camden and does medical and legal translation for Spanish-speaking individuals in the region. She has a degree in child development and a master’s in intercultural translation and has taught in California, New Jersey, and Spain. She said working as an educator and translator has equipped her to navigate the legalese of Trenton.
“I did my research; I went back 75 years in the history of Legislative District 6. We have never had anyone of color or anyone who didn’t speak English as their first language represent us in this district,” she said. “Diversity and representation [are] so important; the lack of normal middle-class everyday people with experiences like ours is not doing us justice.”
Moss-Velasco said education is in her wheelhouse as she’s dealt with countless school officials and departments over the years when advocating for her son, who was born with vision impairment. She also has advocated for other Spanish-speaking students and parents who she said have been cast aside by the system. One issue she said she would like to tackle if elected is Title II compliance and enforcement in education. Title II of federal law provides grants and rules to states for teacher training and Moss-Velasco said she would like to see that money spent on helping teachers better understand and support students who speak other languages and those with disabilities.
Making the most of taxes
Jordan, meanwhile, is approaching the race as a small-business owner. He’s majoring in entrepreneurship and innovation in the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and said he hopes to use his experience both in and out of the classroom to “stimulate local economies and make our tax dollars more transparent and efficient.”
Jordan said he grew up privileged in Voorhees. “I never wanted for anything,” he said. But he noted that he had cousins in Philadelphia who lacked access to the same opportunities, which inspired him to pursue an education and career focused on lifting up those in communities experiencing inequitable circumstances.
“This past [presidential] election crushed me,” he said. “I was worried for minorities, for people of color, the disabled, and those in the LGBTQ community.”
One of Jordan’s priorities, he said, is ensuring that “if we’re going to be paying high taxes, we should be getting the most for our tax money.” Referring to the ongoing investigation into the state’s tax-incentive programs, he said tax incentives should be focused on ensuring businesses are hiring local people and keeping money in communities.
He also wants to reform the state’s education system, getting away from standardized testing and fully funding schools according to the formula.
Poor ballot position
“We’re tailoring the experiences of our children to do well on standardized tests … that’s not the best quality of education,” Jordan said.
Moss-Velasco and Jordan realize they face an uphill battle. “We’re running against incumbents with long tenures and are very well connected,” Jordan said. He claimed their position on the ballot, in the far-right column, puts them at a severe disadvantage.
Nevertheless, Jordan said it’s worth putting up a fight to show voters that they can choose who represents them.
“I’ve voted for [Lampitt and Greenwald] since I was voting age because I never knew I had another option,” he said. “We’re both tired of voting for the same people year after year who are only interested in looking out for themselves. We need to take a really hard look at who these people are that we are voting for and if they are doing what’s right for the district.”