Assembly races in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties see incumbent Democrats challenged in the 4th and 6th districts in the November elections, while the 5th District features four newcomers to statewide politics in a race that has no incumbents because of the resignations of two sitting Democrats.
This is "blue" country, and it is expected to remain so. Democrats account for almost 40 percent of those registered in each of the districts, with registered Republicans accounting for little more than 10 percent.
In the 5th, encompassing parts of Camden and Gloucester counties, Democrats Arthur Barclay and Patricia Egan Jones are facing Republicans Kevin Ehret and Keith Walker in a race that follows the departure of Democratic Assemblymen Angel Fuentes and Gilbert “Whip” Wilson.
Jones was selected for Fuentes’s seat in June after the former assemblyman left to take a position with Camden County. She said her first priority, if elected, would be to seek a seat on the Assembly’s Transportation Committee so that she could play a role in how to replenish the depleted Transportation Trust Fund.
Adequate funding of the TTF is essential to the health of the state’s economy, and some big decisions are needed to ensure the fund’s sustainability, she said. “Either we raise revenue or we change the revenue stream,” she explained.
Jones, 74, served as Camden County surrogate for 15 years, making decisions on wills, adoptions, and the guardianship of minors, and has served as county freeholder and a councilwoman in her home town of Barrington. The Assembly seat would be her first elected state office.
She graduated from Rutgers University in 1994 with a degree in political science, and has an earlier degree in fine arts and theater arts. She is a mother of two and a grandmother of four.
At 5 feet 2 inches, Jones said she’s a contrast to the 6-foot-8-inch Barclay but argued that the big height differential gives them complementary perspectives. “We’ve got everything covered,” she said.
Barclay, a Camden city councilman, said his main goals would be to work for the full funding of state pensions, and for more local jobs at the major businesses that are moving into Camden and beginning to turn around a notoriously distressed city.
“We’ve got to make sure our residents get a fair share of those jobs,” he said.
That could be achieved in part by launching apprenticeship programs to train people in skills such as engineering that could be used by employers like Holtec International, which is due to start operations in Camden next year, Barclay said.
As a former minor league basketball player who has worked with Camden youth in organizations that include the Boys and Girls Club, Barclay said he has insight into the challenges of urban youth, and would contribute that experience if elected to the state Assembly.
Barclay, 33, works for Camden County’s special events department, focusing on programs for senior citizens. The Assembly seat would be his first state elected office.
Reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission show their activity through October 4. Barclay had raised $21,780 and spent $2,577, while Jones had raised $23,681 and spent $2,727.
While that's not a lot of money, it's likely to be significantly more than the Republicans have. Ehret filed a form stating he would not spend more than $4,500 on the election. No filings for Walker were available.
Walker said he is mostly concerned with what he sees as an erosion of local rights to self-determination, adding that the people of Camden should have been allowed to vote on the recent decision to replace city police with a county force.
“I am an old-school patriot,” said Walker, a retired Marine Corps major who has not previously held elected office. “I don’t believe that the Constitution allows our elected officials to legislate away our Constitutional rights.”
Walker, who declined to state his age, said officials in the Legislature are no longer working for the people who elected them, and that elected officials are beholden to a “small group of power brokers.”
A certified teacher who is now a business consultant, Walker said that if elected he would ensure that residents of the City of Camden are given the opportunity to vote on what kind of police force should operate in their city.
Ehret, his running mate, said the biggest issues in the 5th District race are taxes and jobs, and pledged that he would work to bring back manufacturing jobs that have been lost to overseas competition.
“We need to make it more affordable for manufacturers to keep jobs here,” said Ehret, 47.
Ehret said that elected representatives in the district have to respond to the needs of such urban communities as Camden and rural areas in Gloucester County.
If elected, Ehret said he would seek to meet the interests of the whole district, rather than just the city, which he said has so far received the most attention from local lawmakers. “I want to be there for everybody, not just for one side,” he said.
Ehret, a client-services manager at Holman Automotive in Mount Laurel, said the first thing he would do if elected is work to reduce youth unemployment and the high dropout rate from local schools, especially in Camden, which he said are contributing to the formation of gangs.
He said he would work to slow the development of scarce New Jersey farmland, and instead encourage the use of plentiful brownfield sites in cities.
Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, a Democrat who took office at the beginning of the year to replace Donald Norcross when he won a seat in Congress, is the only senatorial candidate on this year's ballot. She has no opposition.
In the 4th District, covering other parts of Gloucester and Camden Counties, Democratic incumbents Paul Moriarty and Gabriela Mosquera face off against Republican challengers Kevin Murphy and Jack Nicholson. The GOP candidates did not respond to requests for information.
Moriarty, 59, a media consultant, has been an assemblyman since 2006, and chairs the Assembly's Consumer Affairs Committee. Mosquera, 38, was first elected to the Assembly in 2012, and is chief of staff to the mayor of Gloucester Township.
In the nearby 6th District in Burlington and Camden counties, GOP challengers Holly Tate and Claire Gustafson are trying to unseat Democratic incumbents Lou Greenwald, the Assembly majority leader, and Pamela Lampitt, who is deputy speaker of the Assembly.
Greenwald, 48, an attorney, was first elected to the Assembly in 1996 and has been majority leader since 2012. First elected in 2006, the 54-year-old Lampitt manages conferences and dining services at the University of Pennsylvania.
Gustafson, 64, who is a sales representative for a children’s clothing company, said her priorities, if elected, would be to reject the Common Core curriculum and write a substitute that would make New Jersey students more competitive nationally. Tate did not respond to a request for information.