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Off to the Races
This fall’s election season is heating up fast. We bring you the campaigns to watch in South Jersey.

by Jennifer Kelley
With Election Day a calendar-flip away, things are getting heated in South Jersey. Angry attack ads and feel-good soft-sell spots are cluttering primetime viewing hours. Our phones are ringing off the hook with earnest campaign workers and stiff robo-calls alike. And dozens of candidates, their respective party supporters and campaign workers are fanning out through South Jersey communities, listening to constituent concerns, trotting out political taglines and, when possible, ever-so-subtly besmirching their opponents’ records. But of the many local, regional, state and Congressional races on the ballot Nov. 2, three stand out as particularly intriguing. First, there’s Evesham Township’s mayoral race, which will be a partisan battle for the first time ever this year, thanks to a voter referendum approved a year ago. Then it’s on to Gloucester County, where GOP Freeholder candidates are looking to storm the board’s decade-strong Democratic fortress. And, of course, we’ll size up the Third District Congressional battle, pitting the incumbent U.S. Representative against a former Philadelphia Eagles tackle and a wildcard Tea Party candidate. South Jersey’s 2010 election season is destined to be one for the history books—and we’re going to share with you our version of CliffsNotes. Third District Congressional Race:
Incumbent: John Adler (D)
Challengers: Jon Runyan (R), Peter DeStefano (I) The hottest race on the local ballots this year is garnering national attention, as the incumbent, freshman Congressman John Adler of Cherry Hill, tries to hold his ground against an aggressive Republican challenger, former pro football player Jon Runyan, of Mount Laurel. The Third District, which covers large swaths of Ocean and Burlington counties, as well as Cherry Hill in Camden County, has traditionally supported the GOP in Congressional elections. But Adler, running as a moderate, eked out a narrow victory in 2008 buoyed by President Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House. But what a difference two years can make. In 2009, the District swung back to the right, electing Republican Gov. Chris Christie. And now, of all the battered Democratic Congressmen clinging to their seats during this stormy mid-term, Adler is considered among the most vulnerable. His towering, NFL Pro-Bowl challenger retired from football this year, shifting gears in order to ride the general anti-incumbent sentiment into Washington. Runyan has received substantial support from Gov. Christie at GOP fundraising events throughout the region. The comparatively diminutive Adler, however, is holding his own, appearing to be a few yards ahead of his opponent in the most recent Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. In August, the D.C. freshman was favored by 31 percent of registered voters in South Jersey, compared with Runyan’s 25 percent. From here, it looks like it will be a race for the middle, as Adler and Runyan each vie to win over independent and moderate voters. As such, both parties have dodged extreme positions and labels, and both stand opposed to Obama’s health care overhaul, citing its cost. In addition, each candidate frequently references his own working-class upbringing, and its resulting strong family values and desire to serve the public. Aside from a few boilerplate issues, that’s where the similarities end and the contention begins. Adler has already made a name for himself in Congress, advocating for small businesses and railing against tighter credit regulations that would make borrowing more costly for foundering companies. “It’s through the [Main Street] economy that America creates new jobs,” he says, “and small businesses thrive when they have access to credit.” Adler also says his engagement with larger companies in the South Jersey area has preserved thousands of jobs in the region. Then there’s Runyan, who makes the case that his lack of experience in Washington is actually an asset, arguing: “Incumbents got us into this mess.” He draws parallels between his storied NFL tenure and his burgeoning political career. “If you surround yourself with the right people, who are willing to put in the work and do more than the other guys, you retain a competitive edge,” he explains. His post-player broadcast gigs arguing and offering football analysis, Runyan adds, have prepared him for a season of debates. Among other moderate-Republican stances, he’s for Congressional term limits, lower taxes, balancing the federal budget and strengthening border security, commending Arizona for taking decisive action to deport those in the country illegally. “We are a nation of immigrants,” he says, “but we are also a nation of laws.” Despite the sizzling summer weather, Adler, 50, and Runyan, 36, spent the last few months heating up their campaigns with back-and-forth accusations, ranging from tax evasion to lying about their records. Despite ups and downs, it’s been something of a dead heat. Enter the monkey wrench—or, rather, third-party candidate Peter DeStefano, who is running under his “NJ Tea Party” banner. Polling numbers show the Mount Laurel resident pulling in nearly 5 percent of the vote. While the GOP has decried DeStefano as a Democratic “plant” meant to siphon away Republican votes, the candidate himself, a Mount Holly business owner, bristles at that notion. “It’s a bunch of crap,” he says bluntly. (The Adler campaign concurs.) DeStefano describes himself as an “average Joe” though he’s quick to note that he’s “not crazy.” The lifelong South Jerseyan, whose parents launched Gibbsboro’s Republican party, asserts that he’s “fed up, like most people, with the two-party system. It’s put our economy in the tank and is running this country at a completely unsustainable deficit that our grandchildren will have to deal with—and I’m angry about it!” A huge fan of Reaganomics, and an advocate for lower taxes and smaller government, DeStefano writes off his opponents as wealthy elitists who are out of touch with middle-class people like him. “I represent every one of us out there working countless hours for lower standards of living—that’s what motivates me.” He also brushes off the fact that South Jersey’s two established Tea Party groups have dismissed him outright. So does DeStefano really have a shot? It’s a long one, but until voting day it’s still anyone’s race. “It is extremely hard in August to predict who will really vote in November,” notes David Redlawsk, a professor of political science who directs the Rutgers-Eagleton Polls. “It remains too early to be sure [which voters] will be most motivated to turn out on election day.” Evesham Mayoral Race
Mayoral candidate: Randy Brown (R)
Council candidates: Deborah Hackman (R), Steven Zeuli (R) Challengers
Mayoral candidate: Mike Schmidt (D)
Council candidates: Mark Ornstein (D), Kathleen Santomero (D) Last November, Evesham Township voters approved a referendum that moved elections from May to November, saving taxpayers about $50,000 bi-annually, (fall elections are not funded by municipalities), while significantly bolstering turnout. As such, this Nov. 2 will be the first partisan municipal election voters have experienced in decades, as they cast their ballots for a four-year mayor and two four-year Council seats. That’s not the only switch-up. In 2007, current Democratic Mayor Randy Brown defeated Republican incumbent Mayor Gus Tamburro, whose campaign he ran four years earlier. In March, just in time for the town’s first primary in a newly partisan political era, Brown announced he was changing parties, returning to his GOP roots for his re-election campaign and bringing onboard two Republican council hopefuls, Deborah Hackman and Steven Zeuli. They’re facing off against challengers led by another familiar face, former Evesham Councilman Mike Schmidt, along with his fellow Democrat council contenders Mark Ornstein and Kathleen Santomero. “Voters overwhelmingly decided last year to move our municipal elections to November so that they could have more of a say in local government,” Schmidt says. “When [Brown] decided to switch parties ... a number of residents approached me about running.” He counts containing spending and taxes among his top priorities, with government transparency a close second. “Taxes are too high, and it doesn’t seem like there is an end in sight,” he says. Schmidt has also vowed to put more referendum questions to Evesham voters “so their voices can be heard on important issues that impact our town.” Eager to retain its short grasp of power in Burlington County’s most populous town, the Democratic minority is pushing back hard against the popular, party-hopping mayoral incumbent. And with the abysmal 10 percent May voter turnout expected to swell at least five-fold this fall, the newly partisan political game in Evesham has kicked off the Super Bowl of South Jersey municipal elections—and the fourth quarter is ticking away. Gloucester County Board of Freeholders
Democrats: Heather Simmons, Robert Zimmerman
Republicans: Larry Wallace, Vincent Nestore Last year, incumbent Gloucester County Democratic Freeholders Robert Damminger and Joe Chila retained their seats by a razor-thin margin against Republican challengers. As a result, the recharged regional GOP smelled blood in the water, and this year’s Republican nominees are on the attack in their quest for the two open seats on the seven-member, all-Democrat board. With 2009 already marred for county Freeholders by an unflattering judicial ruling, wherein an appeals panel found that the board violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act on multiple occasions, Freeholder veterans Joseph Brigandi Jr. and Jean DuBois chose not to seek re-election. But even without the political vulnerability posed by the resulting court order, which appointed a former Superior Court judge to monitor the board for six months, this election season was sure to be a test for Dems all over South Jersey. A Republican sweeping Gov. Jon Corzine out of office—to cheers up and down the Turnpike—only compounded a national backlash against Democrats thanks to the still-sputtering economy and a jobless rate cresting 10 percent. “People want a change,” says first-time GOP candidate Vincent Nestore. “We’re letting people know that, if they like things in the county the way they are, and they’re fine with continuing to pay higher taxes, then vote Democrat,” he says. “If you want to see things change, and property taxes go down, vote for us.” The Republican platform boils down to lowering the county’s debt load and tax levy while increasing its level of government transparency—and breaking up the decade-long one-party reign, says Nestore’s running-mate, Larry Wallace, who made an unsuccessful bid in 2008. “There are seven of them, and they don’t seem to debate much of anything,” he adds. “I have a wife and two daughters, and we’ll spend 20 minutes voicing our opinions on where we each want to go for dinner. It’s time for some political diversity on the board.” But first-time Democratic nominees Heather Simmons and Robert Zimmerman say they bring fresh, independent perspectives, and that they welcome the idea of enhanced transparency. Zimmerman is a lifelong county resident who lives in Mantua Township and has been employed by the Pitman Police Department for more than 20 years. Utilizing his Master’s Degree in public policy, he has served on the town’s Board of Education, Planning Board and, currently, the Township Committee. Simmons, his Glassboro-based running mate, has run her own communications business for the last six years. Both Democratic nominees say they are focused on holding the line on property taxes through economic development. They contend they’ll work with the rest of the Freeholder board to bolster business and industry, create jobs and improve residents’ quality of life. But a bucket of chum was dumped into the political waters last month when Freeholder Director—and New Jersey Senate President—Stephen Sweeney announced he was resigning from the board at the end of the year, dangling in front of the GOP the tantalizing possibility of a 4-3 mixed-party board in the Democratic county. The waves will only get rougher in this last month of campaigning before Nov. 2 unfolds. Mail it In Can’t get to the polls this Election Day? In New Jersey, residents can now vote through a mail-in form in any election—no reason is needed. The Vote by Mail Ballot form is available for download on the Division’s Web page: www.State.NJ.US/State/Elections/Mail-In_DOE. The form must be received by the county clerk at least seven days prior to the election. Voters also have the option of stopping into their county clerk’s office and filling out a ballot up until 3 p.m. the day before the election. Here’s where you’ll need to send your vote. BURLINGTON COUNTY
Hon. Timothy D. Tyler
Burlington County Clerk
Courts Building,
Room 104,
49 Rancocas Road,
PO Box 6000
Mount Holly, NJ
08060-1397 CAMDEN COUNTY
Hon. Joseph Ripa
Camden County Clerk
Election Division,
600 Market Street
6th Street Entrance, Suite 316, PO Box 150
Camden, NJ
Hon. James Hogan
Gloucester County Clerk
PO Box 129
Woodbury, NJ
08096-7129 Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 7 (October, 2010).
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