Gwendolyn Faison, 96, a woman who recorded a lot of firsts, including as Camden’s mayor, and led the city through a “tumultuous” period of state control, has died, officials announced Saturday.
“It is with an extremely heavy heart that we express our sincerest condolences to Gwen’s family and loved ones,” County Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said in a statement. “As a former county commissioner and mayor of Camden City, Gwen had an extraordinary impact on our community, and was a mentor and friend to many who still hold elected office in Camden City and Camden County today.”
Faison served as Camden’s mayor from December 2000 to January 2010, including eight years in which the city — struggling financially and with high crime rates — was placed under state control, a period Cappelli described as “unprecedented and tumultuous.”
“She was a fighter unafraid to do what she thought would benefit the residents of her city, and she shattered glass ceilings and antiquated barriers for women, and specifically women of color, along the way,” he said.
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As a member of City Council for several years in the 1980s and 1990s, Faison became its first Black female president. She had also served as the first Black city resident on the Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Her path to the top elected job in Camden followed an especially dark period for the city — the conviction in December 2000 of Mayor Milton Milan on political corruption charges. Faison was appointed to serve out the remaining six months of Milan’s term and won election to the post in May 2001.
“Especially during a particularly hard time in the city, she was able to restore a level of credibility and hope,” former New Jersey Assemblyman Angel Fuentes told The Inquirer in February 2015 at a celebration for Faison’s 90th birthday.
At that event, Faison, a native of North Carolina, tried to shift the attention away from herself and to the people of her beloved Camden.
“The leadership must recognize these are good people,” she said. “If you show compassion, show them the way, they will make it.”