It was a small shake-up, to be sure, but a roll-call vote to select the chair of the Camden County Democratic Party Tuesday night was not business as usual.
Typically, a verbal chorus of “yes” votes would suffice to endorse the current party chairman for yet another term, and the meeting would last 15 minutes. But a newly elected progressive slate contested the nomination of State Sen. Jim Beach, who has been the chairman for years, and the meeting time was doubled.
The slate, affiliated with the Cherry Hill-based South Jersey Progressive Democrats, ran for seats inside the party organization with the goal of bringing change to a machine unofficially led by political power broker George E. Norcross III for at least two decades.
“We think of it as a long-term project — five, 10, or even 15 years — to build coalitions" within the party and effect change down the road, said Chris Emrich, a member of the 16-member progressive slate, which won a primary race and took all of the seats that represent Collingswood on the Democratic committee.
Kate Delany, who leads the Collingswood slate, stood at the meeting Tuesday and nominated progressive Susan Druckenbrod to be the new chair and Kyle Nash for vice chair, catching a few of the 160 delegates at the meeting at party headquarters off guard.
But the move was mostly symbolic, Emrich said, as Beach and Vice Chair Barbara Holcomb were reelected. The leaders were nominated by Camden Mayor Frank Moran and Lawnside committeewoman Rhonda Wardlow-Hurley.
After the primary race, Delany said that "we’re ready to make some noise.”
Her focus, she said, is on bringing transparency to party business and winning party endorsements for qualified newcomers, not just “rubber stamps” for party regulars. “We’re taking steps,” she said.
William Tambussi, counsel to the Camden County Democratic Committee, said he has conducted the party’s reorganization meeting for 30 years and this was the first time he held a roll-call vote. “The whole purpose of the meeting is to elect the chair and vice chair,” he said, noting that typically takes 15 minutes.
Tambussi called the roll alphabetically, and as soon as a nominee for chair and a nominee for vice chair got 81 votes — a majority of the 160 delegates in attendance — he stopped the count and declared them winners. “I tell the members, ‘Please come’ [to the meeting], and I will respect your time and I will conclude the meeting as quickly as I can,” he said.
Tambussi said the 6 p.m. meeting ended at 6:30.
Beach did not address the crowd after the vote.
“He’s been the chair for a long time. Everyone knows him,” Tambussi said.
Beach did not return calls for comment.
In a statement released Tuesday night, he said, “It’s an honor and privilege to continue to lead this organization.… This last election cycle made it clear that with our progressive values, diversity, and principles, we continue to represent the vast majority of committee members and residents on the issues that matter most to them.”