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Offended by freeholder's remarks, inspired by protests, she's running for office

For Caren Fitzpatrick of Linwood, Atlantic County, the widely criticized remarks about women by Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman were just "the breaking point."

Having protested in Trenton the day after the inauguration of President Trump as part of the Women's March, Fitzpatrick said, she was offended by Carman's Facebook post asking whether the women would "be home in time to cook dinner."

But it was the march itself, and the still-surging activism that followed, that she said inspired her to run for office.

"I feel like I want to be part of the change that that's going to bring," Fitzpatrick said.

On Thursday, Fitzpatrick, director of finance and administration for MeetAC, an organization promoting convention business in Atlantic City, announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for freeholder at large in Atlantic County.

She is running with Thelma Witherspoon of Hamilton Township, an ordained minister who has run for office before (Atlantic City Council) and who served as president of the Atlantic City school board. She is retired from the City of Atlantic City and the city Police Department, where she worked as account clerk.

Neither is directly challenging Carman, though Witherspoon lives in the district that Carman represents.

Fitzpatrick said she hopes her decision can help translate her concern over the country to the local level.

"You have to start at the bottom and trickle it up," she said.

"I'm just not happy with the way things are going in this country right now," she said. "I want to help improve people's lives."

Witherspoon said she had looked at running against Carman but concluded that despite his sexist posts, his record in Atlantic County would make him a tough incumbent to challenge.

"I have found over the years, it's difficult to beat an incumbent," she said. There are two freeholder-at-large seats up for grabs this year, with only one of the incumbents running. Carman is up for reelection in District 3.

Both women said they would focus on the needs of Atlantic County residents "through economic development, tourism throughout Atlantic County, and more fiscal responsibility in government."

Fitzpatrick has previously worked at the Women's Center, the Sands Casino, and the Atlantic City Press.

"I wasn't happy about his Facebook post," she said of Carman. "That was the breaking point for me."

She said she wants to bring "the perspective of a woman, a professional woman," to the freeholder board, which now has two women.

"There are nine members," she said. "I don't think that two women accurately represent the demographic of the county."

Carman, after initially praising the women in his life as being confident enough not to be offended by his post, eventually apologized.

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