Today's Camden City Council election has grown so heated with threats, curses, hand-gestures and last-minute campaign spending that one candidate has asked for police protection.
"We're concerned about the safety of our voters and workers on election day," said Iraida Afanador, campaign manager for Council President Angel Fuentes. Taunts traded over the weekend in the feverish race between the campaigns of incumbent Fuentes and challenger Carmen Ubarry-Rivera prompted Afanador to ask for extra police protection for Fuentes today.
"They're so desperate," responded Ubarry-Rivera.
With millions in redevelopment money at stake, all four Council incumbents up for reelection face stiff opposition. The incumbents are backed by the formidable Camden County Democratic organization. The challengers are independents who criticize the state takeover of the city and are protesting redevelopment plans that would uproot residents and businesses.
Most of the anger is focused in the Fourth Ward neighborhoods of North Camden and Cramer Hill, targeted for massive redevelopment projects. Residents fought against plans that would relocate them and the redevelopment plans stalled in court.
One of the residents' leaders, Ubarry-Rivera, is fighting to unseat Fuentes.
Fuentes at first supported redevelopment of Cramer Hill, but changed his mind after an outpouring of neighborhood protests.
Fuentes charged that one of Ubarry-Rivera's biggest supporters - landowner and demolition businessman William Hargrove - is spending "tens of thousands" on the race without reporting his involvement to state election officials.
"We certainly have helped," Hargrove said of his support for Ubarry-Rivera. "I helped her in every way, shape and form."
Hargrove said he's been open about his $5,000 expenditure for 18,000 campaign flyers mailed over the weekend.
The flyers depict a man with strings attached to his limbs and ask: "Can you guess the name of this Camden County puppet?" It mentions Fuentes' support of plans to "take your homes."
Hargrove produced an unstamped copy of his report on the flyer to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. ELEC couldn't locate the filing yesterday.
He volunteered that he didn't consult with Ubarry-Rivera about the flyers.
An independent expenditure is "a legitimate part of the process and is protected constitutionally as a First Amendment right, but it just has to be reported," said Fred Herrmann, ELEC's executive director. Fines for violating the filing requirement range up to $6,000 for the first incident.
Hargrove and his associates contributed $900 to Ubarry-Rivera's campaign and lent another $1,600, according to her election finance reports. Hargrove said he encouraged other friends to make contributions and he has posted Ubarry-Rivera campaign signs on his properties and trucks.
Ubarry-Rivera said she asked Hargrove for his support. He also hosted a fund-raiser for her, she said.
Hargrove has long opposed redevelopment plans for the Cramer Hill neighborhood, where his business, W. Hargrove Demolition Inc., is located. He said yesterday he spent $283,000 fighting the Cramer Hill redevelopment.
Fuentes has been pushing development of a recreation center near Hargrove's property. He advocates moving Hargrove's demolition and recycling business from the area.
In a sign that the Democratic organization is taking the Ubarry-Rivera slate seriously, the incumbents' campaign received more than $31,000 in contributions in the last week.
Hargrove has fought the machine before, sponsoring school board and City Council candidates.