Camden County's Democratic machine took a beating last night in nonpartisan municipal elections in Haddon Township and Mount Ephraim but claimed a hard-fought victory in Camden city.
Also, incumbents were defeated in Burlington County. There, voters retired four-term Evesham Mayor Augustus "Gus" Tamburro and chose a slate headed by local businessman Randy S. Brown.
"The residents of Evesham have spoken and they've spoken loudly," Brown said last night. "They want a change."
While last night's races are technically "nonpartisan," the Evesham race pitted Republicans, led by Tamburro, against Democrats, led by Brown. The Republican loss was instantly heralded by Democrats as a sign that they've made significant inroads in the GOP's stomping ground.
Democratic State Committee chairman Joseph Cryan called it "a clean sweep for Democrats."
This race is the prelude to the November general election, when both parties will battle over two state Senate and four Assembly seats.
All four county Democratic machine-backed Council candidates won last night's race after a high-pitched campaign focused on how $175 million in state redevelopment money will be spent in New Jersey's poorest city.
"Finally, we're going to have a library and recreation center in Cramer Hill and we're going to have Hargrove out," said Iraida Afanador, campaign manager for Council President Angel Fuentes. Hargrove is W. Hargrove Demolition Inc., a demolition and recycling company in the city.
Fuentes wants to build a recreation center near Hargrove's property and is pushing for Hargrove to leave.
But William Hargrove won't go quietly. A third-generation Camden businessman and vocal opponent of plans to relocate residents and businesses, he supported the opposition candidate, Carmen Ubarry-Rivera. He distributed a flyer calling Fuentes a puppet of the Camden political machine.
Camden County Democrats and their friends pumped almost $50,000 into the city race in its final days.
Voter turn out, however, was less than 4,000 in a city of about 75,000 residents, according to unofficial results.
Thirteen candidates fought over three commission seats. A coalition team of Randall Teague, Paul Dougherty and John Foley claimed dibs on town hall.
The central issues there were the redevelopment of the old Westmont Theater and a defunct diaper laundry, both on Haddon Avenue, the community's main street.
Voters turned out Mayor Michael P. Reader's team of Commissioner Suzanne Gaglianone and Chuck Mihalik. The mayor's team had been backed by the Camden County Democratic organization. The winners were Joseph E. Wolk, Bruce E. Greenwald and Andrew J. Gilmore.
"I"m ecstatic that all three of us got in," said Greenwald. "Now we can do things. We beat them and they were backed by the county."