Politics in Evesham is always colorful, and this year's mayoral primary is true to form.
Mayor Randy Brown seeks a second term, this time as a Republican. He ran for mayor as a Democrat in 2007 upon failing to win the GOP's endorsement, and defeated a 16-year incumbent whose reelection campaign he had run in 2003 as a Republican.
"Everything I do revolves around this town, and I go to bed every single night saying, 'I did everything I could to make this town a better place today,' " said Brown, who operates a title company on Maple Avenue.
Potentially awkward is that he's running on the same ticket as Councilwoman Debbie Hackman, a Republican whose last campaign featured mailers calling Brown a liar.
Also awkward: Brown's opponent is Pat Haynes, who lost his job as township director of parks and recreation three years ago after Brown and the Township Council ordered a staff restructuring that cost 15 people their jobs.
Brown said Haynes mismanaged the department, allowing a basketball organization to forgo paying fees that he said cost the township $150,000 to $200,000 in revenue. He provided bills showing that his opponent spent about $1,000 of township money on hotel rooms at Bally's Atlantic City during his time as a director, though the documents indicate the money was spent for conferences.
The staff restructuring was an effort to save money after Brown and his two running mates came into office in July 2007 facing a $5 million deficit left by their predecessors, according to the mayor. The deficit and other problems contributed to a 27 percent tax hike in Brown's first year on the job.
That increase got Brown labeled a liar in a 2009 mailer sent out by Hackman and her running mates, Councilmen Joe Howarth and Kurt Croft. It noted that Brown had campaigned on a promise to end double-digit tax increases.
And though taxes have stayed flat in the two years since, they are a big reason that Haynes, still out of work, is unhappy with Brown's leadership.
He recalled Brown's annoyed reaction at a public meeting when residents questioned the tax increase and said that the mayor gets mad when people question him and that he doesn't allow them to speak up enough at meetings. He said he was also dissatisfied with Brown's ignoring public opinion to initiate an artificial-turf plan that led residents to sue Evesham successfully two years ago.
"That's part of the reason I'm running," said Haynes, who moved on from his $74,917 job with the township to day trading from home.
He disputes Brown's assertion that his old department had a deficit of $57,000 at the end of 2007, saying the amount was less than half that and was due to severance packages the township authorized. Both men provided documents that appeared to back their contradicting claims.
Hackman and Brown's other running mate, Steve Zeuli, faces no primary opponents.
Voters in this township of 50,000 will go to the polls June 8 in its first-ever municipal primary, after approving a referendum last year that changed Evesham's form of elections from nonpartisan to partisan. That moved races from May to November.
Not that things hadn't been partisan before. Brown repeatedly took shots at Republicans during his first term in office, as they did at him.
In Brown's first election campaign, Republicans relished attacking him on his first party switch with mailers that said, "Who is the REAL Randy Brown?" and that featured him as a clown or a shady-looking, cigar-puffing pol.
Among Brown's justifications for switching parties in February was his support for likely GOP congressional candidate Jon Runyan - the former Eagle knew Brown from Brown's work as a coaching consultant - who attended a recent fund-raiser for the mayor. Brown had emceed the 2008 election-night bash of Runyan's Democratic opponent this year, U.S. Rep. John Adler.
Brown also cited dissatisfaction with the Democratic-controlled Legislature and former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, and has expressed support for Gov. Christie's efforts to cap property-tax increases at 2.5 percent and return more control of affordable housing from the state to towns.
But Brown refuses to discuss party switching so close to the primary. The son of a former mayor, he's eager to talk instead about how he says he has made Evesham better.
He cited his establishing a foundation that raises money to fund scholarships, and community events that bring out thousands of locals and people from other parts of South Jersey. He is proud of the popular Taste of Evesham and the township's Fourth of July events, which feature a mayor's 5K run, children's bike race, parade, and celebration at Cherokee High School.
He also pointed to the project to eliminate the Marlton Circle at the intersection of Routes 70 and 73 that many local businesses initially opposed.
Haynes expressed pride in his own community involvement, saying he had led programs to educate youths about the dangers of drug use and hosted events for special-needs children.
Haynes said he wasn't satisfied with Brown's recent tax freezes. He said they were beside the point when residents endured a 27 percent hike in one year. He also wants to cut the open-space tax to balance property values that have soared since it was adopted.
"I'm not afraid to get involved, and not just speaking my mind but also doing something about it," Haynes said.
He wants to "open the entire process of government" and make far more information about budgetary matters available on the township website.
Haynes said he was also dissatisfied with how Brown won the Republican endorsement. He said that fellow members of the GOP were unhappy about it but that Burlington County Republican Chairman Bill Layton nevertheless backed Brown.
Layton, whose organization has attacked Brown for the tax hike, said that the mayor had always really been a Republican and that they had worked together over the last few years.
"Disagreeing with people sometimes leads to great results," Layton said. "And the results that we got from that, that they received, is Randy saw he needed to cut taxes and he's done that."