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Camden County GOP hopefuls to try again

Candidate Alice Wood says incumbent Riletta L. Cream is too old at 81. Cream says she could still work at 100.

LouisCappelli Jr.
LouisCappelli Jr.Read more

A Republican hasn't served on the Camden County freeholder board since the last time the Phillies went to the World Series, so two perennial GOP candidates are hoping the Phillies' luck rubs off on them Nov. 4.

Camden City activist, social worker and teacher Mary I. Cortes is running for her fourth and, she says, last time alongside Alice J. Wood, who ran last year as a Republican candidate.

Defending the seven-member, all-Democrat board is Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr., a lawyer who was a borough commissioner and school board member in Collingswood, and Freeholder Riletta L. Cream, a former Camden educator with a city elementary school named after her.

Cream is taking fire from Wood, 60, of Cherry Hill, a former deputy tax collector who now runs the Fischer House, a group home in Lawnside for the elderly and disabled. Her work with the elderly makes her question whether Cream should run for reelection at the age of 81.

"I know what 81 looks like, and I know what 81 wants," Wood said. "Eighty-one wants to get up late in the morning, wants to be stress-free, wants someone to do something for them, wants someone to pick them up and bring them places. Eighty-one is not going to get out on the street and do what I do."

Wood acknowledged that she has voted for Cream in the past because she "has done a great job." But at her advanced age, "she can't make decisions like I can."

Cream, a Winslow resident who has been a freeholder since 1994, rejected the assertion without a hint of anger. She said she drives herself and keeps a busy campaign schedule, and as long as her health holds up, she could do the job at the age of 100.

"People in this county look to me because they know, I think, that I'm truthful and honest and will deal with things as it relates to seniors, because I am one," she said.

"It's not about how old you are; it's about what you have to give to the community, to the county and whether or not the people want me," she said. "If they didn't want me, they would vote me out of office."

Voting a Democrat out and giving a three-year seat to a Republican for the first time in 15 years may be a more formidable task than ever. Since 2004, the Democrats have added voters to the county rolls at six times the pace of Republicans; registered Democrats now outnumber the GOP more than 3-1.

Yet Cortes, 53, says she has a chance. A prominent opponent of eminent domain in Camden, Cortes teaches as a volunteer at a faith-based school set up for students who leave the Camden school system because of safety and educational problems.

"It is America. If people don't start looking at dark horses every so often, we're going to be stuck with another King George here," she said. "Stop voting party. Start voting people."

She said that Democrats had exerted such power in the county that "Republicans are shy to say who they are."

The county is at a stalemate and needs new eyes to look to see how money is being wasted, she said. She did not cite specific abuses.

"Once we're in there, we can see how we are really going to open the record to the public," she said.

Cappelli, 46, contends that the freeholders have been great stewards of taxpayer money, pointing to a $6 million reduction in county spending over the last two years. He noted that the county established a shared-services office to help municipalities work together for cost savings.

He rejected Wood's contention that the county wastes money on TV advertising. "Our marketing budget is less than $1 million, which is less than one-half of 1 percent of our entire budget," he said. "We do it to attract residents and businesses. We're doing it for the rest of the world. It would be negligent for us not to attract new businesses and residents to Camden County. It also informs residents."

He also defended entertainment programs, such as the summer concert series. "It costs each property owner a couple of bucks a year, that's it, and it's certainly one of the more popular services that we provide," he said. "Our special events enhance the quality of life in Camden County."

But Wood says that's not good enough. She said senior citizens' county tax rate should be cut in half, without offering details about how much money that would save and how the county could make up the shortfall.

"You retire and there's supposed to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," she said. "And there's nothing but gold dust. I want gold nuggets."