In an unusual primary battle for two seats on the Willingboro Township Council, Democratic challengers yesterday defeated incumbents who had lost the backing of Burlington County party leaders.
Ken Gordon and Nathaniel Anderson overwhelmed Councilmen Jim Gray and Paul Stephenson. A fifth candidate, Dennis Tunstall, trailed.
Since Republicans fielded no council candidates in Willingboro - which has the county's largest pool of Democratic voters - Gordon and Anderson will take over the seats in 2010.
"This is really the beginning," Gordon said last night. "Now comes the part when we have to walk our talk. That means us representing the thoughts and desires of the people of Willingboro."
The bitterly fought primary focused on concerns over high taxes, foreclosures, business revitalization, and the growing presence of gangs and crime.
Gordon and Anderson attacked the incumbents in mailers, noting, "They have failed Willingboro families and promise more of the same."
Gray, the township's longtime special-events coordinator, was appointed in March to fill the seat of a departing councilman. Stephenson has served on the council for more than two decades.
The incumbents accused the county party of backing their opponents in an effort to get favored professional firms jobs with the township.
"It was time for a changing of the guard," said Gordon, 43, a former president of the Willingboro school board and an accounts manager for a medical-device manufacturer.
"We need people who are focused on families and young people," Gordon, who grew up and attended school in the township, said last night.
The council this year adopted a budget that hikes the local purpose tax by 14 cents - a 5 percent increase. The town also canceled its holiday parades and jazz festival.
Citing Willingboro's financial problems, Gordon and Anderson said they would approve halving the $14,000 council salaries and would accept none of the health benefits that come with their part-time positions.
The savings from the salaries will be spent on township programs, possibly the restoration of the parades or support of sports, said Anderson, 42, a security-company sales rep and president of Willingboro Little League baseball.
"People here have been hit with a tax increase, they're losing jobs and going through foreclosures," Anderson said. "They are tired of the same old thing. They go to council meetings to offer solutions and are not included."
In another Democratic primary in Burlington County, Burlington City Councilwoman Ila Marie Lollar received 63 percent of the vote, easily defeating Henry Haughey.
And in a Republican primary in New Hanover, Patrick Murphy and Rick Koshak were the top vote-getters for two seats on the township committee.