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Medford GOP insurgents win council nominations

Republican primary voters flocked to the polls in Medford to hand a victory to three town council candidates who often clashed with the troubled governing body.

Republican primary voters flocked to the polls in Medford to hand a victory to three town council candidates who often clashed with the troubled governing body.

In the township's first primary upset in 24 years, challengers James Randy Pace, Chris Buoni, and Frank Czekay beat the endorsed candidates, according to unofficial results. If they win in November, the outsider slate would control the five-member council.

No Democrat entered the Burlington County race.

The Medford First slate beat the party-backed candidates, Brad Denn, Denise Pizoli, and Chuck Watson, who also were newcomers.

The two sides traded barbs over who was independent enough to solve problems they all blamed on town council. The all-Republican governing body was criticized in recent months for proposing a 25 percent tax increase, for borrowing money that led to a rise in water rates, and for allegedly tolerating a law firm's double-billing.

The council also faced an uproar when it proposed a deal that would have given a developer millions of dollars in incentives and tax abatements to build an high-density housing tract off Route 70 that many residents opposed.

Councilmen Bob Martin and Mark Sander decided recently not to run again, and Councilwoman Victoria Fay was ousted for violating a residency rule during a divorce.

Pace, a retired naval engineer, and Buoni, a printing executive, released a series of YouTube videos that depicted alleged mismanagement by council. Czekay, a lawyer and zoning board member, joined their slate and said party leaders had threatened to ruin his political aspirations if he challenged the "handpicked" slate.

Pace said his slate's victory "tells me the interest of Medford residents has to be put ahead of the interest of the political party and special interests." Town officials have served the county political organization and the town professionals who contribute to the party, rather than the residents, he said.

Buoni was exuberant on Tuesday night. "To take out a political powerhouse in Medford and score a victory - I can't believe we pulled it off," he said.

Said Denn: "We're disappointed, but we realize we had an uphill battle, given the current council and that the other side was able to paint us as insiders even though we weren't."

Denn, an accountant, was treasurer for Mayor Chris Myers during his 2008 congressional run and for other endorsed Republican officeholders. He also handled political contributions from the town's law firm, Parker McCay, and other professionals.

The firm disputes allegations that it double-billed the town and the mayor has said that an investigation found the accusations have no merit.

In Paulsboro, Gloucester County, another unendorsed candidate won, this time in the Democratic primary race for mayor. Councilman Willard Jeffery Hamilton bested his friend and former running mate, John Giovannitti, for the nod to run for mayor.

The men, who each have served 11 years on council, filed petitions after longtime Mayor John Burzichelli decided not to run again.

In Willingboro, incumbents Eddie Campbell Jr., James E. Ayrer, and Jacqueline Jennings beat challengers Craig Donechie, Linda Murray, and Charles J. Smiley in the Democratic primary race for township council.

Republicans did not enter the primary races in Paulsboro or Willingboro.