As Camden's City Council moves to fill a vacancy left by departing member Arthur Barclay, a familiar name has emerged as his likely successor: Angel Fuentes, who spent 16 years on Council before leaving in 2010 for an Assembly seat.
Last year, Fuentes stepped down from his seat in the Assembly, where he represented the Fifth District, for a job as a deputy in the Camden County Clerk's office. Last month, his was one of three names submitted for consideration for Council by members of the city Democrats' committee, a board cochaired by Fuentes himself and Camden Mayor Dana Redd.
Two others are up for consideration for the Council seat: Sheila Davis, a well-known city activist; and Karen Merricks, who leads a tenants' association at the Northgate I high-rise apartment tower at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
But according to numerous sources in City Hall and in the Camden community, Fuentes is seen as the front-runner, largely because people with knowledge of the situation say Mayor Dana Redd's chief of staff, Novella Hinson, personally discouraged the other candidates from pursuing the nomination.
Last week, Redd declined to comment on the accusation against Hinson, a longtime fixture in Camden politics. Hinson has been Redd's closest mentor throughout her life and career, and the mayor did not make her available to be interviewed. Redd also declined to comment on her recommendation to return Fuentes to City Council.
Fuentes did not return requests for comment.
Davis, asked last week whether she was a candidate for the City Council seat, also declined to comment. Merricks could not be reached.
Council president Frank Moran, who was not available for comment, said at last week's Council caucus meeting that interviews were underway with three candidates. He said the matter would be taken up when the Council meets Tuesday.
Barclay, who had been an at-large councilman since 2014, left Council at the end of last year after he was elected to the Assembly seat formerly held by Fuentes.
After City Council members appoint a replacement for Barclay's position, that candidate must run for office in a primary election in June. The nominee must then run in an election later this year to fulfill the remaining year of Barclay's term, which runs through the end of 2017.
The reports of Hinson's involvement in the Council selection process have reached many people in Camden, but few were willing to comment publicly out of concern that they would face reprisal from Redd's administration.
"The reality is, people are supposed to be given real choices," said one source who is familiar with the situation but asked not to be named. "The process is compromised without that."
Longtime activist Ali Sloan El, a former councilman who served with Fuentes, said Fuentes' political connections may be an asset to the Council.
"The mayor has a right to her choice, and we have the right as people to vote for that person," he said. "Whatever happens now, when it comes down to the vote, the people will have the power."
Fuentes, a Camden native who graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, was on the Council from 1994 until 2010, serving as president for the last decade. He represented the city's Fourth Ward, which included downtown Camden and the waterfront as well as North Camden and Cramer Hill.
He resigned from his Assembly seat in June to take the job with the Camden County Clerk's Office, for which he earns a $125,000 annual salary. If reappointed to Council, he would earn an additional salary of about $21,000 from the city.
Fuentes' county job would not preclude him from collecting a paycheck from the city. Moran, the council president, is director of the Camden County Parks Department, and councilman Luis Lopez also works for the county.