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Roberta Reavey. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

South Jersey progressives drop lawsuit on petitions

By David Wildstein, April 23 2020 11:54 am

A group of South Jersey progressive candidates who had sought to challenge Democratic organization candidates in Camden, Cape May and Gloucester counties have withdrawn a lawsuit seeking to have the rejection of their nominating petitions reversed.

Christopher Orlando, the Camden County Counsel, alleged in a court hearing last Friday that progressives manipulated petitions filed on a Google drive after the filing deadline.

In a court filing on Monday, Orlando said that the Camden County Clerk found that the Google drive had been removed entirely.

Orlando told Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson that his office had referred the issue to the Camden County prosecutor.

After an executive order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy allowed for nominating petitions to be submitted electronically before the March 30 deadline as a way of assisting social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sue Altman, the state director of New Jersey Working Families and the organizer of off-the-line challengers in the South Jersey counties, was scheduled to be deposed today.

“It isn’t a surprise — it’s one thing to not tell the truth to the media, but another to do so under oath,” said William Tambussi, an attorney representing the Camden County Democratic Committee.

Flavio Komuves told the court in a filing Wednesday evening that “because of this dismissal, which has been occasioned chiefly by plaintiffs’ inability to obtain the electronic discovery materials from Google within the time fixed by the Court, no depositions of any witnesses, currently scheduled for tomorrow and Friday, will be necessary.”

In a court filing, Orlando cited a certification by Deputy Camden County Clerk John W. Schmidt that “the combined number of file sets was just over the 100 signature threshold and concerned that the platform of Google Drive was not able to be secured to prevent additional signature sheets from being added after the deadline”

Schmidt said he Schmidt contacted the County’s IT Director, Richard Behm, to see if there was a way to lock the Google drive to prevent changes to the documents. He said that Behm looked at the Google drive and determined that it was not possible to secure it since it was created by an outside party.

“Schmidt took a screen shot of the contents of each of the Google Drive folders. These screen shots are attached as Exhibits D, E, and F, respectively to the Schmidt Certification. Schmidt copied each file from the Google Drive and saved it onto the County’s network,” according to the court filing.

The filing notes that “using remote access software utilized by the County, Behm connected to Schmidt’s PC so Behm could see Schmidt’s screen.  Schmidt showed Behm the email that was received which included links to a Cloud Storage Google drive. The email contained three links called: Vetted, Problem Petition, and Problem Petitions – Filled out Incorrectly. Each link opened a URL to a Google drive containing PDF documents.”

County clerks in Camden, Cape May and Gloucester rejected petitions filed by the progressive slates because they did not reach the required 100 valid signatures.

In Cumberland County, a progressive slate of freeholder candidates headed by incumbent Jack Surrency remains on the ballot after submitting enough signatures, although an off-the-line candidate for sheriff did not and won’t be on the ballot.

Jacobson denied a motion to move the case to a Camden County court.  Progressives included Secretary of State Tahesha Way as a defendant in the case and filed their suit in Mercer.

Progressives had filed full slates of candidates for countywide office in six counties with the intention of bracketing with Democratic congressional candidate Amy Kennedy.

In five of those counties – Cape May, Cumberland, Burlington, Camden and Gloucester – Brigid Harrison will run on the organization line.

Kennedy has the line in Atlantic, where she’ll be bracketed with the county organization slate of candidates for freeholder and surrogate.  In 2018, Atlantic made up 41% of the total votes cast in the Democratic congressional primary.

The ability to bracket with county candidates would have made it it more difficult for her name to get lost in a sort of ballot Siberia in a field of four Democrats running off the line for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd district.

The progressive candidates ranges from some experienced officeholders to political newcomers.

In Cumberland County, the slate includes incumbent Surrency and Donna Pearson, who served two terms on the Board of Freeholders in the late 1990s and early 2000s.   Surrency, who was denied party support for re-election, and Pearson will run with Tracey Huggins, a registered nurse who ran for the Vineland school board seat three years ago.

They will take on incumbents Carol Musso and George Castellini and their running mate, Millville commissioner Bruce Cooper.

In the race for sheriff, incumbent Robert Austino will be unopposed after Dennis D’Augostine, a former Vineland police lieutenant, did not make the ballot.

The progressive ticket in Cape May County – which made up 15% of the total vote in the last House Democratic primary — was led by Jeremiah Schenerman, a 28-year-old U.S. Army reservist who mounted a last-minute write-in campaign for State Senate in 2019 after the Democratic incumbent, Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle) said that he would consider voting to re-elect Donald Trump.  He ran for freeholder in 2018 on the organization line.

Joining Schenerman were former Estell Manor Superintendent of Schools Noelle Jacquelin for county clerk, and Debi de la Cretaz, a former North Cape May school board member, and Shaheed Bashir for freeholder.

All four are no longer on the ballot, leaving Democrats without any candidate for sheriff and county clerk.

Democrats have not won a countywide general election since Jeff Van Drew won a freeholder seat 20 years ago.

Gloucester County Action Together New Jersey co-chair Lisa Bonnano was running for freeholder with Rev. Sherry Hall and Howard Clark against  incumbents Heather Simmons, Lyman Barnes and Jim Jefferson.

Gloucester and Cumberland each represent about 8% of the total votes cast in the 2nd district Democratic primary.

The progressive slate includes Alissa Wolf and Jessica Dunlap for freeholder in Burlington, Roberta Reavey and Dennis Gormely for freeholder in Camden.

None of them made the ballot

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