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The 2023 New Jersey Globe/Save Jersey 4th district Senate GOP debate.

Personal attacks fly at acrimonious 4th district Senate debate

DeSilvio, Del Borrello both pitch themselves as more electable option in highly competitive district

By Joey Fox, May 08 2023 11:52 pm

Republican candidates in New Jersey’s 4th legislative district are in a tricky position this year. 

Their ultimate goal is to beat South Jersey Democrats and flip the district red for the first time in more than two decades. But first, they have to get through a hotly contested primary in which their first instinct is to take strongly conservative politicians and savage their opponents as much as possible.

That tension was in full display at tonight’s New Jersey Globe/Save Jersey-hosted debate between Gloucester County Commissioner Nick DeSilvio (R-Franklin) and former Washington Township Councilman Christopher Del Borrello.

The debate ranged from debates on policy – including abortion, marijuana legalization, and social media bans – to battles over personal baggage, including the Del Borrello clan’s sordid family business and DeSilvio’s inflammatory social media posts. Through it all, both candidates made one thing very clear: they do not like each other, and would only begrudgingly support the other in a general election.

In their opening statements, the two candidates each pitched themself as a true conservative who can challenge the liberal excesses of Gov. Phil Murphy and defeat Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Washington), the presumptive Democratic nominee for the seat.

“We will pursue a conservative agenda that is pro-taxpayer, pro-parent, pro-police, and pro-smart growth,” Del Borrello said of himself and his Assembly running mates, former Buena Council President Matt Walker and middle school teacher Amanda Esposito. “Better than that, we will be the conservative fighters our Republican Party needs to take on Phil Murphy and the radical left that is destroying our state.”

“I believe the way to fix our broken system is through principled conservative values,” said DeSilvio, who is running with businessman Michael Clark and 2021 Assembly candidate Denise Gonzalez. “We need rock-ribbed real Republicans in Trenton who will stop the out-of-control spending, support our police, and stand up to woke political insiders.”

Almost immediately afterwards, however, the candidates descended into a fracas over their voting records and political histories.

According to DeSilvio, Del Borrello helped to “defund the police” as a Washington Township councilman by not hiring enough new cops more than a decade ago. According to Del Borrello, DeSilvio has been a rubber stamp for Democrats during his much more recent tenure on the Gloucester County Board of Commissioners, backing a budget cut for the county sheriff’s department run by Republican (and DeSilvio endorser) Jonathan Sammons.

And both hit one another on the holy grail of Republican attack lines: my opponent raised taxes.

“My opponent, Mr. Del Borrello, voted to raise taxes multiple times, and said he was even proud to do so, while he was on the council,” DeSilvio said. (Del Borrello served on the Washington Township Council for one term, from 2011 to 2015.)

“I didn’t vote for multiple tax increases; in fact, I killed taxes and I cut taxes,” Del Borrello shot back. “[DeSilvio] actually raised taxes four times in a row … on the school board. A 20% tax increase – that’s his record.” (DeSilvio served for six years on the Franklin Township Board of Education before being elected county commissioner in 2021.)

Any dive into Del Borrello’s background was inevitably going to bring up one of the DeSilvio campaign’s main attacks, focusing on a defunct company called Tasteful Temptations. The company, which was owned by Del Borrello’s brother, was a purveyor of X-rated bachelor parties and other family-unfriendly services.

“He runs a morally bankrupt business that rented strippers and facilitated fraud,” DeSilvio claimed. “All of this can be proven.”

Del Borrello responded that he never had anything to do with Tasteful Temptations, accusing DeSilvio of trotting out an old Democratic campaign attack.

“What he’s saying is not true, and he should apologize to my family for going this route,” Del Borrello. “But I’m not surprised he’s using this tactic – the same Norcross Democrat tactic that they’ve used for the last 15 years against me and my family because we threatened their power.”

DeSilvio also has his own political demons that have haunted him this campaign cycle. Before he became a county commissioner, he wrote and shared a number of social media posts that were disparaging to Muslims and to women seeking abortions, among other groups. The posts became a major part of the successful Democratic campaign to hold onto control of the board of county commissioners last year, even though DeSilvio himself wasn’t on the ballot.

“The fact of the matter is, you did like social posts that you didn’t want Arabs living next to you,” Del Borrello. “You did support calling women evil and murderers on your Facebook page… [Having] alienated all of those segments of the population, how in the world could you win a November election? It’s impossible!”

DeSilvio’s defense consisted of flatly denying all accusations, seemingly saying that the social media posts in question either weren’t offensive or didn’t exist at all.

“I don’t support any of those issues,” DeSilvio said. “I don’t hate anybody. I don’t hate Muslims. I love everybody. As far as these social media posts being extreme, I would like to see proof of that.”

On a more substantive note, the two candidates took genuinely differing opinions on abortion, which Republican state legislators around the country have tasked themselves with restricting or banning since the fall of Roe v. Wade last summer. Both candidates defined themselves as personally pro-life, but Del Borrello said that he’d support a ban on abortions at around the 15-week mark after conception while DeSilvio went significantly further.

“I guess a heartbeat starts at four weeks,” DeSilvio said. “So, four to six weeks is my number.”

On the issue of recreational marijuana, Del Borrello and DeSilvio each took stances somewhat at odds with the national Republican Party, saying that they supported legal weed with some restrictions.

“This issue is a little bit personal for me, because my special-needs daughter is on medical marijuana right now,” DeSilvio said. “I’m for medical marijuana. I think that recreational marijuana is okay, if it’s regulated properly.”

“We’re the party of individualism,” Del Borrello agreed. “On certain issues, we have to let people live their lives.”

And both candidates also said they were strongly in support of reducing spending in state government – though asked to name a specific department or agency they’d cut, neither did so,

But overall, policymaking was rarely at the top of either candidate’s mind throughout the debate. For better or for worse, the 4th district primary is one that will likely be won based on attack ads and political allegiances, not on policy differences.

And the shifting allegiances at the heart of the primary are complicated indeed. DeSilvio initially looked like the presumptive nominee for the district, getting support from the Gloucester County GOP at around the same time as State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington) was announcing his retirement.

But other South Jersey GOP leaders balked and started casting around for an alternative, finding one in Del Borrello. Del Borrello quickly got the Atlantic GOP line and later convinced the Camden GOP to switch its endorsement away from DeSilvio; he also has the support of a number of prominent Republicans from outside the district.

At the debate, the two candidates were asked for their opinions on the county organizational line system; while neither called for its overhaul, both accused the other of getting one of their county endorsements through dubious methods. DeSilvio said that Del Borrello was a stooge for Atlantic GOP chairman Don Purdy, while Del Borrello said the same thing of DeSilvio and Gloucester GOP chairwoman Jacci Vigilante.

After such an intense primary, South Jersey Republicans will need to regroup quickly in preparation for November’s general election, where Democrats are bound to spend heavily to keep the 4th district in their hands – regardless of reports of Democratic boss George Norcross’s political retirement. But neither candidate seems especially happy about the idea of laying down his weapons and endorsing his opponent.

“He’s run such a nasty campaign against me and my family since Day One,” Del Borrello said tonight. “It will be a very tough pill to swallow. But I will support DeSilvio, because … we need to defeat [Paul Moriarty] in November.”

“I will support the Republican Party,” DeSilvio said simply.

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