The chairman of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority has contributed 73% of the total warchest of Elton Custis, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for mayor of Camden in the June 8 Democratic primary.
Kevin Quinn, a close ally of Gov. Phil Murphy, donated $10,400 to Custis and his council slate. The Custis campaign reported raising just $14,290 in his challenge to incumbent Victor Carstarphen, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
The significance of his contribution surprised Quinn.
“I had no understanding that they had been unsuccessful in raising money,” he told the New Jersey Globe.
Murphy named Quinn, a former Goldman Sachs executive from Short Hills, to lead the EDA in April 2019 after an audit showed that some firms who received tax incentives did not create the number of promised jobs.
Quinn said many of the awards “went to companies affiliated with George Norcross,” a major Democratic powerbroker.
Soon after his appointment, Quinn said that he and his wife visited Camden as part of a bus tour that took them through some of the city’s most disadvantaged areas before seeing the blossoming Camden waterfront.
“Thanks to that visit, I became friendly with a number of activists in Camden,” Quinn explained.
Some of those people are backing Custis, a member of the Camden City School District Advisory Board, for mayor, he said.
“I’ve done whatever I can personally with my time, and I’ll do whatever I can to help candidates against the machine. I was happy to,” said Quinn. “I don’ know if the Camden Democratic machine has delivered for the community. I’d like to see that change.”
Custis, running in his third Democratic primary for local office, faces Carstarphen, City Councilwoman Felisha Reyes-Morton, and teacher Luis Quinones.
The primary is tantamount to election in a city that delivered Joe Biden an 89%-10% victory in the 2020 presidential election. Less than 3% of the voters in Camden are registered Republicans and the last Republican mayor of Camden was Frederick von Nieda, who left office in 1936.
Camden shifted to May non-partisan elections in 1960, returned to partisan in 1993, and shifted to non-partisan again in 1996. In 2007, the city resumed partisan elections.
Carstarphen, a local basketball legend who became mayor after Frank Moran resigned on April 30, has the Camden County Democratic organization line. That gives him a leg up in the race, especially with Murphy at the top of his ticket.
Quinn, who worked with Murphy at Goldman Sachs, suggested that a candidate backed by the organization might have an unfair advantage.
“I’m a big fan of the lawsuit (New Jersey) Working Families has brought,” Quinn said. “We don’t have a representative democracy in New Jersey.”
He called his singular presence as a major Custis donor “distressing,” but said that some Camden residents who might want change don’t have the means of financing an insurgent campaign.
Carstarphen reported raising $23,643. His biggest donor was Moran, gave him $8,200 from his leftover campaign funds – 35% of Carstarphen’s total haul. He also received $5,000 from the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 322 PAC.
Quinones has raised $8,120, self-funding all but $420. Reyes-Morton told ELEC that she would not spend more than $5,800 on her campaign.
Reached on his cell phone at 5:04 PM, Custis said he was in a meeting and unable to take a call. He promised to return the call, but has not.