Local candidates in Collingswood will face off at the polls Tuesday in a race viewed as a bellwether for a fight between South Jersey Democrats and progressive groups.
The challengers — Collingswood Democratic Municipal Chairwoman Kate Delaney, county committeeman Bill Johnson and Collingswood Educational Advocacy Group leader Jen Rossi — have honed their focus to problems at the Parkview Apartments, a series of high-rise buildings that house many of the borough’s non-white residents.
“People from Parkview were going on social media trying to get our commissioners to pay attention. They were getting no real assistance there,” Delaney said. “So, we’ve been doing outreach there and making this definitely an issue in our campaign.”
Residents there have dealt with inconsistent heat this winter, on top of spotty repairs and infestations that Delaney said have earned little attention from Collingswood’s incumbent commissioners.
Mayor James Maley, who’s held a post on the borough Commission for 32 years, is seeking re-election alongside Commissioner Robert Lewandowski and local shop owner Morgan Robinson, a political newcomer.
Lewandowski said local officials were aware of the issues and acknowledged there likely wasn’t “a person alive that thinks that everything going on there is acceptable.”
“We try to hold all of our landlords to a high standard. This one, just given the size and enormity, you can’t just turn it on a dime,” he said. “This is that big ship in the Suez Canal. It is big, and in some ways, it moves slowly.”
He said the challengers’ lack of governmental experience would hamper their ability to address the issues facing Parkview residents.
The chairwoman countered, saying her slate’s record of local activism would help them address those problems while winning residents to their side.
“We’ve been doing canvassing throughout town. We’ve been doing phone banking, post cards. All the usual grassroots stuff,” Delaney said. “We’re all longtime community organizers and volunteers in town, so we have a strong network, so that’s kind of where we’ve gotten our boost from our campaign and lots of small dollar donors.”
The incumbents have a definite cash advantage. Their joint committee has raised $39,395 so far this cycle, according to 11-day pre-election reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Much of that money has been spent, leaving them with $16,108 heading into the final days of the race.
The challengers reported raising $17,557 through April 30, though they’ve spent nearly all those funds. They had just $2,357 banked at the end of April.
The incumbents have another financial advantage. They’re getting aid from the Committee for Responsive Governance, an independent expenditure group affiliated with South Jersey’s organization Democrats.
It’s not clear how much the PAC has spent — it has not yet filed disclosures with ELEC — but it’s put at least some money behind mailers and a website backing the incumbent slate. Its involvement in the race was first reported by Politico New Jersey.
“They’re throwing tons and tons of money into the campaign from a PAC, a dark money PAC,” Delaney said. “We have lots of people-powered volunteers. We’ve been doing tons of canvassing and outreach.”
Delaney and Johnson won their seats on the County Committee in 2019, when progressives took control of the local party in Collingswood in what was the lone success in a broader bid to curb the power of South Jersey Democrats. Their positions within the local party will come up for a vote in June.
Maley’s slate has some complaints about outside forces too. Though he expressed some enmity over the committee’s involvement in the race, Lewandowski also decried the attention his race has drawn from progressive activists like Sue Altman, state director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and a top opponent of South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross.
“It’s got to stop,” Lewandowski said. “Look, it’s better to have someone in support of you with this kind of activity than against you, I would think, but with that said, Collingswood’s always been a place and some of it’s because of the non-partisan elections and stuff, that just didn’t play that game.”
It does now.