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Gov. Phil Murphy, right, and Rep. Donald Norcross

Murphy rebukes progressives in Camden County

Governor will stay out of Collingswood race, likely to head ticket that dumps progressive county committee incumbents

By David Wildstein, February 02 2021 4:45 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy will stay out of a non-partisan May municipal election in Collingswood, where a progressive activist is challenging the candidates backed by the Camden County Democratic organization, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

The New Jersey Globe has confirmed that Murphy will not take sides in the local contest, where Collingswood Democratic Municipal Chair Kate Delany is heading a ticket of progressive challengers seeking to oust incumbent commissioners Jim Maley and Rob Lewandowski.

Two years ago, the South Jersey Progressive Democrats recruited more than 80 candidates to run off the line against the Camden County Democratic organization.  Their only win was in Collingswood, the Montclair of the South, where a 74-vote victory in a winner-take-all, at-large race for 16 county committee seats flipped control of the local Democratic organization.

Delany replaced Robert Tonsberg, the Democratic municipal chairman who lost re-election to his county committee seat.

State Sen. James Beach (D-Voorhees), the Camden County Democratic Chairman, is expected to give the organization line to sixteen challengers who will seek to oust the Collingswood incumbents

Murphy, who will run on the organization line in the June primary, will be running with the machine insurgents.  That’s a move that’s more perilous to the Collingswood group than the governor becoming involved in the municipal race.

Delany doesn’t read much into Murphy’s decision to stay out of a race in a borough with 13,926 residents.

“I haven’t asked the Governor for an endorsement,” Delany said.  “It is also a nonpartisan race. I imagine the governor does not routinely weigh in on all the off year nonpartisan town council races in small towns throughout the state.”

Murphy has taken sides in non-partisan races in the past.  Last year, he backed a close political ally, Sean Spiller, in the Montclair mayoral race.

Delaney is running for the Collingswood Board of Commissioners on a slate with Bill Johnson, a county committeeman, and Jen Rossi, a leader of the Collingswood Educational Advocacy Group.

Maley and Lewandowski are running with Morgan Robinson, a local shopkeeper.  Another incumbent, Joan Leonard, is stepping down after 24 years in local government.

“My focus of course, always, is the people of Collingswood. My running mates and I are enjoying running a strong local campaign, focused on engagement with our community,” Delany said.  “As anyone who knows me can attest, local politics and making local change is what I’m all about.”

The decision to stay out of local politics this year is another indication that Murphy and his top staff have forged an election year détente with Democratic powerhouse George Norcross.

Strained relations with key Democrats contributed to Gov. Jon Corzine’s loss to Republican Chris Christie in 2009, and Murphy has gone out of his way to maintain alliances with Camden Democrats even during a period of political strife.

In the 2019, South Jersey Progressive Democrats had recruited more than 80 candidates to run off the line against the Camden Democratic organization, including primary challengers against Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees) and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill).

One week before the election, Murphy endorsed Greenwald and Lampitt, two loyal soldiers of the Camden Democratic machine.

One moth later, Murphy endorsed Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) for re-election to his 1st district congressional seat.  The move effectively derailed any move to recruit or mount a primary challenge to Norcross in 2020.

Murphy did endorse Amy Kennedy for Congress in the 2nd district last year, against a candidate backed by most of the county party organizations.

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