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Gov. Phil Murphy, left, with Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen. (Photo: Via Youtube)

Murphy signals coming Carstarphen endorsement

Support for machine-backed Camden mayor would again put governor at odds with progressive groups

By Nikita Biryukov, June 01 2021 12:55 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy signaled he will endorse Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen in Camden’s mayoral primary Tuesday.

“We’ve not made any announcements or decisions. I would suspect something is likely forthcoming. I just think Vic is doing an outstanding job,” Murphy said during a press gaggle following an unrelated event in Camden Tuesday.

Camden’s City Council appointed Carstarphen, an accountant at Cherry Hill-based Holmes & Company, to the seat in May, not long after Mayor Frank Moran stepped down from his post at the end of April.

The mayor faces a contested primary, fielding challenges from Councilwoman Felisha Reyes-Morton and Camden School District advisory board member Elton Custis. Camden Housing Authority Commissioner Luis Quiñones is also seeking the Democratic nod.

An Carstarphen endorsement would again put Murphy at odds with progressive Democrats who have championed his policy agenda throughout his first term as governor.

The New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a progressive group opposing South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross and his allies, on Tuesday endorsed Custis’s campaign.

“Camden County — a mostly-white controlled county — wants to take everything that’s not nailed down in Camden City — a mostly Black and brown city,” said NJ Working Families State Director Sue Altman. “This is an issue of justice and equity. We are strongly behind Elton, under whose leadership this kind of pillaging will be put to a stop.”

Progressives have sought to oust elected officials in Camden for years, seeing it as the seat of power for the Norcross-allied Camden County Democratic Committee.

They face significant headwinds.

Carstarphen is making his bid on the Camden County Democratic line. That means his name will appear with Murphy’s in the primary ballot’s first column. Custis, meanwhile, will appear beneath Quiñones and Reyes-Morton in column five.

Murphy declined to comment on the city’s ballot design, saying he had not seen it. He declined an offer to view the ballot made by a reporter for Politico New Jersey at the end of Tuesday’s gaggle.

Progressives, including NJ Working families, have launched a federal suit seeking to eliminate organizational lines on grounds they lend incumbents and party-backed candidates an unfair advantage, though the matter is slow-moving and won’t be decided before next week’s primary.

Even if it were, there’d be little recourse for races now just seven days away. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is today, and ballots were finalized weeks ago.

But the prospect of a fight over ballot positions was far from Carstarphen’s mind Tuesday. He was pleased to see the governor — and at the prospect of a gubernatorial endorsement.

“I’m humbled. I’m honored,” Carstarphen said. “This is the first time I’ve actually had the chance to be around our governor. He’s just a very inviting type of conversation guy. Made me feel welcome. My type of guy.”

This is Murphy’s third consecutive cycle of favoring a candidate backed by the powerful Camden County Democratic organization against those supported by progressive activists.

Days before the 2019 primary, Murphy endorsed Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill) against two progressive challengers in the 6th legislative district.  Later that summer, he endorsed Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) for re-election in 2020.

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