In Camden County, it was the Empire Strikes Back with George Norcross as Darth Vader.
In the first test of electoral strength since the tax credits story broke, the Camden County Democratic organization scored massive victories on Tuesday against the progressive slate.
For the first time since Norcross ran a successful insurgent campaign for Jim Florio to take control of the Camden County Democratic organization in 1979, the local machine found itself fighting nearly 90 candidates on a rival ticket backed by South Jersey Progressive Democrats for state, county, municipal and party office.
The rebellion came just as Norcross faces substantial scrutiny in Trenton and in the media for profiting off hundreds of millions of dollars tax breaks to keep jobs in New Jersey that a task force appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy is looking at.
The results of the Democratic primary left the Norcross-led political operation with nothing more than a scratch. Either voters in Camden County have not heard of an issue that critics insist is a scandal, or they don’t care. Norcross allies say that suburban Democrats think the seemingly war-torn city of Camden is headed in the right direction.
County Clerk Joseph Ripa won 79% of the vote, easily outdistancing progressive activist Rena Margulis (12%) and Mohammad Kabir (8%).
In a race for an unexpired term on the Board of Freeholders, recently appointed incumbent Melinda Hopkins Kane defeated progressive Kyle Nash by 17,432 votes, a 70%-21% margin.
In the city of Camden, the organization won four races for city council by wide margins. In contested races for the Democratic County Committee, the Norcross faction won three of the four wards with over 80% oft the vote, while receiving 74% in the other ward.
Cherry Hill Democrats nominated freeholder Susan Shin Angulo for mayor with 81% of the vote against progressive activist Susan Druckenbrod. Three organization council candidates won by similar margins.
The fight for Cherry Hill county committee seats was won by Team Norcross by a 76%-24% margin.
Organization Democrats beat back a progressive challenge for Gloucester Township Council by more than 1,500 votes, and the progressive slate of county committee candidates lost 60%-40% to candidates allied with Norcross. A single progressive county committee candidate in Haddonfield got trounced by a 2-1 margin, as did the progressive slate for county committee in Woodlynne.
Challenges to incumbents in the 6th district fizzled last week when Gov. Phil Murphy endorsed two incumbents who are strongly allied with Norcross against progressive challengers who led the ticket.
Murphy’s decision to side with Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees) and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt was a deflating moment for progressive wing of the New Jersey Democratic Party that the governor leads.
Greenwald (11,921) and Lampitt (11,786) defeated Danie Moss-Velasco (3,788) and E. Julian Jordan III (3,425) by margin of almost 3-1.
One bright spot for progressives came in Collingswood, where their slate of sixteen county committee candidates defeated Norcross’ by 66 votes, 904 to 838 — a 52%-48% margin. That’s probably enough to withstand a recount, and it’s unlikely that enough new vote-by-mail ballots will come in over the next two days to change the result.
Progressives touted the Collingswood victory as a first step toward what they acknowledge will be a long process to eventually oust the Norcross leadership.
“This victory underscores the appetite for change in Camden County. Residents are hungry for control over their democracy. People are clamoring to be heard and are sick and tired of machine control,” said Collingswood Democratic County Committeeman-elect Chris Emrich. “We are poised and ready to represent our neighbors and friends in the Committee and look forward to creating a Progressive vision in our town and our county.”
Among the sixteen newly-elected anti-Norcross county committee members in Collingswood is Moss-Velasco, who last week expressed her disappointment with Murphy’s endorsement of Greenwald and Lampitt.
“This win shows what happens when candidates, already part of a thriving grassroots organization, take time to explain the issues to voters.” Moss-Velasco said. “The more people learn about why democracy is broken in NJ, the more they want to fight for change. Our conversations with our neighbors were inspired. To quote AOC, ‘we met the machine with a movement.’”