She portrayed her opponent, Township Council President Susan Bass Levin, as the latest in a line of Democrats who, she said, have perpetuated government laden with patronage and political favors.
Levin countered by emphatically pledging her commitment to "independent leadership" and pointing out that her voting record on the Township Council often put her at odds with her Democratic colleagues.
For example, Levin said, when the owner of Cherry Hill Dodge sought to relocate his automobile dealership to land zoned for offices in the township's Lakeview section, she was the sole supporter of the residents who opposed the relocation.
"I stood alone because I have courage and I have independence," said Levin. She cast the lone dissenting vote on the matter on the council earlier this year, and the council majority's vote was overturned by a Superior Court judge.
Moreover, Levin pointed out, the Cherry Hill Dodge relocation was recommended to the council by the zoning board, which at the time was controlled by Republicans. "That was not my political baggage," she said sharply with a glance at Berchtold.
Berchtold and Levin are running with slates of seven council candidates in a hotly contested race for control of Cherry Hill government. From the start, the campaign has been lively, but with just two weeks remaining before the election, the competition for an edge became fierce at last night's forum.
Levin, 35, a lawyer who has served on the council for two years, made Berchtold's lack of political experience a central theme of her comments.
"I don't have to study every single issue that is presented to me," Levin told the group of about 150 residents. "I don't have to learn on the job how to get the job done."
Berchtold, 42, a speech pathologist in Camden City schools and former president of the Camden County League of Women Voters, said her "executive background" qualified her for the mayor's job.
"I am free of political baggage," Berchtold said. "I will bring honest and efficient government" to Cherry Hill.
Running on the Republican ticket with Berchtold are: John J. Dell'Aquilo, a retired mechanical engineer for the Navy; Robert DiMedio, a partner in DiMedio & Sons, Buy Rite Home Centers and Cherry Hill Builders Supply; Harold Pearl, the owner of Gold Star Vending in Camden City and a former member of the township's Rent Review Board; Geraldine Scardino, a Philadelphia elementary school principal; Dean Schemanski, vice president of Lee Insurance Agency;
Judith Shorr, a Philadelphia schoolteacher and Dan Weil, a retired businessman and former member of the township's Rent Review Board.
Running with Levin are Democrats John Adler 3d, a lawyer; Cherry Hill Township Councilman John Amato; Stephen Barbell, a dentist and a former member of the Cherry Hill Board of Education; Howard Haas, a former Cherry Hill Township councilman; Mary Jo Hieb, a registered nurse who works at Leader Nursing Home in Cherry Hill and serves on the township's Planning Board; Michael Schaffer, a Cherry Hill fire chief; and Arthur Simons, an engineer for RCA.