Large Voter Turnout Expected

Posted: March 27, 1988

In Camden political parlance, it's called the "sure pop vote," the voters who closely follow education issues and cast their ballots faithfully each school election year - no matter how boring the campaign or how low voter apathy dips.

But in this year's Camden school board race, the "sure pop vote" may have company - even though there are no critical issues being bandied about.

Camden politicos are predicting an even larger voter turnout this year

because of displeasure over a proposed tax increase to fund the district's $97.3 million budget for 1988-99. Camden residents are already disgruntled about the first bill sent out last month by the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, which at $275 a year is considered unaffordable for many of the city's 82,000 residents.

The proposed school budget would raise school taxes by 37 cents to $5.017 per $100 of assessed valuation. In addition, voters will decide the fate of a $7.6 million bond issue for capital improvements and select three school board members.

As few as 1,500 voters have decided past school district elections, but this year political leaders are expecting a showing of about 2,500 voters.

No one is predicting that the budget will be defeated. But some politicos contend that while voters are drawn to the voting booth because of the tangible burden of taxes, they'll also have a loftier issue posed to them: the Primas machine's monopoly on the Camden school board.

Mayor Randy Primas' well-oiled Democratic machine has a monopoly of allied public servants on both the seven-member City Council and the nine-member school board.

But the field of six contenders for the three three-year seats on the school board has drawn more interest than in years past. Not only are there more contenders than in recent elections, but one of the incumbents previously backed by the mayor is running as an independent.

Although the Democratic machine does not officially endorse candidates, it does provide informal backing for a favored ticket through campaign funds.

Running with the blessings of the city party are school board President Elaine A. Bey, 43, and newcomers Ali Sloan-El, Ward 13 committee leader, and

Nydia Belfort, 48, a counselor with the city's Division of Youth Services who, if successful in her bid, would be the first Puerto Rican woman on the board.

The independent candidates are incumbent Jose Delgado, 41, who has served on the school board for six years; James R. Harris, 35, Ward One committee leader, and Ted Caston, the city's affirmative action officer. Last year, only one candidate, Caston, ran as an independent for one of three seats that were open.

"I do think that it (this year's race) has some interesting characteristics void in previous years," said board member Stella Horton, who did not run for re-election this year after serving two terms on the board. ''It (the larger number of candidates) says that Camden citizens are no longer content or satisfied to sit idly by."

The school board has not had a member elected as an independent since 1983, when Bey and the Rev. Henry Ingram ran as independents. In 1985, Ingram ran as an independent and lost, but Bey, who was backed by the city party, retained her seat.

Delgado, who was eliminated from this election from the Primas-backed ticket, is running as an independent candidate. His bid for re-election to the three-year term has turned into a test of wills - between some members of the Puerto Rican leadership who are bucking the party and supporting Delgado, and the city political machine, which instead asked Belfort to run because it felt that Delgado was not a team player.

"The central issue is machine politics itself," said Frank Fulbrook, an administration critic who ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year. "I'm hoping that the city will preserve some diversity."

Still, some educators privately express cynicism, saying that the Primas- backed candidates traditionally sweep the seats, and this year's race won't be appreciably different from others.

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