Each Party Sees Chance To Seize Florio's Seat

Posted: May 30, 1990

Sixteen years have passed since a young Democratic state assemblyman named Jim Florio wrested control of the First Congressional District from the Republicans. Six months ago, Florio was elected governor, sparking a battle for his congressional seat.

The vacant seat offers a variety of opportunities. For Camden County Freeholder Director Robert E. Andrews, the candidate of the Democratic Party organization, this is a chance to step out of Florio's shadow.

For three other challengers in the Democratic primary - Linda Bowker, John A. Dramesi and Joel S. Farley - this a rare opportunity to seek their party's nomination without having to displace an incumbent.

And for the Republicans, the open seat offers the best chance in more than a decade to put the First District back in the GOP column. Gloucester County Freeholder Daniel J. Mangini is the only Republican in the race.

In the June 5 Democratic primary, most political observers say that Andrews, 32, of Barrington, is the candidate to beat because of his support

from county Democratic chairman George E. Norcross 3d.

After Andrews helped orchestrate Norcross' rise to the chairmanship last year, Norcross returned the favor by lending the organizational and fund- raising resources of the Democratic Party to the congressional campaign of the freeholder director.

Andrews, a Bellmawr lawyer, was first elected to the freeholder board in 1986 and became its director at the start of 1988. During his tenure, he has taken the lead in reforming the county's welfare system with a program that has even won plaudits from Republicans.

He also has spearheaded efforts to repair the sagging image of the scandal- afflicted Democratic Party - but critics in both parties have questioned his sincerity in addressing the root problems of patronage and questionable ethics.

As a congressional candidate, Andrews said, "I'm interested in working on a number of problems that most of our constituents are interested in - pocketbook issues."

Political observers say his chief adversary in the primary is Bowker, a five-term state president of the National Organization for Women.

Bowker, 41, of Barrington, has joined forces with several dissident Democrats who have chafed under Norcross' hard-edged leadership. Most prominent of these is Freeholder Joseph F. Carroll, the senior member of the county board.

Like Andrews, Bowker supports abortion rights. But Bowker said she would provide far more active leadership on the issue than would Andrews. For instance, she said, she would use her influence in Congress to persuade American manufacturers to begin producing RU486, a French abortion pill that also can be used to treat breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Bowker stressed that her concerns were broader than so-called women's issues. Unlike Andrews, she opposes trash incineration. She also has called for a system of affordable, comprehensive health care and pressed for expanding child-care programs.

"I'm a longtime fighter for people's rights," she said. "This is for women, men, children."

Also seeking the Democratic nomination is John A. Dramesi, 57, of Blackwood. A former prisoner of war in Vietnam, Dramesi said he was asked to run by senior citizens and fellow veterans.

Until this winter, Dramesi was a Republican and ran against Florio for Congress in 1982. Dramesi said he switched his party registration in part

because his support for abortion rights was at odds with the position of the national GOP. In addition, he said, he was troubled by the corruption in the Reagan administration and by the willingness of Republican leaders to bail out the country's troubled savings and loans.

Dramesi, who retired from the Air Force in 1982 as a colonel, said he exceeded his opponents in expertise in national-security affairs.

Ultimately, Dramesi said, the election can be seen as a question of courage.

"It's about courage: to put your reputation, your name, your experience on the line, if necessary your position on the line," Dramesi said. "It's not in (Andrews') character. It's not his bringing up. It's not his life experience."

Also listed on the Democratic ballot is Farley, a New York lawyer who moved to Collingswood last year from outside the district. Farley, whose campaign literature includes an endorsement from a dog named Dino, has not returned repeated telephone calls requesting an interview.

The winner of the Democratic primary will likely face Mangini, a second- term Gloucester County freeholder from Washington Township. Mangini, 56, has been the lone Republican on the Gloucester County board for more than two years and has described himself as a watchdog keeping vigil over the Democratic majority. He has previously been mayor and council president in Washington Township.

Camden County's GOP screening committee selected Mangini as the party's standard-bearer less than a week before the deadline for candidates to file in April. The Republicans had hoped that former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski would run as their congressional candidate, but their wooing was unsuccessful.

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