For the third consecutive year, Democrat Jack Conners, 55, a retired banker from Pennsauken, is running for an Assembly seat. In 1997, it seemed that he had won a seat by a slim margin, but a Superior Court judge threw out the results in September 1998 because of a faulty voting machine. In a special election last fall, Conners won the right to serve the rest of the two-year, $35,000-a-year term.
This November, Conners will fight to hold onto the position he gained, one of two seats in the district that includes 14 Burlington County towns and Pennsauken in Camden County.
But for Conners and his two-time running mate, Herbert C. Conaway Jr., who is completing his first Assembly term, the battle to maintain a Democratic hold on the district will not be an easy one. They face Burlington County's highest-ranking black official, Sheriff Gary Daniels, Riverton Councilwoman Clara Ruvolo, and the GOP's fatter campaign account.
Candidates can breathe easy for now, since they are running unopposed in the primary. But it will be only a matter of time before the television commercials and door-to-door campaigns begin and the politicians start sending out flyers and press releases.
Those in the know say this race will be one of the state's most competitive.
``I'm going to treat it like it is a tough race,'' said Conners, who enjoyed a 5,500-vote edge over Republican Ken Faulkner in the November special election. The year before, 74 votes separated the two men.
``I'd rather assume it's going to be tough and then see it's not so bad rather than assume it's not going to be so bad and then be in for the fight of my life,'' Conners said.
The four candidates seem to agree on most issues, particularly the importance of developing and redeveloping the Route 130 corridor, boosting school aid, reforming property taxes, and cutting auto-insurance rates. Both parties say their campaigns will rely heavily on the candidates' experience and their records of promoting positive change.
Although Conners and Conaway, 36, a physician from Burlington City who also has a law degree, are incumbents, the Republicans have more political experience.
Daniels, 42, of Mount Holly, has served as sheriff since 1996. Ruvolo, 58, has served six years on the Riverton Borough Council, two years as vice president of the Burlington County Institute of Technology school board, and four years on the New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect.
At a time when many state residents are fighting high auto-insurance rates, Daniels has helped create a defensive-driver course that includes a 5 percent discount on insurance rates. He has launched home-security programs for the elderly and the disabled, child-safety seat instruction classes, and programs that teach youth and senior citizens about the workings of the law. He also helped develop an award-winning county task force that seeks parents who do not pay child support.
``It just goes to show that, based on my experience, I look for cost-effective yet innovative programs that benefit a large number of people,'' Daniels said.
Ruvolo, a former nurse who is working on the authorized biography of the late U.S. Rep. Millicent Fenwick, led the push for a new wastewater-treatment plant in Riverton, the borough's biggest construction project since the Municipal Hall was built in 1989.
``We're going to run our record of accomplishment against [the Democrats'] record of not accomplishing,'' Ruvolo said. ``I think you're better served when you elect someone who is part of the [Assembly] majority. The process in legislature really favors the majority party, and to vote for someone who maybe is not going to be able to get things done, it is a waste of your vote.''
Conners and Conaway say that while in office, they have worked to reduce property taxes and introduced legislation that would allow senior citizens to benefit from Homestead rebates as well as Gov. Whitman's property-tax rebate program. Also, Conaway said in a statement, he has introduced legislation that would reduce the state-tax burden on middle-class families. Both assemblymen said they had fought for lower auto-insurance rates.