Democrats take over Moorestown

Posted: November 03, 2004

Democrats swept three Moorestown Township Council seats in yesterday's election - a stunning victory that will give the party control of the town for the first time in its history, which stretches back more than 300 years.

Kevin Aberant, Jonathan Eron and Ann Segal outpolled Republicans Lois Downey, Harvey Howard and Larry Anastasi to become the first Democrats on the council in 22 years.

In a town where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 2-1 ratio, Aberant and his ticket needed help from disgruntled Republicans.

"The bipartisan support we had was a key," said Aberant, 34, who was making his third run for the council. "It's about Democrats and Republicans coming together for the future of Moorestown."

The Democrats also regained control of the Burlington City Council, which they had lost to the GOP last year.

Republicans picked up control of the Riverside Township Committee, and won complete control of the Lumberton Township Committee.

The GOP also maintained its grip on the Burlington County government, returning incumbents to the offices of freeholder, sheriff and clerk.

Moorestown Democrats credited their victory to a strategy that capitalized on a split in the local GOP over a number of issues, including zoning, housing density, open space and ethics. Some of the disagreements went back three years, when developer Toll Bros. was granted zoning concessions to build an office park on rural Centerton Road.

Downey, Howard and Anastasi - all running for the first time - defeated Deputy Mayor Jeffrey K. Harding, Cindi Maahs-Knobbs and Stacey Jordan in a contentious GOP primary in June. Downey was serving on the council after being appointed in March to finish the term of Kathleen Shapiro, who resigned.

"I'm sure it was a factor" in the Democrats' victory, Aberant said of the chasm.

The fracture went deep enough that Mayor Michael Sanyour, who decided not to run for a fifth four-year term, endorsed the Democrats late last month.

Aberant called Sanyour's support a "big factor. I congratulate him. He recognized what was best for Moorestown."

The agenda for the Democrats once they take control in January is to "do exactly what we said - take care of taxes, traffic and infrastructure," Aberant said.

Eron was making his fifth run for the council and Segal her first. All three Democrats are lawyers.

County GOP chairman Glenn Paulsen called the defeat in Moorestown a "clear wake-up call."

"Moorestown has been under-performing for Republicans for a decade because of the split in the party between [Councilman] Howard Miller and everybody else," Paulsen said.

Moorestown could be a Republican town again "if they get their egos in check and work together," he said.

Overall, Paulsen said, "it was a very good night."

"I have been doing this for 15 years," he said. "I have been waiting for the perfect night. It has never come, but maybe it will next year with the governor's race."

At the county level, the Republicans held off the Democrats as they had done each November for more than 20 years.

Both sides characterized the other party's campaign as negative and untruthful. The Republicans credited their victory to the ability of voters to look beyond the rhetoric of the campaign to their records as public servants.

Open-space preservation, fiscal responsibility, waterfront development, and low tuition at the county college were reasons cited by Freeholder Director Vince Farias for returning him for another three-year term.

Farias, who lives in Edgewater Park, defeated Chris Fifis of Lumberton.

"I ran exclusively on my record," Farias said, "and that is why people voted for me."

Fifis said he was not downhearted in defeat because he believes his campaign led the freeholder board to change the county's ethics policy.

"We are beginning to build a party here," he said. "We are going to keep fighting, and we are going to roll up our sleeves and win some seats next year."

In other county races, GOP Sheriff Jean Stanfield of Westampton defeated former Lumberton Mayor Preston Taylor.

In the race for a five-year term as county clerk, incumbent Republican Phil Haines of Springfield defeated Moorestown Democrat Kristin Walker.

Contact staff writer Joel Bewley at 609-261-0900 or jbewley@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Jennifer Moroz and Kera Ritter contributed to this article.

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