GOP incumbents in Burlco face a slate of insurgents

Posted: May 31, 2008

Republican voters in Burlington County will have two slates to choose from when they select nominees for two freeholder seats and the clerk's office in Tuesday's primary election.

In the freeholder race, incumbents Stacey Jordan and Aubrey Fenton are being challenged by Debbie Sarcone, an Evesham councilwoman, and John Shevelew, mayor of Shamong.

Running under the name "Right Choice Republicans," the challengers say they want to impose more stringent guidelines on contracts to keep special interests at bay, cut spending, and broadcast public meetings to make government more open.

The incumbents say the county has kept taxes down; the county levy of $162.6 million decreased $113,967 this year. They have kept the government functioning smoothly, they say, so why make a change?

The challengers are questioning the party's selection of Jordan for the Board of Freeholders. Jordan, a businesswoman who had never held elected office, was appointed in January after being selected by the county's Republican Committee.

She is the daughter of Vincent Farias, a former freeholder who did not run for reelection when his term ended last year. Sarcone was among those passed over by party officials during a screening process.

Sarcone and Shevelew point to the Jordan appointment to the all-Republican Board of Freeholders as one of a litany of deals orchestrated by the county's establishment GOP, and vow to create a more transparent government free of special interests. "There's a lot of people that didn't have experience at a municipal level," said Jordan. "That doesn't mean they're bad people. . . . I'd like to think I did a hell of a job with cutting taxes."

She questioned why Sarcone was criticizing the party now when she earlier had been so eager to be an appointee.

The challengers' slate also includes former Mount Holly Councilwoman Lauri Sheppard as a candidate for clerk. Running alongside Fenton and Jordan is clerk candidate Gary Woodend, a Medford Lakes councilman. The county's acting clerk, Wade Hale, took office in January to replace Philip Haines after Haines was elected to the state Assembly.

The Right Choice slate faces a steep challenge Tuesday by at least one key measure: funding.

The slate so far has raised $29,460 and spent $16,703.02, according to the most recently filed campaign-finance reports.

Filings show that Fenton, Jordan and Woodend together have spent about half of the $211,919 raised.

County Republican Chairman Bill Layton, while acknowledging that every election is important, has been dismissive of the insurgent slate's motives and ability to win votes.

But the challengers point to Democrats' sweep of two council seats and the mayor's office in the May 13 election in Delran, a longtime GOP stronghold, as evidence that money doesn't always buy victories. The Democrats won by wide margins there even as they were significantly outspent.

The challengers also say the party has been an embarrassment lately, with the chairman of the Burlington County Bridge Commission, John Comegno, having pleaded guilty this month to driving under the influence following an unrelated lobbying scandal. Comegno's law firm contributed $2,600 to the incumbents.

Fenton and Jordan say their work at the county level merits another term.

With "two teams, one that has cut taxes and one that hasn't, people would side with the team that has cut them," said Fenton, a pastor who has a degree in engineering. "That's what the economy . . . is telling people, you need someone that can watch out for your dollars."

The challengers, however, say that unlike themselves, Jordan and Fenton never held elected office before their current jobs. They say their municipal experience would be significant in helping towns during a time of proposals from Trenton to drastically cut state aid and encourage towns to merge. "You would think that it would be wise for us to have a county government who understands the problems that these municipalities are facing and has some idea on how to address those issues," said Shevelew, a retired software consultant.

A third slate filed to serve as a placeholder for U.S. Senate candidate Murray Sabrin so that he could run on a separate ballot column. The slate - husband and wife William and Carole Moore for freeholder and Michael Carr for clerk - has not actively campaigned or filed campaign finance reports.

Two municipalities in Burlington County also will have primaries on Tuesday.

In Springfield, four Republican candidates are running for two seats on the Township Committee. David Frank, the only incumbent, is running with John Hlubik against Linda Lovenduski and James Specca.

In Shamong, two candidates in each major party are facing off for one seat. Republican Committeeman George Young, up for reelection, is facing a primary challenge from Martin Mozitis. Laura King and James Smith are running in the Democratic primary.

Contact staff writer Maya Rao at (856)779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com.

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