Lovett and Mosquera face off again for Assembly seat

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera , a Democrat.
Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera , a Democrat.
Posted: October 18, 2012

She was in and then out and then back in again. Now New Jersey Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera is back on the campaign trail.

Eight months after the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned her 2011 victory in the Fourth District but allowed her to hold the seat until a new election could be held, the Democrat is facing off in a special election against the woman she beat last time, Republican former Gloucester Township Councilwoman Shelley Lovett.

One of only three legislative races in what is an off-year for New Jersey elections, the race so far has attracted little attention and is a long way from last year's go-for-broke campaign. Back then, Mosquera's camp ran steady television ads bashing Lovett's record - among other things, for having raised the fees on pet licenses in suburban Gloucester.

But Mosquera, who was found in violation of the state's one-year in-district residency requirement in what became a landmark case, says she has no intention of repeating last year's $773,000 Assembly campaign.

"This year it's very low-key," she said in an interview this week. "It's just me. I'm doing it very grassroots. I've knocked on 2,000 doors already."

Likewise, Lovett, who lost the fund-raising race by an 82-1 ratio, is playing the campaign with similar reserve. In July she signed a statement saying she had no plans to raise more than $4,000 this time around.

The winner will serve out what is deemed to be the rest of Mosquera's two-year term.

"No matter who runs, it's going to be very difficult with the Democratic registration in the area," Lovett said this week. "But you have to stand for something. Whether you win or lose, it's important to get your views out there and give people a choice."

In Camden County, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than three times over. In Gloucester County, there are almost twice as many Democrats as Republicans.

With the state unemployment rate at 9.9 percent - the fourth highest in the nation - the economy has become the signature issue of both campaigns.

Lovett says she supports Gov. Christie's plan to reduce taxes and regulation as a means of attracting more jobs to New Jersey.

"I look at it from a parent's point of view. I worry there are so many kids coming back to live at home and how they're going to pay their school loans," she said.

Mosquera favors increasing the tax on those earning over $1 million a year - something Christie has vetoed twice - to provide even more tax relief to the middle class.

"His plan meant an extra $80 a year for a family earning $50,000," Mosquera said, referring to Christie's announcement in July that he would use a budgeted state surplus for tax relief. "You can't take your family out to dinner on that."

Mosquera, who was born in Ecuador and moved to the United States at age 3, has had a fast rise through the New Jersey political ranks.

Her first job out of college was working as a policy analyst for the Assembly Democratic Committee, followed by a three-year stint in former Camden County assemblywoman Nilsa Cruz-Perez's office. The 35-year-old Mosquera, who is single, lives in Gloucester Township.

Lovett, 61, was a stay-at-home mother who raised three sons until she decided to get into politics in the mid-1990s. She switched parties over an ideological difference with local Democrats and then ran in Gloucester Township, her home for 30 years.

She won election to the council twice, campaigning on a platform of reduced taxes and less government. But she lost her reelection campaign in 2010.

The two women's paths converged in 2011 when a seat in the Fourth opened up after redistricting pushed Republican Dominick DiCicco into the Third District, and the Democrats gave Mosquera the nod.

With a newly configured district, Mosquera and Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty won easily, almost doubling their Republican opponents' vote counts.

But then Lovett questioned whether Mosquera met the state's residency requirement. Mosquera had moved to the district in early 2011 and had been operating under a commonly held assumption that the requirement was not being enforced - in 2002 a federal judge had ruled the residency requirement unconstitutional.

Over the summer, the federal court reiterated that decision, which has been appealed by the state attorney general.

Since Mosquera took office in early March - Lovett's challenge of her residency status delayed her taking office by two months - she says she has been busy for a freshman assemblywoman.

She has sponsored more than 100 pieces of legislation, with four of her bills signed into law, including one that increased the punishment for drivers who kill someone while texting in their cars.

But Mosquera is taking heat from local Republicans for her day job as chief of staff to Mayor David R. Mayer, a former Democratic assemblyman. Lovett argues that the job would put Mosquera in a conflict in circumstances where residents might want to take up with their state representatives the issue of how the town is run.

Also, there's the perennial criticism that as a member of the powerful bloc of South Jersey Democrats, Mosquera is not an independent voice.

"Gabbie is part of the Democratic machine, and I really think she's expected to vote a certain way on issues," Lovett said.

Sitting in the Camden County Democratic headquarters in Cherry Hill this week, Mosquera made no apologies for using the Democrats' power to push legislation that she said benefits the region, but said her votes ultimately are determined by "the people of the Fourth District."

As to her day job in Gloucester Township, Mosquera conceded that it could be seen as a conflict and was working on finding another.

"Hopefully I'll find something by the new year," she said.

Contact James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or of follow on Twitter @osborneja.

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