In Camden, challengers slam police and school takeovers

Posted: April 30, 2013

The controversial county police force and the state takeover of the Camden School District have become almost automatic points of contention for the challengers in Camden's June mayoral and council primary elections.

Trying to set themselves apart from the incumbents, their opponents in the Democratic primaries speak about doing things differently when it comes to police and education.

Theo Spencer, a former school board member who is opposing Mayor Dana L. Redd, says he would do what the council challengers say they would try to do: fight to get back local control of the school district.

But Spencer, 37, an independent Web developer, said his first order of business as the city's leader would be to improve the operation of City Hall.

"There's so many operational issues that have been left by the wayside," he said, specifying that the tax office is not always adequately staffed and that there are too many hoops to jump through to get a zoning variance.

In March, Gov. Christie announced a full state takeover of the Camden district, effective by the start of the 2013-14 school year. Redd, who is running for reelection, endorsed the move.

Spencer, of the city's Parkside section, says he knows beating a party-backed incumbent is tough, but he says people want change. He added that he wanted to face Redd in the Democratic primary, because "if I can't beat her in June, I can't beat her in November," he said this month.

The primary will be held June 4.

The Republican candidate for mayor, Arnold Davis, has no opponent in the GOP primary and will face Redd or Spencer in the general election. The city is heavily Democratic.

Davis, 33, a tax adviser and Burlington County College public safety union grievance officer, said he wanted to focus on economic growth and public safety in the city.

"The city is just not growing" economically, Davis said.

He wants to make it easier for small businesses to settle in Camden, invest in alternative energy, and bring back manufacturing jobs. As for public safety, he criticized the new metro force and said a smarter move would have been to expand the Camden County Sheriff's Office and keep the city department.

April 30 is to be the last day of existence for the 141-year-old Camden City Police Department.

It is being replaced with a county-run police force whose metro division will patrol Camden. That move also was endorsed by Redd as a way to get more boots on the ground and save money.

A detailed budget for the new force has not yet been released.

Council Vice President Curtis Jenkins and Councilwoman Marilyn Torres, whose at-large terms are up this year, are seeking reelection. Both have generally supported the mayor's agenda.

Councilwoman Deborah Person-Polk, whose three-year at-large term is also ending, withdrew the week petitions were due.

Person-Polk, chairwoman of the Camden Housing Authority board of commissioners, said she wanted to focus on the authority's $30 million Choice Neighborhood implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Arthur Barclay has taken her place, running under the county Democratic Party establishment banner. Barclay is a recent South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and assistant basketball coach at Camden High School, where he was once a star player.

The challengers for the three at-large seats are Eulisis Delgado, Edward Torres, and Laverne Williams.

Delgado and Torres are running on a common platform, which includes reversing the metro police plan and instead increasing neighborhood watch and community policing programs.

The two, who have run unsuccessfully for local office, also want to establish a residency requirement for all new civil service job openings in Camden.

Williams said she wanted to improve services at City Hall and create jobs for residents.

"I'm tired of what's going on in the city," she said. "There's too many people unemployed."

Williams expressed reservations about the many charter schools coming into the city.

The only Republican running for an at-large council seat, Angel Cordero, embraces school choice, saying he wants school vouchers for everyone.

Cordero, who has run unsuccessfully for mayor, said he switched parties because Camden needs a two-party system and he does not like how Democrats have been running the city. "The future of Camden is the children," Cordero said, adding that his primary focus as mayor would be on education.

He has also tried to get on the Camden school board but is prohibited by law because of an old drug conviction.

Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917,, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at flow.

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