In N.J.'s First District, economics drives campaigns

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew
Posted: October 28, 2013

SOUTH JERSEY Democratic incumbents and Republican challengers agree strengthening the economy is the priority in the First Legislative District, which spans parts of Cape May County and two other counties that have the highest unemployment rates in the state - Cumberland and Atlantic.

But who is better equipped to do it?

The Democrats, Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Bob Andrzejczak, say they have a record of fighting for a region at risk of being overlooked by the state - "deep, deep South Jersey," Van Drew says - touting efforts to save jobs and win the district its share of benefits.

In a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, the incumbents emphasize cooperation with the Republican governor, citing the 2 percent property-tax cap Democrats helped pass in 2010 and votes in support of the governor's budgets.

During a debate last week in Cape May, Van Drew held up a letter he said Gov. Christie sent to thank him for supporting the governor's first budget.

"This is from 2010, ladies and gentlemen. This is when he wasn't that popular," Van Drew said.

Republicans Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt, who is challenging Van Drew, and Cumberland County Freeholder Sam Fiocchi and Cape May Freeholder Kristine Gabor, who are running for the Assembly, say the Democratic lawmakers have failed to lower taxes and create jobs. They point to backgrounds in business as preparation for addressing the district's economic issues.

"We have to have a stronger voice," said Adelizzi-Schmidt, who owns a public relations company. "Economic development and job creation have not been a priority for Sen. Van Drew."

According to recent polls, she faces a steep challenge. Van Drew, a dentist who served three terms in the Assembly before becoming a state senator in 2008, led Adelizzi-Schmidt by 29 points in a Stockton Polling Institute poll released Oct. 15.

For the Assembly seats, the same poll showed Albano, an assemblyman since 2006, leading with 25 percent, with running mate Andrzejczak - who was appointed this year after Democrat Matthew Milam resigned - next at 22 percent. Fiocchi, who ran for Assembly in 2011, polled at 18 percent and Gabor, 17 percent.

The Republicans have been on the offensive, calling on Van Drew to denounce an ad attacking Adelizzi-Schmidt's business practices that was produced by a Washington super-PAC. They are also drawing attention to a complaint a state ethics committee is investigating against Albano, who said he was mistreated by police when ticketed for speeding last year.

Video from a camera in the trooper's car obtained by the Newark Star-Ledger appears to cast doubt on Albano's version.

In an interview, Albano said he "made a remark that I regret saying" and has apologized, accusing his opponents of using the incident for political gain.

As for the assertion that the Democrats haven't done enough to create jobs and cut taxes - Adelizzi-Schmidt said that property taxes were 70 percent higher than when Van Drew took office - the incumbents say that reasoning implicates many.

"To blame us because things are the same as they were . . . they're actually blaming their own governor," Albano said.

Van Drew said high property taxes had long been a problem, but "you don't go from 100 to zero in a split second." He said he and his running mates supported a 10 percent property-tax credit plan Republicans also are pushing.

Van Drew, 60, got involved in politics after serving as president of a dental society. He was elected to the township committee in Dennis Township, then became mayor. He also served as a Cape May County freeholder.

When Christie announced plans to close the Vineland Developmental Center two years ago, jeopardizing 1,500 jobs, Van Drew said he persuaded the governor to reconsider. The center stayed.

During the Cape May debate, Adelizzi-Schmidt told Van Drew the number of times she had heard the story about the center reminded her of "regifting."

"What's your vision?" she pressed Van Drew.

A newcomer to state politics, Adelizzi-Schmidt, 47, of Upper Township, has served as a Cape May County GOP committee member.

"I've always been very passionate about creating jobs," she said. Working for her family's transportation company, she said, she expanded the business to include limousines and a wedding division. In 2007, she bought an advertising agency - now Suasion Communications - and said she shored up its finances "at the lowest point in our economy."

She said an ad by a super-PAC backing state Democrats that draws attention to past liens on the family company and late property-tax payments she made had instead earned her support from people "who think it's as ridiculous as I do."

Albano, 59, of Vineland, is vying to keep his Assembly seat because "I still have so much more to contribute." A shop steward who works for Village Supermarkets - "a labor guy all my life" - Albano got involved in politics after his son was killed by a drunken driver. He worked with Van Drew to stiffen penalties for the offense.

Albano cites public safety, education, and jobs as priorities, saying he has fought to have local workers on solar projects in Cumberland County.

Andrzejczak said he's "going to fight as hard for South Jersey as I did for our country." A veteran who served two tours in Iraq, where he lost a leg in a grenade attack, Andrzejczak, 27, needed help when he came home to Cape May. He got it from Van Drew and Albano, he said.

He wants to help fellow veterans and to improve the economy.

Albano and Andrzejczak said they pushed to include tax breaks for businesses in the First District in the Economic Opportunity Act that Christie recently signed into law.

Fiocchi and Gabor - and Adelizzi-Schmidt - tout an eight-point economic plan, including creating an advisory panel, setting meetings between state officials and businesspeople, and promoting high-tech jobs to keep young workers.

"So many people are leaving New Jersey," said Fiocchi, 61, retired president of a family irrigation equipment company.

An insurance agent and mother of two, Gabor, 46, said she was fed up with the status quo. If elected, she said, she would focus on jobs and the affordability of living in the district.

The district has other challenges, including drug addiction and an aging population, said Gabor, who as a Cape May County freeholder serves as director of health and human services.

Also running for Senate is independent Tom Greto of Lower Township. His platform focuses on cutting taxes, including making the state income tax a flat 1 percent.

In 1996, Greto was sentenced to one to two years in Delaware County Prison for a misdemeanor deceptive business services charge. As a loan broker, he bilked friends and other clients out of $400,000, The Inquirer reported.

Russ Norcross, a friend acting as a spokesman, said Greto did his time and the crime had no bearing on his candidacy.


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