I’m wondering why exactly I am still so surprised by the outcome of last night’s election – I focused mainly on gubernatorial and mayoral races this primary, but was also interested in certain legislative district elections as well (again, surprisingly not surprised). Here’s a link to look at the all of the final votes and tallies for the county as well as other state offices.
Now while I usually do my best to make these posts concise, I don’t think that I can confidently make that assertion at this point but we’ll see how things go.
To start off, I want to make sure that I qualify this post by understanding that democracy works in strange yet consistent ways. No matter the outcomes of any election, and save the unfortunate circumstances of voter tampering in one form or another, at the end of the day the winner is the winner; this has been a much tougher pill to swallow for a lot of folks following the recent presidential election (and there’s a chance that tampering piece may rear its ugly head which is still an ongoing investigation) but it’s one of the more traditional and foundational consequences that comes with a majority-rule structure.
Interestingly, I’ve been hearing community buzz about out-of-date voting machines that can easily be hacked and that may have allowed more local elections to be prone to tampering of numbers. I think this is where underlying cynicism of elections emerges but is always taken in a somewhat serious tone; some people find that those who claim fixed elections are just crazy or “sore losers” but there is always some legitimacy behind question voter fidelity for a few reasons. The main reasons voter infidelity should be taken seriously is connected to that larger piece I spoke about earlier: democracy must be consequentially consistent through the establishment of a one-person-one-vote system. It’s also been a bigger issue in Camden that has been screamed about for years: machine politics will do whatever it takes to make sure that they hold on to power for as long as it can; and when one “generation” can no longer hold on to that power, they pass it on to younger and more naïve generations willing to do what they’re told for their own chance at wielding power.
I know a lot of those in that younger generation and I use the term naïve loosely as at certain points even those in that generation understand what they are signing up for and are more than willing to look past the rhetoric of “being part of the machine” in order to secure their place. It’s unfortunate as most of them have started out very wide-eyed and ambitious to change people’s lives for the better and eventually seem to get sucked into a tumultuous routine of traditional local politics that don’t buck against the status quo (because if they did it would be very easy for them to fall out of the machine’s good graces and subsequently that rich supply of power).
This is a major concern of mine as a young person involved in local and state politics as I have begun to formulate my own ambitions and viewpoints on the things that I’ve seen in the last eight years. It’s a concern because as I became more involved I came to notice the increasing narrow-ness of truly becoming involved and engaged in local and state democratic processes both for young people but also for voters at large throughout New Jersey. If a young person like myself, also fairly wide-eyed though not as naïve as others I’ve encountered (I’m not the sagest but I’m pretty self-aware), wanted to run for an elected office outside of the support of the usual/traditional systems in place (i.e. the machine) it would be almost utterly impossible for me to even make a dent in the electorate to take an elected seat in New Jersey.
Take for instance a young man running for city council in Camden, Kadeem Pratt – I’ve met Kadeem before and he is well-spoken and (as is natural for a young person) has great motivation to change the city. Out of the 13,455 reported votes in Camden City for Council at Large, Kadeem received the second lowest voter tally – just a little over 3% of that vote (~437 votes). The only voter tally that did worse than Kadeem was Qunizelle Bethea (another young generation candidate on the hopeful Lamboy ticket) with 420 votes.
I’m skeptical myself to have seen a total of over 10,000 voters come out yesterday just for the front-running candidates on the Moran ticket, but again this is the democracy that has been established to bring these representatives to city hall once again. Interestingly, had Lamboy candidates run for a ward seat their chances would have been substantially higher than an at large run. Namibia El could have won by a razor thin margin in Ward 1 (her 615 votes to the winning candidate’s 613) and Tracey Hall-Cooper could have easily taken Wards 1, 3, or 4 with her 684 votes. Now all of this is qualified under the assumption that El and Cooper-Hall live in (one of) those wards but it’s an interesting analysis to look into: do candidates in Camden have a better chance of winning for a ward seat rather than at-large? I’m sure a lot of folks in the city have considered this before and I invite those who have to teach me more about their findings/learnings.
Another interesting outcome from the mayoral race was in seeing final results showing the presumptive Moran contender (Ray Lamboy) come out last of all three candidates. Lamboy’s campaign (and our coverage of it up to the primary) was one of strong organization, rhetoric, and strategy overall. By all counts, this campaign did all they could to take on the presumptive front-runner (Frank Moran), even with the most in political capital backing his run. Theo Spencer showed himself prevalent over Lamboy receiving 763 votes of the 4,912 mayoral votes. A part of me wants to contribute this increase over Lamboy to the mayoral debate a couple of weeks ago.
I wrote an earlier post in response to the event and mentioned that debates so late in the game usually do very little in terms of changing a voter’s mind on the candidate they wish to elect. Still, I think that a combination of preparation and luck played in Spencer’s favor. Many of the questions were latched onto quickly by both Moran and Lamboy with “preprogrammed” responses and talking points. Spencer took advantage of this rigidness and showed himself unique from the other two candidates, tackling questions head on and not shying away from certain truths that talking points could never satisfy. Combined with a very ad hominin attack on Lamboy and Spencer in Moran’s closing statement created an overall sense of discomfort for Moran and a sense of blasé (knowledge without passion) for Lamboy, possibly allowing a few extra voters to slip between those cracks and eventually fall into Spencer’s bucket yesterday.
I will end on a more conciliatory note and with a plea to those who have been elected in this primary (Camden is a heavily “blue” city so it is more than likely that the general election on November 7th will be a mere formality for those who clinched a win yesterday). There was a lot of conversation in this election cycle thus far and I am sure there will be more than 4,555 or 13,736 people in the city of Camden that will be watching the incoming administration that much more closely. From city council to the mayor’s office, you must listen to the people – they are crying for change and for their lives to get better. They want safer streets, both free of guns and potholes; they want control, both of their school board and electing community residents to such governing bodies; they want genuine engagement, both downtown and on the other side of I-676; they want to healthy lives, both for themselves and their children; they want their city – give it to them, you have the power to do that, and they deserve it more than anyone I’ve ever met.
Jared Hunter is a current student at Rutgers-Camden pursuing his Masters in Public Administration in the community development track. His research focus includes disparities between marginalized communities and local governments as well as community development centers and anchor institutions.