Text messages sway two South Jersey township races

West Deptford Mayor Denice DiCarlo (right) speaks to a RiverWinds resident. DiCarlo was reelected to a three-year term.

Two bitter local races in South Jersey - both involving private election-related text messages made public - ended Tuesday night with one race swinging Republican, the other Democratic.

In West Deptford, Democratic Mayor Denice DiCarlo was reelected to a three-year term on the township committee, maintaining her party's control of the Gloucester County town, according to unofficial results. DiCarlo was challenged by Ray Chintall, a former mayor who led a short-lived Republican majority until losing his seat last year.

"I'm looking forward to continuing what I started this year," DiCarlo said, noting plans to further improve the ambitious RiverWinds redevelopment complex, where some projects planned years ago never came to fruition. "Run the township like a business first."

The contentious race in the township of nearly 22,000 people turned personal in the weeks leading up to the election, which again had the potential to sway party control. Democrats currently hold three of the committee's five seats.

In early October, a thread of private text messages among Chintall and Republican allies was revealed at a public town meeting after being inadvertently sent to the town's administrator. Some of the messages included unkind remarks about others in town; other messages contained images depicting DiCarlo as the Wicked Witch of the West. Then, as Election Day neared, Chintall and four other local GOP members reported receiving death threats at their homes.

"You're always hoping for it to be a spirited debate," DiCarlo said, adding that she "tried to stay above" petty politics. "You don't want it to get nasty. . . . Hopefully the voters saw through it."

About 30 miles away, in Burlington County's normally quiet Westampton Township, two Republicans won seats up for grabs on the five-member, all-Democratic township committee. The Democrats will retain control, as they have since 2007, but the Republicans made inroads following a political battle that featured accusations of cronyism and embarrassing text messages.

Republican newcomers Abe Lopez and Maureen Smith-Hartman defeated Democratic incumbent Robert Thorpe and his running mate, newcomer Vernita Jones, for the three-year terms, according to unofficial results.

Campaigns for the committee seats grew heated in the mostly rural town of 9,000, which is preparing for rapid growth. Housing projects, retail centers, and an estimated $1 billion Virtua Health medical campus have been proposed on some of the remaining farmland.

Similar to West Deptford, Westampton Democratic candidates disclosed text messages that GOP strategist Jose Sosa had sent to another Republican. The messages said all township department heads and senior managers would be asked to resign if the Republican candidates won the election. The Democrats had obtained the messages from Mount Holly Mayor Rich DiFolco, a Republican who is a friend of the Westampton Democrats.

The Democrats turned the text messages into a campaign issue, defending department heads as hardworking employees with families to support. Sosa declined to comment except to say these were private messages and were taken out of context.

afichera@philly.com

856-779-3917 @AJFichera

www.philly.com/glouco