In uphill quest, 4 vie to unseat Camden Mayor Redd
CAMDEN - The four candidates vying to unseat one-term Mayor Dana L. Redd face an uphill battle in the two weeks leading up to Nov 5. With more than $60,000 left to spend, according to campaign finance reports, and the full backing of the Democratic Party, Redd is the front-runner in a quiet race.
Each of Redd's challengers, Republican Arnold Davis and independents Amir Khan, Clyde Cook, and Councilman Brian Coleman, says he is the necessary change for a struggling city. Only Khan has reported raising money for his campaign.
As a child, Arnold Davis earned extra money for his family picking blueberries in Burlington County to sell in Camden. Davis said his family emphasized education despite battling poverty. Davis, 33, proudly points out that he is the only mayoral challenger with a college degree. He graduated from Rutgers-Camden with degrees in finance and history. (Redd also is a Rutgers-Camden graduate, with a business administration degree.) He said he wants to use his experience working in nonprofit organizations to improve communication between such groups and the city.
He helped run Republican Keith Walker's unsuccessful campaign for the state Senate in 2012. He said he was appointed to the federal Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness last year. Davis, a tax adviser and union grievance officer, has two ambitious goals if elected: Bring back the disbanded city police department, and reinstitute elections for school board members rather than having the mayor name them. Wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with his face and name - but no mention of his party - Davis said he hoped voters looked beyond party designation. A Republican was last mayor in 1932. Of the city's registered voters in 2011, 40 percent were Democrats, 2 percent were Republicans, and 58 percent were unaffiliated.
When critics accuse Amir Khan of not living in Camden, he laughs off the charge - "Follow me home, and see where I lay my head down every night," he said in a recent interview - saying he lives on Chesapeake Road in Fairview. When they accuse him of moving to the city just to run for mayor, he wholeheartedly agrees. "That's absolutely right. If I can't change things from the outside, I'll do it from the inside," said Khan, a pastor formerly based in Voorhees, where he said his wife still lives.
Khan, founder of the Nehemiah Group, a community outreach nonprofit, has a track record of big ideas that often fail to produce promised results. His plan to open a charter school on the Cherry Hill-Voorhees border was denied by the state last year. In 2010 Khan and his son Micah tried to move an entire tent city from Camden to the Inn at Cherry Hill while they looked for alternative city housing.
Only a handful of the 50-plus tent city residents were successfully placed. "I've never met a very successful person without some failures," Khan said. He has been one of the most visible candidates on the campaign trail, with a large volunteer corps, a website, and a Facebook page. He has also raised $26,000, according to the latest filing.
He does not support the Redd-backed state takeover of the schools or the county police force. He is credited with bringing to Camden Acts Industries L.L.C., which promises 1,000 assembly-line jobs. Stephen Lee, whose name will appear on the ballot, withdrew his candidacy in a YouTube video and threw his support behind Khan.
Clyde Cook , also a pastor, is originally from the Bronx but moved to Camden nine years ago. In that time he has run as an independent, a Republican, and a Democrat, and he supports switching to nonpartisan elections. Cook, who owns a landscaping company and has done no formal campaigning, said he wants Camden to have an auxiliary citizen police force and career specializations at the high schools.
Cook is also embroiled in a dispute and custody battle with his wife of 16 years, Camden County Republican Committeewoman Tanisha Cook. Tanisha Cook moved with their four children to Illinois in August and obtained a restraining order against her husband, who she alleged was physically and verbally abusive.
"Honestly, I don't care about the campaign," she said in a phone interview from a domestic-violence shelter in Illinois. "What's disgusting to me is that with all this going on, how does he think he can run for mayor? I want to send out a message to women - no matter who he is, no matter what title he has in front of his name, you can get out."
In September, Clyde Cook filed custody papers seeking the return of his four children. He has two other children outside his marriage, he said. Cook told The Inquirer he had never physically harmed his wife. Court records show that no criminal charges were filed and that the August restraining order was later vacated. "People do have disagreements and arguments, and that's part of a relationship," he said. "I would be wrong to sit up there and say I'm perfect. I'm not perfect. Camden has to realize that - nobody's perfect."
At a hearing in New Jersey Superior Court Oct. 17 Clyde Cook and his wife were given joint custody of the children. Tanisha Cook and the children remain in Illinois.
Councilman Brian Coleman may be the best-known challenger this fall but also the quietest. Coleman, a lifelong city resident, said he was frustrated with what he called Redd's slow progress on convict-reentry programs and job creation. Coleman was the only member of Council to oppose the replacement of the police department with a county force earlier this year. He wants to require companies that receive tax abatements to hire city residents.
"Too many times companies looking to develop in Camden get tax abatements and give nothing back to the city," he said.
Coleman has not started raising money, set up a website, or produced any campaign literature. He says he plans to pick up his campaign's pace in coming days. "I think the residents are frustrated. I think they're disappointed, and I think they're ready for a different direction," he said.
Redd and the four challengers said they planned to attend a Nov. 1 debate at Rutgers-Camden set for noon in the Walter K. Gordon Theater.
In the City Council race, incumbent Democrats Marilyn Torres and Curtis Jenkins are joined by Arthur Barclay, who takes the place on the ticket of Councilwoman Deborah Person-Polk, who is not running for reelection. Angel Cordero is running as a Republican for one of the three contested Council seats. On the independent line for Council are Ronsha Dickerson, Felix Moulier, and Scott Shepherd, who are on Khan's "We Love Camden" slate. Also running as independents are Moneke Ragsdale, Rasheed Pollard, Gary Frazier Jr., John Freeman, and Benigno Rodriguez.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the most recent court decision which gave joint custody to Clyde Cook and Tanisha Cook.
Camden Mayoral Challengers
Experience: Tax adviser and union grievance officer; part-time teacher in Camden City School District; member of Inter-Agency Council on homelessness.
Birthplace: Yeadon, Pa.
Family: Married with three children and five grandchildren
Experience: Founding pastor of Solid Rock Worship Center in Voorhees; founder of Nehemiah Group; president, cellphone distribution company.
Birthplace: Bronx, N.Y.
Family: Married, with six children
Experience: Pastor; landscaping business; started Camden Better Life Ministries in 2004; ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2009 and for City Council in 2010 and 2011.
Experience: Computer service technician; Camden City Council member since 2011.