Aaron A. Thompson, 88, a retired telephone serviceman who became the second African American mayor of Camden in the early 1990s, died Tuesday, March 19, the city’s current mayor, Francisco Moran, announced Tuesday.
No details about his death were immediately available.
“Mayor Thompson was an honorable public servant,” Moran said in a statement. “He was often known to be unassuming, but he carried himself with quiet confidence.”
He was retired from AT&T after 31 years when he was elected to Camden City Council in 1989.
Mr. Thompson had served only five months when he was picked by his fellow Council members in 1990 to serve as acting mayor, replacing Melvin R. “Randy” Primas, the city’s first African American mayor, who had quit to take a state job.
Mr. Thompson officially ran for the office in a special election later that year and won.
“I’m a college dropout and former telephone installer,” he said in a 1993 interview with The Inquirer while running for re-election. “I’m a dying breed. I see other mayors, and I see their academic achievement. I see less and less politicians come up through the ranks."
Mr. Thomson was “an affable and gregarious man” who “makes an effort to be accessible and even answers his own telephone at times,” the story said.
He was initially regarded as beholden to the city and county Democratic bosses who installed him. But whatever relationship he had with them soured, and they backed another Democrat, Arnold Webster, who defeated Mr. Thompson in the 1993 primary.
“The history of the city is that you just don’t have the resources to fight the machine,” Mr. Thompson said after his loss. “They did what they felt they had to, and I did what I felt I had to do.”
While he was mayor, he presided over the opening of the New Jersey State Aquarium, now called the Adventure Aquarium.
As with all major urban areas during this time, Camden was plagued by the explosion of crack cocaine. The city also suffered from its worst period of Oct. 30 “Mischief Night” vandalism, with more than 100 arson fires in 1991.
After leaving office, Mr. Thompson remained largely out of the public eye. “He was just living a normal life,” said city spokesperson Vincent Basara, who noted that Mr. Thompson participated in the city’s senior bowling league.
Moran said the city will fly flags at half-staff until the day of Mr. Thompson’s funeral, which is set for Saturday, March 30, at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 525 Royden St., Camden. A viewing will be from 9 to 10:45 a.m. with a service at 11. Burial will be at Sunset Memorial Park, Pennsauken.