Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Have Your Say - Vote Today

Plaintalker is not making any endorsements in today’s primary, but urges all voters with opinions to go to the polls, which are open until 8 p.m.

The local Democratic races are for the citywide at-large and Third Ward City Council seats. Incumbent City Council President Harold Gibson is the citywide at-large representative and is facing a challenge from Annie McWilliams, daughter of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. Incumbent Third Ward Councilman Don Davis has two challengers, Annie McWilliams’ running mate Adrian Mapp and political newcomer Olive Lynch. Each term is for four years.

By now voters have had opportunities to hear each candidate weigh in on the proposed closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, a decision that rests outside City Council chambers but which has inspired a flood of rallies, marches and schemes to save Muhlenberg. The races have also become a referendum on which style of Democratic representation voters want, the entrenched party backed by powerful figures across the state or a progressive reform movement that has previously drawn the wrath of those same figures.

Plainfield has 11,186 registered Democrats (up about 3,000 due to the February presidential primary) who are eligible to vote for the at-large candidates. In 2004, Ray Blanco won the seat with 1,516 votes to 865 for Michael Jones. At the time, Democrats numbered about 8,000, so the primary turnout was about 30 percent. Blanco died unexpectedly in 2006 and Gibson succeeded him as an appointee, later winning the balance of his unexpired term. In the 2008 primary race, Gibson campaigned on his extensive record of public service and McWilliams said she offered new energy and change.

Today in the Third Ward, 3,320 Democrats are eligible to make a choice among the three candidates. In 2004, there was also a three-way race, between Davis, Brenda Gilbert and Thomas T. Turner III. Davis won with 484 votes, compared to 170 for Gilbert and 103 for Turner. Gilbert was a party dissident at the time and Turner was a citizen watchdog.

This time around, Davis is running with an unresolved DUI situation hanging over his head. One charge was dismissed in the much-delayed case, but three remain. The year-long case was postponed again just before Davis received the party’s endorsement and then again before the primary. It is now set for June 18. Mapp, a former councilman who served as president of the New Democrats even after winning a freeholder seat on the party line, was ousted from the party. His possible path back to the council has been complicated by the emergence of Lynch’s campaign and her parallel effort to form a coalition to buy the beleaguered hospital. Her work to save the hospital brought Lynch several front-page news stories and a high degree of visibility for a political novice.

Voters who have formed opinions on candidates should make sure to go to the polls, because results could be close. The winners will go on to the November general election, in which Democrat William Reid, unopposed in the primary, is running for an unexpired term in the First Ward and Republican Deborah Dowe is seeking the citywide at-large seat. Reid, Dowe and the primary winners may also be opposed by any independent candidates who file today.

--Bernice Paglia


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