Brigantine’s Amy Kennedy, 41, formally launched her campaign Monday to be the Democratic candidate to challenge U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, and called on county Democratic chairs to reconsider their early endorsement of a rival.
She said the addiction crisis, mental health, environmental issues and jobs for South Jersey would be her top priorities.
“The field wasn’t set yet. I think there is still the opportunity to do that (convince county chairs to change their minds),” she said of six of eight county Democratic chairmen in the 2nd District endorsing Montclair State University professor Brigid Callahan Harrison, who has a house in Longport. That included Cumberland and Cape May county chairmen.
“I think I have to show my strength and let them make that decision after seeing all the candidates now joining the race. It was early, and it was something they may be inclined to change once they see the candidates,” Kennedy said.
“I welcome Amy and anybody else who wants to run in this primary. Primaries are good for democracy because they encourage participation in our elections,” Harrison said. “I look forward to our discussions in the coming months over the issues that matter most to the people of South Jersey.”
Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman was not one of the county chairs who endorsed Harrison. He has said he is “keeping my powder dry — staying neutral.” Four of the five Democrats who have announced so far live in Atlantic County.
Husband Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman and the son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, is looking forward to taking the lead on child care for their five children, ages 19 months to almost 12, Kennedy said.
And she does not plan to self-fund her campaign.
“We are going to be committed to pulling together whatever it will take,” Kennedy said. “While I am going to put some money behind my campaign, I also want to have the support of the people we are running for. I think there’s a little bit of fatigue with all voters about somebody coming in and just going to the wall with all of their own money. Then it’s not really a campaign of the people.”
After Van Drew’s “no” vote on impeachment of President Donald Trump and Van Drew’s party switch last month, Kennedy said she formed an exploratory committee to consider running. The former teacher joins a field of Democrats including Harrison; Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett, who is giving up running for re-election as a freeholder to run for Congress; West Cape May Councilman John Francis, a writer and motivational speaker; and another Brigantine resident, Robert Turkavage, who is a former FBI agent and a Republican who recently switched to the Democratic party.
Salem County retired educator Tanzie Youngblood, and Vineland native and former Cory Booker staffer Will Cunningham, both of whom ran unsuccessfully against Van Drew in the 2018 Democratic primary, are also considering runs, as is Cumberland County Freeholder Jack Surrency. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, has not ruled out running.
“Too many of our leaders have lost their moral compass. Trump and Van Drew are symptoms of a bigger sickness infecting our country and our politics,” Kennedy said in a video announcing her run on a new campaign website. “Doing what’s right shouldn’t be complicated. ... Treat one another with respect. Show some compassion. And look out for others.
“But that’s not what’s happening today.”
The crowded Democratic field doesn’t faze her.
“Voters have a lot of good candidates running, and I’m excited to make my case,” said Kennedy, who grew up in Absecon and Pleasantville. “This is a district that has a lot of challenges. Our towns, neighborhoods, were built by the middle class.”
Kennedy said people in South Jersey can’t find good jobs, while the richest corporations pay almost no taxes, and “our coastline is under attack from energy corporations and climate change, while environmental regulations are gutted.”
Kennedy is the education director of The Kennedy Forum, where she works on policy change in the areas of education and mental health. She called the addiction crisis, especially opioid addiction, the biggest public health crisis of our time, affecting almost every family.
“I can’t sit back and wait for things to change,” said Kennedy, who comes from a South Jersey political family.
“As a fourth generation South Jerseyan, I will never turn my back on the people of this district. I’ll be an independent voice in Congress and work to get us back on the right track,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy’s father, Jerry Savell, was a Democratic Atlantic County freeholder and a councilman in both Absecon and Pleasantville.
She will soon have a campaign headquarters set up where people can find more information and volunteer.
“We have gotten a lot of energy and excitement,” Kennedy said. “It’s the first day and people really want to help and volunteer. I want to take full advantage of that.
Oldest child Harper will be 12 in February, and will help with the campaign but won’t get a cell phone yet. This probably isn’t the year for her kids to be seeing a lot of social media.
“There’s going to be criticism and detractors like we will also have supporters. Knowing what my priorities are will help get me through some of that stuff,” she said. “I’m keeping in mind on why I’m doing it. ... I’m not content to just be a frustrated voter. I want to get involved in the process, knowing it comes with some ugliness.”
Owen, 7, has already offered suggestions.
“He said, ‘Maybe make a law for no school on Mondays,’” Kennedy said. “I’m not sure if he’s going to be my policy guy.”
Her campaign website can be found at AmyKennedyforCongress.com.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.
Who is running in the 2nd Congressional District Race?
Incumbent: Jeff Van Drew
Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, made national news in his freshman year in Congress, which he started as a Democrat and ended as a Republican.
Long known as a moderate in the state Assembly and Senate, many thought Van Drew would continue to be a solid Democrat who occasionally deviated from the party on issues like gun rights, after he was elected in 2018 to fill the seat of longtime Congressman Frank LoBiondo, a moderate Republican.
But right from the start, Van Drew set himself apart by voting "no" for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker -- fulfilling a campaign promise but confusing those on the House floor. He was supposed to call out a name of someone for speaker, so his "no" vote was recorded as "present."
Then he was one of the few Democrats calling for bipartisan compromise on a budget to end what became the longest federal government shutdown in history. Later, he visited the southern border and came back saying there was, indeed, a crisis there. He supported both some funding for a border wall, and increased funding for housing and services to undocumented migrants. Van Drew was also one of just two Demcorats to first vote against proceeding with an impeachment inquiry, and to vote against both articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
And on Dec. 19, 2019, he announced his party change to Republican while sitting next to Trump in the Oval Office.
Brian T. Fitzherbert (dropped out of race Jan. 24, 2020), 30, of Egg Harbor Township, founded the Atlantic County Young Republicans and ran in 2018 in the Republican primary, but withdrew before the primary that was won by Seth Grossman.
Fitzherbert stresses his knowledge of technology and aviation as an advantage for him to help develop those industries in South Jersey. He is a Program Manager for defense contractor L3Harris, working on multimillion dollar programs for military vehicles. Previously, he developed drones, ground control stations, electronic warfare testers, simulators, and area attack weapons supporting the Warfighter at Textron Systems.
He graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his graduate studies at the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, studying systems engineering and project management.
He has racked up endorsements from a wide variety of local officials, including former Assemblyman and Cumberland County Freeholder Sam Fiocchi and Northfield Mayor Erland Chau.
David Richter, 53, the former CEO of Hill International in Philadelphia, is an engineer, lawyer and businessman. He recently moved to Avalon from Princeton, but summered much of his life in the Cape May County town.
“I understand what it takes to get things built,” said Richter. “In Congress, I plan to work hard to ensure the federal government is investing in South Jersey’s infrastructure — expanding our transportation network, keeping our environment clean and maintaining our coastline.”
Richter earned two bachelor’s degrees and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as master’s degrees from Oxford and Harvard universities, he said.
He and his wife, Michelle, have been married for 20 years and have four daughters.
Patterson has homes in Haddonfield and Ocean City, and ran in 2018 against Congressman Donald Norcross, D-1st, in the district that covers Camden and its surroundings.
Patterson, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, said he is running for Congress to protect conservative values and make South Jersey great again. His priorities are protecting American jobs, restoring manufacturing in South Jersey, ending unfair trade deals, and securing the nation's borders.
Patterson recently worked in the Trump administration as a senior adviser and acting associate commissioner at the Social Security Administration. Prior to that he worked as vice president for government relations at the U.S. Business & Industry Council (USBIC), an organization committed to strengthening U.S. manufacturing and opposing unfair trade deals.
Ashley Bennett, a Democrat elected to the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2017, faces re-election in 2020 as she runs for the right to challenge Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd.
A psychiatric emergency screener at Cape Regional Medical Center, she decided to run for freeholder after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, and in response to a Facebook posting by then-Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman. It was about the Women’s March in January that questioned whether the women would be home in time to make dinner. Bennett ran for and won Carman’s seat.
West Wildwood Commissioner John Francis, 73, has a colorful and unusual biography, and he wrote about it in a book published by National Geographic called, "Planet Walker: 22 years of walking, 17 years of silence." Francis spent many of his younger adult years refusing to ride in cars or other vehicles that use fossil fuels, after seeing the results of an oil spill on the Pacific coast. He also stopped speaking for 17 years, in order to learn to listen, he said. During that time, however, he earned a bachelor's, master's and doctorate, became an expert in oil spill cleanup, and worked for the Coast Guard. Now he travels the world as a motivational speaker, he said.
He learned in his silent travels about the interconnectedness of all issues, Francis said. "Really it's all about people and how we treat each other. It's going to manifest in the physical environment." So he said his focus in Congress would not just be on environmentalism, but on human and civil rights, gender equality and economic equity and human relationships "as the foundation for what happens in the environment. You have to be really interested in everything."
Brigid Callahan Harrison
Longport's Brigid Callahan Harrison is a professor of politics and law at Montclair State University in Essex County. She has been endorsed for by State Senate President Steve Sweeney, by six of the eight county Democratic chairs in the Second Congressional District, and by others.
Long a commenter in the media about New Jersey politics, this is Harrision's first run for office.
Amy Kennedy, of Brigantine, is a former teacher and the wife of former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, with whom she has five children. She announced Jan. 6 she will run in the 2020 Democratic primary.
Kennedy, now a mental health advocate, said she and her husband have supported Van Drew in the past, “but he has clearly lost his way.”
“Our nation is in crisis. Our political system is in crisis. Our environment is in crisis," Kennedy wrote in a press statement. "We have serious unaddressed needs in our schools and in our mental health and addiction system. Our economy, though strong, is not meeting the needs of the underserved and middle class.”
Jack Surrency, of Bridgeton, is a Democratic freeholder in Cumberland County.
He was first elected to the Bridgeton City Council in 2010 as part of a slate headed by Mayor Albert Kelly, and served on the Bridgeton Board of Education from 2002-2010, according to his resume.
He attended the Tuskegee Institute from 1976-1978, majoring in chemistry with a business minor. He also holds a master's degree in Community and Economic Development from New Hampshire College in Manchester.
Robert Turkavage, 64, is a former FBI agent and manager out of New York. He has recently switched parties to become a Democrat, after a lifetime in the GOP.
Turkavage last ran in the 2018 Republican primary for the 2nd District race, losing to Seth Grossman, and this time is running as a Democrat.
He changed his party affiliation because the Republicans have increased the national debt by $3.1 billion as a result of tax cuts that benefited the wealthy, he said, and because of Prseident Trump's attacks on the press and the intelligence community.
“It’s going to be challenging,” Turkavage said Tuesday of breaking through in a crowded Democratic field. “I will be knocking on doors every day from January till primary day” on June 2.
Will Cunningham, 34, a native of Vineland who has worked for Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and now works for the House Oversight Committee in Washington, D.C., announced Jan. 8 he was entering the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District.
He ran against Van Drew in the Democratic primary in 2018, and said he has the most experience in Washington, D.C., of all the candidates in the race of either party.
Cunningham said he was homeless for a time as a teen when his mom lost her job. He said his mom is still an hourly worker in Cumberland County, making $11.50 an hour. Yet with hard work and the help of government programs, he was able to get an Ivy League college education at Brown University. He also has a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
"Despite my accomplishments, I have not lost touch with how folks struggle to make ends meet," Cunningham said. "I don't have to look far."