Amy Kennedy will run for Congress

Former teacher and current mental health advocate Amy Kennedy, of Brigantine, has announced she is running in the Democratic primary to challenge Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, after his party switch to Republican. She said the public health crisis of addiction would be among her top priorities.

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?

Contact: 609-272-7219

MPost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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