More room for women, minorities in politics

{child_byline}MICHELLE BRUNETTI POST

Staff Writer

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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Andrew Parker III is the first African American ever elected to Township Committee here — at least in the past 100 years, which is as far back as he could research through the local historical society, he said.

He’s a teacher in Atlantic City, a union member and a member of the NAACP Pleasantville/Mainland branch, with photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama on his living room walls.

And he’s a fiscally conservative Republican.

“We know, and let’s be honest, as elected officials, the more we keep government out of people’s business, the better life will be,” said Parker, 41. “Nothing runs efficiently if we let government run it.”

He admires King and Obama for their leadership and manner of conducting themselves, he said, even if he didn’t always agree with Obama.

In his dining room is a framed tribute to Abraham Lincoln, a Republican.

Parker is one of the new faces of diversity among local elected officials. They not only represent minority groups of all kinds, but they also break stereotypes about party membership.

He wants to focus on bringing more ratables to the township, especially by getting new businesses into the Harbor Square and former Pathmark properties off the Black Horse Pike. That’s the best way to put a dent in property taxes, he said, of which about 70 percent are local school taxes.

“The single worst thing we (African Americans) do is give the Democrat Party what we once gave the Republican Party” — almost total loyalty — Parker said. “It makes them take us for granted. We are the only group in the country that votes as a block 90 to 95 percent of the time.”

Longtime Egg Harbor Township Mayor James J. “Sonny” McCullough, a Republican, said he has known Parker most of his life and encouraged him to run.

“I coached him as a young athlete. I can’t tell you how pleased I was (the night he was elected),” said McCullough, who is retiring after more than 30 years in elected office. “I believe he’s a game changer. People will recognize the Republican Party is open to everybody. Absolutely we’re inclusive. We want everyone to join ... people who believe in the Republican philosophy of open government, smaller government.”

Parker, whose wife, Neysha, was born in Puerto Rico and is a teacher in the Camden School District, said he was an independent through college. When he moved back to the township, where he grew up, he tried attending a Democrat Party meeting. But the fit wasn’t right, he said.

“I always had conservative values. I never spend money I don’t have,” said Parker. “I tell people, examine your lives. How do you live your life? I would never tell anyone to join the Republican Party. It’s a personal decision.”

He joined the local Republicans, a party that dominates elected office here, and has spent the past eight years on the Zoning Board while coaching sports and volunteering in the community.

It annoys him when people accuse him of selling out just because he joined the Republicans, he said.

“I belong to the NAACP, the Prince Hall Masons, I mentor with a group Brother 2 Brother, teach in Atlantic City,” he said. “What do you mean I sold out? I’m doing all this work in the community.”

Women on both sides of the aisle

This year’s election saw three women, all Democrats, attempt but fail to unseat three incumbent Republicans on the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

One of those GOP incumbents was also a woman, Freeholder board Vice Chairwoman Maureen Kern. She had been a Somers Point school board member and councilwoman before running for freeholder and winning in 2016. At the time, the Republican was the first woman elected to the freeholder board in years.

And in September 2016, the Atlantic County Republican Committee selected Hamilton Township Deputy Mayor Amy Gatto to finish out the term of Freeholder-at-large Will Pauls after he resigned.

After two female Democratic contenders won in 2017, the board is now made up of four women and five men.

“Women are definitely breaking the ground in both parties,” said Kern. And both parties are looking for the next generation of women to step up to run, she said.

“I try to mentor younger women and show them a good representation of women in politics and as a leader,” Kern said of her work with the New Day Family Success Center’s South Jersey’s Girls Empowerment Camp and All In Together: Women Leading Change.

She’s also active with the Atlantic County Federation of Republican Women, which meets regularly and helps raise money for candidates to run.

Her own political career evolved from volunteering to local elections to the freeholder board.

“It was almost like every seven years there were opportunities and I had the feeling I could add something to the next level,” said Kern.

But she said she noticed this time when campaigning it was more challenging to keep the focus on county issues.

“The toughest thing was to be able to constantly bring it back ... to stay focused on what our responsibilities are, how we are able to affect you and help you, within what we can do as freeholders,” said Kern.

Instead, people seemed to want to focus on national issues, and to be more likely to vote for local candidates based on national party preferences.

Local and county elected positions focus on bread-and-butter services, not large ideological issues, she said.

“Once elected, you are (working) for everybody,” said Kern.

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{child_related_content}{child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_style}Just The Facts{/child_related_content_style}{child_related_content_title}Just The Facts{/child_related_content_title}{child_related_content_content}

Women in 2018 U.S. Elections{&bullet}

In the new 116th Congress at least 125 women will serve (106 Democrats and 19 Republicans); including 102 in the House and 23 in the U.S. Senate. That increases the percentage from 20 percent to 23 percent female overall.

Freshman class of women in House is largest ever in 2019, with at least 36 non-incumbent women elected, of which 35 are Democrats. There is still one undecided contest. The previous high was 24 non-incumbent freshmen women, in 1992.

There will be a record total of at least 43 women of color in the House, of whom 22 (all Democrats) are Black; 12 are Latina (11 Democrats, 1 Republican); 6 are Asian/Pacific Islander (all Democrats); 2 are Native American (both Democrats); and one is Middle Eastern/North African (Democrat). The previous high was 34.

Nine women won races for Governor in 2018, matching the previous record number in both 2004 and 2007.

Women in New Jersey elected office{&bullet}

Women constitute 29.2 percent of the state’s senators and assembly members, beating the national average of 25.3 percent and putting it 16th of 50 states. The state was in the bottom 10 nationally as recently as 2004.

Women held 29 percent of freeholder positions, 25 percent of of council seats, and 14 percent of mayor positions in 2018.

Atlantic County ranks dead last of 21 counties in the state for women members of municipal governing bodies. Just 15 percent of councilpeople were women in Atlantic County in 2018.

And Cumberland (16 percent), Cape May (21 percent) and Ocean (22 percent) also rank towards the bottom for female participation in local elected office.

Atlantic County ranks high (3rd) for female freeholders, followed by Cumberland (8th), Cape May (11th) and Ocean (11th).

For female mayors, local counties are in the middle, with Cumberland doing best (9th), followed by Cape May and Ocean (11th) and Atlantic (16th).

The top five counties overall for female participation in elected office are Union, Mercer, Camden, Hunterdon and Bergen counties.

{&bullet}SOURCE: Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics

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“We elected one new woman to our Congressional delegation,” said Kelly Dittmar, a Rutgers scholar at the Center and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers Camden, when asked about the highlights of November’s elections. “We are up to two.”

New Jersey’s two female members of Congress are both Democrats. They are incumbent Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, who was re-elected this month in the 12th district in Central Jersey; and Congresswoman-elect Mikie Sherrill, whose win flipped the 11th district House seat centered in North Jersey’s wealthy Morris County — long a Republican stronghold.

Watson Coleman was first elected to Congress in 2014, and is the first Black woman to represent New Jersey in Congress. She was also the first to serve as Majority Leader of the New Jersey General Assembly and to Chair the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

There has never been a woman elected to U.S. Senator from New Jersey.

“It was a little different in New Jersey because of the dynamics of Congressional races (with a lot of Democratic incumbents running), and we didn’t have state legislative races,” said Dittmar of the November elections.

Dittmar said women have stepped up in primaries, but are less likely to be part of the party apparatus so not as likely to get the party support they need.

She pointed to Tanzie Youngblood, an African American woman running in the primary to be the Democrat nominee for the Congressional race in the 2nd district that covers all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties and parts of four other counties.

That nomination was won by longtime state Senator Jeff Van Drew, who also won the general election in November.

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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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