Questions over when Burlco will choose a new chair and who will run

The thinking after former Burlington County Chairman Rick Perr resigned last summer was that acting chair Alice Furia would lead the way until the election of a new chair in June. That all changed last Thursday night:

The Burlington County Democratic Committee has scheduled Feb. 4 to select a new chairperson, according to party sources, who say the leading candidates are state Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. of Delanco and Riverside Municipal Chairman Gary Haman.

The vote to set the date was made Thursday at the committee’s regular monthly meeting after Conaway put forward a resolution to hold a special election for party committee leadership within 30 days. The resolution narrowly passed, according to sources.

Haman has said he will make an announcement in coming days. It had been expected that Chris Fifis would seek the chairmanship, however he put this statement out on Friday:

2010 is a pivotal year for Burlington County residents. In order to ensure that the Burlington County Democratic Party is united and committed to winning, I am withdrawing my name from the race for Party Chairman and endorsing State Committeeman and Riverside Democratic Chairman Gary Haman.

While I am humbled by the outpouring of support for me to chair this great party, now is not the time for further intra party battles. We can’t change Burlington County unless we are united and the person to effectuate that change is clearly Gary Haman.

But now acting chair Alice Furia has fired back at Conaway’s attempt to move the election:

In a memo to county committee members she plans to send today, Furia calls a previous letter Conaway sent to them about the upcoming election “null and void.”

“In my 35 years experience with elections, we as a party have never had a candidate call the election, pick the date, time and place,” said Furia.  “This was done in a very improper manner.”

The choice of the chairman is only one issue facing the Burlington County Democrats in what should be a busy few months ahead. Follow me below the fold for more of the story.

This year could be a crucial one in Burlington County politics. Democrat John Adler of Cherry Hill is expected to face a difficult Republican challenger for his 3 rd Congressional District seat, and control of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders will again be at stake with Republican Joe Donnelly’s seat up for re-election.

Democrats also are expecting tough races in Pemberton Township and Evesham, and there is speculation that special elections could be held for either or both the 7th or 8th District Senate seats.

Incumbent Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, is recovering from cancer treatment and may decide to step down before finishing her term, and Sen. Phil Haines, R-8th of Springfield, may step down if Gov.-elect Chris Christie nominates him to become a Superior Court judge.

Speculation has centered around Chris Myers stepping up and taking the 8th district seat for the Republicans. In the 7th district, both Herb Conaway and Anthony Mazzarelli have expressed their interest in seeking the seat, though many are waiting to hear on the health of Senator Diane Allen. The 7th District Senate Seat has been the focus of a good deal of back and forth. First this email was leaked yesterday of what Conaway sent to Furia:

In an e-mail, Assemblyman Herbert Conaway, M.D. (D-Delanco) says he entered the race for Burlington County Democratic Chairman because “there appears to be far too much doubt about my moving up to Senate.” The Senate seat is currently held by Republican Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park), who is currently battling cancer.  The full text of Conaway’s e-mail to Alice Furia, obtained by “This is now the second time you’ve pulled the rug out from under me when you led me to believe that we were working as a team to achieve important things for our party.  One of the reasons I decided to run is that there appears to be far too much doubt about my moving up to Senate.  How is it that a couple of persons who have no business staking a claim to that seat are in fact doing so?  By taking on this challenge, I believe that I have at least a fighting chance of achieving my goal of serving in the Senate.  Not moving forward diminishes the likelihood of achieving that goal significantly.  I know fully well what I can do and what I cannot do.  I’m a worker.  Nobody has ever handed me a damn thing.  I did not decide to do this on a lark.  I never make important decisions that way.  Why are you turning your back on me?”

Then Conaway responded with this clarifying and explaining the email:

The email, he said, was his angry response to Acting Chairwoman Alice Furia, who he claimed not only had pledged to back him for the chairmanship, but actually recruited him to run for it.

“That email was a response to her breaking her commitment to me,” said Conaway from the assembly floor.

Conaway said that after Furia called him and asked him to consider running, he had a Nov. 17 meeting with her and Riverside Municipal Chairman Gary Haman, who has since decided to run against Conaway for the post.

“In fact, Gary Haman himself, sitting at that meeting, said to me you should announce early, because your stature would help clear the field, there would be less dilution of the county committee vote in the part of the state district that I represent.  Those were his words — his words,” said Conaway.  “If there was a time for him to say ‘By the way, I’m interested in running for county chair myself,’ that would have been the time to do it.”

Furia disputed that account today:

According to Furia, Conaway outlined some party officers he wanted to replace and discussed who would support his bid for the chairmanship.  Furia said that neither she nor Haman pledged to support Conaway.  

“All he did was come to my house and make a suggestion of what he wanted to do…  We listened to what he had to say,” said Furia.

After the meeting, Furia said, Conaway headed to the League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City, where she said he talked up his chairmanship bid without notifying the county’s municipal chairs.

“Really, I was furious at someone who could do something so stupid,” she said.

And then Freeholder Chris Brown responded to Conaway’s statements:

“What our county’s Democratic Party does not need… is a new chairman whose only motivation to hold office is to assist his own personal state Senate ambitions,” said Brown in a written statement. “First of all, that thinking is premature, as Sen. Diane Allen is still is in office, and second, it is disturbing to think that Herb merely wants to be our party chairman to help himself become Senator.”

So as you can see, things certainly aren’t quiet in Burlington County these days. As it stands now, who knows when we’ll actually vote.

Full disclosure, I’m a Burlington county committee member and will have a vote in this election, whenever it is held. I’ve also done plenty of work with players on all sides of this game.

Comment (1)

  1. Jay Lassiter

    But i’d vote for Gary.  But what do i know?  i only spent 2/3 of my political life in that office….


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