What’s been whispered in Camden for some time is finally out in the open. Arthur Barclay, the fast-rising Camden politician who used support from the Camden County Democratic Committee to secure the line initially for a city council seat, then later for the LD5 Assembly seat, has resigned after being charged with domestic assault for punching his girlfriend and breaking her nose.
Barclay is gone, as it should be after an incident as ugly as this. But what remains is that the Camden County Democratic Party that repeatedly groomed and selected him for office now has the opportunity to appoint a new member to the Assembly. That party continues to avoid a transparent discussion of the process of Barclay’s appointment (why was he chosen?) and has not acknowledged that his resignation is due to assault charges. In fact, the Courier-Post’s Phaedra Trethan reports that:
Camden County Democratic Party Chairman James Beach announced Monday evening that Barclay stepped down “effective immediately … for health reasons.”
This is how the wheel spins in South Jersey. Politicians come and go. But so long as it’s a game of musical chairs, the local Democratic Party has the ability to cherry-pick the next appointment. That can happen by choosing who becomes the favorite by joining more prominent officials on the line, as it did when local party officials petitioned to add Arthur Barclay to be a part of the city council slate after the slate had originally been submitted and again when local party officials chose Arthur Barclay to replace Holly Cass who won the Democratic Primary as a placeholder. Or the process is even more direct, such as when Donald Norcross was appointed to State Senate just days after winning his election to the Assembly.
That’s the situation the local party has now; it has 8-10 days to appoint someone to the Assembly.
But what do we know about that process? At Congressman Don Norcross and Assemblywoman Pat Egan Jones’ recent town hall, virtually all of the constituent questions were about how to make local democracy more effective. Here’s an opportunity to not just talk the talk but to walk the walk. Open up the appointment process, hold open meetings between Camden County Democratic Party Committee Members or leaders on the topic rather than decide the appointment in private, and allow for public input at those meetings. Then make the case to the public that the appointee is the best person for the job. Bring South Jersey politics out of the back rooms — where mistakes like this get made — and into the public’s eye.
Because when an elected official hand-picked by the party punches his girlfriend in the face, is charged with assault, and the party statement on the resignation does not acknowledge its error in repeatedly backing such an official, we have a broken democratic system. It’s time to fix it.