Featured photo: Part of a racist mailing from the Mount Laurel Republican Party.
Mount Laurel in Burlington County is a diverse community of about 42,000 residents adjacent to the two major north/south highways in the state. It doesn’t have a downtown area but has grown in recent years as suburban sprawl encroaches onto this community that was once mostly farmland.
Republicans have dominated town politics since forever, but in 2018, two Democrats, with the help of activist organizations, captured seats on the five-person council. One – Stephen Steglik – was the founder of the Burlington County Young Democrats and the youngest member of the council, winning in his first attempt at elective office. The other, Kareem Pritchett, an African-American law enforcement officer and State Police Academy instructor, won in his second try.
Pritchett’s first run, in 2016, brought out the worst in GOP racism. The party’s literature included a doctored photo of him wearing a hoodie made to look like he was a thug. Pritchett lost that election, but persevered by winning in 2018,
But Pritchett’s victory did not stop GOP racism. In an attempt to maintain control, the GOP council members have proposed a change to the way we elect town council members, going to a non-partisan ballot with choices placed in what town Democratic Chair Michael Muller calls “ballot Siberia.” Muller pointed out that in the small number of New Jersey towns that use this system, many people simply don’t bother to vote for council candidates, leaving the choice to fewer people. By eliminating party affiliation, the Republicans would not have to run for the three open seats in 2020 with their criminal sexual predator at the top of the ticket. (Along the same lines, it should be noted that the Republican council members are fighting against affordable housing in the community.)
Judging by the response of the people of Mount Laurel, the GOP proposal has very little support. Last night, about 15 people spoke against it, with one political operative making a mild and hardly convincing speech in favor. Among those who spoke were Pritchett’s wife Shelley and his son Kareem Jr. Here are their remarks.