A look into Cherry Hill’s elections
November 2, 2020
As the 2020 general election rapidly approaches, most Americans are focused on the general election. While this is important, many other local and statewide elections are taking place on November third in down-ballot races. These include elections for US Senate, the local Board of Education, Surrogate, Board of Chosen Freeholders, and Member of Council. While the presidential race may get most of the attention, these local races play a large role in influencing local policy, which at times, more directly impacts voters than the presidential election. Therefore, for general information on the election and a guide on who most closely aligns with your views, Eastside has compiled information on an array of candidates on Cherry Hill’s ballot.
Taking a look at the roles of local elected positions
Although the term “election” is now often associated with Presidential or Gubernatorial candidates, recognizing its importance on the local level is vital as well. On today’s ballot, if you are a Cherry Hill resident, not only will you see a ballot for the Senate and House of Representatives, but also the Surrogate, three Members of Board of Chosen Freeholders, and a Member of Council. These terms might not seem as familiar as the others.
A Surrogate Court monitors disciplines related to wills, debilitated people, and the guardianship of minors. The court often oversees anything related to life and death, so they need to have a steady hand when addressing difficult topics. The current position holder is Surrogate Michelle Gentek-Mayer, who is seeking reelection this year. To add, the court addresses marital issues and handles public records.
Surrogate Gentek-Mayer, from the Democratic Party, is going up against Kimberley Stuart, from the Republican Party. Despite their political positions, each woman is ultimately going to have to watch over the personal lives of the residents of Camden County and help them remove their adversities.
Next on the ballot is a Member of the Board of Chosen Freeholder for an unexpired term. A Member of the Board of Chosen Freeholder has a duty to improve the quality of life in their respective counties, in this case, Camden County. The Members up for this election are Nicole Nance and Almar Dyer, who will attend monthly meetings discussing their responsibilities. The official Camden County website defines their responsibilities as discussing the distribution of their budget between “law enforcement, welfare, education, roads, and economic development.”
To add onto this, there is another ballot of two Members of the Board of Chosen Freeholder, with an expired term as opposed to the ones above. These two members will fulfill the same duties listed previously. The candidates up for election are Jennifer Moore vs. the current director of the board Louis Cappelli Jr. and Johanna Scheetss vs current member Jonathan L. Young Sr.
Next, the Member of Council is having an election. Like the first Member of the Board of Chosen Freeholder, there is an unexpired term between Nancy Feller O’Dowd and current councilman William A. Carter III. This only pertains to Cherry Hill residents. The duties of these people are to represent the citizens of Cherry Hill. They also manage the budget of the township and talk about the request of their residents.
To add, the ballot includes the roles of Members of the local Board of Education. There is another package pertaining to these candidates.
Finally on the ballot is the Fire District Annual Election. The candidates are different for every Fire District, but the office title is the Members of Board of Fire Commissioners. They will ensure that their district stays safe and monitor different problems which occur. Two people will be elected for each district.
With all of this in mind, please stay safe and vote in this election!
Candidates for Board of Education take positions on the issues
On November 3, much of voters’ attention will be paid to races for the U.S. Presidency and Congress. Meanwhile, one of the most impactful races for Cherry Hill residents’ daily lives may go more under the radar for many, as five candidates vie for three seats on the Board of Education. Eastside spoke with four of those candidates about a number of key issues. Carol Matlack, a current member of the Board of Education and candidate for re-election, declined an interview with Eastside. She offered to instead submit responses in writing to questions that were provided. All of the candidates’ positions have been summarized here, along with Eastside’s individual profiles of each, which can be found in another package on Eastside Online.
The five candidates in the race have varying backgrounds. Dr. Aslihan Cakmak is an educator and chairperson at an institute of higher education. Ineda “Corrien” Elmore-Stratton works as the Executive Director for the Greater Philadelphia YMCA. Miriam Stern is a licensed clinical social worker and business-owner. Matlack serves on the Board now and highlighted her experience as a preschool director. John Papeika works in food safety at a supermarket. All five have children and live in Cherry Hill.
In discussing Cherry Hill’s schools’ response to COVID-19, candidates’ opinions were varied. Papeika suggested three options should be available for families, including in-person, hybrid, and remote learning. He criticized a lack of planning by the district, as did Cakmak. Cakmak said she would work to get the students most in need of in-person learning back to school, and suggested various solutions for extra school time to make up missed learning. Stern and Elmore-Stratton both emphasized listening to the community to work towards the best solution for the most people. Matlack emphasized putting health first while writing that safe reopening of schools is a top priority.
On the issue of school start times, Cakmak, Elmore-Stratton, and Stern expressed support for listening to research and exploring a move to later starts. Papeika said he’s open to ideas but leans toward sticking to traditional start times. Matlack did not offer a position but wrote that the Board may consider the issue soon.
Coming to the topic of school funding and building repairs, all candidates agreed solutions need to be explored to repair or rebuild Cherry Hill’s schools. They also generally said Cherry Hill must continue to seek fair state funding, though often emphasizing exploring alternative funding in addition or in the interim. Stern has been involved with the fair funding fight for years and suggested private-public partnership, naming rights for buildings, a new bond, alumni fundraising, and grants should all be explored as sources of alternative funding. Matlack emphasized her and the Board’s work testifying and advocating in favor of increased state funding.
Talking about policing in schools, Cakmak and Stern most emphasized listening to community input to move forward in the best possible way. Stern said better restorative practices need to be employed in schools overall. Papeika said he’s in the middle of the road on the issue, open to keeping or decreasing police in schools. Elmore-Stratton spoke of her own experiences and work on the issue, saying she’s now more comfortable with police in schools than she once was. She emphasized school police being present in a positive way and not getting involved with discipline. Matlack said in light of recent events and issues, the Board needs to reconsider the issue of school policing.
Each candidate made a case as to why they are the best prepared and qualified to serve on the Board. Choosing someone who will best represent you and your ideas was an idea often emphasized. As the election approaches, one final message was consistent among each and every candidate for the Board of Education: everyone should get out and vote.
A dive into the New Jersey Senate election
This year Senator Cory Booker is up for re-election. After losing in the Democratic presidential primaries, he is running for re-election for his Senate seat. He is facing off against Republican Rik Mehta, The Green Party candidate Madelyn Hoffman, and two independent candidates, Daniel Burke and Veronica Fernandez.
On October 27, Republican candidate Rik Mehta and Cory Booker had a debate. When it came to the Governor’s response to COVID-19 the two candidates had very different opinions. Booker said he believed Gov. Murphy has “shown extraordinary leadership and made really a lot of tough calls” and that Gov. Murphy fought to make sure that New Jersey had the resources it needed. He elaborated on how he was put in a difficult situation and it was wrong that he had to bid against other states to obtain these resources. Whereas Mehta disagreed and said “New Jersey out of every other state in the country has lost the most number of lives to COVID… and that is unacceptable.” He also believes that Gov. Murphy needs to be held accountable for his mishandling of the virus.
Another pressing issue that the two candidates disagreed on, is whether or not systemic racism exists. Booker said it is real and an issue, whereas Mehta disagreed and said that if systemic racism existed he and Booker would not have made it so far in politics.
Booker and Mehta also diverge on the issue of abortion. Booker is pro-choice whereas Mehta is pro-life.
As of October 14, 2020, Cory Booker has spent over 10 times more on his campaign than Mehta. According to Ballotpedia, Booker has spent $6,030,677 on his campaign and Mehta has only spent $561,049. In addition, Fernandez spent $11,505 and Burke has spent $6,155. According to the Cook Political Report from October 27 New Jersey is a solid democratic state and will, in all likelihood, reelect Booker.
The only way to truly decide who will fill the seat is by voting! So, if you are registered to vote make sure to cast your ballot by voting early, dropping your mail-in ballot at a NJ drop box location, or voting on November 3.
Opinion: with state legalization on the ballot, the choice is clear
For many New Jersey residents, voting in the upcoming election can seem futile. New Jersey is virtually guaranteed to go Democratic in the general election and with the current electoral system, this means all of New Jersey’s votes will go toward Joe Biden. However, it’s important to remember that there are many local and state issues also on the ballot, including the state ballot questions, notably legalizing marijuana. In a country where hundreds of thousands of people are arrested due to marijuana related offenses, it is imperative that New Jersey citizens vote “yes” on the first ballot question: “do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis?”.
From a scientific perspective, there is little evidence that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco, two recreationally legal substances in New Jersey. In fact, a Scientific Reports study done in 2015 on the recreational use of 10 drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes, found marijuana to be the safest drug. Although marijuana has clear downsides such as negative effects on an adolescent brain (the ballot question is for ages 21 and older), a legal substance like tobacco is considered the leading cause of preventable death in America. There is no logical scientific reason that one substance should be illegal, while the other is not.
Furthermore, legalizing marijuana will decrease many of the risks associated with the drug because of the ability to regulate it. Since more than half of US adults have tried marijuana despite its federally illegal status, it’s safe to say the legal status of the substance won’t prevent people from using it. There is no way to track where marijuana from illegal dealers has been; it can be laced with nearly anything. If it’s legalized, all marijuana can be properly regulated, with health warnings, concentration of THC, and more. Many states have even shown decreased minor use of marijuana after it’s legalization, with Colorado’s minor marijuana rate dropping 12% only 2 years after its legalization.
Legal marijuana use will also weaken many cartels and organized gangs, with the US border patrol reporting the lowest marijuana seizures in over a decade. Money that is currently not taxable and unaccounted for will be circulating within the state economy, creating jobs and boosting the New Jersey economy during this pandemic; taxpayers will no longer have to fund millions of dollars into police resources to enforce marijuana laws.
This election day is more than just Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump. Improving the federal government is incredibly important, but improving the local government is too. Nobody should be serving prison time for a recreational drug and NJ citizens have a chance to make that a reality on November 3rd. Please take the time out to educate yourself on the three ballot questions before casting your vote.