In congressional district 1, Alex Law is challenging incumbent Democrat Congressman Donald Norcross. Law is a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter and vetted pro-Bernie freeholder candidates—Steve Kelly and Mo’Neke Ragsdale—to run with him under the slogan “True Democrats for Camden County.”
However, while Law has come out strong for Sanders, the senator has not returned the favor. Law’s campaign has yet to be endorsed by Sanders (and it is unknown if the senator has any plans to make that leap) and the Sanders New Jersey campaign is actually running two of their own freeholder candidates, Anthony DeStefanis and Franklin Frake, for freeholder in Camden County. But, unlike the hopes Law has that Kelly and Ragsdale will become Camden County’s newest freeholders, the Sanders campaign used the candidacy of DeStefanis and Frake to ensure Sanders got a strong ballot position rather than as actual candidates running campaigns. The move came as part of an effort by New Jersey’s Sanders campaign to work with New Jersey’s complicated bracketing regulations.
According to Law, he had hoped to appear on the ballot under Sanders with Ragsdale and Kelly but was denied that by the New Jersey Sanders campaign chair John Wisniewski.
“John Wisniewski has endorsed my opponent and has been working very closely with him and was not open to speaking with our campaign about the very strong candidates that we had vetted that are both Bernie Sanders supporters and was determined to put in place the two folks that he did,” Law told PolitickerNJ. “What we were offering was for all of us to be in the Sanders column.”
To date, Sanders has only endorsed four congressional candidates: Nevada 4th district candidate Lucy Flores, Washington 7th district candidate Pramila Jayapal, New York 19th district candidate Zephyr Teachout, and Florida’s 23rd candidate Tim Canova. The endorsement of Canova was a particular buck to the Democratic establishment because with that endorsement Sanders further pitted himself against Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the incumbent Canova is challenging. According to Law, the Canova endorsement is proof that Sanders may be willing to further distance himself from the Democratic establishment and endorse Law over Norcross.
“We are still hopeful that we will be on that list,” Law said. “We knew that he was planning on endorsing congressional candidates so we were hoping to get Bernie Sanders in that column with me and the freeholder candidates. Donald Norcross is as bad of a Democrat as Debbie Wasserman Schultz and we have seen Bernie Sanders endorse her opponent. It was really great for all of us progressives out there to see Bernie stand up for a strong progressive like Tim. I certainly think it is possible he would do the same in this district.”
In a May 16 “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) thread on reddit.com, Law answered a question about petition challenges for he and his father, Peter Law, submitted to Camden County Clerk’s Office in April. In those challenges, Law questioned the following joint freeholder petitions: Thomas Sterns and Kathryn Petner; Amy LaConte-Smith and Maryann Dunn; Chris Kehner and Ralph Gorgo; and DeStefanis and Frake.
According to his AMA answer, Law decided to submit those petition challenges because “it created a situation where there would be multiple challenging groups of freeholder, splitting the opposition vote and making it much more likely that the corrupt incumbents would win.” Law also said that the petitions were challenged because they “wanted to make the choice between the corrupt incumbent and our excellent alternative candidates as clear as possible.”
According to Law, having a large number of individuals on a ballot is a way for the “machine to manipulate ballots by having large amounts of people run and creating ballot confusion that allows them to have a unified column that looks very appealing to voters.”
Despite the challenge, the Sanders campaign’s freeholder candidates will still appear on the ballot in Camden County. According to Law, the move to petition the freeholders chosen by Sanders was in no way a slight against Sanders himself.
“We never expected Bernie to be at risk at all because he was always invited to use our freeholder candidates and be in our column on the ballot,” Law said.
According to New Jersey Sanders delegate Bill Caruso, however, the move to file petition challenges by law was a spiteful effort prompted by the Sanders campaign’s lack of endorsement.
“His effort, even if it was successful, was never going to link the Sanders campaign back to him. Not because Bernie had said so, but because the deadline had passed,” Caruso said. “He has been doing this a lot, he has been doing this on social media. It is just really frustrating to see this misinformation and passing Assemblyman Wisniewski off as the bad guy which I don’t think he was. He was just trying to do what he could. If you take Alex at his word, he is wrong. I think it was a spiteful effort because it would have linked the campaigns it just would have hurt the Sanders campaign.”
Law also called DeStefanis “unstable” in the AMA, something that he repeated during a conversation with PolitickerNJ.
“I have met with him many times personally and he is just someone that I don’t believe has a very firm grasp on what is going on with politics around here,” Law said. “It was a determination that I have had from meeting and feedback from Mr. Freke that we go ahead and challenge the petitions of all the freeholder candidates.”
While Law stresses the Ragsdale and Kelly were heavily vetted by his campaign, both candidates have experience with bankruptcy proceedings. Kelly filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on August 10, 2010. Ragsdale filed for chapter 13 bankruptcy protection on numerous occasions, most recently on June 7, 2011 and August 10, 2014.
For Law, however, those filings should not matter.
“I don’t think that that is relevant at all,” Law said. “Both are fantastic leaders in their community.”