Campaigns Trade Pension Pot-Shots in Burlington Sheriff’s Race

Stanfield

Stanfield

Kostoplis

Kostoplis

Collecting retirement income on the job is a much-lamented commonplace among county officials in New Jersey, and the practice is causing a stir in one South Jersey Republican stronghold.

Republican Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield’s reelection campaign is firing back at accusations of pension double-dipping from her Democratic challenger James Kostoplis, citing Kostoplis’ own use of a loophole allowing him to collect close to $90,000 a year in pension revenue while he was still working with sheriff’s department.

Kostoplis had taken to Facebook to accuse Stanfield of pursuing the office in order to run for a State Senator Diane Allen’s seat down the line, with her eye on a Senate pension. Though this website has speculated about Allen’s chances of retiring before the next election, the senator has said that she intends to run again in 2017.

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The post may have backfired. If elected sheriff, Kostoplis would stand to earn $120,000 a year on top of his pension earnings. Public records show Kostoplis collecting  $88,491 annually on pension benefits that kicked in when he retired in 2009.

A successful bid for Stansfield’s seat would offer him a $120,000 salary on top of his pension income. According to those records, Stanfield does not collect any pension income.

After his retirement, Kostoplis took a job with the Mercer County sheriff’s office and currently works as a Special Deputy Marshal assigned to Federal Court Security. Kostoplis again posted to Facebook to address Republican campaign materials accusing him of illegally holding both county and municipal offices.

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Kostoplis, who serves as the publicly elected chairman of Bordentown Township’s second fire district, did not return a request for comment Friday. GOP spokesman Chris Russell stood by the allegation.

“Nobody has attacked Mr. Kostoplis for being a volunteer firefighter, and no one has aired a television ad attacking him on anything. Rather, the very justifiable criticism included in our literature being handed out at doors speaks to his status as someone currently getting a taxpayer-funded retirement pension on top of a paycheck for serving in an elected office.

“If he’s elected Sheriff, Kostoplis will more than double that annual compensation at taxpayer expense.”

In a presidential year when many Republican lawmakers and public officials are distancing from their unlikely nominee, Democrats in occasional swing counties like Burlington, Somerset and Monmouth are hoping for down-ballot victories if Donald Trump’s candidacy proves unpopular with more staid Republican moderates.

Kostoplis will have a tough row to hoe to unseat Stanfield, who has been in office since 2002. New Jersey Republicans have better reason than usual to fight off Democratic inroads down the ballot; despite the Burlington GOP’s success in unseating Democratic freeholder Aimee Belgard in 2015, the party has a lot to prove after losing four seats in the State Assembly that same year.

Expect to see more county-level elections get equally as ugly.