The eighth district legislative race was all about Democratic Assembly candidate Tracy Riley today.
In Mount Holly, Riley held a press conference to condemn Republicans for a controversial campaign flyer they had issued. Republicans, in turn, accused Riley of trying to line the pockets of her running mate, Fran Bodine, with a backroom land deal in Mount Laurel, where she serves as a councilwoman.
At the press conference, held in front of the Burlington County office building, Riley condemned her Assembly opponents over a controversial mail piece that featured a picture of masked men carrying automatic rifles in what appears to be a terrorist or paramilitary organization in the Middle-East.
The flyer was based on Riley’s husband’s court-appointed representation of alleged Fort Dix plotter Shain Duka.
“He came to our country illegally. He plotted with other Islamic radicals to kill American soldiers at Fort Dix Now, Tracy Riley’s family’s law firm is defending him… and your tax dollars are paying them to do it,” reads the mailer, which ends with the ominous note “Whose values will she represent in Trenton? Ours? Or theirs?”
Riley had held the mailer up at a debate last weekend, criticizing the Republicans for what she said negative nature of their campaign.
“I just wanted to make it very clear that I was outraged about it, that it was unacceptable and I wanted to the public to understand exactly where I stood in terms of who I would represent in Trenton – that I would always stand up for the honest, hard working taxpayers of Burlington county,” said Riley today in a phone interview.
The controversy began over the summer, when three Republican mayors of towns surrounding Fort Dix wrote a letter to Riley saying that her husband should not defend Duka. The mayors claimed it was a legitimate concern and not a campaign ploy, although they did not ask the Democratic mayor of another neighboring town for input.
Riley, who has been criticized by some Democrats for not getting in front of the issue sooner, wants to draw attention to what she considers an unfair attack.
“In America, our legal system is the cornerstone of our democracy. To trivialize our Constitution and terrorist threats in the name of petty, partisan political gain is truly disgraceful,” said Riley in a press release.
But just after Riley finished her press conference, Riley’s Republican Assembly opponents made an attack of their own, accusing Riley of trying to set up a sweetheart land deal between the city of Mount Laurel and the top of her campaign’s ticket, Assemblyman Fran Bodine.
At issue is a 3.5 acre vacant lot owned by Bodine’s wife, who inherited it from her father. At a town council meeting, Riley suggested that the town might be interested in acquiring it as part of an ongoing program to purchase adjacent open spaces.
“There is a property owned by Fran Bodine’s family across the street that is for sale and we might be interested,” Riley was reported as saying in the minutes of a September 24th Mount Laurel council meeting.
The lot is worth $175,000, according to tax records provided by the Republicans.
“It’s crystal clear that Tracy Riley’s intent was for Mount Laurel taxpayers to foot the bill for the purchase of Bodine’s land, and that Riley was using her elected office to try and make that happen,” said Republican Assembly candidate Scott Rudder in a press release.
Riley said that the council had been talking about acquiring open space. Land acquisition issues had come up at the meeting, and she knew that the lot was for sale by Bodine’s family. She added that she found nothing improper in suggesting it, especially since she made it a point to note that the lot belonged by Bodine’s family.
“I was not advocating or encouraging the township to purchase the property in any way,” said Riley, who said she did not know how large it was or what it was worth. “I was just indicating that it was for sale. I drive past it every day and if the town continues to purchase property that has been adjacent, I brought it to the town council’s attention.”