Dawn Lacy served as a captain in the Air Forceand was in charge of the securitydetail thatdefends a basefrom attack.
Now the 36-year old acting chair of the Burlington County Republican Partybelieves her organization is under siege, not from a foreign invader, but from a local culture of bossism and fear.
When the New Jersey native fulfilled her five yearsof active dutyin the military,sheand her husband moved to Burlington,whereshe headed up the Young Republicans Club beginning in 2003. To this day she receives cautious praise from boss Glenn Paulsen forher recruitment efforts.
"She was good at GOTV," said Paulsen. "She felt that was something she could grow beyond."
In December of 2004, the energetic Lacy became vice chair of the party, and when Mike Warner resigned earlier this year under pressure from the party, she assumed the position of acting chair. She was quiet during the general election because she did not wanttodo anything to hinderthe victory ofthose Republican candidates running for office.
But after the electionlast week the Mount LaurelRepublicanwent public with her belief that theBurlington GOP is an organizationthathas been systematically bullied by Paulsen and his surrogates, and stated her desireas chairwoman toreview the party's finances from top to bottom.
"People over the last two years have been saying the Camden County politicians and bosses are after our county," Lacy said. "But what they don't understand is that Camden and Burlington are part of the same machine. Only people's indifference allows the bosses to emerge."
Her move last week to seize the party's books and remove them from a headquarters that is owned in part by Paulsen incurred the boss' wrath. This weekend he called a meeting of municipal chairs who signed a petition urging Lacy to hold an election for a permanent party chair. They subsequently circulated this petition to county committee members, and campaign manager Chris Russell said in all they managed to muster nearly 60 signatures.
This week Lacy admits as she looks across the field and sees a lot of would-be allies scattering, "It's dawning on me how much fear there is."
People have county jobs they received through connections to the party. Candidates were told early in their careers they didn't need to worry about raising money – that part would be handled for them – just shake hands and smile and get your name out there. Now even if they want to they can't cross Paulsen. He made them.
In the midst of this Republican war, party members have approachedLacy and asked her what she thinks she's doing, and doesn't she know better than to divide the GOP. She tells them particularly as the party tries toshake off the cloud of corruption caused by the Burlco Bridge scandal, that it's important for the party to assume responsibility. She argues that her responsibilities are not less because she was not elected to a full two-year term, and likens her position to that of former acting governors Donald DiFrancesco and Richard Codey, who could be no less responsible in the way they carried out their duties because they did not go through a general election.
"I'm doing things that are respectful -but authoritative," Lacy said. "As the acting chair, I havea fiduciaryresponsibility to this organization."
Paulsen's allies through their signatures have put the pressure on her to call for a special meeting to elect a new chair, which would dislodge her from her seat prior to the end of her term in June.
More than fulfilling her term, she says,she wants tomake sure the party is on a path to good health.
She may leave early.
She wants to make a mark before she does. But with a Congressional race looming in the 3rd district next year, she realizes time is scarce. To protect a party as troubled as the one she now sees may take time – but more importantly she believes it will require decisive action – and that's something the Air Force captain says she can handle.