CAMDEN: The funny thing about Unions, Murder and Change!

When people think of Camden a few choice adjectives come to mind, but I bet safe is not one of them. On March 8th, like millions of others I watched NBC’s Rock Center – hosted by Brian Williams – report on Camden.  The segment title alone told the story, “The poorest city in America.” 

Brian Williams solemnly reported Camden was the murder capital of the country with a murder every 33 hours in a population of 77K, the highest in the country.  Williams also reported that 30% of the police force called out on a daily basis leaving residents ultimately to fend for themselves.  Insiders noted the high percentage of call-outs by police were a retaliatory measure in response to having no contract.

The Rock Center report highlighted the unforgiving savagery of Camden life.  It was depressing, awful. The engaging segment was equally tormenting.

The entire Williams interview conducted with Chief of Police Thompson made no mention of the Chief Executive Officer, Mayor Dana Redd.  I automatically wondered if the top cop had gone rogue or had Mayor Redd lost control of her court.  Either way, Camden was shown to be the armpit of America.

Yet the show left arguably the most compelling story on the cutting room floor, that of Mayor Dana Redd, a native of Camden, which started with a strange tale of unions and murder.

It just so happens I was on a panel with Mayor Redd, with whom I automatically connected, which led to a subsequent interview.  And after that damning Rock Center bit, I really wanted to “dig-in” to find out if in-fact the Chief of Police went rogue or had she simply lost control of her court.

What I uncovered was somewhat of both, but I’ll get to that in a few.

Remarkably, what I discovered during our interview was much more story-worthy than I had ever imagined and completely led the story in a new intriguing direction. 

Before Dana Redd became Mayor, she was simply Dana, 8-year-old daughter of Ronald and Brenda Redd, loved and safe. But July 1976 news accounts in the Inquirer, the Courier-Post and the Evening Bulletin would change that.

According to Mayor Redd, she remembers her parents, Richard and Brenda being in love, she doesn’t remember them arguing. In fact, on the contrary- she recounts how her father adored her mother and expressed it often. Mayor Redd shared how her parents would often take long weekends away- so the weekend of July 21, 1976 was no different. 

Redds’ father, Richard Redd, during the 70’s, was an influential black leader in Camden, first running in 1973 as a council candidate on mayoral candidate “Major” Benjamin Coxson’s ticket. Coxson was affiliated with the Atlantic City Black mafia and subsequently murdered in a gang-style hit in1973.  

Richard Redd recouped and in 1975 ran and won the heavily influential presidency of Local 80, a union at Campbell’s Soup Company.  Redd won after defeating rival and 10-year incumbent Clark Williams. 

The book titled “Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the pursuit of cheap production and labor” by D. Sidorick details the power-fueled, racially sensitive battle. 

In 1975, Joseph Colangelo, then secretary and treasurer of Local 80, which was led by newly elected Redd, petitioned the international union to essentially demote Redd.  Colangelo’s petition called for monies and power to be transferred back to Clark Williams, defeated by Redd. Williams now held a position at the international union. The move would have rendered Redd powerless.

According to historical accounts outlined in the book, Colangelo tried to force Redd to introduce the motion for a vote. Richard Redd, strong willed and hot off a win, declined the suggestion.

The next year, both Ronald Redd and his wife Brenda Redd were found dead in their hotel room.

According to blogger and journalist Jason Nark, investigators said Ronald Redd, shot his wife, a medical technician at Cooper Hospital, three times in the head with a .32-caliber Winchester rifle he owned, then used one of his toes to pull the trigger and kill himself.

Mayor Redd is a prodigy who is wedded to Camden in the most complicated of ways. She does not back down from her affiliation with the powerful Norcross family, so much so that she credits George Norcross for a great deal of her political success. Nor did she back away from her political relationship with Gov. Christie.  In fact, she is overwhelmingly proud of the work she has been able to accomplish with them both.

Recently, Redd relinquished control of the police department and educational system to the county and state respectively. 

Given her support from both sides of the aisle Mayor Redd still maintains a threshold of political capital and power to leverage as needed. 

One thing for certain, Camden is not a stepping-stone for Mayor Redd; it is the holy grail of sorts, the genesis of her political story and perhaps the embarkation of the much-needed turn-around story. 

Mayor Dana Redd is in Camden for the long haul; it is her full circle moment. No doubt with her determination, support and passion Mayor Red will be the Turn Around Mayor Camden’s been holding out for, for 30 some odd years. 

CAMDEN: The funny thing about Unions, Murder and Change!