CAMDEN, NJ — Residents are fighting back for what they say has long been stolen in decisions affecting the community: their voice.
Union leaders representing thousands from Camden came together Monday against city-affiliated officials and South Jersey powerbroker George E. Norcross III, who have criticized Gov. Phil Murphy and hearings by a task force he appointed on state tax incentive programs.
As recently as Friday, the officials, which include Mayor Frank Moran, council president Curtis Jenkins, and state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, issued a statement that Murphy should keep away from the city.
"We will no longer allow elected, selected, and appointed officials to speak for us. We say no more," said Ronsha Dickerson, a coalition member of Camden We Choose.
Dickerson and other speakers from local grassroots groups stressed that residents say Murphy is "more than welcome in Camden." They noted that 89% of residents voted for the Democratic governor in the 2017 election.
The civic leaders also voiced support for state task force, in part investigating $1.6 billion in Economic Develepment Authority tax credits awarded for businesses relocating to Camden. Of that, $1.1 billion went to companies linked to George Norcross or his brother Philip, head of law firm Parker McCay.
Local officials have framed the inquiries as attacks on the city, while George Norcross has looked to halt any further action through legal means.
"If nothing was done wrong, why is there such a big concern?" pastor Amir Khan said. "If anything, George is probably one of the bigger taxpayers in South Jersey, he should be the first one to say 'let their be an investigation because there's nothing to hide.' "
The close to 10 speakers described Camden as a tale of two cities. One example compared the updated downtown landscape near the James J. Florio building — where officials gathered for a news conference last week — with the area surrounding their meeting spot of the Ferry Avenue Library.
"You see the streets with the potholes. If you come here at night you see the half the street lights out," Khan said. “We don’t see any police out here but last week, I think there were more police out there than representatives in the board room.”
Hoping to further their fight, the civic leaders extended an invitation to Murphy for their Equity Bus Tour on June 6.
This city-wide experience intends to give officials a resident's perspective of Camden "with special focus on economic development and educational opportunity," a release read. Others invited include Moran and Katrina McCombs, superintendent of Camden schools.
One confirmed attendee is EDA chairman Kevin Quinn, who agreed to tour Camden when pressed at a board meeting last week by many of the same residents from Monday's event.