For my entire adult life, I recall neighbors and politicians complaining that South Jersey does not get the political attention or support that we deserve, based on our population and financial contributions to New Jersey. One way of improving this, of course, is to build stronger “grass roots” political leaders to represent us in Trenton and in Washington DC. One such story was Jeff Van Drew; at least until recently.
I’ve supported Jeff Van Drew’s political career since the days when we were both community activists in Ocean City almost 20 years ago. Despite belonging to different political parties, I respected him and we shared common goals in supporting the community. As grassroots supporters we like to believe that numerous modest actions we make to a candidate add up to make a difference. Ironically, my main “claim to fame” in the local community in those days was helping local building contractors successfully sue the Trump Organization for civil fraud. We all knew of tragic stories of loss, bankruptcy and even families ripped apart in Ocean City in those days by fraud victims who never recovered from the losses. (In those days both Van Drew and Trump were Democrats and I was a Republican; not that it is important to the story but just added for clarity).
In the years since superstorm Sandy destroyed my home, business and Cumberland County bayshore community, I had come to know and respect Van Drew’s staff members, including his former chief of staff. It was easy to recognize that they knew and cared about the tough issues facing our South Jersey region. But despite their passion, they admitted that they were often frustrated with the ineffectiveness in dealing with our government system. I was candid in my assessment that the track record of the “Van Drew Team” in helping small businesses and bayshore communities in our region was disappointing. In fact, I can’t recall any economic redevelopment project that we worked on together that had a favorable outcome. I never had a direct conversation with any of the “team” on this specific issue but I suspect that, privately, they would confirm this long-standing frustration. Members of my New Jersey accounting profession’s political action committee seems to hold a similar frustrations but of course I am not authorized to comment on their behalf. My observation of ineffectiveness was heightened during the last election cycle and in Van Drew’s partial term as federal representative. It was clear to me – in fact admitted by them – that winning the election was a higher priority than accomplishing local projects.
I agree with Van Drew’s own assessment that he would have had trouble keeping his job as a Democratic candidate in the 2020 election. As just one of the many local small businesses who modestly supported his campaign finances over the past decades, I doubt that I would have supported his next campaign. As far as I can tell, none of those staff people I knew before remain with the Van Drew’s office now. My fear now, based on the many short communications I’ve had with them from the early in the last election cycle until recently before they left their jobs, is that winning the next election has become a much greater priority than serving the needs of constituents. That seems to be confirmed with recent news from Van Drew’s office focusing only on the next election rather than any local issues. Switching parties made sense for his political career but it comes at our legislative district’s expense.
Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us, but this recent political volatility does take a toll on as residents here. Our community has suffered a loss in credibility and political clout, but we have no choice but move on and deal with government. I suspect that will mean new representation in 2020.
I don’t blame Jeff Van Drew for protecting his career. I certainly still admire and respect him for entering the political field to try to make a difference in our community. But it didn’t work and the time has come for new local leadership. We must act like a baseball team manager bringing in a new pitcher with a strong fresh arm into a difficult baseball game. It just makes no sense to continue with the same tired arm.