Eminent domain still key issue in Westville race: Gloucester County NJ Times, 10/30/06

By Trish Graber

Elections in this tiny borough [of Westville NJ] are not what they used to be.

In previous years, they were rarely contested and candidates had the choice of walking door-to-door in the 4,500-person borough.

Now, with a debate over the potential use of eminent domain that has spurred a bitterly contested election, campaign strategies that are in line with county races have emerged, and each candidate is pounding the pavement.

Democrat incumbents Michael Galbraith, Michael Ledrich and Russell Welsh have brought in $21,700 for their election bid, while challengers Ron Muhlbaier, a Republican, and Chuck Robbins, running as an independent, have $900 between the two.

Galbraith, the current council president, called this year's race "a little unique" - images of the three Democrats are strewn across billboards and television advertisements, made possible with support from the Gloucester County Democratic Party, he said.

Galbraith switched from the Republican Party early this year, along with Ledrich and Welsh who swung from independents to Democrats.

But it remains to be seen if the cash will give the Democrats a lead here, where the small borough is torn over a proposed $50 million condominium project slated to replace 27 properties along Big Timber Creek.

"Do I think there's an advantage? In just about any other town, probably, but not with our specific issues," said Muhlbaier, running a campaign with Robbins on a platform against eminent domain.

Robbins agreed, pointing to last year's election where residents voted in Woodrow Dooley, Sue Rodgers and James Pennington Jr. who all ran in opposition to eminent domain - Dooley and Pennington have since announced support for the redevelopment project.

"I think we're going to surprise a lot of people," Robbins said.

He also believes they have a chance at grabbing the uncontested mayor's seat with their newly aligned candidate Bill Brody, who has launched a write-in campaign on the same platform.

While the Democrat incumbents have voted in favor of redevelopment efforts, officials have repeatedly said they will use eminent domain only as a last resort. Their challengers say they are against it altogether.

Both parties admit things have gotten political.

"Quite a few people have said they've lived here their whole lives and they've never seen a politician (at their door)," Robbins said.

"I don't know if its good or bad, but it's much more political," Welsh admitted.

As for the money, Welsh said he could not tell whether it would have an impact.

"I honestly don't know in this little town if the money you spend is going to make a difference," he said. "But it can't hurt."

Gloucester County NJ Times: http://www.nj.com/news/gloucester