Superior Court Assignment Judge Ronald Bookbinder ruled Democrats Samantha Whitfield, Kaya McIntosh and Tiffani Worthy should remain on the ballot, despite arguments made in Mayor Martin Nock’s lawsuit challenging their candidate petitions.
WILLINGBORO — The township’s contested Democratic primary is officially a go now that a Superior Court judge has ruled that three challenger candidates running against incumbent council members can appear on the ballot.
Assignment Judge Ronald Bookbinder ruled that Democrats Samantha Whitfield, Kaya McIntosh and Tiffani Worthy should remain on the ballot, despite arguments made in Mayor Martin Nock’s lawsuit challenging their candidate petitions.
The three newcomers filed to run under the slogan “Democrats for a Better Willingboro” for the party nominations for three seats on the Township Council against Nock and incumbent council members Jacqueline Jennings and Darvis Holley.
No Republicans have filed to run for the council seats, so the winners of the Democratic primary on June 4 are unlikely to face a serious challenge in the November election.
No written decision has been released but officials confirmed Bookbinder ruled in favor of keeping the challenger candidates on the ballot following evidentiary hearings last week.
Nock’s complaint argued that the three should have been disqualified by the township clerk for submitting a defective petition.
To appear on the primary ballot, candidates were required to submit a petition by 4 p.m. April 1 with a minimum of 50 signatures from residents living in the jurisdiction of the office the candidate is seeking. Signatures may be gathered by the candidates themselves or by representatives who must sign under oath that they witnessed all the signatures gathered.
Nock’s lawsuit argued that the three challengers submitted one petition with all three candidates’ names affixed but “without any distinction as to what signatures were gathered by which circulator on behalf of which candidate.”
The lawsuit claimed that some of the 136 signatures on the joint petition were gathered by Willingboro resident Pat Lindsey Harvey on the candidates’ behalf, but that Lindsey Harvey never signed a sworn circulation affidavit as required. It also claimed that some of the residents who signed the petition may have believed they were signing to support one of the three challenger candidates and not all three.
“At a minimum, the solicitations for signatures for the defendant’s petitions were misleading. At worst they were a deliberate misrepresentation suggesting that the solicited person was signing for one candidate rather than a slate of three,” the lawsuit argued.
Willingboro Clerk Sarah Wooding had ruled that the petitions were valid and that all 136 signatures were for each of the candidates, and that Lindsey Harvey later submitted an affidavit as permitted by state law.
Reached Thursday, Nock said he maintains that the candidates “blatantly skirted the rules” for candidate petitions and that they should have been disqualified. But he said he does not intend to appeal the judge’s decision.
“If they did all these things wrong and the judge is going to allow it anyway, then there’s no sense appealing,” Nock said, adding that he has taught classes for other Democratic candidates on the proper ways to gather and file petitions.
“We’ll run a campaign and they’ll be on the ballot and there will be a contest,” he said.
Worthy, McIntosh and Whitfield said the ruling removes a distraction from the campaign and ensures local voters will have a choice.
“Willingboro residents deserve options in the selection of its public representatives on Township Council and Judge Bookbinder’s decision upholds an important component of democracy,” Worthy said in a written statement.
“This was an unanticipated distraction from our campaign, but the support has been positively overwhelming,” McIntosh added. “While I do respect the right of the mayor to challenge our petitions as he saw fit, the challenge seemed to be a ploy to eradicate any competition during the primary election season … Bottom line: Willingboro deserves to have options! Let the residents make their choices."