GALLOWAY – Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett decided to suspend her campaign today and did not immediately back someone else in the CD2 contest.
“I’m the only one who has ever been elected,” Bennett told the delegates. “I’m no longer going to allow power, privelge or class” to dictate the outcome.
She seemed to be gearing up to run for congress anyway in the face of the conventional wisdom, then drew gasps when she suddenly announced she was out.
“I’m not bitter, but I am better,” said Bennett, a social worker by trade.
People promptly jumped out their seats to offer applause.
Later, InsiderNJ asked Bennett if she planned to back anyone.
“No,” she said.
Does she intend to at some point?
“No,” the freeholder added.
Friendly as she welcomed the good wishes of delegates who crowded around her as the convention began rank choice voting for the contest she just abandoned, Bennett had a sour sense of the process.
“Money doesn’t buy happiness but it sure buys politics,” she said.
Some numbers from today’s convention:
There are a total 337 delegates in the party here in this county. Two-hundred and seventy five of them showed up for the convention.
Bennett’s full speech as written for delivery appears below:
“Good Afternoon my fellow Democrats. As always it is a privilege to stand before you today. I am very concerned about this Primary race for the right to face the turncoat Republican Jeff Van Drew. I am concerned because there is clearly a disparity within the disparity of our mighty party. From the outset of my announcement to run for the right to represent our party, I have been faced with obstacles and contradictions that need to be addressed and called out. There are many things to call out but since I only have 2 minutes to speak, I will focus on the most glaring of these contradictions and call attention to those things that suppress us instead of uplifting us in this massive battle for the soul of our mighty 2nd congressional district. I began 2019 with the very successful inaugural Atlantic City Women’s March honoring the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer, whose shoulders I stand upon. Last year I received the Fannie Lou Hamer Award from this very county. I can honestly say that I feel the pain visited upon her by our Democratic party. I don’t think she sacrificed so much for the Black women to come behind her to suffer the same fate as she. 2019 was a wonderful year learning so much and serving the constituents that I was elected to serve. I am Ashley Bennett and I am an elected official. My receipts are the actual votes that were cast for me. Yes, over 5,000 people have cast votes for me in this district in 2017. I have a proven track record of getting votes in a conservative part of our district. I was the first woman, first African American and first Democrat elected to represent the 3 district on the Atlantic County Freeholder Board.
“Of the so called 3 leading candidates that have been mentioned in most articles concerning this Primary, I am the only candidate that has receipts yet from the inception of my campaign the question of electability is often bandied about. I wonder why that is. Albeit over 5,000 votes from a sliver of the entire district, Nonetheless, I have receipts of actual votes being cast for me. In 2018, Jeff Van Drew got 14,000+ votes in a crowded field similar to the 2020 field. With my 5,000+ votes one could easily say that theoretically I am one third of the way there. Yet, when it comes to my candidacy it is often stated by my fellow democrats that there is a lingering question over my electability. The rhetoric locally and nationally is that an African American female millennial like me is the future of the party; only thing is that there are severe limitations put on how I grow into that future. Different rules are put in place for me and my growth. I have to be patient, follow all the rules, wait my turn like a good little trouper, But when it comes to others, they can just come right off the sidelines and the first or second office they run for is Congress, having NEVER been elected to anything. What exactly qualifies a person to do that?
“One of my opponents invited me out for a conversation to tell me that I, an elected official need to stand down and in effect allow her to win this nomination. If you’re dumbfounded to hear this, imagine what adjective I was feeling when this was said to me. Yet, the most shocking thing is that this candidate was very comfortable approaching me in this manner. Why do you think that was? They were told I wasn’t really running anyway. I will wholeheartedly concede that during the League of Municipalities I was unable to make the rounds with the County Chairs to ask for their support of my candidacy because I am actually part of the working class. It was a balancing act to be a part of the Young Black elected officials event at Kelsey’s. I am a worker WITHOUT a union. I have limited time off afforded to me, heck I don’t even get a regularly scheduled lunch or break. I am the people of this district. If the ONLY thing that qualifies you for elected is Money and Big Boss relationships, not education or experience, or a track record of elected service or a desire to create policies that truly uplift others then the reality is I will never qualify. But isn’t going in the backroom with the Party Bosses and bypassing the will of our committee people, the exact procedure that brought us Van Drew in the first place?
“Do we honestly believe that the regular everyday voters are only concerned with WHO gets the line in a non- democratic way solely because of Power, Class and privilege? I think not. I think they are more concerned with getting a life line so they can take care of their families. If we are to believe that democracy starts with us, how then do we throw that process out because it becomes an inconvenient truth, then what exactly does that say about us? Are we to complain about endorsements when we don’t get them and celebrate endorsements are we do, complain about the antiquated line but celebrate it when we get it? Which one is it? Over the past few weeks, I have been approached by progressive community groups to sign numerous pledges. Pledges to denounce the party line, pledges to agree not to take money from George Norcross, Pledges from county chairs to not do business with Craig Calloway, even though some in this very room have benefited from his services, and pledges to do this and that. I found it very frightening that NO ONE is putting forth a pledge that says we are running for three reasons, to defeat Jeff Van Drew; help to hold the House and most of all, AND SERVE IN THE MOST NOBLEST OF WAYS THE people OF THE 2ND Congressional District.
“Remember them, I think of them each and every day. I think of them when I am talking to my constituents in my district. I think of them when I can still see the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy, I think of them when I go out with the police to ascertain if someone is getting ready to take their lives, I think of them when there are not enough beds to get folks the mental health services they need, despite the fact of not even being considered as an expert in this race in this area with over 10 years of actual work and research experience in mental health and an undergrad and two advanced degrees. I think of the people here when I encounter on a first hand basis the devastating effects of the opioid crisis. I think of them when I see the need for affordable housing by intersecting with our county’s homeless up close and personal. I think of the good people in our district as folks who are struggling to pay their mortgages, pay their taxes, pay rent and if unemployed find meaningful work at a company located in their district that will allow them to take care of their families, have a retirement plan and pray to God that they don’t have to make a choice to forego a doctor’s and fill their prescriptions instead of paying a necessary bill. I think of them as “there but for the grace of God go I.”
“I don’t think of the people who are struggling in our district as “Pet Projects”. I don’t say all the right things and buzz words for a sound bite. When I do speak, it is with substance. I am the working person product of the strength of attending a Community College, then a 4 year State University as a way to rise up from my economic circumstances. I am the case of what a good free public education can do to change your status in life. I am the granddaughter of Lenox factory workers, public school employees and the daughter of a casino worker. The working class that we talk about with poetic and clever sound bites….only life is not always poetic and sound bites have a shell life of about 90 minutes. I am the hope and the dream of the legacy Fannie Lou Hamer left us with when she came to Atlantic City from Mississippi in 1964 and shut down the Credentials Committee in Boardwalk Hall. And here we are in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century and not much has changed for strong Black Women who are ready to lead and refuse to take a “Mammy” role.
“When I set out on this political journey to first run for Freeholder, my concern was NOT just making a statement, getting notoriety, although it certainly has been entertaining. I am a millennial with the world at my feet. At the age of 35 I did not realize that I would have to carry the burden and albatross that my Ancestral Mothers have carried for over a century of going up against Power, Class and Privilege. I was open enough; some may call it naive enough to believe in a system that says if you work hard and honestly you get rewarded. As a young Black millennial who is actually an elected official I will no longer endorse a system or party politics that has shown me exactly what you think of me and other Black women time and time and time again. The contradictions of who we claim to be and who we actually are rankle my soul and spirit. Some folks here today will walk out of this room with no level of understanding because they are not interested in the truth. I can’t control that but I can control my own destiny and future. I will not allow the Power, Class and Privilege that so many of you celebrate knowingly or unknowingly to dilute the essence of whom I am.
“There have been rumors about candidacy since its onset, “Your stepping out the race, Ashley is really running for surrogate, don’t run for freeholder she is going to take her seat. I heard you dropped out. I heard you are dropping out on the 10th. “You can take my position and title as Freeholder; you can take away the moniker of candidate for 2nd congressional district of New Jersey. But you will not and you cannot take away my dignity. Some of you will walk away after listening to me and agree, some of you will probably shake your heads in shock or disgust or maybe both. It really doesn’t matter to me. I now know for a fact that there are many ways to serve humanity with humility. Therefore, I am suspending my campaign and I am resigning my position on county committee. I can no longer be a part of such a contradiction. It’s unhealthy and dishonors the shoulders of women like Shirley Chisolm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan and so many others. In the end I plan on supporting and uplifting our freeholder candidates and the municipal candidates of my district. Any money I have left will go to them. I hope one day we can be more transformative than this. I thank all who had the courage to support me unwaveringly throughout my political career. I look forward to finishing my term as Freeholder and ending with great policies. We will pass this way again. God bless you and God bless the people of the 2nd Congressional District.”