South Jersey Residents Feel Ignored in State Politics

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Garry Avenue in Vineland was the block selected to participate in this go-round of the project.

VINELAND, N.J.—It appears as though the current political environment is so toxic that even the thought of having an orderly discussion between people from opposite sides of the aisle has become a nostalgic remnant of the past.

And as the political discourse between citizens in the United States steadily deteriorates into shouting matches, protests, and occasional fistfights, many people are left wondering, is civility between neighbors gone forever?

This is just one question staff members with SNJ Today were posing to area voters while participating in a project called Voting Block NJ.

Thanks to a partnership with Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media and the Center for Investigative Reporting, SNJ Today, along with media companies from every county in the Garden State—and in neighboring New York City and Philadelphia markets, including WNYC and WHYY—is participating in this collaborative reporting effort, asking groups of neighbors their thoughts on the upcoming gubernatorial race between Republican and current Lt. Governor, Kim Guadagno and her opponent, Democrat Phil Murphy.

Garry Avenue, in Vineland, was the block selected to participate in this ambitious event, and although several residents initially agreed to take part in the discussion, only two courageous souls—Ana Madi and Jon Black—showed up to the Maplewood III Restaurant and Lounge of Vineland, in mid-October, to share their ideas and opinions regarding the issues that are most important to them.

“It’s a struggle living here,” said Black, a union plumber. “Vineland’s the biggest city in the state [in terms of area] and the bigger you are the more problems you have.

“There’s hardly anything to do around here,” he said. “We had a bowling alley and it burned down. We had the ice skating rink, which was fantastic, but that went under. What do we have left, a movie theater and maybe some festivals?”

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Madi agreed with Black that it’s tough being a Vineland resident for hard-working families, but she also believes it’s not easy for those who have an entrepreneurial spirit to thrive here, either. 

“I feel like the smaller business people have a hard time trying to keep anything in this town,” said Madi, who has been a school bus driver for the past 22 years. 

“The Amish Market...I was really upset that closed down,” Madi opined. “I used to love going there.”

“The town doesn’t make any places for the kids to play safely,” added Black. “That’s a huge problem.”

Like many New Jersey citizens, both expressed that the safety of their friends and families is extremely important and they hope the next governor will use his or her powers to curtail the steady uptick in criminal activity.

“I see so much crime and I know about the crime that happens so close to home,” said Madi. “It’s really scary.”

Madi, who is a single parent of a teenaged son, is perplexed as to why this aspect of life in her hometown seems to be getting worse instead of better. “Why is it not taken care of?” she ponders. “I’m always hearing about hold ups and drive-bys on Sherman Avenue. What’s happening in our town?”

As a school bus driver, one of Madi’s main concerns is the welfare of children. Unfortunately, she has witnessed first-hand, a rise in teen violence and gang activity. “The stuff I see is just scary,” she said. “The kids today go from sitting there calmly to punching and beating [each other]. According to Madi, too many youths no longer just fight to win or lose. “Now it’s to put you to sleep [forever].”

Madi and Black both believe the next governor has the power to bring the crime rate down by adding more of a police presence in cities throughout Cumberland County.

As the congenial conversation continued, there was yet another topic that our Garry Avenue residents agreed on; and that has to do with the volatile political climate that we, as Americans, are currently experiencing.

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The modern politician’s constant stream of negative ads on multi-media platforms, their dishonesty and lack of respect for the public—and for each other—has pushed our participants to the brink of turning away from politics altogether.

“I didn’t know who was running, to be honest,” revealed Black, when asked if he had an idea whom he would vote for in the governor’s race. “I haven’t paid too much attention to it. [Politicians] just talk and talk and it doesn’t seem like [we’re getting anywhere].”

Madi believes that politicians just say things to help them get into office and once they’re in, they forget about the people who put them there. 

And when it comes to campaign ads, “I feel like it’s more about trying to destroy [their opponent’s] reputation than trying to prove what they can do [for the people],” she said. The constant verbal bashing is “where I get disgusted. I turn it off. It’s just not worth me watching.”

“You don’t have to slam the other candidate to get my vote,” said Black.

He also believes the amount of money spent on commercials attempting to sway his decision on a candidate is reckless and unwarranted.

“You don’t have to spend millions of dollars for my vote,” said Black. “Whatever I believe, that’s what I’m going to believe.”

Many a politician’s boorish behavior has deterred Madi from voting in recent elections. “I felt guilty because people fought for our right to vote,” said Madi. However, she conceded that she “would love to [vote] for a [gubernatorial candidate] if someone would just prove themselves to me.”

When it comes to voting, Black, on the other hand has chosen to use a different tactic. “I’ll go for a third party or an independent or someone who I feel deserves my vote better than [a mainstream candidate does].”

Over the course of the evening, there were other subjects that were discussed by our Garry Avenue residents, which included many of the hot-button issues of the day, like the state’s overall expensive tax rates and the opioid epidemic. (For the discussion of the tax issue, go to snjtoday.com/votingblock)

Madi and Black agreed on some issues and disagreed on others, but all in all it was a peaceful, thought-provoking and enlightening discussion. Toward the end of our conversation, Madi admitted that she had “thrown in the towel” when it came to politics but now plans on taking more of an interest.

When asked if he had a message to give to our next governor, Black responded succinctly, “Stop wasting our money.”

This story is part of the Voting Block series and was produced in collaboration with the Center for Cooperative Media, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and members of the NJ News Commons. To read all the stories in this series, visit votingblocknj.com.


SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.

Do you have community news or events? Email news@snjtoday.com, text SNJNews to 313131, or call 856.825.NEWS (6397).