WESTAMPTON — Township Committeeman Andre Daniels finds himself in a unique position as the municipality prepares to reorganize with two new Republicans set to join the governing body and his fellow Democrats accusing him of a deal that would put him in the mayor's seat and give control to the GOP.
Daniels denies any deal, but there is no doubt he will be in a position of power in the new year as his swing vote on the five-member board could decide key issues.
Mayor Carolyn Chang and Deputy Mayor Robert Maybury claim Daniels secretly has agreed to vote on items with the two GOP newcomers — Abraham Lopez and Maureen Smith-Hartman, who take office Jan. 5 — in exchange for their votes regarding who gets to be the next mayor.
Daniels, who has been on the committee since 2009 and has been re-elected twice, acknowledged that he would like to be mayor, but said that doesn't equate to a conspiracy or secret deal.
"What is wrong with a person who's served his country, been chairman of the local Boy Scouts, served on the PTA, on the school board and on Township Committee? What's wrong with me standing up and wanting to be mayor?" he asked.
He said his accusers didn't oppose his running for re-election just last year.
But Chang and Maybury remain unconvinced, pointing to the Republicans' actions as proof.
Despite the GOP winning only two seats, not enough for control of the committee, Lopez and Smith-Hartman's campaign manager, former Mount Holly Mayor Jose Sosa, raised suspicions when he sent a text in July that the Democrats said seemed to assure that the Republicans would gain control anyway.
The text regarding the election read, "When we win, gain control, we will be requesting resignation letters from each department head and other senior managers." It went on to say that those who refuse to resign will be fired. Smith-Hartman and Lopez have denied that is part of their plan.
Chang said Daniels even insinuated he might make an agreement with Republicans in a conversation, telling her, "If the Republicans want to cut a deal, who else would they cut a deal with but me?"
"Andre has wanted to be mayor for a long time," Chang said, "but he has never been the person to get things done.
"Andre is of the opinion that, since he's been (in office) so long, he should be mayor."
Daniels said he never suggested to Chang that he would broker a deal with the Republicans.
"I'm a Democrat, and I'll always be a Democrat," he said, adding that except at committee meetings he hasn't talked to Chang or Maybury.
The mayor and deputy mayor did not consult him on items or issues, and they did not include him in the most recent election campaign that was lost to the GOP, either, Daniels said.
The rift among the Democrats on the committee is no secret, with Maybury publicly addressing the situation at Tuesday's meeting.
Maybury alleged that Daniels had tried to form alliances with Republicans in previous elections in attempts to become mayor or deputy mayor, dating back to 2010.
At the end of Tuesday's meeting — the last before Lopez and Smith-Hartman are sworn in — Maybury warned November's victors against cooperating with Daniels, saying they would have major problems should they give him power.
The meeting was Maybury's last on the committee, as he opted not to run for re-election. Newcomer Vernita Jones and incumbent Robert Thorpe lost their election bid to the Republicans.
Chang also cited the new members' transition team as another sign that they plan to take control. Normally, such teams are formed to smooth the transition of power from one party to another.
Lopez and Smith-Hartman announced theirs at the end of November. Lopez, who said the team will include about 45 people, said it was formed to help him and his running mate get a grip on problems facing the municipality so they can address them effectively when they take office.
"When Maureen and I ran, we felt there was a lack of direction and a lack of long-term planning," he said. "We have to bring financial stability back, take care of our fire and police departments, provide the services that everyone expects."
Lopez said the transition team will work on coming up with solutions.
"You can expect to see a set of recommendations and plans," he said. "We feel we were elected to make adult decisions, and we're ready to confront them."
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