Primaries an important stop on the long road to political respect

Few people know why the primary elections of June 7 are important, or how they work. Even fewer will participate ? either as candidates or as voters.

Brigantine residents like Anne Phillips did not take part in primary elections when they formed the Brigantine Taxpayers Association 12 years ago. They just wanted to get property taxes under control.

For seven years Phillips and her small group of volunteers spent hours studying local government?s contracts, payrolls and budgets. They attended City Council meetings and pointed out dozens of ways to cut waste, mismanagement, and favoritism that were causing big tax hikes.

But the small circle of Republican politicians who ran Brigantine?s local government like their personal family business ridiculed, attacked or ignored Phillips and her group. Year after year, these politicians were easily re-elected with support and money from the public employees, contractors, unions, attorneys and others who fed off Brigantine?s high taxes.

In 2003, I and about a dozen others founded with this two-part mission. First, to teach the basic principles of American liberty and how liberty creates prosperity. Second, to teach political skills so that people who want government to apply those principles can get elected.

During the next eight years, reached out to the Brigantine Taxpayers Association, Fairness in Taxes in Ocean City and many other groups. Our message was that it was not enough to go to council meetings and merely ask local politicians to cut taxes. We said that politicians do not treat them with respect until they had enough political skills to run for public office and get themselves elected.

In 2006, longtime Brigantine resident and restaurant owner Tony Pullella ran for City Council and asked us for help. is a tax-exempt education organization. We do not and cannot get involved in election campaigns. But we do teach candidates how to apply basic principles of American liberty to problems faced by local government, and we teach them how to run more effective campaigns so they have better chances of winning.

Unfortunately Pullella got to us too late to do him much good. In 2006, Pullella had already decided not to run in the June primary. Instead he filed papers to run as an Independent, without other candidates on his ticket, and without ties to the Republican or Democratic Party. We told Pullella that this made it almost impossible for him to win. Pullella disagreed. He and his supporters said that by running as an Independent, Pullella would get votes and support from Independents, Democrats and Republicans. But it didn?t work that way. Pullella lost.

But Pullella learned from his mistake. Two years later, he ran for Brigantine City Council again. This time, he formed a ticket with another council candidate, and they both ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in June, 2008. After winning the June Democratic primary, Pullella went on to defeat the incumbent Republican 4th Ward Councilman that November.

For the next two years the Republicans still held a 6-1 majority. Pullella was isolated on City Council; Anne Phillips and the Brigantine Taxpayers Association were still ridiculed and ignored.

But all that changed last year. Pullella, while still 4th Ward councilman, ran together with Democrat Frank Kern in the June, 2010 Democratic primary to be the Democratic candidates for two council-at-large seats. That November, the two of them knocked out two more incumbent Republican council members. They then appointed Democrat Ken Schaeffer to temporarily fill Pullella?s now vacant 4th Ward council seat until the next election. There are now four Republicans and three Democrats on Brigantine City Council.

Next year, two Republican seats and the Democrat 4th Ward council seat will be up for election. If the Democrats pick up one more seat, they take full control of Brigantine?s local government. Meanwhile, Republican Tom Milhous is running in the June 7 primary election against John Johnson, the Republican organization choice for the 4th Ward council.

Whatever happens next year, Anne Phillips and the Brigantine Taxpayers Association are being treated with respect for the first time in nearly 12 years. Nine years of reviewing budget and payroll records and attending council meetings were a good start, but not enough.

But look how everything changed when three dedicated individuals knocked three incumbent council members out of office in just three years. Notice how even these three did not succeed until they used the June primary elections to take over an established political party.

Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 1400AM talk radio 3-4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and on 92.1FM 8-10 a.m. Saturdays. For information see, email or call (609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.

(Reprinted from May 25, 2011 Current-Gazette Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties,?

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