Rutgers graduate vies for Camden mayoral office
Arnold Davis, mayoral candidate for Camden, N.J., grew up without luxuries other children may have taken for granted.
During his youth, his family dealt with financial issues, Davis said. He was homeless for a brief time, and regularly picked blueberries from early in the morning until late in the evening in Browns Mills, New Jersey to save money for school clothes.
He said picking blueberries made him realize he wanted to pursue higher education. He committed to his studies at Woodrow Wilson High School where he graduated in 1998. He proceeded to earn a degree at Rutgers-Camden.
After graduating from Rutgers, Davis said he worked as a public educator and tax advisor before launching his mayoral campaign in Camden. He currently sits on Gov. Chris Christie’s Inner Agency Council on Homelessness, a prevalent issue in Camden.
Camden has not made a turnaround since his childhood, Davis said.
“It’s just gotten worse,” he said. “Even when I was a kid, [I] was poor, and there was crime … it’s gotten to a level that … [is] inconceivable and unconscionable to stand by and do nothing.”
Davis said he values integrity, passion and vision as a mayoral candidate. His childhood struggles contributed to his adoption of these qualities and shaped his notable method of connecting with and uniting people.
“The city of Camden needs a renaissance,” said Davis. “The only person that’s capable of doing that is someone who truly, genuinely cares about the community they grew up in.”
Ryan Mulson, Davis’ campaign manager, said Davis differs from other candidates because he places a special emphasis on face-to-face interaction with his constituents by travelling door-to-door.
Door-to-door campaigning is part of Davis’ campaign strategy to inform citizens and diminish the political apathy that is so ubiquitous in Camden, Mulson said.
Davis said the most immediate difficulties in reviving Camden lies in the fragmentation of the city.
“There’s no sense of community anymore,” he said.
The first item on Davis’ agenda — if he becomes mayor — is to fix the public school system in the city, which has been severely lacking in almost all aspects for decades. Davis said he intends to give the citizens of Camden the right to elect their own school board.
The mayor or a state agency generally elects the school board. Davis wants to change this system by allowing the residents a chance to come together and voice their own opinions to see the direct effects of their choices.
Davis said his campaign poses a unique situation because he is a Republican candidate. The last Republican mayor to hold office in Camden was in 1932.
“It’s not about political parties. It’s about getting a good mayor,” he said.
Davis said despite deviating from 80 years of democratic control in the city, he has mostly received positive reception from local citizens.
“They’re not holding onto parties anymore,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘we want something different, we want something new — are you going to be that leader?’”
The approximate voter turnout for Camden averages at about 20 percent, Mulson said. This is compared to the national voter turnout average of 57.5 percent in 2012, according to a report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
“They’ve lived in such dire circumstances for so long that some have almost given up,” Mulson said.
He said he is optimistic about the future of the city, even with its current circumstances.
“[The campaign] is very interesting, and if successful, could make a lot of changes for people,” he said.
Al Driggins, Davis’ peer advisor, assists with the campaign by passing out literature and attending events.
Davis had the idea to run for mayor since they began working together at Camden High School, said Driggins. During his time there, he convinced Driggins and coworkers that he would be able to fix the city.
“The city needs leadership — it needs someone to bring all the factions together, and we really see that ability in Mr. Davis,” Driggins said.
“The biggest business in Camden is the Campbell Soup Company and has a history of giving back to the city,” Driggins said. He hopes to see more industries working together with the municipality in coming years and to gradually transition the city into the “Camden Renaissance.”
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