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Gubernatorial debate in Whitesboro draws support

- July 24, 2001 - 5:19 AM

Staff Writer, (609) 463-6710

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A GOP-issued challenge that Democrat James McGreevey debate minority issues with Republican Bret Schundler here in Cape May County has piqued the interest of some black leaders.

Supporters of the forum proposed by Cape May County Regular Republican Party Chairman David Von Savage say a gubernatorial debate in this county would help advance both minority issues and Cape May County issues.

“This would be the best way and first chance to have people be candid with them in their community,” said West Cape May Mayor Robert Jackson.

“The African-American community in South Jersey needs to unify itself more,” said the Rev. Gregory Johnson, of Ocean City. “Racial profiling is something we should be concerned about. Crime is something we should be concerned about. Affordable housing. School construction. We have a lot of issues.”

Johnson, an assistant pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church, is also president of the Ocean City Board of Education; both he and Jackson are black. Both are also Republicans.

But Von Savage has irritated some by his suggestion that the forum, which he suggested should be held in Whitesboro, be named in memory of Dorothy Mack, a longtime civil-rights leader in Cape May County.

“I don’t want my mother’s name used for anyone’s political gains,” said Donna Mack-Alston, who said her mother “was for the rights of everyone.”

“She was well-respected in this community and throughout the county,” said Mack-Alston, who said nobody asked her family about using her mother’s name.

Curtis Miller, a former Wildwood city councilman who is active in minority issues, also questioned the county GOP’s motivation, saying the organization offers little to minorities.

“We’ve been ignored for years,” said Miller, who is also Republican.

Miller softened his stance somewhat after speaking to Von Savage on Monday afternoon. Miller said he still believed that local issues should take priority over courting a gubernatorial debate.

“If nothing else, he opened the door for some dialogue, and that’s not bad,” Miller said of Von Savage.

Von Savage said Monday he isn’t budging from his challenge to McGreevey.

Von Savage said he was also dissatisfied with McGreevey’s remark Saturday that a debate at Rowan University would reach more people than one in Cape May County.

“We’re talking about this debate in addition to the one at Rowan University,” Von Savage said, calling the forum an “unscripted, Lincoln-Douglas style debate” that would be run by the minority community.”

”It wouldn’t be a bunch of white guys standing around asking questions,” Von Savage said.

Cape May County Democratic Party Chairman John Rauh, who was given the challenge on Friday, said he passed it on to McGreevey’s campaign.

Von Savage said the debate he’s proposed — and which Schundler is prepared to attend — would represent a “historic” moment for Cape May County and minorities.

“Where’s the controversy in that?” Von Savage asked. “Two candidates talking about racial profiling, about consent searches, about minority issues?”

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