Two Dems vie for chance to challenge MacArthur in South Jersey’s 3rd

Former mortgage broker Fred LaVergne (left) and tavern owner Jim Keady are vying for the Democratic nomination in the race for New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District. (Facebook)

Former mortgage broker Fred LaVergne (left) and tavern owner Jim Keady are vying for the Democratic nomination in the race for New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District. (Facebook)

Two South Jersey Democrats are hoping for the chance to run against first-term U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-Ocean, in November.

Spring Lake tavern owner Jim Keady and former mortgage broker Fred LaVergne will face off in New Jersey’s primary election on Tuesday.

Keady won minor fame in 2014 when Gov. Chris Christie told him to “sit down and shut up” at an event marking the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.

“The people of New Jersey will never sit down and shut up, whether that’s our teachers, our firefighters, our cops, our middle-class families, our small-business owners,” said Keady, who’s adopted the governor’s barb as a rallying cry for his campaign. “The governor has driven our state off of a cliff.”

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The former high school teacher has also criticized MacArthur, a former insurance executive, for failing to help New Jersey residents affected by Sandy. The congressman’s recent press conference on fraud involved in FEMA flood insurance claims does not go far enough, Keady said.

“If we’re going to investigate the failure of the recovery from Hurricane Sandy, we need to be doing it across the board, and we need an independent advocate who isn’t tied to Gov. Christie, who isn’t tied to the big insurance companies,” said Keady.

Keady’s Democratic opponent is Fred LaVergne, a former mortgage broker and commercial lender who said he is now semi-retired.

LaVergne is focusing his campaign on five key issues — jobs, Social Security, health care, veterans, and the environment — and has criticized Keady for failing to offer detailed policy positions or proposals.

“Each one [of the five issues] has specific goals that we have set to meet, and we have specific plans to do so,” said LaVergne. “That’s a big difference between myself and my opponent … he pops out pretty little bumper stick phrases — we actually have plans for action.”

For example, LaVergne has proposed eliminating the earnings cap on Social Security taxes and consolidating Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Health Administration into one system.

LaVergne is also seeking Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection to avoid a foreclosure of his home, a subject he would not elaborate on during an interview.

“I will not explain it until after the primary because I’m not going to use it as a wedge. I’ll explain it in detail after the primary. But they’re trying to use it to paint me as financially irresponsible, and that’s not the reason this happened,” he said. “People are not electing my wallet.”

According to the most recent Federal Election Commission filing available, LaVergne has raised $600 for his campaign, but he claims that donors have promised him much more.

Through a period ending May 18, Keady had raised $45,180.80, which included a $14,000 loan Keady gave to his own campaign.

Local party endorsements for the two candidates are split; the Burlington County Democratic Committee has endorsed LaVergne, while Keady secured the blessing of the Ocean County Democrats.

Both men have made unsuccessful bids for office before. LaVergne ran for this seat in 2012 and 2014 as an independent candidate. Keady, who previously served as an Asbury Park councilman, lost a bid for state Senate in 2015.

MacArthur is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.

New Jersey’s primary election takes place Tuesday.

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