(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Monday, Sept. 15, 2008.)
Dave Kurkowski walked the Ocean City Boardwalk on Sunday afternoon, stopping people along the way with a smile and a polite introduction.
“Hi, how are you? I’m David Kurkowski. I’m running for Congress.”
Again and again, Kurkowski offered the words, with campaign brochures in hand. Sometimes, people stopped to talk to the Democratic councilman from Cape May while on their way to somewhere else. Some read the brochures and asked questions. Others said no thank you, they were from Pennsylvania, and you can keep the brochure.
It was a beautiful September day, and a last gasp of summer sent temperatures soaring into the 90s. An air show demanded people’s attention, and many of those people were out-of-towners who didn’t live in the Second Congressional District, which spans New Jersey’s southernmost region.
“Today’s to get my name out,” Kurkowski said. “That’s the challenge.”
Thirty-two miles away and one hour later, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, faced a different scenario.
The 14-year incumbent Republican was invited to be the keynote speaker at a dedication at a Vineland fire company of sculptures commemorating firefighters’ efforts in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Upper Deerfield Township sculptor Brian Ackley’s work shows firefighters raising an American flag in an image so memorably captured that day by Bergen Record photographer Thomas Franklin.
“I think that speaks volumes about what America is about,” LoBiondo told Vineland firefighters and residents.
It also speaks volumes about the differences LoBiondo and Kurkowski face on the campaign trail.
For Kurkowski, he must not only articulate to voters why they should vote for him, but he must introduce himself to strangers. He has knocked on doors, shaken strangers’ hands and politely interrupted plenty of conversations to tell people about himself.
For LoBiondo, the campaign trail is almost business as usual. He typically packs his weekends full of events, and Sunday was no different, with a half-dozen events – including a visit to his 99-year-old mother in Deerfield Township — packed in throughout the day. After seven terms in Congress, many know him.
“He’s never forgotten where he came from,” Fire Chief Patrick Finley said in introducing LoBiondo.
Sunday’s event at Oak and Main roads in Vineland, for example, wasn’t actually a campaign event. LoBiondo did a few of those earlier in the day, starting at about 9 a.m.
Several people approached LoBiondo during the day with issues for which they needed help.
Others, such as Dave and Liz DeWoody’s 9-year-old daughter, Lauren, just wanted a photo with LoBiondo. She goes to school with one of LoBiondo’s grandnieces, and they’re good friends. The DeWoody family didn’t know LoBiondo personally before this, but they are fans.
“I know (of) him through the fire company,” said Dave DeWoody, a volunteer firefighter. “He’s been supportive of the fire service, not just in our district, but also in the nation. We have a lot of respect for him.”
LoBiondo traveled alone Sunday, with just his dogs for company. He had his two Weimaraners with him because the electricity at his Ventnor home was out Sunday morning, and he was concerned about leaving them at home with no air conditioning and temperatures reaching the 90s. (His wife was out of town on business.) During the Vineland event, he left them in his vehicle, with the air conditioning running.
Kurkowski spent the day out with three campaign staffers and one volunteer. He went to a church service in Atlantic City in the morning before going to the Ocean City boardwalk.
Wayne Hoffner, of Glassboro, Gloucester County, was one of the people Kurkowski spoke with on the boardwalk. The two connected on their patronage of local public universities. (Hoffner was wearing a Rowan University shirt. Kurkowski graduated from Temple University.) Kurkowski handed him a brochure. Hoffner said he’d read it.
“Congress is screwing up this country this bad, so I follow them,” Hoffner said.
Liz Dungan only had a few moments to talk to Kurkowski, but she took a brochure and said she would read it. It was the first she had heard of Kurkowski.
“I can’t tell you whether I’m going to vote for him or not,” said Dungan, who lives in Egg Harbor Township. “Everything is so (focused on) the presidential election. I stayed up till 3 a.m. last night watching the features on the vice presidential candidates on CNN.”