As Kevin Riordan’s column in this morning’s Inquirer reports, the passing of Sam Appel drew an appreciative crowd of mostly older colleagues to a memorial service in Camden’s Sacred Heart Church Saturday. Struck by the crude inequities built into the GOP tax bill that had just cleared the Senate, those attending could find some solace in remembering a quiet warrior, who inspired a generation of those he touched to accept nothing less than equal rights in America. Appel not just brought suburbanites to the support of Camden’s Black People’s Unity Movement, he served for years as chair of the board of the Fair Share Housing Center in support of its ongoing campaign to make good the promise of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s multiple decisions requiring every community in the state to provide its “fair share” of affordable housing.
That decision emanated from a law suit in Mount Laurel, where the mayor famously rejected an appeal from a group of longtime African American residents who were seeking a zoning variance to permit affordable housing in the form of multi-unit apartments by saying, “If you can’t afford to live in Mount Laurel, move to Camden.”
Mount Laurel is currently represented in Congress by Tom MacArthur, until early this year, co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group caucus. MacArthur quit the group after he broke with his colleagues over his successful amendment rescuing the House effort to terminate the Affordable Care Act. MacArthur’s co-chair, Charlie Dent, expressing his frustration with ideological rigidity of his GOP colleagues, has announced he will not seek re-election.
The distance we have traveled over the past 35 years in defining what a mainstream Republican is was underscored with the news, also today, of the death of former GOP Congressman and presidential candidate, John Anderson. Known as a moderate conservative who supported Barry Goldwater’s election in 1964, Anderson nonetheless broke with his party to provide the crucial vote to move the landmark 1968 civil rights act with its fair housing provisions out of committee. For his courage and his leadership, Anderson drew the support in his 1980 campaign from no less prominent a civil rights lawyer than Joseph Rauh, among others.
Tom MacArthur was the only representative from New Jersey to support the GOP tax plan. Like his contribution to efforts to repeal the Affordable Housing Act, he claimed to have made the tax legislation better, claiming that adding a $10,000 deduction for property taxes would cover most of his constituents, a claim the Washington Post fact checker found problematic. Whatever the legislation’s effect, it’s high property taxes that make it so difficult for those of lower income to afford housing in MacArthur’s district, and the rest of the tax bill doesn’t begin to help those who might aspire own a home there. Next to the socially conscious congressman John Anderson, Tom MacArthur looks small. If Sam Appel appealed to our better angels, MacArthur has yet to make them central to his role in government.