Elections official asked for leniency for Callaway

By DEREK HARPER Staff Writer, (609) 272-7203
Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2007

ATLANTIC CITY ? Atlantic County Republicans are outraged that Bernice ?Sandy? Couch, a Democratic member of the Atlantic County Board of Elections, attended last week’s sentencing of former City Council President Craig Callaway.
Among their other responsibilities, the four-person Board of Elections individually reviews absentee, messenger and provisional ballots after the polls close.

A number of recent elections in Atlantic City and Pleasantville have been controversially influenced by absentee ballots gathered by the Callaway organization, Callaway’s politically active friends and family.

?I don’t think it’s appropriate for a sitting member of the Board of Elections to attend the sentencing of someone who has been involved in these questionable absentee and messenger ballot tactics,? Republican county Chairman Keith Davis said.

Couch was one of several area officials, including Atlantic City and Pleasantville school board members, who attended the sentencing.

Couch was also among the 31 people who wrote to U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez seeking leniency for Callaway prior to sentencing.
Couch, who identified herself as an Atlantic City Democratic Committeeperson in her Nov. 15 letter, highlighted Callaway’s community involvement.

She wrote that Callaway as councilman provided winter wear for resort senior citizens and hosted cookouts and Christmas parties when no one else would. Couch, 65, wrote that she has seen numerous resort politicians come and go, and Callaway was superior to them all.

Callaway started his 40 months in federal prison last week after admitting last summer to taking $36,000 in bribes between December 2003 and January 2005.

Couch has been politically active for years and has served on the Atlantic City Democratic Committee for more than a decade.

State election law filings show that Couch was one of 204 people the Levy for Mayor campaign paid $100 on Election Day to get out the vote in the 2005 primary for current Mayor Bob Levy.

The following Dec. 22, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey named her to the Atlantic County Board of Elections.

?I am not suggesting she resign,? Davis said. ?The ball is in (Gov. Jon S.) Corzine’s court.?

Davis said the campaign payment, sentencing appearance and letter underscored Callaway’s connection with county Democrats.

Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Ron Ruff said, ?Sandy, as far as I know, doesn’t have a direct loyalty to Craig Callaway. She has been friendly with the family for some time. She wasn’t a representative of the Democrats or the Democratic Party.?

He would not say if he disagreed with Davis’ assessment, only saying, ?that was a personal decision on (Couch’s) part.?

Couch, reached Monday, said, ?I have nothing to say. I have no comment on that? and hung up the phone.

To e-mail Derek Harper at The Press:

dharper@pressofac.com

Leave a Reply