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Motivated Democrats drive up turnout for July 7 primary

The hotly contested Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District — unofficially won by Brigantine’s Amy Kennedy — coupled with the ease of voting by mail, seemed to have dramatically driven up voter turnout in the July 7 primary election in South Jersey.

The 2nd District is on pace to have 68,000 Democratic votes cast, said John Froonjian, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. That’s more than double the 29,658 votes on the Democratic side in the last contested primary in 2018, he said.

Froonjian stressed that is a projection based on news reports and incomplete reporting by county boards of election so far.

Patterns were similar in many parts of the district, which covers all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties and parts of Gloucester, Ocean, Burlington and Camden counties.

The deadline for certifying results is Friday, but the state is allowing county boards of election to request extensions due to the overwhelming numbers of paper ballots they have had to process, said Atlantic County Board of Elections Chair Lynn Caterson.

Mayor Small remains ahead with all A.C. provisional votes counted

MAYS LANDING — With all of Atlantic City’s 364 provisional votes counted Friday night, and almost all of the county’s 45,000 vote-by-mail ballots tabulated, Mayor Marty Small remains ahead in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary with more than 64% of the vote.

She said Atlantic County expects to certify on time Friday.

With all vote-by-mail and provisional ballots counted in Atlantic County, Democrats cast 30,457 of 49,251 primary ballots, according to the Board of Elections.

That’s a turnout of 44% for Atlantic County Democrats compared with 36% for the county’s Republicans.

While incumbent U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, had a Republican challenger in Ocean City’s Bob Patterson, party support was solidly behind Van Drew, so the race did not draw much attention.

Kennedy is now the likely nominee to challenge Van Drew in November. Elected as a Democrat, Van Drew’s change of party to Republican after voting against impeaching President Donald J. Trump led many Democrats to double down on their involvement this year, vowing to unseat him.

In 2018, when there were hard-fought primary races on both the Democratic and Republican sides for the seat left open by Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s retirement, fewer than half as many people in Atlantic County participated, state data show. Only 23,416 ballots were cast in Atlantic County in that primary.

“The electorate is very enthusiastic about expressing themselves,” Froonjian said. “Things could really change that would inflame passions even more. Say between now and November we have a Supreme Court seat open. That could be the thing that riles up the Republican base and gets them voting.”

In Salem County, Democratic turnout was 46% compared with 41% for Republicans.

Even in Ocean County, where there was also a hard-fought Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District, turnout was higher on the Democratic side — 47% to 40%.

“I would say New Jersey Democrats are on pace to cast 1.1 million votes,” Froonjian said. “In 2016, when (Hillary) Clinton and (Bernie) Sanders were still sniping ... there were just under 900,000 (Democratic votes) cast.”

District 1, covering Camden County and parts of Burlington and Gloucester counties, is likely to have tallied almost 60,000 Democratic votes in the primary, even though incumbent Rep. Donald Norcross has no challenger.

“In 2018, there were about 47,000 cast (in the primary), and Norcross had a challenger,” Froonjian said. “So something’s going on.”

Caterson said her office has sent out 615 “cure letters” to people whose signatures on their ballots did not match their signatures on record, or who forgot to sign ballots. Voters have until the close of business Thursday to sign and return a certification that the ballot is theirs.

If the proper paperwork is provided, those ballots will be added to the count, Caterson said.

The cure letter return date was set by a court order and did not leave enough time for many people who are just getting cure letters to return the papers. The board sent them out as late as Tuesday for provisional votes reviewed Monday night.

The responses may be faxed or emailed or dropped off in person.

In the 2nd District Democratic primary, Kennedy’s main opponents, Longport’s Brigid Callahan Harrison and Vineland’s Will Cunningham, conceded on Election Night. Updated preliminary results show Kennedy with more than 60% of the vote district-wide. In Atlantic County, Kennedy got almost 75% of the vote.

The 3rd District race on the Republican side was between Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs, who got just 21.5% of the vote in Ocean County, and businessman David Richter, who won with almost 78% in the county.

Richter had started to run in the 2nd District but was encouraged to withdraw by national Republican leaders once Van Drew changed parties. So he ran in the 3rd instead.

Richter will likely face freshman incumbent Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd, in November.

As of 4:30 p.m. on July 13, 31,625 of an estimated 45,000 ballots cast in the July 7 primary had been counted in Atlantic County. Atlantic County numbers are updated to July 13, but not other counties.

Atlantic CityMayorMarty Small D3,326
Atlantic CityMayorPamela Thomas-Fields D1,627
Atlantic CityMayorJames WhiteheadD243
Atlantic CityMayorThomas ForkinR403
Atlantic CountySheriffEric Scheffler D15,985
Atlantic CountySheriffJoseph O'Donoghue R11,029
Atlantic CountySurrogateStephen Dicht D12,991
Atlantic CountySurrogateLevi FoxD2,877
Atlantic CountySurrogateJames Curcio R11,174
Atlantic CountyFreeholderCaren Fitzpatrick D15,660
Atlantic CountyFreeholderCeleste Fernandez D15,701
Atlantic CountyFreeholderJohn Risley JrR11,213
Atlantic CountyFreeholderJames TotoR10,876
Atlantic CountyFreholder D3Andrew Parker R2,187
Atlantic CountyFreholder D3Thelma Witherspoon D3,184
Barnegat TownshipTownship CommitteeAlfonso Cirulli R1,668
Barnegat TownshipTownship CommitteeJoseph Marte R1,662
Barnegat TownshipTownship CommitteeCharles Cunliffe D1,644
Barnegat TownshipTownship CommitteePeggy Houle D1,691
Cape May CountyFreeholderElizabeth Casey D5,504
Cape May CountyFreeholderBrendan SciarraD5,285
Cape May CountyFreeholderWill Morey R6,624
Cape May CountyFreeholderJeffrey Pierson R6,535
Lacey TownshipTownship CommitteeNicholas Juliano R1,980
Lacey TownshipTownship CommitteeBill Stemmle D1,286
LakewoodTownship CommitteeMichael D’Elia R4,805
LakewoodTownship CommitteeHector Fuentes R4,632
LakewoodTownship CommitteeHarold Herskowitz R1,391
LakewoodTownship CommitteeRay Coles D2,110
LakewoodTownship CommitteeMordy Gross D1,977
Little Egg HarborTownship CommitteeRay Gormley R1,632
Little Egg HarborTownship CommitteeJohn Kehm R1,603
Little Egg HarborTownship CommitteeGabriel Franco D1,273
Little Egg HarborTownship CommitteeShaun Moran D1,264
Lower TownshipMayorChristopher South D1,323
Lower TownshipMayorFrank Sippel R1,455
Middle TownshipTownship CommitteeBob Jackson D987
Middle TownshipTownship CommitteeTimothy Donohue R1,091
Ocean CountyCounty ClerkScott Colabella R39,146
Ocean CountyCounty ClerkKathy Russell D31,413
Ocean CountyFreeholderJoe Vicari R38,731
Ocean CountyFreeholderHelen Dela Cruz D31,398
Ocean TownshipTownship CommitteeKen Baulderstone R1,019
Ocean TownshipTownship CommitteeRita Kopacz D567

South Jersey musicians try to make the best of the summer of COVID-19

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, singer-songwriter Nancy Malcun would finish a set, head toward the audience and sometimes even give a stranger a hug if the person appreciated the music she played.

Malcun, 31, of Absecon, has had to change her behavior and hopes other people do the same in the post-COVID-19 world.

“It has been really challenging because when I am singing I don’t have a mask, and sometimes people without masks will come up and request songs in my personal space,” said Malcun, who has a young child, Ryland Hendrix Gitto, who turns 2 in August. “I have always had trouble putting my foot down or telling people they are making me uncomfortable.”

Malcun’s family was super close to ordering her a plastic barrier to sing behind, to help shield her.

“I didn’t see it as totally necessary. For my setup, I feel that would be over the top. I usually try and barricade myself into my space with my equipment and cords. Sometimes, it isn’t even on purpose. It’s just how everything falls sometimes,” Malcun said.

Full-time South Jersey musicians such as Malcun are operating in a world they have never before encountered.

In addition to adjustments made regarding safety, some musicians are altering how they perform. Most of the venues offering live music this summer don’t have the money for multipiece bands. Solo acts and duos are prevalent, which means many musicians will struggle.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s cancellation of large public gatherings and indoor dining has drastically limited opportunities for musicians to make money this summer. Some restaurants have not reopened, and those that have are making less money, which sometimes means no money available to host live music.

In June 2018, before Malcun gave birth to her son, she would play up to five times a week. This summer, she is performing three times a week.

“It has been working out for me. I love being a stay-at-home mom by day and being able to spend time with my husband since he is working from home, so I have been selective in how many shows I have been booking to make sure I am not overworking myself,” Malcun said.

It’s less of a choice for Danny Eyer, of Absecon. He played between five and six days a week last year. This summer, Eyer said he is lucky to land two gigs a week.

Last year, the summer music season started in the middle of May. This year, it did not begin until the end of last month, he said.

Last year, Eyer, 57, played at the Sweetwater Marina & Riverdeck in Mullica Township, but this year, the venue is not offering live entertainment.

The Atlantic City casinos have not returned to offering live music indoors since they reopened this month, though they are offering music outdoors.

“I played the casinos a lot during 2018, so not being able to perform in the casinos has been really weird for me,” Malcun said. “I love playing with my trio, and it was always a good time anytime we had a show in Atlantic City.”

Malcun will be playing in a duo format from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday on the deck at Bally’s Atlantic City.

From 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, Malcun entertains in the outdoor gazebo at The Tuckahoe Inn on the Great Egg Harbor Bay in Upper Township.

There used to be four- or five-piece bands that played outdoors during previous summers, but now, it is only solo acts and duos, said Tyson Merryman, general manager of the Tuckahoe Inn.

“We couldn’t afford to do what we used to,” said Merryman, who added his restaurant’s business is down 60% from last year’s without indoor dining.

Eyer said the biggest difference between this summer and last is he booked fewer gigs with his band and is playing more solo shows.

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Some venues have space issues because of social distancing, while others don’t have the money to pay for a full band, Eyer said. One of the few places that has been consistent between this year and last has been Harry’s Oyster Bar & Seafood in Atlantic City, where he plays with his band from 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays.

“The tipping from customers has been exceptional,” Eyer said. “They are making an extra effort to come and tip. It’s a positive thing.”

Eyer said he has been making less money, so he is trying to offset that by spending less.

When he could not play in public at all because of the stay-at-home order in the spring, he recovered from a car accident and pulled together a new CD, titled “Lo-Fi Kinda Guy,” of home demos of his original material that he collected over a 30-year period and that he sells at his gigs.

“I get calls every day,” Eyer said. “Usually, by the end of February, you have your schedule set for the summer.”

Among the gigs Eyer was scheduled to play this summer that were canceled were the Somers Point beach concerts and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority-funded concerts on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Carmen Marotta, who runs Tony Mart LLC, brought the roots, blues and rock musicians to both venues last summer.

Marotta will not be shut out for the entire summer, as he has started a new series called the Sunset Concerts at the foot of the Sugar Hill Inn in Mays Landing, which has outdoor shows scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Tony Mart Cares will host its first tribute and benefit for Eyer on Aug. 3 at Fitzpatrick’s Deli and Steakhouse in Somers Point.

The Cajun-style Bourre on New York Avenue in Atlantic City also has an outdoor stage, which has been hosting such acts as Brenan Marro, Bill Burleigh and the Dan Traynor Conspiracy.

Developer Pat Fasano, who opened Bourre, is hoping to launch a grander outdoor venue in September on New York Avenue. The Container Court will be 18,000 square feet of outdoor space that allows for social distancing and will be able to accommodate more than 200 people outdoors for reggae or jazz groups, Fasano said.

“I’m being optimistic. This is a great time to experiment,” he said.

Guitarist Danny Eyer, left, plays outdoors with his band July 14 at Harry’s Oyster Bar in Atlantic City. Eyer says Harry’s has been one of the few venues to hire him consistently this summer.

Senate committee approves Atlantic City open container law

Openly drinking alcoholic beverages on the Atlantic City Boardwalk this summer is a temporary experiment, made legal by a city order in an effort to give bars and restaurants an economic boost during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Atlantic City got one step closer to having a permanent law permitting open containers in the Tourism District after unanimous approval by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee. The bill, A299/S1591, cleared the Senate committee without any debate.

The state Assembly passed the bill 78-0 in June.

The legislation now moves to the full Senate for a vote, where it is expected to pass. The state Senate voted 37-0 in favor of similar legislation in 2019, but the bill stalled in an Assembly committee.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. signed an executive order in early June permitting open containers of alcoholic beverages on the Boardwalk, nonresidential areas of Gardner’s Basin and the Orange Loop commercial district (St. James Place, New York Avenue and Tennessee Avenue). State guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the city to temporarily permit open containers. The order expires in November or when coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted, whichever comes first.

“Every business owner I’ve spoken to has said it’s been wildly successful,” Small said Wednesday of the response to the executive order. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.”

The state legislation tasks the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority with defining the parameters of an open container zone, where alcoholic beverages can be sold, consumed and transported by people of legal drinking age. It requires the CRDA to hold a public hearing on the merits of establishing the open container zone.

Local leaders and state representatives have been trying to get an open container law passed for select areas of Atlantic City’s Tourism District for several years. The current session’s companion bills are sponsored by Atlantic County’s three representatives, Republican state Sen. Chris Brown and Democratic Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato.

“Now, more than ever, with so many of our families struggling to make ends meet, we need to work together to make our guest experience while on vacation more enjoyable to grow our tourism industry. I am pleased today, working in a bipartisan manner, we were able to take a step in the right direction,” Brown said Wednesday, following the Senate committee vote.

Lawmakers have said permitting adults to responsibly consume alcoholic beverages on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and in other designated areas will put the resort on par with other U.S. tourist destinations, such as New Orleans, Nashville, Las Vegas and Key West.

PHOTOS of the Atlantic City Boardwalk bar crawl

Atlantic City passes 2020 budget with property tax decrease

ATLANTIC CITY — City Council adopted the 2020 municipal budget Wednesday night, delivering a slight tax reduction to property owners for the second time in five years.

City government and the state Department of Community Affairs crafted a $210.7 million budget that is $1.3 million higher than last year’s, but managed to decrease the municipal property tax rate because of an increase in general revenue and payments in lieu of taxes from the casinos.

The approved 2020 tax rate of $1.70 means that for every $100,000 in assessed property value, the municipal portion of a taxpayer’s bill would equal $1,702.72.

“The 2020 city budget demonstrates that the city continues to make strides in improving its operating efficiencies, reserves and liquidity,” Lisa Ryan, a DCA spokesperson, said Wednesday night. “It also shows that the city has made real progress in adjusting its staffing levels and prioritizing how money should be allocated. Every year, the city is getting better at living within its means.”

The anticipated amount to be collected from non-casino property taxes is decreasing by nearly $3.3 million this year compared to 2019.

More than $66 million in state aid is anticipated for the 2020 budget. In 2019, Atlantic City received $64.3 million in state aid.

DCA Deputy Commissioner Robert Long said that while “things are uncertain” due to the economic impact of the coronavirus on government tax and fee collections at all levels, the state aid anticipated in the city’s 2020 budget is “set.”

“We have every expectation that those monies will be provided to the city,” Long said Wednesday night.

The casino industry’s strong performance in 2019 — the nine properties reported more than $3.2 billion in total gaming revenue — led to an increase in the city’s portion of state-mandated payments in lieu of taxes. This year’s budget included an increase of nearly $17.1 million in casino PILOT revenue to Atlantic City over last year. That increase was marginally offset by a loss of $13.8 million from investment alternative taxes because of a crediting mechanism built into the casino PILOT law.

The city will collect $2.4 million in additional taxes and fees from a variety of sources in 2020.

Fluctuating revenue collections as a result of the coronavirus may affect the 2021 budget, city officials said.

At a news conference in June, Mayor Marty Small Sr. said the administration is projecting municipal tax decreases for the next three years.

Atlantic City remains under state fiscal oversight following the Municipal Recovery and Stabilization Act of 2016, and the budget must be approved by the DCA.

This year’s budget features the second municipal tax decrease in the past five years, the other being in 2017. In 2016, 2018 and 2019, the city adopted budgets that kept the tax rate at the same level as the previous year.

Property owners were caught off guard last summer when they received first quarter bills with a significant tax increase, even after the city, county and school board adopted budgets with minimal changes. The cause for the increase was twofold: The city received nearly $6.7 million less in tax credits from the county, and the city’s overall tax base shrank.

A recently completed citywide property revaluation did little to change the overall value of the city’s tax base — without the casino properties, the city’s ratables are roughly $2.5 billion — but shifted the burden among non-casino taxpayers, meaning some are paying more in taxes while others are paying the same or less.

Sixth Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz has proposed a resolution that the state implement a five-year phase-in for property owners to pay tax increases as a result of the reassessment.