Republican John Risley, the vice chair of the Atlantic County Board of Commissioners who narrowly lost the 2019 2nd District Assembly race, will seek that office again this year.
He is the second Republican to announce he will run in the June primary for the right to challenge incumbent Democrats Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic.
Former GOP Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian announced his run for Assembly on Saturday.
“I’m running because we need Assembly people who will actually stand up and do something to get our economy reopened,” Risley said Tuesday in a news release announcing his candidacy.
He said Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, and the Democratically run state Legislature have treated Atlantic County the same as Bergen County and other parts of New Jersey in terms of business closures in response to COVID-19. That led to restrictions that were not necessary here, with its far smaller population and smaller coronavirus caseload, he said.
Mail-in ballots have apparently scored a win for the incumbent Democrats in the 2nd District…
Risley also criticized Atlantic County Democratic Clerk Ed McGettigan, whose office sent the wrong ballots to some voters in Hamilton Township last year, causing the need for a special election for the District 3 commissioner race.
“Democratic Assemblymen Mazzeo and Armato quickly issued a statement calling for McGettigan’s resignation, only to pull it back,” Risley said. “If Mazzeo and Armato won’t stand up to McGettigan ... how can we expect them to stand up for us in Trenton?”
At the time they rescinded their demand that McGettigan resign, Mazzeo said they did so because they finally got a meeting with McGettigan and an explanation for what caused the mistake. Mazzeo said the two now felt the fault lies with the Statewide Voter Registration System and perhaps with a printing company.
Risley and his running mate Phil Guenther, of Brigantine, were slightly ahead of Mazzeo and Armato when the machine totals were released on election night in 2019, but after all mail-in and provisional ballots were counted, they lost the race.
After most mail-in and provisional ballots were counted, Mazzeo and Armato were ahead by 2,254 and 939 votes, respectively. They had been down by similar numbers based on machine votes only.
The Republicans conceded, but alleged the huge vote-by-mail numbers for Democrats reflected a thwarting of the will of voters.
“We feel that voters in Atlantic County were cheated out of a free and fair election, this time for state Assembly, at the hands of the Callaway organization,” Risley said of efforts by Atlantic City’s Craig Callaway to get mail-in and messenger ballots to targeted voters. “We would like to see the attorney general and the FBI investigate.”
The Democratic team got more than twice as many mail-in votes, about 5,000 each to the Republicans’ 2,400 each.
“A vote is a vote, whether it is by machine, a provisional vote or a vote-by-mail,” said Atlantic County Democratic Party Chair Michael Suleiman at the time. “There’s this notion that the proportion on a machine is supposed to match on vote by mail. That is not realistic.”