Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said Monday he will seek the 2nd District state Senate seat of Republican Chris Brown, who announced last month he would not seek re-election.
“A lot of being a legislator is about helping people,” Mazzeo said, adding he has spent a lot of time the past year navigating people through the process of getting unemployment benefits, motor vehicle documentation and most recently helping them get vaccination appointments.
“I’m more of a workhorse than a show horse, and I want to take that effort with me to the state Senate,” said Mazzeo, 57, who has been an assemblyman since January 2014.
He cited his work opposing North Jersey gaming and “authoring legislation to save Atlantic City in its darkest hour,” as among his most important accomplishments in the Assembly.
Mazzeo was one of the architects of the legislation that established the payments-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) program for Atlantic City casinos.
An announcement is expected soon on his running mates, with incumbent Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, and Democratic Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick considered likely candidates.
“This is going to be probably the most closely watched race in the state,” said John Froonjian, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
Froonjian said the 2nd Legislative District, which covers most of Atlantic County, is one of the few competitive districts in the state and has a history of split delegations.
“There has been at least one Democrat and one Republican in those three seats the last 24 of the last 28 years,” Froonjian said. “That tells you it is truly a swing district.”
Since both parties have a shot at winning, they spend a lot of effort and money there, he said. Second District races have been the state’s most expensive three times from 2001 to 2017, and in the top five in spending in six of those eight election cycles, Froonjian said.
Mazzeo, who owns the produce store B.F. Mazzeo in Northfield, said the COVID-19 pandemic “is a crisis that uniquely affects Atlantic County, and it will take a strong voice from our region to fight for our fair share.”
He pledged to tackle Atlantic County’s economic crisis in the state Senate.
“That starts with increasing our business diversity and continuing the work I started in bringing entities like South Jersey Gas and Stockton University to Atlantic City,” Mazzeo said. “We will strengthen our casino industry while building new opportunities for growth in new sectors to bring good paying jobs to our region.
He also pledged to restore economic vitality, prioritize getting children back into schools, expedite vaccinations, and help safely reopen small businesses.
Vince Polistina, the likely Republican candidate in the race whose candidacy has been endorsed by Brown, said he looked forward to engaging with Mazzeo on the issues.
“I welcome him to the race and look forward to speaking with him about the issues, many of which are the same as when I left the Legislature 10 years ago,” said Polistina, of Egg Harbor Township.
Polistina said those issues include the need to reinvest and redevelop Atlantic City, diversify our regional economy, fairly fund our educational system, and control taxes for families and businesses in the county.
Polistina gave up his Assembly seat to run against incumbent Democratic State Senator Jim Whelan in 2011, and lost to him.
Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis said he was surprised Mazzeo is running, saying “Mazzeo hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself from his time served in the Legislature.”
Davis also said Mazzeo has been inconsistent, citing Mazzeo whiting out his signature on a resolution against North Jersey casinos and flip-flopping on calling for Atlantic County Clerk Ed McGettigan’s resignation over a mistake that is forcing a special election.
Davis agreed it will be an expensive election.
In the past, the largest independent contributor has been the General Majority PAC, a super-PAC affiliated with South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, who supports South Jersey Democrats in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd legislative districts.
“Vince (Mazzeo) has done a great job representing Atlantic County and he has my support 100%,” said Atlantic County Democratic Chair Michael Suleiman.
Mazzeo said it was an honor to run for the seat held by Whelan, who died in office in August 2017.
“One of Senator Whelan’s messages to me when I became an assemblyman was: ‘Show up, do your job and be nice to people,’” Mazzeo said. “I think I have lived by this rule in the Assembly and will continue to do so in the Senate.”
Brown, who won the general election in November 2017 after six years in the Assembly, announced last month that he would not seek re-election.
Dan Scharfenberger, executive director of Senate Republican Majority, called Mazzeo an enabler of destructive policies of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. He blamed Murphy and Mazzeo for “tanking the A.C. economy with lockdowns, keeping children out of the classroom and leading a botched vaccine rollout.”
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