AC Dems Scramble to Put Forth the Strongest Candidates in District 2

Rare swing district offers a chance to turn an Atlantic County split into a dynasty

Former Atlantic County Surrogate James Carney has entered a crowded race. At least four Democrats are vying for the two Assembly spots.

Former Atlantic County Surrogate James Carney has entered a crowded race. At least four Democrats are vying for the two Assembly spots. Facebook

Atlantic County Democrats will need to sort out what is now a crowded field for two open Assembly seats in the swing 2nd district, where the two incumbents are now facing off in one of the state’s hottest Senate race.

Former Atlantic County Surrogate Jim Carney entered the Assembly race last week, and incumbent Freeholder Ernest Coursey said on Monday that he too will run. Two other Democrats, former Freeholder Colin Bell and Buena Vista Councilman John Armato, are also likely to seek the nomination.

The two Democrats will run on a ticket headed by Vincent Mazzeo, who appears to have won the support of local Democrats to succeed retiring Sen. James Whelan.

Carney spent fourteen years as a Republican Freeholder, but switched parties to run as a Democrat for Surrogate in 2005. Republican Jim Curcio unseated him by 1,028 votes in 2010, and beat him by 1,720 votes in a 2015 rematch. In 2013, Senate President Steve Sweeney named Carney to the New Jersey Casino Revenue Advisory Commission.

Coursey, the lone Democrat on the freeholder board, served as an Atlantic City Councilman from 1991 to 2001, was Deputy Mayor under Lorenzo Langford, and served on U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli’s staff.  He was elected Freeholder in 2013 and re-elected in 2016.

Bell was elected Freeholder in 2012 and gave up his seat two years ago to challenge Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown, who will face Mazzeo for the Senate seat in November. Bell lost by 1,526 votes.

A onetime Republican, Aramato won a seat on the Buena Vista Township Council in 2014. He is a retired member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 322 and spent 40 years as a volunteer firefighter.

The Republican candidates running with Brown are expected to be Brigantine Councilman Vince Sera, who used to work for State Sen. Bill Gormley, and former Margate Commissioner Brenda Taube. Like Whelan, Sera began his career as a lifeguard; he later became a high school social studies teacher.

The Atlantic-based 2nd district is among the most politically competitive and volatile in the state. Republicans held the three legislative seats from 1993 until 2005, when Whelan, the former Atlantic City mayor, unseated freshman Republican Assemblyman Kirk Conover. Whelan moved up to the Senate in 2007, defeating incumbent Sonny McCullough (who had temporarily replaced Gormley). The GOP won the two Assembly seats that year, and lost one in 2013 when Mazzeo upset John Amodeo by 42 votes.