“I think some of the stuff going on there would lead me to say we need an extremely strong voice there in district 2,” Republican Vince Polistina told PolitickerNJ last week, referring to the economic and fiscal challenges Atlantic City faces after a several year downturn in its gaming industry in LD2. “So it’s something I am still considering.”
Polistina, who served in the state Assembly from 2008 to 2012, is a lifelong resident of Atlantic County. He grew up in Galloway Township and graduated from Absegami High School in 1989. He currently lives in Egg Harbor Township with his wife Carolyn and their three children, and is owner of the engineering firm of Polistina and Associates, L.L.C. While in the Assembly, he served on the Health and Senior Services Committee and the Tourism and Gaming Committee.
But he said his “interest in seeing the region succeed, and being able to be a part of helping that” would ultimately convince him to return to elected office.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that I don’t think we have strong leadership from out state senator, so I think some better voices are needed there to better articulate what needs to happen for our region to succeed,” he said, referring to state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2), who Polistina unsuccessfully challenged for the seat back in 2012 in the most expensive state race of the year. Sources say this might be Whelan’s last term in the senate, opening up a number of possible trajectories aspiring- and current-LD2 lawmakers — such as Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) — might take in 2015.
Republican Will Pauls has already jumped into the Assembly contest, arguing that Mazzeo has not fought hard enough against the possibility of a North Jersey casino.
Given the politics — but also the crumbling Atlantic City optics — South Jersey’s second legislative district could turn out to be one of the most watched battlegrounds in 2015 NJ politics. The once-prosperous gaming mecca has become priority number one for many lawmakers and officials in the state, after declining gaming revenues led this year to the shuttering of four out of 12 of its casinos and gambling halls, with more on the brink. It’s shaky property tax base is also a cause for concern — the ratable base has been cut in half since 2010 to $10 billion this year and as low as $9 billion in 2015, according to recent estimates.
In response, legislators have undertaken a flurry of efforts in recent weeks to curb the effects of those shortfalls, including legislation by Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo to boost local property tax relief and the suggestion by Gov. Chris Christie and others for the state to appoint an emergency manager to oversee finances. Just yesterday, a senate panel advanced a package of bills sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney — with the support of the city’s Republican mayor, Don Guardian — that would ensure the city’s casino workers have health care coverage, redirect money to pay down the city’s debt and provide extra state funding to its school system.
But some lawmakers are also considering other options — such as the possibility of expanding casinos in the northern reaches of New Jersey, a move that would renege on a promise by Christie and others in 2011 that talk of gaming in the state be isolated to Atlantic City, in order to help it “transition” from a gambling-only-based economy to a more stable destination- and tourism-based one. That promise hasn’t exactly been kept, as lawmakers in different parts of the state have clamored over the idea in recent months of re-capturing some of the gaming revenue that they say is currently being lost to state like New York and Pennsylvania.
The north Jersey casino debate was most succinctly captured last week, during an Assembly Tourism and Gaming hearing where Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2) — the sole Republican representative in the district — sparred with north Jersey’s Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-36).
Polisitina said he “unequivocally” stands behind Brown on the issue, and would also fight to keep the state’s five year gaming moratorium intact.
“Chris is the only guy that we have down here fighting for our families and our jobs,” Polistina said. “I guess when you’re the only guy having your voice heard and fighting for us, and making evident that your colleagues are not doing what they should be doing, people are going to get upset with you.”
“And listen, I was there when the vote was being held on the tourism district legislation, and it was unequivocal — there’s a five year transition period for Atlantic City to transition from a total gaming-centric market to a destination market with more retail, restaurants and amenities besides gaming,” he added of the 2011 moratorium. “That was the thought, that’s what was done. And now to have the plug pulled before we have ample time to implement it is frustrating for Chris, obviously, but frustrating for me, because I was there arguing those points.”
Polistina said he’d use current resources offered by the state, such as neighborhood tax incentive programs, to rebuild poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Atlantic City and its tax base.
“All of those things I was pushing back then I would still push now,” he said. “But it all takes time.”