2015’s South Jersey Races: Vice, Intimidation and Tumbleweeds

Atlantic city

Atlantic City, in the second district

With less than four weeks to go until the state Assembly elections, candidates in the state’s competitive districts are bracing themselves for last-minute surprises and shying away from both the press and major ad buys.

In the second district, one prominent Democrat close to the campaign of Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D) and running mate Atlantic County Freeholder Colin Bell declined to participate in an informal poll Wednesday, saying that it is too close to the election to offer Republicans an opportunity to attack.

In the first, Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi (R) and running mate Cumberland County Freeholder Jim Sauro are taking the opposite tack to maintain stability. When Sauro called the last two years’ upsurge in black activism against police shootings the beginnings of a “race war,” the campaign chose to double down and preempt any perception that the story has thrown a wrench into their campaign.

“Jim Sauro is not politically correct,” said the campaign Wednesday, in a statement on Facebook. “While Jim respects the rights of every citizen, he and Sam Fiocchi will never apologize for standing up for our brave police officers. It’s a disgrace that Democrats Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land refuse to do the same.”

Meanwhile, in South Jersey’s only other contested race, Burlington County freeholder and one-time challenger to Congressman Tom MacArthur Aimee Belgard (D) has been unavailable for comment on her reelection campaign.

In an election year during which the dreaded North Jersey casino referendum, shadowy super PACs, provocative statements on race and even the occasional fist fight have all failed to spur public interest, the candidates will all be vying for small margins in New Jersey’s most poorly attended election in years.

Here are the events that have defined the races so far.

July

  • The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission’s (ELEC) director Jeff Brindle predicts a 25% turnout for the 2015 election.
  • Fiocchi and Sauro join Assemblyman Chris Brown in the second district in publicly disagreeing with Governor Christie’s support for North Jersey casinos.
  • Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) says that he would fundraise for Belgard if approached by the campaign.

August

  • Standard and Poor’s lowers Atlantic City’s credit rating, from “BB” to “B,” adding another impediment to recovering from gaming’s collapse.
  • Vince Mazzeo captures the New Jersey Education Association’s endorsement from Brown, a move the NJEA said was due to Mazzeo’s support for paying into the teachers’ pension fund.
  • Brown questions the constitutionality of a payment in lieu of taxes bill for Atlantic City casinos sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) and Mazzeo.
  • The General Majority PAC begins airing ads in the first and second districts insinuating that the Republican candidates enjoy support from pro-North Jersey casino interests.
  • Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian parts with his delegation in the county by voicing his support for the PILOT bill.
  • A fist fight breaks out between members of the ironworkers’ union that Brown running mate Will Pauls belongs to. Mazzeo says that members of the union threatened him, and former Atlantic City mayor Scott Evans is allegedly punched in the jaw.

September

  • Fiocchi calls for the Cumberland County freeholder board to reverse a resolution recommending that the legislature consider creating a separate class of drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. Opponents Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak (D-1) and Bruce Land join Senator Jeff Van Drew in saying they agree on the drivers’ licenses.
  • Andrzejczak, Land and Van Drew join in when Fiocchi announces his support for a bill reinstating the death penalty for murderers of police.
  • The IUOE Local 85 announces its endorsement for Republican Belgard challengers Kate Gibbs and Ryan Peters.
  • Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick makes an appearance at the kick-off of the Fiocchi-Sauro campaign.
  • Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno joins Bramnick in appearing at fundraisers for Fiocchi.
  • Fiocchi claims that Cumberland freeholders barred him from speaking at a public freeholders’ meeting during which he had hoped to speak about the driver’s license issue. Freeholder Director Joe Derella says that he is “appalled” at the accusation.

October

2015’s South Jersey Races: Vice, Intimidation and Tumbleweeds