A South Jersey gym owner who gained national prominence for refusing to follow Gov. Phil Murphy’s business closures and mask mandates during early months of the coronavirus pandemic, will announce next week that he will run for Congress.
Ian Smith wants to challenge two-term Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) in New Jersey’s 3rd district. He has scheduled an announcement in Burlington County on Thursday.
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The long-bearded, heavily tattooed owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr became the public face of opposition to Murphy’s mandate to close fitness centers in March 2020, reopening his business in May 2020 in defiance of the state before Department of Health officials shut it down.
He became politically active, calling Murphy a “slimeball” and building a social media presence around his opposition to the governor’s handling of COVID-19.
Later, Smith’s gym offered free memberships to people who refused to be vaccinated.
The Delanco resident has hired Steve Kush, the Republican political consultant who masterminded the upset victory of truck driver Edward R. Durr over Senate President Steve Sweeney last fall.
Smith has already shown some fundraising prowess. After facing nearly $1 million in and legal fees for refusing to close his gym despite Murphy’s executive order, Smith set up a GoFundMe site and raised the money.
As a 20-year-old in 2007, Smith was sentenced to more than five years in prison for vehicular homicide after he was driving drunk and killed a 19-year-old. Smith has taken responsibility for his actions.
Smith will become the second Republican to enter the race against Kim, a straight-laced, low-key former Obama White House staffer who ousted an incumbent in the 2018 mid-term elections. Kim has over $3.3 million in his campaign warchest in a district that became substantially more Democratic than the one he now represents.
Congressional redistricting removed the Republican stronghold of Ocean County from the 3rd district, replacing it with more of Burlington, Hamilton, Lawrence, East Windsor and Robbinsville in Mercer, and part of western Monmouth County.