U.S. Senate Candidate Rik Mehta claimed the Office of the Attorney General was attempting to spike his run for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-Newark) seat by going after an infamous gym now being used as a campaign headquarters by a Republican.
In a brief filed last week and first-reported by Law360, Deputy Attorney General Stephen Slocum argued the facility was clearly still operating as a gym but was ignoring 25% indoor capacity limits imposed on such facilities.
Slocum pointed to the group’s social media pages and website, which, save for a video posted to the gym’s Facebook page by co-owner Ian Smith announcing the facility would be used as “a political rally and volunteer location” for Mehta’s campaign.
“We have signed up hundreds of volunteers who are protesting Governor Murphy’s overreach and this is just another unlawful attempt by the Murphy administration to compromise those that don’t blindly follow his unscientific edicts,” Mehta said.
Atilis Gym’s Bellmawr gained infamy earlier this year after its owners repeatedly defied a shutdown order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy that commanded most businesses — gyms included — be closed. The facility reopened multiple times in spite of the order, facing numerous fines and other penalties for its defiance.
The state argues its attempt to rebrand as a political facility — there are exceptions for political activities in active virus restrictions — in an attempt to circumvent capacity limits.
“As of the filing of this letter brief, Atilis Gym holds itself out to the public as a gym, offering gym services, on at least five public platforms,” Slocum wrote in the filing. “Again, Atilis Gym’s assertion is simply incredible.”
Mehta claimed the new filing was a bid to hamstring his campaign’s fundraising operation.
Smith and gym co-owner Frank Trumbetti have been appointed to the Mehta campaign’s finance committee.
“The use of the Attorney General, a Democrat appointee, to enforce a political agenda that stifles Republican fundraising efforts is beyond the pale,” Mehta said.
The Republican is considering a lawsuit against the state in response to what he claimed was an attack on his Senate campaign.
The GOP won a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey in 1971.