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State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor.) Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe.

Chris Brown will not seek re-election to State Senate seat

Third Republican senator announces retirement in 2021

By David Wildstein, February 18 2021 11:00 am

State Sen. Christopher Brown, a first-term Republican state senator from the most politically competitive district in the state, will not seek re-election.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve our Atlantic County families as their representative in the Legislature. These ten years have gone by in the blink of an eye,” Brown said.

He said that he learned life goes by at a very young age “and tomorrow is promised to no one.”

“Knowing the pages in the Book of Life turn quickly, I believe each chapter should be an adventure. While this chapter of serving as a legislator is coming to an end, I am looking forward to the next chapter which I’m sure will lead to another adventure for my family and me,” Brown said. “I don’t know what that adventure will be, but I’m excited to find out.”

Brown said the chapter of his life involving his legislative career “was a page turner, particularly the story about our successful fight to defeat North Jersey casinos, which saved our industry and thousands of local jobs.”

The unexpected retirement by a 56-year-old Atlantic County senator puts the 2nd legislative district seat in the leans Democratic column.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield), who had been expected to seek re-election to a fifth term, is now expected to run for the Senate, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

The leading candidate to run for Mazzeo’s Assembly seat is Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick was re-elected to her second term last year and would run with Assemblyman John Armato (D-Buena).

Republicans have been recruiting candidates to run against Mazzeo and Armato and must now find a Senate candidate too.

Atlantic County Commissioner John Risley, Atlantic City Councilman Jessie Kurtz and former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian have been seeking Assembly seats.  All three could shift to a Senate race.

So could Frank X. Balles, a former Sheriff who was appointed to an open seat on the county commission

Republicans will likely take another shot at convincing Atlantic County Commissioner Amy Gatto, who had rejected an Assembly bid, to run for Brown’s seat.

Mazzeo had won by 3,305 votes in 2019, but Armato won his second term by a slimmer 986-vote margin over Freeholder John Risley.  The other GOP challenger, former Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther, finished just one vote behind his running mate.

Brown is a retired U.S. Army major.  He served in the Persian Gulf War as a decorated combat veteran during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

He was elected to the State Assembly in 2011 and was running for an open Senate seat in 2017 when the incumbent, James Whelan, died in office.  The Democratic Senate candidate, Colin Bell, was appointed to the Senate, but Brown defeated him by 3,544 votes, a 53.5% to 46.5% margin.

“While holding elective office is something I do, it’s not who I am,” Brown said.  “Having held many titles such as U.S. Army major, judge, prosecutor, assemblyman, and senator, the titles husband and father remain the most important to me, which is why I am deeply thankful for the love and support of my wife, Christine, and my children, Matt, Danny, and Mallory, who made many sacrifices during my time in the Legislature, and without whom I would have never been able to serve.”

He said that be leaving the Senate, his children are “learning not only is there honor and integrity in getting involved in public service, but there is also honor and integrity in gracefully stepping aside to allow others to serve the public.”

Brown said he “never intended elective office to be a career for me, and while I have  always taken the position seriously, I never took myself seriously.”

“To run just for the sake of holding onto a title would mean putting my ego ahead of the needs of the families of Atlantic County. That’s not what I believe in,” the Republican senator stated. “It is healthy for our democracy and better for those we represent to open opportunities for others to serve in office.”

He said that “new candidates can bring fresh ideas while energizing more voters to participate in the process.”

“Although my time in elected public service will come to an end, I look forward to continuing serving in other ways,” stated Brown.  “I’m grateful and blessed for the opportunity to do my best to serve the families of Atlantic County, and, in my own way, by working with everyone, I hope they feel I helped make their lives better.”

The 2nd district had flipped back and forth between the two parties since 1971, when Democrats toppled the legendary Atlantic County Republican political machine and defeated 32-year State Sen. Frank “Hap” Farley.

Republicans clawed back one Assembly seat in 1975, regained the Senate seat in a 1982 special election after State Sen. Steven Perskie (D-Margate) resigned to become a judge and GOP Assemblyman Bill Gormley (R-Margate) won.

Democrat Thomas Foley ousted a Republican Assemblyman in 1989 but turned out to be a one-termer.  Another Democrat, Whelan, the former Atlantic City mayor, unseated another GOP incumbent in the 2005 Assembly race and moved up to the Senate in 2007 following Gormley’s retirement.  He defeated interim State Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough.

Republicans won both Assembly seats in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

In 2013, Mazzeo took out Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-Margate) by a razor-thin margin of just 40 votes.

Democrats flipped the second seat – the one Brown gave up running for Senate – by nearly 5,000 votes.

Brown is the fourth senator to retire this cycle, joining Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, and State Sen. Christopher Bateman.

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