This article was updated with comment from Joanna Duka at 6:34 p.m.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli launched an attack at a GOP primary rival for he first time since former GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt dropped out of the race, hitting Phil Rizzo over property taxes and past anti-Catholic comments.
“Anybody that’s running for governor of New Jersey, I think, should be paying property taxes,” Ciattarelli said on the New Jersey Globe Power Hour Saturday. “Based on news accounts this week, it seems as though this particular competitor isn’t paying property taxes.”
Politico New Jersey last week reported Rizzo, a Hudson County pastor, was living tax-free in a $1.6 million home. Rizzo and his wife purchased the home in 2015 for $1.55 million, only to sell it to the candidate’s church for $1.65 million two years later.
Its property tax bill would have cost the Republican more than $15,000 annually.
Ciattarelli, the Republican frontrunner, also hit Rizzo on anti-Catholic comments the pastor made in 2011.
“It’s a very strong Catholic stronghold here. In a one-square mile town there’s seven Catholic churches,” Rizzo said in a 2011 promotional video first reported by SaveJersey.com. “I don’t know if these people have ever heard the gospel. Not only are they in bondage to their sin but they’re in bondage to religion.”
Ciattarelli said his opponent’s comments were divisive, not to mention politically damaging.
“The one other thing I’ll remind this competitor is that one out of three New Jerseyans is Catholic,” Ciattarelli said. “There’s some tape recordings that have come out of this gentleman’s past seem to be anti-Catholic. That’s not the way to bring New Jersey together.”
The pastor’s campaign took the attack as a sign of growing momentum.
“These kinds of attacks are par for the course from an establishment politician like Jack. New Jersey residents are beyond ready to get their lives back. It’s been pretty clear from the growing momentum of Rizzo’s campaign over the past several weeks that New Jerseyans don’t want more of the status quo,” Rizzo campaign spokeswoman Joanna Duka said. “You can’t send a politician to fix problems created by politicians.”
The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission is scheduled to act on Rizzo’s an application for matching funds on Tuesday. Approval could mean a competitive primary.
“Our message is resonating with New Jerseyans and Jack Ciattarelli knows it,” Duka said.