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LD2 Assembly candidates Caren Fitzpatrick and Alphonso Harrell. (Photos: Caren Fitzpatrick and Alphonso Harrell via Facebook).

Atlantic Dems will run Fitzpatrick, Harrell for Assembly

With convention on Sunday, party has yet to find Senate candidate against Polistina

By Joey Fox, March 17 2023 1:18 pm

Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick (D-Linwood) and veteran/kindergarten teacher Alphonso Harrell announced today that they will run for the State Assembly this year in the 2nd legislative district, one of the state’s top swing districts.

The pair, who are set to win the Democratic county line unopposed at Sunday’s Atlantic Democratic convention, will face off against incumbent Assemblymembers Claire Swift (R-Margate) and Don Guardian (R-Atlantic City). Democrats have not yet found a candidate to take on State Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township), though they intend to put someone on the ticket by Sunday’s convention.

This marks the second legislative campaign for Fitzpatrick, who was first elected as an at-large county commissioner in 2017 and is one of just two Democrats serving on the nine-member board today. She ran for the Assembly in 2021 but came in fourth place with 23% of the vote, behind incumbent Assemblyman John Armato (D-Buena Vista) and the two victorious Republicans.

“Our families deserve better representation at the State House; we need to fix inequities in school funding, improve mental health services, protect reproductive healthcare, and fight for policies to make Atlantic County more affordable,” Fitzpatrick said in her announcement today. “Our families need better wages, educational opportunities and access to affordable healthcare, and I vow to do everything to make a difference.”

Harrell, meanwhile, is a political newcomer. The Egg Harbor Township resident served in the Marine Corps before becoming a kindergarten teacher in Atlantic City, and is also involved in the Atlantic City Education Association.

“I’m honored to have served my country, and I’m running for State Assembly to ensure our veterans receive the support they need,” Harrell said. “I’m committed to working hard for our fair share of education funding in Atlantic County, good-paying jobs, safer neighborhoods, and will tirelessly fight for the priorities impacting our communities.”

Harrell is Black, an important fact in a district that has a large minority population but has never sent a legislator of color to Trenton. During last year’s battle over redrawing the county commissioner map, Black political leaders and county Democrats came to an agreement that included a promise to put a person of color on the Democratic legislative ticket this year.

Fitzpatrick, Harrell, and the eventual Democratic Senate candidate will be in for an intense and expensive campaign in what has long been one of the most competitive legislative districts in the state – a campaign which will certainly be a focus for Democrats looking to regain lost ground in the legislature.

In presidential years, Atlantic Democrats tend to do well, with Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump in the 2nd district by nearly 12 points. But in off-years, when local issues are at the forefront and turnout in the cities of Atlantic City and Pleasantville drops, Republicans have the advantage; Jack Ciattarelli carried the district by seven points against Gov. Phil Murphy in 2021.

Polistina, Swift, and Guardian – whose win in 2021 marked the first time since 2005 that the 2nd district had been represented entirely by one party – have established a moderate brand during their year and a half in the statehouse. Among other notable votes, they were the only Republicans to support last year’s budget, lauding it for including significant investment in Atlantic County.

Also potentially looming over the campaign is a bill to ban smoking in casinos that has languished in the legislature for decades but may finally be on the road to passage this year. The 2nd district’s Republican incumbents have all co-sponsored the bill, which is broadly supported by casino worker advocacy groups but opposed by casino leaders.

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