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Atlantic City Councilman Jesse Kurtz. (Photo: Via LinkedIn)

Kurtz eyeing Assembly bid in Atlantic County

Atlantic City’s only Republican councilman floating run for higher office

By Nikita Biryukov, November 17 2020 2:35 pm

The lone Republican on Atlantic City’s council is eyeing a bid for State Assembly in the 2nd legislative district.

“I’m definitely looking into it. I have not formally declared,” said Councilman Jessie O. Kurtz, who represents the city’s 6th Ward.

Kurtz, who is in his second term on the council, has been in contact with Republican leaders throughout the district about a bid for seats held by Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) and John Armato (D-Buena) in one of just three New Jersey legislative districts with a senator from one party and assembly members from the other party.

“I’m more just exploring it on my end,” he said. “I try to talk to the different leaders and just see how I would stack up as a candidate for the party.”

He declined to say if he had reached out to State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City), who holds the district’s seat in the legislature’s upper chamber.

No other candidates have formally entered the race to take on Mazzeo and Armato.

Atlantic County Republicans are expected to hold a convention in March or April to pick their candidates, and typically candidates follow that process.

Kurtz is not the only potential candidate.

Some Republicans are reportedly eyeing Amy Gatto, an Atlantic County freeholder viewed as a rising star, for an Assembly seat.

Gatto, 37, was elected to the Hamilton Township Committee at age 24 and was elected to a freeholder-at-large seat in 2016 at age 29.

Freeholder Chairwoman Maureen Kern, a former Somers Point Council President, is also mentioned as a potential candidate.

Kern is up for re-election next year, while Gatto would not have to give up her freeholder seat to run.

There’s also Somers Point Councilman James Toto, who ran a close race for one of Atlantic County’s at-large freeholder seats this year.

Egg Harbor Township Committeeman Andrew Parker, who is locked in a close race with Democrat Thelma Witherspoon for the county’s District 3 freeholder seat, could seek an Assembly seat if he’s not holding a county post next year.

Ventnor City Mayor Beth Holtzman could launch another bid for state office. She briefly mounted an Assembly bid last year but eventually dropped it.

Another name some people are talking about is Linwood Councilman Matthew Levinson, the son of Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson.

Brown is a top target for Democratic leaders in the State Senate who want to expand their majority there after losing the 1st district seat to State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland), the Cumberland County Republican chairman.

Both Mazzeo and Armato have declined to rule out a bid.

They and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) launched attacks seeking to boost the Republican incumbent’s negatives over comments he made during a Veterans Day speech last week.

Despite Democratic wins for the lower chamber, the district remains a purple one. Mazzeo first won his seat in 2013, when he defeated Republican incumbent John Amodeo by just 40 votes. Brown, then an assemblyman, was the race’s top vote-getter.

He ran nearly two points ahead of Republican challenger Will Pauls in 2015, but Brown again finished first. In 2017, Mazzeo won re-election with nearly 7,000 more votes than Republican Vince Sera. Armato, who won his first term then, led Sera by just shy of 5,000 votes.

But Republicans took the district’s Senate seat that year. Brown ran 3,544 votes ahead of State Sen. Colin Bell (D-Margate City), who was appointed to fill State Sen. Jim Whelan’s seat after he died of a heart attack in August 2017.

Brown’s victory put the Senate seat back in Republican hands for the first time since longtime Republican lawmaker William Gormley ended his career in elected office in 2007.

The Democrats saw far slimmer margins in 2019, when Armato’s 986-vote victory over Freeholder John Risley wasn’t called until provisional ballots were counted. Mazzeo was re-elected that year by 2,305 votes.

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