Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) today launched his bid for an open State Senate seat in a politically competitive Atlantic County district, setting up what will likely be the most expensive race in New Jersey this year.
Mazzeo, a proven vote-getter after four terms in the Assembly, will run for the seat being vacated by Republican Christopher Brown (R-Ventnor). Brown decided not to seek re-election after four years in the Senate.
“From standing up against North Jersey gaming to authoring legislation to save Atlantic City in its darkest hour, I am proud of my accomplishments to improve the lives of my neighbors in Atlantic County,” Mazzeo said. “Now, I want to take that fight to the State Senate.”
He is expected to face former Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township), who cleared the field to run for Brown’s seat last week. His rival for the nomination, former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, dropped his Senate campaign and is now running for the Assembly with Polistina’s support. Brown has endorsed Polistina.
Mazzeo, 57, has become well-known in Atlantic County as the owner of a Northfield-based grocery store known for high-quality fruit and produce. That propelled him to win a 2003 race for Northfield city council and later two terms as mayor
He said that the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic will play an omnipresent role in the upcoming Senate race.
“I hear it every day in my store – the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, from small business owners to the thousands of casino employees that have lost their jobs due to the ongoing closures and restrictions,” said Mazzeo. “This is a crisis that uniquely affects Atlantic County, and it will take a strong voice from our region to fight for our fair share.”
As a senator, Mazzeo promised to “tackle the economic crisis that grips Atlantic County.”
“That starts with increasing our business diversity and continuing the work I started in bringing entities like South Jersey Gas and Stockton University to Atlantic City,” Mazzeo said. “We will strengthen our casino industry while building new opportunities for growth in new sectors to bring good paying jobs to our region. Our tax paying residents of Atlantic County deserve no less.”
He pledged to “restore economic vitality as well as a normalization of our community.”
“One that prioritizes getting our children back into schools, expedites vaccinations, and I will continue fighting to safely reopen our small businesses,” stated Mazzeo.
Mazzeo said he would run on his record.
“From supporting legislation to create the nation’s strongest equal pay law to preserving key provisions of the Affordable Care Act here in New Jersey, I will always put the interests of middle-class residents first,” the four-term legislator said. “When I wrote the law to restore women’s health care funding that was slashed by Chris Christie, it was because I believe that our community is better when we treat each other equally and with dignity.
Republicans quickly tied Mazzeo to the Democratic governor, Phil Murphy.
“The Murphy-Mazzeo team have bled Atlantic County families dry. Tanking the AC economy with lockdowns, keeping children out of the classroom and leading a botched vaccine rollout – Vince Mazzeo has been Phil Murphy’s destructive enabler every step of the way,” said Dan Scharfenberger, the executive director of the Senate GOP campaign committee. “Atlantic County families know South Jersey is hurting and Vince Mazzeo is to blame in November.”
Democrats have not yet announced their pick to replace Mazzeo in the Assembly, but the leading candidate is Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick. She would run with two-term incumbent John Armato (D-Buena).
In 2013, Mazzeo ousted Republican Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-Margate) by 40 votes. He’s been re-elected three times, winning in 2019 by 2,306 votes.
The Atlantic County Assembly seat has flipped three times since 1971, when Democrat Joseph McGahn toppled the legendary Frank “Hap” Farley, the boss of the Atlantic County Republican machine and a senator for 30 years. Republican Bill Gormley won an open seat in 1982, and was succeeded by Democrat James Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, after he retired in 2007.
Mazzeo considered a Senate bid in 2017, after incumbent James Whelan (D-Atlantic City) announced his retirement but decided not to run.
Brown won the seat in 2017 by a 3,544-vote margin over interim State Sen. Colin Bell D-Northfield), who took the seat after Whelan’s death. Mazzeo was re-elected to the Assembly by 6,787 votes.
In his announcement, Mazzeo paid tribute to Whelan.
“On a very personal note, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the honor of seeking to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Jim Whelan,” said Mazzeo. “One of Senator Whelan’s messages to me when I became an Assemblyman was: Show up, do your job and be nice to people. I think I have lived by this rule as in the Assembly and will continue to do so in the Senate.”
This story was updated at 12:40 PM with comment from Scharfenberger.