ATLANTIC CITY — Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman formally announced his campaign for governor, calling for fairer laws and taxes, and saying Republican Gov. Chris Christie has been wrongly perceived as conservative.
“He’s been running New Jersey like a Newark ward leader from the day he took office,” Grossman said.
Grossman, 63, who seeks the Republican nomination, said he wants to challenge the Republican establishment by running conservative candidates across the state. While he said some people have expressed interest, Grossman had no declared candidates on Tuesday.
Grossman announced his candidacy Tuesday morning with about a half-dozen supporters at a chilly, barren lot off of Rhode Island Avenue, about a block away from Revel casino.
“I wanted to show you the ‘Jersey Comeback’ under Chris Christie, which is really, basically, a (former Democratic Gov. Jon S.) Corzine-light,” Grossman said of the casino, saying it was emblematic of the state’s rigged system.
“The taxes are so high, the laws are so impossible to follow, that nobody builds anything in New Jersey today,” Grossman said, “unless they get some special appeal, some special tax break, some special permit, that nobody else gets.”
Grossman has opposed the $261 million in state tax incentives that allowed Revel to attract additional funding needed to finish construction. He previously testified in Trenton that city residents should have been able to vote on the tax break.
The way to prosperity, Grossman said, was “fewer laws, laws that apply fairly and equally to everybody, lower taxes for everybody, not just a handful of insiders.”
Government has grown too large, Grossman added, saying levies and regulations in New Jersey have essentially doubled during the past 30 years.
“We have to understand that … the economy is a wreck because the government is destroying the economy,” he said.
Among the dozen issues he listed on a campaign website was that the state should refuse to honor most of the state’s $240 billion in debt, because state voters never approved it; cap public pensions at $50,000 a year, limited to full-time employees; and change the state’s education funding formula so that all schools receive the same amount.
Grossman faces an uphill battle taking on Christie, who had more than $2 million in his campaign files as of the Dec. 31. Grossman, by contrast, said he is now looking to raise $15,000 to hire a campaign manager. He is also active on social media.
He also faced criticism from other conservatives. Steve Lonegan, who unsuccessfully challenged Christie in 2009 as the conservative alternative, said last week Grossman was a “distraction” and should drop out of the race.
Lonegan and Grossman were both arrested protesting Corzine’s plan to cut state debt with toll increases in 2008.
A Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Feb. 8 also found 73 percent of state voters approve of Christie’s job performance, including 62 percent of Democrats and 90 percent of Republicans.
But the poll also found voters essentially split on jobs and the economy under Christie, while 52 percent disapproved of his record on taxes compared with 40 percent approved.
Grossman said he saw that as opening, because he planned to target those issues.
“People like Chris Christie because he looks good on TV and he says the right stuff,” Grossman said. “But when you see what he’s actually done, you realize he’s made a total mess of the state. He is nothing but Corzine-light.”
Grossman was an Atlantic City councilman between 1986 and 1990, when he left to unsuccessfully run for mayor. Grossman was also an Atlantic County freeholder from 1989 to 1991, when he declined to run after county Republicans backed a rival following a party dispute.
Out of office, Grossman remained active in politics and has served since 2004 as executive director of Liberty and Prosperity 1776, a libertarian-leaning group that takes its name from the state motto. He recently stepped down, prohibited by federal law from operating a nonprofit while a candidate.
He has also hosted radio talk shows. Grossman said he pays to broadcast his program “Liberty & Prosperity” between 8 and 9 a.m. Saturdays on WVLT-FM 92.1. The station covers southern New Jersey into Burlington and southern Ocean counties.
Grossman also held a later event in Newark, near RedBull Arena just across the river in Harrison. That Essex County municipality borrowed $39.4 million to help build the $200 million soccer structure, which opened in 2010. The stadium hosts 20 to 25 events per year.
But when secondary development failed to happen around the arena during the fiscal crisis, the town cut services, raised taxes and watched as its credit rating spiraled downward, raising borrowing costs.
Grossman said the message was similar to Atlantic City.
“You’re looking across the river and you’re seeing closed and boarded-up factories, and then you see this gleaming $200 million soccer stadium which is used as much as a high school football field,” Grossman said. “(It’s) a total waste of money.”
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