ATLANTIC CITY — Candidates for local and state offices gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. school complex for one of the final debates, this one sponsored by the Atlantic City NAACP, before the general election Nov. 7.
The two major discussions: the takeover of Atlantic City and economic development in Atlantic County.
What started as a discussion of what the Atlantic County freeholder board could do to promote growth in the county turned into several state politicians explaining their voting history and blaming each other for who allowed the state to come in and take over the city.
During the Assembly debate, Vince Mazzeo said he didn’t want to vote for the takeover bill, but it was really the governor and the Department of Community Affairs who took it over after they rejected the city’s five-year plan to become solvent.
Assembly candidate Vince Sera, a Republican who is a councilman in Brigantine, then held up a letter Mazzeo wrote to the state advocating for the takeover.
The other Democratic candidate for Assembly, John Armato, said the focus must be on what happens in the future, and working to make sure the city never gets in a position to be taken over again.
Armato, a Buena Vista Township Committee member, also said he is disappointed in how the country has become nothing but partisan fighting.
“A good idea lost its impact somewhere along the way,” Armato said. “Now it’s only a good idea if a “D” wrote it or an “R” wrote it. A good idea is a good idea.”
Brenda Taube, a Republican running with Sera for the state Assembly, kept her remarks on the takeover brief, but conveyed a strong opposition to it.
"You cannot cut police and you cannot cut fire," she said, referring to the state's desire to cut the city's police and fire department to save money.
The debate over the takeover continued in the state Senate debate between Chris Brown and Colin Bell.
“Senator Whelan and Assemblyman Mazzeo voted for the takeover, that’s a fact,” said Bell, the Democratic candidate. “But what is also a fact is that a Chris Brown voted for it, whether he wants to tell you or not.”
Brown rebutted Bell by repeating that he fought the takeover and voted for a bill that gave the city 150 days to come up with a financial plan to avoid that.
All state Senate and Assembly candidates, including Green Party candidate Mico Lucide and independent Heather Gordon, said the state should end the takeover soon.
The candidates will be back debating next week when The Press of Atlantic City and Stockton University host a debate Oct. 26.