EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Vince Mazzeo and Nick Russo formally kicked off their campaign for the General Assembly late Monday afternoon, outside a shuttered supermarket in the cold, rain-soaked, mostly empty Cardiff Power Center.
Democrats chose that grim, mid-February tableau, Russo said, because it was indicative of much of the 2nd Legislative District and parts of South Jersey that had been battered by the lingering recession that has left unemployment above 14 percent in Atlantic County.
Speaking beneath the ghost letters of the former Pathmark marquee, both men, local mayors, touted their experience working in government, whether it is working with other Republicans or in developing shared service programs. The two had to sometimes strain to be heard over passing traffic from the nearby Garden State Parkway and Black Horse Pike.
"It shows I can work with both sides and I'm proud of that," said Mazzeo, 49, who has been in Northfield's municipal government since 2003 and mayor since 2008.
Mazzeo also promoted his business experience running B.F. Mazzeo, a local grocery store in Northfield, where he is a part owner in the family business.
If elected, Mazzeo said he would push for unspecified job stimulus legislation that he said Gov. Chris Christie opposed. Mazzeo also said that flood mitigation maps need to be expedited.
Russo, 63, joked that the event should have been held in Longport, where he has served as mayor since 2008 in an officially nonpartisan government, and where "it's 80 degrees and sunny."
He also touted his experience in law enforcement, including time with the Atlantic City Police Department, Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office and the state Attorney General's Office.
He said that he and Mazzeo would be well served by their time as mayor, since for many people City Hall is the most accessible and accountable government. Residents, he said, "tell us what's working and what's not."
Like Mazzeo, Russo also said the flood mitigation maps need to be reviewed and officials must decide where to go from there.
The two are running with incumbent Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who also attended Monday.
Gary Stein, an owner of an office-cleaning business and frequent candidate, is also seeking the nomination. The winners will take on Republican incumbent Assemblymen Chris Brown and John Amodeo, in what is expected to be one of the state's highest-profile races. The two formally announced their campaign last month.
Amodeo, a semi-retired crane operator seeking his fourth term in the Assembly, said he worked with Christie to cut spending, implement teacher tenure reform and increase spending on education. He also sought to develop "reasonable" storm protections for Atlantic County's shorefront.
Brown, seeking his second term, credited Republican state government leadership with helping turn around ruinous policies, and said he wants to work to continue to "get the private sector on its feet."
In a statement, Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davisaccused Democrats of hypocrisy for criticizing the GOP for lack of diversity, while running an all-white, middle-aged, legislative ticket.
"If the growing minority communities in our region want any evidence that their votes are being taken for granted, look no further than the Democrats' District 2 team," Davis said. "They will take your votes in overwhelming numbers, but they refuse to give you actual representation on their ticket.
James Schroeder, the Atlantic County Democratic chairman, called Davis's statement a "joke."
"Diversity? Where's the diversity in his ticket?" Schroeder said. "Wait until we're finished. ... We'll put our diversity against their diversity any day of the week."
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