The two Atlantic County officials who are squaring off for a potentially acrimonious state Senate campaign this year sparred Monday over their relationships with the Atlantic City mayor.

The Press of Atlantic City on Monday detailed how supporters of Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, a Democrat, were actively supporting Assemblyman Vince Polistina, the Republican candidate for Senate. Langford's supporters contributed $15,000 to Polistina's campaign last year.

On Monday, Democratic incumbent Sen. Jim Whelan hit harder with his criticism of his rivals' alliance. He claimed Polistina had been "flip-flopping" in his support of Republican Gov. Chris Christie's Atlantic City Tourism District proposal to try to earn the mayor's approval.

Langford, a longtime opponent of Whelan's, was quoted explaining his support for Polistina in part by saying Whelan is "a bad guy."

"The issue is not whether Mayor Langford thinks I am a bad guy," Whelan said Monday. "That is for the people of the 2nd Legislative District to decide. The issue is the relationship between Assemblyman Polistina and Langford and the mayor's financial backers.

"It is now clear why Assemblyman Polistina was flip-flopping on the Atlantic City legislation. He said we were going too slow, then we were going too fast. He voted against it, before he voted for it. Polistina wanted to have it both ways, agreeing with Governor Christie, then with the mayor, and then back to the governor, when it was obvious that the bills were going to pass without him."

Whelan pointed out that state lawmakers discussed the Atlantic City legislation months after Polistina had received financial support from Langford allies.

"Polistina needs to stop trying to be all things to all people and do what is going to get people back to work, whether Langford likes it or not."

Polistina responded with a written statement that did not mention Langford by name, but attacked Whelan's suggestion that Polistina had little impact on the passage of the Atlantic City legislation.

"There is only one person in this race who is responsible for the economic failures of Atlantic City - and that's Jim Whelan," Polistina said.

Polistina blamed Whelan, a former resort mayor, for years of decline in the city.

"It's laughable that a career politician like Jim Whelan - who has presided over the downfall of Atlantic City in four different elected offices over the course of 30 years - is now trying to pass himself off as a reformer," he went on. "The bottom line is that as a councilman, mayor, assemblyman and now senator, Jim Whelan created the problems we face. Why would we ever trust him to fix them?"

Polistina, a second-term assemblyman and resident of Egg Harbor Township, announced Feb. 3 that he would seek to challenge Whelan.

Last week he brushed aside Republican concerns about his closeness with Langford, who has repeatedly challenged Christie over state involvement in the city.

Langford has been at odds with Whelan since their days on Atlantic City council. Polistina said he has been friends with Langford for about 10 years.

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