A brief fight broke out at a gathering of elected officials and local labor leaders. A former Atlantic City mayor was supposedly punched during the scrum. And an Assemblyman says associates of a political rival surrounded and shouted at him, in an attempt at physical intimidation.
Politics, it turns out, can be a contact sport.
The incident took place at an Atlantic/Cape May County American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Central Labor Council fundraiser at The Playground in Atlantic City two weeks ago.
Union President Roy Foster confirmed that first there was an incident involving Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and four members of Ironworkers Local 350, and that later in the night, a fight broke out. Foster said former Atlantic City Mayor Scott Evans was hit by a punch intended for someone else.
“There was some pushing and shoving and it appears Scott Evans got hit inadvertently,” Foster said.
Evans declined to comment.
Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said when he arrived at the Aug. 7 reception, he was immediately approached by four associates of Atlantic County Freeholder Will Pauls, business manager of Ironworkers Local 350 and a Republican running against Mazzeo for Assembly. They tried to surround him and shouted curse words, Mazzeo said. He left the event after the altercation and did not return.
“Don’t judge all union members because four ironworkers whose local business manager is a candidate for state Assembly decided to confront the sitting Assemblyman over an endorsement,” Foster said, referring to the state AFL-CIO’s endorsement of Mazzeo over Pauls.
Pauls said in a statement that he didn’t see Mazzeo at the event, but accused him of changing the story. Mazzeo previously told Politicker that he didn't know what motivated the ironworkers to confront him.
“What I did see, however, was a story that ran afterwards reporting that Mazzeo and Bell said nothing at the event was ‘politically motivated,’” Pauls said. “Mazzeo has all of a sudden changed his story.”
Lorenzo Borden and Ian Fraser, members of South Jersey Building Trades who said they were two of the four who approached Mazzeo, said they asked Mazzeo why he’s not fighting for them on North Jersey casinos and then he walked away.
Atlantic County Democratic Chairman James Schroeder and Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE HERE Local 54, both said they weren’t at the event, but described the incident involving Mazzeo as attempted intimidation by Pauls.
“Will Pauls engaged in a game of political intimidation, plain and simple, and should drop out of the Assembly race in shame,” Schroeder said in a news release.
McDevitt said Pauls should resign from his officer position as Atlantic/Cape May County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, and said the event was similar to one five years ago at a rally Revel Casino Hotel. He said Pauls and drunk ironworkers tried to disrupt the rally then by cursing and threatening people.
“This is absolutely in Will Pauls’ playbook because he’s a coward. He shows up with thugs because he’s afraid to confront people by himself,” said McDevitt, whose brother, Joseph, lost to Pauls in a 2013 Republican primary battle for freeholder.
In response, Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis said Mazzeo is the one who should resign for a long list of reasons, including "failing to fight North Jersey casinos" and "giving a bailout to the casinos on the backs of hard working middle class families."
"If he isn't smart or honest enough to do his job I know Will Pauls is up to the task right now," Davis said.
Atlantic County Freeholder and Democratic Assembly candidate Colin Bell said that night at The Playground, he heard shouting and shattered glass. He turned around and saw “there was a rumble going on.” Atlantic City attorney Dan Gallagher also said he witnessed the fight.
Atlantic City police said there was no police report of the incident.