EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Atlantic County Democrats ratified their slate of county and state candidates Saturday, but left open whom the county party will back for Atlantic City’s mayor.

“Stay tuned,” county party Chairman Jim Schroeder said. He said he planned to go on vacation and return in early April with a decision.

State law and party bylaws gives county chairmen broad, practically unilateral, control over endorsement and who can appear with other party favorites on “the line.”

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“The line” of endorsed candidates on the primary election ballot can help make or break candidates by conferring legitimacy. Mayor Lorenzo Langford eventually won after getting the line in 2001, 2008 and 2009. He lost in 2005 after the party gave it to former Beach Patrol Chief Bob Levy.

Atlantic City Democrats endorsed Langford 18-7 over Atlantic County Freeholder Charles Garrett at its meeting Monday, city party member Mohammed Z. Islam said Saturday. Islam added, “We are expecting our incumbent gets the line.”

But Langford may lose the line after aiding Republican Vince Polistina’s 2011 state Senate bid against Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.

Candidates were mostly unopposed Saturday, except for the nomination to represent the party in the 1st Freeholder District.

There, Pam Fields, executive director of Main Street Atlantic City, a small economic development nonprofit linked to the Atlantic City Special Improvement District, beat Ernest Coursey, a former Atlantic City Councilman and South Jersey Transportation Authority commissioner, by a 34-13 vote.

The Democrat-heavy 1st District includes most of Atlantic City, all of Pleasantville and the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township.

Democrats on Saturday had breakfast and listened to speeches, as they cheered on their candidates.

State Sen. Barbara Buono, the party’s presumptive nominee for governor, spoke for about nine minutes. She told delegates after her father died when she was a teenager, she used the social safety network and affordable loans to go to college and become a public interest attorney.

“Don’t tell me the social safety net drags people down,” Buono told delegates. “I don’t want to hear it. The social safety lifts people up to allow us to achieve our dreams.”

She said that under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whom she is expected to challenge on the November ballot, “I don’t see hope in people faces. I don’t see optimism.”

The state has lagged behind the nation in the economic recovery, Buono said, and argued Christie has failed to deliver on his promise. She said, “Equality of opportunity is not reserved for the privileged few.”

In his speech following his nomination, Whelan said the biggest problem he saw over the next several years was the gap between the rich and “the rest of us.” He thanked party members, and urged them to work for candidates in the fall.

Assembly candidates Nick Russo and Vince Mazzeo thanked delegates. Russo, the mayor of Longport, pledged to work “150 percent” for the November race, while Mazzeo said he was glad to have been Northfield’s mayor for six years, and he said he was proud of his work sharing services with neighboring towns.

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