ATLANTIC CITY - The four candidates for Assembly faced off in a debate Thursday that was less intense than their Senate counterparts, but the candidates still jabbed each other when they could.
Republicans John Amodeo and Chris Brown faced Democrats Alisa Cooper and Damon Tyner.
In their opening remarks, incumbent Assemblyman Amodeo said that he is running because he wants to take on the big issues, saying that unstoppable government programs have "put this state and our families on the path to bankruptcy."
Brown said that he too opposes high taxes, saying everyone's children need a chance to stay in New Jersey without being taxed out of it.
Cooper, an Atlantic County freeholder, said she was inspired by the model of her mother, former Assemblywoman Dolores Cooper, and "from her I learned the importance of public service."
At the end of the debate, Amodeo seemed to compliment Cooper, saying that he agreed that her mother was "a great public servant."
After she quietly thanked him, he added, "Her daughter is not the model that her mother was."
Amodeo said her mother was a Republican who worked hard for her district. "I think Miss Cooper needs to spend more time with her professional career as a teacher and teaching kids music and the arts and singing, and I'm sure she can be credible at doing that," while audience members howled, some in appreciation, some in anger.
Tyner, an attorney, dedicated a minute of his opening statement to a worker killed and two others injured when lightning struck the Revel casino project Thursday.
He told the audience that the election is a choice between candidates and "we could settle for what we have settled for in the past."
The one-hour debate followed an earlier debate between the two state Senate candidates, held Thursday night in the Richard Stockton College - Dante Hall Theater of the Arts on North Mississippi Avenue in the Ducktown section of the resort.
Like the Senate debate, the candidates stood behind stage podiums, their names in large letters. Both were cosponsored by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton and The Press of Atlantic City. Press Statehouse Bureau Chief John Froonjian and Sharon Schulman, Stockton special assistant to the president for external affairs, questioned the candidates. Michael Rodriguez, a Stockton associate professor for political science, moderated the debate.
During the debate, Tyner said that the Atlantic City casino market, once considered a recession-proof industry, needed to be revived. Cooper echoed the comment.
Amodeo said he thought that the city needed to market itself better, calling Atlantic City International Airport "a diamond in the rough."
Brown also said there needs to be new, innovative approaches to the casino industry, saying otherwise it will stagnate.
Regarding working with other parties, all agreed bipartisanship is necessary. Tyner said if he couldn't be effective, he shouldn't be in the Legislature, while Cooper said the most important word was "compromise."
Amodeo said there is plenty of bipartisan cooperation, calling Republican Gov. Chris Christie's term "probably the busiest time I've seen in the legislature."
Candidates took different approaches to whether Christie should run for president.
Cooper said that while she was impressed with some of Christie's decisions, she opposed others. She said if she were grading him as a teacher, he would get an incomplete.
She added, "And then, putting my teacher hat on, should he go to Washington, again that's your decision, but over in the comment side, where the teacher writes it, I would probably write ‘he doesn't play well with others.'"
Brown said that he loves Christie's no-nonsense approach and attempts to limit spending and said he would like to see him tackle some of the bigger national problems. But Brown had a problem with some of his rhetoric, calling him "caustic at times" and "a divider at times."
Amodeo said he didn't see Christie going to Washington immediately, while Tyner said he didn't care, but the governor needed to curtail his national travel and focus on state issues.
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