MAYS LANDING — Democrats came out on top Monday after final vote counts in the Atlantic City Council 5th and 6th Ward races.
Rizwan Malik finished with 388 votes, 11 ahead of Republican Sharon Zappia for the 5th Ward Council seat. They were tied after polls closed Nov. 8 and separated by just seven ballots heading into the Atlantic County Board of Elections hearing Monday.
In the 6th Ward, 20-year incumbent Tim Mancuso ended with 703 votes to Republican challenger Jesse Kurtz’s 678, results show.
Zappia congratulated Malik, who left without speaking to the media, after the board finished reviewing and counting provisional and late-arriving mail-in ballots. The 3.5-hour process drew a crowd of about 25 supporters, attorneys and reporters.
Malik, whose city residency also has been questioned by Zappia and outgoing 5th Ward Councilman Dennis Mason, said he's not an expert on the inner workings of the ballots.
"I was surprised (Zappia) was challenging the (provisional ballots)," Malik said. "I didn't know who those people were. She had all of the information on every single one of them - not me."
Mancuso said, “I want to compliment my opponent — him and his campaign — and (tell him) to keep his head up. And I want to compliment my campaign workers. I had a lot of young guys and girls involved, and the next generation coming up in Atlantic City looks really bright,” before thanking supporters and pledging to win over constituents who didn’t vote for him.
Mancuso, 45, walked away from a reporter when asked about accusations by his opponent, who hasn’t conceded.
“I love my town and I will not watch it self-destruct due to the lack of vision and integrity in local government,” Kurtz, 26, said in a written statement. “The voter fraud and corruption in Atlantic City is so rampant that many accept it as normal.”
Zappia echoed Kurtz’s sentiments.
“The experience was enlightening,” Zappia said “Win, lose or draw, this process must be addressed. It’s a sad situation here — it (is) clear there was fraud going on. For state officials to sit on their hands when they say they want to fix Atlantic City and allow this to go down — that really tells the residents of Atlantic City what they want to fix.”
Zappia said she’s not sure how to proceed, but believes the fact that all bearer ballots, formerly called messenger ballots, cast for Malik suggest voters were disenfranchised. Of 37 provisional ballots, the county Board of Elections voted to accept 11 and investigate two — all 13 for Malik — and rejected another 22.
Malik did not return calls for comment.
Kurtz, meanwhile, said he missed the opening of provisional and mailed ballots last week, costing him the opportunity to check names against voting histories, addresses, criminal records and other public information that could discount the votes — as Zappia did.
In all, 184 such ballots were factored into 6th Ward results, far more than the 25-vote margin, meaning Kurtz’s scrutiny could change the outcome. That will take until the end of the week and depending on how it goes, Kurtz also might contest the results in court. He’s confident that he can base that challenge on — if nothing else — an outstanding complaint against Mancuso filed by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Mancuso failed to submit campaign finance reports during his last general election campaign in 2007. The commission waited more than a year to act, filing the complaint in December 2008.
The commission hasn’t ruled, nor has Mancuso filed those disclosure forms. He did, however, submit the proper documents on time during the election cycle just ended, commission records show.
Commission representatives were not immediately available for comment Monday evening.
A victory for Republicans in either race would have been the first for a challenger since before 1982, which started 18 years of nonpartisan contests in Atlantic City. The resort is so heavily Democrat that the primary election in June typically decides the outcome in November.
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