ATLANTIC CITY — Two City Council races were too close to call late Tuesday night — leaving the possibility that a Republican could win a partisan election for the first time in three decades in a city so heavily Democratic that people consider the general contest a nonevent.
“I’m absolutely stunned,” said City Council President William Marsh of the narrow margins in the city’s 5th and 6th wards. “We’re still trying to figure this whole thing out. I never thought it would be that close.”
Marsh handily won re-election in the 4th Ward, as did Aaron “Sporty” Randolph in the 1st Ward. Fellow Democratic incumbent Tim Mancuso was just barely ahead - by 27 votes - in his bid for a sixth term representing the 6th Ward.
Mancuso, who didn’t return calls placed Tuesday, brought in 612 votes — 27 ahead of Republican challenger Jesse Kurtz.
Fifth Ward City Council candidates Sharon Zappia, a Republican, and Rizwan Malik, a Democrat, tied at 347 votes each, according to unofficial election results from the Atlantic County clerk’s website.
These tallies included only nonprovisional votes placed at polls Tuesday. Final results will include the number of provisional, absentee and mail-in ballots, which were not available from Atlantic County election workers.
Atlantic City Council candidates expected to get a count on provisional ballots this morning. The rest of the count typically wraps up by the end of the week.
“I’m encouraged by how well I did over someone who’s a quintessential ward political,” Kurtz said. “He’s been in office a long time and is a tremendous campaigner — and I was able to hang with him in every regard.”
Zappia said she expected poll votes to put her ahead by more, but intends to challenge her opponent’s provisional ballots if those push him to victory.
“I’m not a sore loser, but I do know my opponent’s going to be nothing more than a rubber stamp and continue the downward spiral,” she said Tuesday.
City voters agreed in 2000 to resume partisan elections after a hiatus that began when the resort did away with the commission form of government in 1982. Although registered Republicans won nonpartisan elections during the interim, many of them — including Mancuso and outgoing 5th Ward Councilman Dennis Mason — ultimately switched their affiliation to Democrat after partisan contests started anew 10 years ago.
Malik’s defeat of Mason in the primary in June prompted the five-term incumbent to challenge results based on his belief that Malik doesn’t live in the city — or hadn’t for the requisite year. After Mason lost that court battle, he provided Zappia with advice and financial support.
“I expected her to win this — and I think she will,” said Mason, declining to comment on the amount of his donation.
Mason said Tuesday he believes the close 5th Ward race stems, in part, from voters’ doubts about Malik’s residency. The Press of Atlantic City also raised questions about that when Malik first sought an at-large council seat in 2009.
“If the Republicans were to win, it’s as much about the decline of party organization in Atlantic City as much as anything,” said Dan Douglas, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. “And the personal nature of these races — these are people who aren’t really aligned that deeply with their parties. Kurtz has run as an independent and a Republican. He’s an aggressive young fellow who’s really made a name for himself by working hard. Sometimes it’s just the personal qualities of candidates that shine through.”
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