Call it the beach patrol caucus.
For the first time in memory, the three state lawmakers representing the 2nd Legislative District are men who spent some of their formative teenage summers guarding the region's beaches.
And despite party differences and the withering campaign season that just passed, all three said this common experience may make it easier to cross party lines and work together cooperatively.
Republican Assemblyman John Amodeo is a former Margate lifeguard, while both his Republican Assembly running mate, Chris Brown, and Democrat Sen. Jim Whelan served on Atlantic City's Beach Patrol.
Whelan, 63, retained his Senate seat by winning a nasty, mud-filled campaign against Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina. Whelan garnered about 54 percent of the vote to Polistina's 46 percent. Amodeo (29 percent) and newcomer Brown (27 percent) defeated Democrats Damon Tyner (23 percent) and Alisa Cooper (21 percent) in the Assembly race.
All three members of the incoming legislative team representing most of Atlantic County say they support tourism industry initiatives that drive the regional economy. They also agree that the region needs to look beyond the seasonal employment the industry offers to projects such as the Next Generation Air Transportation System, an overhaul of the nation's air traffic control system taking place in part in Egg Harbor Township.
Whelan said his top priority in January will be to help create jobs through legislation. There needs to be capital investment with the NextGen project, he said, potentially accompanied by some form of subsidy.
Additionally, he said lawmakers need to address sports betting in the wake of voters' approval of a constitutional amendment at the polls Tuesday.
Amodeo, 61, said the most important thing will be continuing the changes at the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and elsewhere that were set in motion with this year's legislation establishing a Tourism District in Atlantic City and deregulating aspects on the casino industry.
But also important, he said, is his hope to advance potential legislation that would work to promote midweek convention business by reducing taxes on conventions held between Sunday and Thursday.
Amodeo said research is continuing to determine whether the tax decrease would be offset by increased revenue from additional conventions. If so, he said he would put in the bill.
He said he also hopes to re-enter some of the five bills he and Polistina put in regarding NextGen. All but one bill, to establish a direct state liaison for the project, have languished in the Democratic-controlled Legislature and will likely die with the conclusion of the session in January.
With election season over, Amodeo said he is optimistic the bills on the project he called "the next pillar of our economy" would get a vote.
Brown, 47, said he wants to work with the CRDA as the authority continues to implement the Tourism District legislation.
While he said he looks forward to working with Whelan and Amodeo, Brown made it clear he would go his own way.
"When I agree with Jim Whelan, politically, I will be the first to say I agree, and when I disagree with Jim Whelan, politically, I will be the first to say that, too," Brown said. "We have to be able to move beyond personalities and work together as adults with a common interest."
While Whelan is 16 years older than Brown, the two have a shared history. Brown is the son of former Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Arthur Brown.
When Brown was a child, he was a "mascot," a junior lifeguard with the resort's Beach Patrol, at the same time that Whelan was a lifeguard.
Former beach patrol members have said their time on the sand helped them later in life because it gave them a loyal circle of contacts with a shared experience of responsibility that they could draw on later in life.
It particularly helps in local politics, as since so many people have worked on the region's beaches, the odds are high that candidates will meet someone, or someone's relative, with that shared experience.
Early in Whelan's three terms as Atlantic City's mayor in the 1990s, four of Atlantic County's five barrier-island towns - Atlantic City, Brigantine, Ventnor, and Margate - were headed by former lifeguards.
The trend is so pervasive that some have joked about a so-called "beach patrol mafia" that sets the agenda and controls access to local legal and government circles - a sun-tanned version of the old boys club.
Whelan described the relationship as "three guys who understand (they) have that shared bond. That's always helpful."
In contrast, Whelan said the relationship was strained at times between him and Polistina, who lost a bid Tuesday to replace Whelan in the Senate.
"Almost from the day he got there," to the Legislature, Whelan said, "he was taking shots at me. No one was surprised when he started to run."
Polistina described his and Whelan's relationship throughout their term as professional.
"I thought the only impediment to getting progress done was we were in a targeted district and (Democrats) didn't want to work with Republicans," Polistina said. Democrats, in the majority, were able to dictate what was going to happen and when, he said. "They didn't ever reach out and be bipartisan."
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