Former Assemblyman Vince Polistina says he is considering challenging Keith Davis for his Atlantic County Republican chairman position — although Davis says he has the backing of most party leaders and officials and welcomes any fight.
Polistina’s possible challenge was first reported on the “Hurley in the Morning” radio talk show Monday on WPG-AM 1450.
“I will work with all parties involved to improve and strengthen Atlantic County,” Polistina told The Press of Atlantic City on Monday, adding he has not made the decision to run yet. “I’m looking to figure out ways to work together to build and strengthen the organization. A lot of people out there have been interested in seeing improvements.”
Polistina said he would reach out to Davis and others, “but the election wouldn’t be till June, and there’s plenty of time for anything to happen.”
Davis said he was aware of Polistina’s announcement and called it “an incredible distraction from those candidates running this year,” including U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo in the 2nd District, Sheriff Frank Balles and at-large Freeholders Alex Marino and John Risley. Davis said he is backed for chairman by all of them, along with county Executive Dennis Levinson and Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica.
“I don’t shy away from a challenge,” Davis said. “Our record in Atlantic County is a very strong one, and I think the numbers reflect that.”
Davis cited the Republicans’ 7-2 freeholder board majority, three of four constitutional offices including executive, sheriff and surrogate, and “countless” municipal majorities.
He also said he supported Mayor Don Guardian’s leadership in Atlantic City while Polistina “decided to ally himself with (Democratic Mayor) Lorenzo Langford.”
Levinson said of Polistina’s challenge that “I don’t know where this is coming from. Everybody I’ve spoken to supports Keith Davis.”
At a recent meeting of Republican leaders, “Every leader came out unanimously for Keith Davis,” Levinson said. “But this Republican Party of ours, we welcome a challenge. It’s not something we shy away from.”
One supporter of Polistina’s was Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough, his former legislative running mate. Polistina is a member of the township Republican Club.
“I’m not going to criticize Keith, but I think there are a lot of problems that need to be resolved,” McCullough said.
McCullough cited regular Republican losses on the municipal level in Brigantine, Hammonton and Northfield, as well as the lack of an Atlantic County Republican on the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
“That’s troubled me for some time,” McCullough said. “And Keith Davis knows about it.”
Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy, while cautioning he is not on the committee that will decide, also said Polistina would “definitely bring leadership to the organization. ... Keith Davis has done a great job over the years, but maybe it is time for change.”
But McCullough added he does not think Polistina has the votes on the Republican committee right now.
“If he really wants to go after this, he needs to reach out to all communities,” McCullough said. “I told him, you can’t just depend upon Egg Harbor Township just because it’s your club. He needs to reach out to all municipalities, and if he can’t get enough support, he’s not going to be able to win. It’ll be a tough challenge for him.”
Said Davis of the challenge, “We shouldn’t have to have a contest. But it’s a contest worth having.”
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