State Sen. Jim Whelan announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election in November, ending a more than three-decade political career that included several terms as Atlantic City’s mayor.
The 68-year-old Democrat made the announcement during an editorial board meeting with The Press of Atlantic City.
“I’ve had a great run in politics and a great run in life,” Whelan said. “I’m sure there will be parts I miss and there will be parts that I don’t miss.”
Whelan was elected to Atlantic City Council in 1982. He served as mayor from 1990 to 2001 and was a longtime member of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol and teacher in the city’s school district.
He served as an assemblyman from 2006 to 2008 before becoming a state senator in 2008. Whelan represents the 2nd District, which includes Atlantic City and most of the rest of Atlantic County.
“That is a long time,” Whelan said of his political career. “I don’t know if there is a particular reason. It’s just time to move on and give someone else the opportunity to do this.”
Whelan said he will finish out his term and focus on issues such as the dredging of the area’s waterways.
“I can do one more year, but I can’t do five more,” Whelan said. “For me, dredging will be a personal priority. Impediments to dredging threaten New Jersey’s culture of boating and our regional economy, from our commercial fishing fleets to the back bay skiffs. Other states like Maryland, Florida, Louisiana have figured this out. We need to figure it out, too.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, called Whelan a selfless public servant.
“Jim will be remembered by the history books for all his contributions in public service that accomplished so much for the Atlantic City community and for the entire Atlantic County region,” Sweeney said. “And he will also be remembered as a good and honorable man who was and always will be a true friend to everyone he knew.”
Whelan’s announcement could set up a third election battle between Democratic Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo and Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown. The pair have squared off in the last two Assembly races, and both have been mentioned to run for the Senate seat if it opened up.
Both Brown and Mazzeo said they will make announcements on their intentions soon.
“Jim’s a dear friend, a mentor, and most importantly one of the most effective legislators in the history of this district,” Mazzeo said. “I am proud to have been in a position to learn from him over the last three years serving beside him on behalf of the residents of Atlantic County.”
Brown said Whelan’s retirement offers voters the opportunity to have fresh ideas and new leadership.
“I have known Jim since we worked together on the Beach Patrol,” Brown said. “I wish him, his wife and family a happy and healthy retirement.”
After his term is over, Whelan said, he is looking forward to spending time with his family.
“I’m looking forward to a guilt-free day off,” Whelan said. “Not to complain, but the reality of these jobs are, if you take a day off, you feel like you should really go to the Boy Scout Jamboree or some event. More often or not you end up going. But now I won’t feel that responsibility, and I’m sort of looking forward to that.”