Democrat Colin Bell was officially sworn in as a state senator Thursday during a ceremony at the Statehouse in Trenton.
Bell, 36, of Margate, was unanimously selected by the Atlantic County Democratic Committee to fill the seat of the late Jim Whelan, who died in August.
He is also running in this November’s election for a full four-year term in the Senate against Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown.
The unpopularity of outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the election of Donald Trump as president helped create a flurry of Democratic candidates in state Assembly and county freeholder races, resulting in a contested Atlantic County Democratic Convention in March.
But for the state Senate, county Democrats united behind Bell.
With less than five weeks left before the general election, Bell said he is looking to lead the Atlantic County ticket to a rare Democratic sweep in the Senate, Assembly and freeholder races.
“There’s been great enthusiasm this year for Democratic politics,” Bell said, adding he thinks some of that has to do with Trump and Christie. “I’ve been involved in politics for about 10 years here, and there have been times when we’ve been on the phone begging people to run for freeholder the night before the convention. That was not the case at all this time around. … Everyone wants to be involved.”
Bell graduated from Oakcrest High School in 1999 and received his bachelor’s and law degrees from American University in Washington, D.C. At Oakcrest, Bell was an athlete, a member of the student council and an anchor on the school’s television news show because the TV studio was the only room in the school that had air-conditioning at the time, he likes to joke.
His first foray into politics was working in New Hampshire for former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley during his 2000 presidential campaign. Though Bradley would lose the Democratic nomination to Al Gore, Bell came away hooked on politics.
After graduating from American University, Bell returned to Atlantic County in the footsteps of five generations of his family. His great-grandfather, Max Slotoroff, had a clothing store on Virginia Avenue in Atlantic City. His grandfather was a dentist in Pleasantville after returning from service in World War II and his great-uncle was a doctor in Pleasantville, and both of them served the Jewish immigrant farmers in Mays Landing and Vineland.
Bell clerked for Judge Michael Donio, which is where he met his wife, Sarah Beth Johnson. He now works as a civil lawyer who represents general contractors and subcontractors in construction litigation.
He said while he enjoys his job as a lawyer, he still has the political bug. After serving on the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders for one term and a failed state Assembly run in 2015, Bell is looking to become the top Democrat in Atlantic County.
In the spring, Bell announced he would again seek a seat in the Assembly after Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo announced he would run for state Senate following the retirement of Sen. Jim Whelan.
That ticket didn’t last long.
After the death of his father, Mazzeo decided he would rather run for re-election to his Assembly seat.
There was speculation around the county the Democrats were looking to replace Mazzeo after a telephone poll asked whether residents would likely vote for Mazzeo or Chris Brown if the election were held then, but Democrats and Mazzeo insist that the decision only came after Mazzeo’s father died.
Bell moved to the top of the ticket and ran unopposed at the Atlantic County Democratic Convention in March.
He says he is now ready to help lead the Democrats to try and sweep one of the only swing counties in New Jersey this year.
“This community has been good to me,” Bell said. “I think I have something to offer and I have things that I believe in that I think will be very beneficial to Atlantic County.”
This is one of two stories that will look at the candidates for state Senate in the 2nd Legislative District. Check back this weekend for a profile on Republican candidate Chris Brown.