ATLANTIC CITY — After mail-in and provisional ballots were counted, the Democratic candidate in the 5th Ward has emerged as the winner of the Nov. 5 election.

Muhammad “Anjum” Zia defeated Republican Sharon Zappia by 81 votes, according to unofficial results from the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office. The results of the election are expected to be certified Monday.

Zappia received more votes at the polling stations and held a 71 vote lead on election night. But Zia received 221 mail-in ballots and 25 provisionals to Zappia’s 75 and 19, respectively.

The general election win for Zia mirrored his road to victory in the primary, where he lost at the polls to incumbent 5th Ward Councilman Chuen “Jimmy” Cheng but came away with the win after receiving 121 mail-in votes.

“I have a family relationship with the people in the 5th Ward,” Zia said Friday, noting he and his wife own several small businesses in the city. “I have been working with the people in this community for the last 10 years. I will try my best to serve the community (on City Council).”

Zia said his primary objective on the city’s governing body is to find ways to reduce property taxes and advocate for quality-of-life changes that have been “ignored” for years, such as poorly lit streets, enforcement against speeding cars in school zones and increased police presence along Atlantic and Pacific avenues. He also said residents of the Ocean Club need a voice against a nuisance bar near the condo building.

Zappia was suspect of the election results and suggested her opponent would not have won without the help of outside political consultants.

Zia has not filed any campaign contribution or expenditure reports with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission other than the required sworn statement of reporting standards, but he adamantly denied hiring or paying anyone for campaign services.

“It’s been pretty common in the elections that have gone by that the political operatives control the people in Atlantic City and Atlantic County,” Zappia said, taking aim at Craig and David Callaway, who run a highly effective messenger ballot operation in Atlantic City and Pleasantville. “They have disenfranchised the voters in the community, in the county, and quite frankly, they make a mockery of the electoral system in this country.”

Craig Callaway, a former City Council president who served 3½ years in prison more than a decade ago for bribery and blackmail, dismissed similar comments from city Republicans prior to the election when contacted by The Press. He said it was “an assumption” on the part of candidates who pushed the idea that mail-in ballots would be the only deciding factor in this year’s elections and added that an effective candidate would not be concerned about losing an election because of vote-by-mail ballots.

“If you’re a good candidate and wearing out your shoe leather doing what you’re supposed to do, you’ll win at the polls,” he said two weeks ago.

Zia said the Callaways have been allies to the diverse 5th Ward communities, but most people “would not listen or answer the door” if political operatives tried to secure their votes. Zia received the least amount of mail-in ballots of any winning candidate in Atlantic City and tallied less than the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in the 6th Ward.

Zappia lamented how messenger ballot operations, both in the county and nationwide, swing elections. She said she thought county election officials and certain law enforcement were “complicit in this fraud” because of their apparent inaction.

“The bottom line is we are not going to get good people to run for office, because good people would not hire people to change the outcome of an election,” she said. “Honestly, I think the people that were elected, with the exception of (6th Ward Councilman Jesse) Kurtz, the 4th and 5th Ward candidates (Democrat Md Hossain Morshed) are not capable of doing the right thing.”

Morshed has not responded to multiple attempts to contact him, both before and after the election. Morshed received fewer votes than one of his challengers during the primary but emerged victorious after mail-ins were counted. He handily defeated his Republican opponent, Sean Reardon, on election night.

But the election night turnout in Atlantic City was the lowest this decade for a general election, according to official and unofficial results from the Atlantic County Clerk’s website.

The 3,315 Atlantic City ballots cast at voting machines throughout the city this year was a 24% drop from 2015, the last year candidates for Assembly were at the top of the ticket.

Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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