A year out from the November 2019 election, four Republicans have decided to challenge two Democrats for their 2nd District Assembly seats.
Republican Freeholder John Risley, of Egg Harbor Township, and Somers Point Republican Councilman James Toto said Monday they are running to represent the second district, which covers much of Atlantic County.
They followed Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica, of Atlantic City; and Ventnor Mayor Beth Maccagnano Holtzman, also both Republicans, who announced their candidacies Sunday.
“There is no animosity whatsoever,” Formica said of the four vying for two nominations. “At this point it is a process we feel is healthy. Whoever prevails is going to make the party stronger.”
He said the Republican party has a sense of urgency to put Assemblymen in office who can help Republican state Senator Chris Brown.
The two chosen to represent the party in the March 2019 Republican convention will then face a primary race, and the winners will challenge incumbent Democrat Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato in November.
All four Republicans said their focus is to improve life in Atlantic County, but all emphasized different ways to do that.
“My total and main concern is our local economy,” said Risley, who runs his own investment firm in Linwood. He said he has worked to diversify the Atlantic County economy during his 17 years as a freeholder.
He has also opposed Mazzeo’s proposed plan for countywide assessment, saying it would be too expensive to implement.
Risley said he is most proud of his work as vice chairman of the South Jersey Economic Development District, in the years after it had almost financially collapsed due to mismanagement.
“It was one heck of a mess to clean up,” said Risley of the agency that was then in charge of developing an aviation park in Egg Harbor Township.
The county was eventually able to front the money to get the aviation park up and running, he said. The 66,000 square foot, three-story building at the National Research and Technology Park (formerly the Stockton University Research and Technology Park) is set to open in the Spring
Toto, 48, is a supervisor in the Ocean City Public Works Department. He is focusing on the need to control state spending and taxation in the state so people can afford to live here.
“I want to retire here. I have been all over the world, and I love this place,” said Toto, a disabled veteran who has lived in Somers Point since 2004.
Toto ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Congress for the second Congressional district last year, but lost to attorney Seth Grossman.
“In the military, we had Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong and at the worst possible moment,” Toto said in his announcement. “Now, thanks to the ineffective leadership of Atlantic County’s assemblypeople we have Governor Murphy’s Law: anything that can be taxed, will be taxed and at the highest possible rate.”
Formica, 66, has led the freeholder board for eight of his nine years on it. He said he has been asked many times to run for the state Legislature but decided to remain a freeholder. But this election convinced him to run for state office, he said, to reform the voting system — particularly the handling of mail-in ballots by third parties.
He was re-elected in November for the at-large freeholder seat. He plans to run for Assembly on his record diversifying the county’s economy — particularly by revitalizing the Atlantic County Improvement Authority. The authority was able to bond for the construction of both the Stockton University Atlantic City campus and the National Aviation Research and Technology Park.
“That and keeping (county) borrowing down to less than one-half of 1 percent of equalized value, are my most proud accomplishments,” Formica said.
And Holtzman, 56, who has been Ventnor mayor for approximately two and a half years, is the fiscal officer for Atlantic County’s Department of Family and Community Development.
She said her main interest is combating addiction in the state, along with improving school safety and services to children with special needs.
She lived through the experience of having a teenage daughter who battled addiction, she said.
“People are still so ignorant to addiction,” Holtzman said. “If families and people can become educated, we won’t have all these young people dying. Nobody understands until it walks through your door.”