MAYS LANDING, N.J. - Less than a week after a protracted ballot recount widened his narrow loss, Republican incumbent John Amodeo conceded the Second District Assembly race to Democrat Vince Mazzeo on Tuesday.
Mazzeo, who is the mayor of Northfield, won the recount by 39 votes, but 12 disputed ballots for him were allowed to be counted Friday by a Superior Court judge - giving him a 51-vote margin.
"I congratulate Mayor Vince Mazzeo on his successful campaign and wish him luck in his first term in the New Jersey Assembly," Amodeo said in a statement. "The last few weeks have been particularly exhausting on everyone, but with only a handful of votes separating me and Mazzeo, we felt it was our duty to ensure that every vote was reviewed and recounted. That has been done to our satisfaction.
"I want to thank every voter for taking part in this critical election and give my heartfelt thanks to everyone who worked so hard on my behalf," said Amodeo, a semiretired crane operator from Margate. "I am proud of the positive campaign we ran and our fight for good-paying jobs and lower property taxes, even if it fell short."
The Atlantic County Board of Elections certified Mazzeo's 51-vote win at 4:15 p.m., Chairwoman Paula S. Dunn said.
Amodeo's concession erased the possibility that his attorneys would file an election challenge - an option they have until Dec. 20, 10 days after the board's recount certification.
Calling Amodeo a "gentleman," Mazzeo, 49, complimented the man he had defeated for "his demeanor throughout this election and the recount."
Mazzeo, who operates the family-owned grocery BF Mazzeo in Northfield, said he was "just ready to move forward and go to work . . . for the betterment of this district."
Republican Assemblyman Chris A. Brown, who won reelection, praised his running mate Amodeo.
"I want to thank John for his dedication to public service," Brown said. "John represented the people of the Second District with dignity and distinction. I wish him well as he moves on.
"I also want to congratulate Vince Mazzeo on his election to the General Assembly, and look forward to working with Sen. [Jim] Whelan and Assemblyman-elect Mazzeo on the challenges facing Atlantic County and our state," Brown said.
The sprawling Second District encompasses 17 towns, with Atlantic City at its heart. With the severe downturn in revenue among the Atlantic City casinos, the candidates focused on the local economy and job creation during the election.
Political observers said the close race became a civics lesson on the importance of every vote and reflected the unpredictability of voters this year.
Republican Gov. Christie handily won the district, but Whelan, a Democrat, won reelection by 10 percentage points over Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles, and Amodeo lost to Mazzeo.
Brown retained his Assembly seat, and Atlantic City voted for a Republican mayor - Don Guardian - for the first time since 1984.
The roller-coaster ride began Election Day, when Amodeo, 63, gave a victory speech just before midnight, when he was up by 379 votes.
But that margin didn't hold. Mazzeo was certified the winner two weeks later by 38 votes by the Atlantic County Clerk and Board of Elections after provisional ballots - including 115 that Republicans alleged were mishandled and fought over in court - were counted.
The tense recount even drew Christie into the fray. He was accused of not having done enough to help Atlantic County Republicans during the campaigns. Christie scoffed at the accusation.
Amodeo, who is completing his third term in the Assembly, was granted a recount that began two days before Thanksgiving with a voting-machine recheck, and concluded Dec. 3, with every mail-in and provisional ballot hand counted.
Mazzeo came out on top again and gained a vote to put him 39 votes up. Friday's ruling by Judge Julio L. Mendez added a dozen ballots for him.