MAYS LANDING – Republican incumbent Amy Gatto, 37, of Mays Landing is seeking her second term as freeholder-at-large in the Nov. 5 general election. After serving two years of a three-year term as a freeholder, last year she became the first female chair of the Freeholder Board after Frank Formica stepped down as the leader of the nine-member board.
She is being challenged by Democrat Nick Polito, 48, of Hammonton.
Gatto, who is single, started her political career in her early-20s as a member of the Hamilton Township Board of Education. The Widener University graduate with degrees in international business and French, was also a member of the Hamilton Township Committee for nine years, two of them as mayor.
She is currently a lead service operations manager for AXA Advisors, a financial services company.
Her number one message is that this year’s Republican slate of candidates offers experienced leadership.
“I ran for freeholder in 2016 on bringing in the next generation of leadership to the Freeholder Board, and creating an economic development plan, which we are doing,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Gatto touted the county’s low debt and ability to back the bonds needed to fund creation of Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus, which will add a college-town element to Atlantic City.
In addition to supporting the creation of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance, which is working to diversify the county’s economy through the creation of the National Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township, she said the county is working with public schools, Atlantic Cape Community College and Stockton University to educate the next generation of aviation employees. One building has already been erected in the park with a second in the planning stages.
“I want to continue working the plan so our people can grow and thrive. The county needs new employment opportunities and a skilled workforce,” she said.
Gatto said the county is also looking toward new clean energy efficiencies with the creation of the Orsted offshore wind farm, which will also create temporary and permanent jobs.
“These are the type of things we want to continue to grow, along with making the county a safe place to live,” she said.
Gatto said she wants the county to “stay on track,” literally.
She sits on a stakeholder committee formed by New Jersey Sen. Chris Brown to ensure the NJ Transit Atlantic City rail line does not close again.
The rail line was shut down last year for about six months while systems were upgraded. Trains started running again just before Memorial Day, but with fewer runs.
“We have developed short, medium and long-term goals to ensure the rail line stays viable,” including establishing Transit Villages in communities along the rail line, she said.
Gatto pointed to the county’s effort on environmental issues.
“Personally, I’m very proud that we amended our laws to eliminate the use of plastic bags and straws at Atlantic County parks. We did that because we were approached by the folks at Sustainable Downbeach,” she said. “They came to us to ask about it, and it made sense to set an example for towns across the county to enact similar legislation. Hopefully, the state will follow suit.”
Gatto said the county also changed its regulations to allow alcohol to be served at events held at Lenape Park in Mays Landing.
“That has already attracted some major events to the park. We also brought in an operator for the full kitchen at Lenape Park,” she said.
However, Gatto is most proud of the board’s ability to keep taxes stable, despite the loss of ratables from casino tax appeals and a PILOT program that froze their taxes for 10 years.
“We reduced our budget by $5 million this year, and the two prior years, our taxes were flat, all the while we were paying back $78 million to Atlantic City,” she said.
She cited the county’s strong credit rating and 20 perfect audits that were performed by several different auditors.
Attempts to reach Polito for an interview were unsuccessful.
According to a March press release announcing his campaign, Polito said “all corners of the county should share in economic development, investment and the opportunity for high paying jobs.”
He has worked for the NJ Turnpike Authority for 30 years as a toll plaza supervisor and is a member of Local 200.
Polito has lived in Hammonton for 12 years, where he served on the Zoning Board and Hammonton Green Committee.
He has been a member of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, served on the Executive Council of Local 194, and has been a volunteer firefighter for 23 years in Galloway and Hammonton. He is also licensed with Weichert Realtors in Atlantic City.
“Serving as a firefighter for the past 23 years has taught me to appreciate what really matters in our everyday lives. Being a public servant is not about photo ops, press releases or how many ribbon-cuttings you can attend, it’s about making a lasting difference in people’s lives. That’s why I’m running to become Atlantic County’s next freeholder,” Polito said in the release.
He and his wife Erica have two children, A.J. and Gabriella.