Whelan and Polistina debate in Atlantic City

The candidates in a hotly contested State Senate race debated last night at Caesar’s casino in Atlantic City.  The topic was supposed to be hospitality, but it morphed into much more.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Jim Whelan opened the debate on WOND AM saying the campaign has been frustrating.  He’s upset with commercials run by his Republican opponent Assemblyman Vince Polistina.

“It’s as though there’s an alternate universe besides the real world that most of us live in and there’s Polistina world, the world according to Vince Polistina and in Polistina world, I’m a greedy politician and I was a lousy mayor,” said Whelan.

Polistina shot right back saying the debate was supposed to be about issues and not the campaign.

“I have told the truth about Senator Whelan’s record, in terms of greedy you be the judge.  You think it’s right that career politicians get these jobs at the end of their career to boost and to pad their pensions,” said Polistina.

Once the opening statements ended, both focused more on issues, using the hospitality and tourism angle to talk about safety in Atlantic City.  Polistina says you can’t have a vibrant city unless it’s safe.  He wants to send this message to potential criminals.

“You come to Atlantic city and you perpetrate a crime, we are going to hunt you down and we are going to catch you and we are going to send you to jail,” said Polistina.  “You want to bring families here, you better get that straightened out first.”

Senator Whelan, who was mayor of Atlantic City in the 90s, says things were better when he was in charge.

“Let’s knock down the abandoned buildings let’s get more cops on the street, let’s create that feeling of safety, we did it in the 90’s we can do it again,” said Whelan.

Senator Whelan says with casinos growing in neighboring states, Atlantic City needs family attractions.

“We have a lot of dead space in Atlantic City, along the boardwalk, and maybe the highest and best use ultimately is for casinos, but while we are waiting instead of having the vacant ground, can we have an attrition that can be family-oriented whether it’s amusement rides or a waterpark,” he said.

Polistina says Atlantic City still has something other casinos don’t–the ocean.

“If we don’t take advantage of our geography and our natural advantages over all the other gaming jurisdictions, we’re putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” said Polistina.

Recent polls show Polistina and Whelan are neck and neck.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal