Yacht company owner and ex punk-rocker wins N.J. primary over gym owner who defied Murphy lockdown rules

June 8, 2022


By Jonathan D. Salant

Businessman Bob Healey defeated gym owner Ian Smith to win the Republican nomination Tuesday to take on two-term Democratic Rep. Andy Kim this fall in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, according to a projection from the Associated Press.

The AP called the race around midnight with 83% of the votes counted. Healey was up by nearly 53% over Smith’s 28%. Nicholas Ferrara, a Realtor and lawyer, had about 9 percent.

The choice of Healey, a former punk rocker who co-owns New Gretna-based Viking Yacht Co., could possibly put Kim’s district in play in November. Healey raised $896,796 through May 18 and lent his campaign an additional $260,000.

While the map approved by the state’s independent redistricting commission made the district more Democratic, the Cook Political Report said that Healey’s fundraising put him in a position to strongly challenge Kim if there is a Republican wave this fall.

In addition, the National Republican Congressional Committee added Healey to its list of potentially strong GOP challengers.

Even so, Kim, who defeated Reuven Hendler, a project manager at an engineering firm and a small business owner, in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, is rated as a strong favorite to retain the seat by both Cook and Inside Elections.

Shortly after the race was called, Healey’s campaign issued a statement that challenged Kim to participate in 10 “town-hall style debates between now and Election Day.”

“I want voters to ask themselves one question: Do you want a representative in Congress like Andy Kim, who will continue the failed policies of (President) Joe Biden that have brought us record inflation, rising crime, porous borders, and a radical ‘woke’ agenda in our classrooms, or do you want a congressman who will be a check and balance on the Biden agenda and turn our country around?” Healey’s statement read, reflecting a familiar tone from Republican challengers who seek to take control of Congress in the midterm elections.

Smith, co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr won fame among conservatives in New Jersey and across the country for defying Gov. Phil Murphy’s coronavirus lockdown orders. Murphy ordered all gyms, casinos, and movie theaters to shutter in March 2020 as the coronavirus spread throughout the state and region. But Smith reopened his gym in May and then battled state and local authorities. He and co-owner Frank Trumbetti were arrested and fined and their business license revoked.

They sued the state but the lawsuit was ultimately tossed and Bellmawr Borough Council voted in August of that year to revoke the gym’s license.

In March of this year, Smith was arrested and charged with drunken driving.

Smith traveled to Washington in January 2021, speaking at a rally before the insurrection by supporters of Donald Trump. Smith said he did not breach the U.S. Capitol with other protesters trying to stop the legal counting of votes.

A photo of Kim picking up the debris left behind by the pro-Trump rioters went viral and the suit he wore at the time was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.