Feature photo courtesy of New Jersey Assembly GOP
By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
OCEAN CITY – In 2019, Antwan McClellan made history as the first African American to represent District 1 in the New Jersey Assembly and the lone Black Republican in the entire body.
Two years wiser with a list of accomplishments, the humble former Ocean City councilman is running for re-election and hope to put another notch in the record books as the first minority to win re-election in the district.
McClellan and Assembly running mate Erick Simonsen will run as incumbents this time against Democrats Chris Wilson and John Capizola Jr. in November, while Senate Republican Mike Testa runs to keep his seat against Democrat Yolanda Garcia Balicki.
McClellan said while restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic prevented him to having many those personal meetings he treasures while in office, he found his time in the assembly an enriching experience.
I have thoroughly enjoyed [my time in the Assembly],” McClellan told Front Runner New Jersey last week. “It was a learning experience jumping from municipal government and state government. Throw in COVID and it got really interesting.
“I’m a relationship person and I like to see people face-to-face and talk to them face-to-face, even sit down and have dinner with them. There you get a different perspective making that connection. On-call and Zoom voting sessions were difficult but you get through them and you learn something through them,” he said.
McClellan, who married Angela Mason in March, said while being proud to be the first African American to serve the district, he focus was serving Ocean City, Cape May County and all of District 1. Most of all, he said he did not want to do anything the brought disrespect “to the name my father gave me.”
“Serving in the Assembly has been unbelievable, but my only disappointment was not having my father there,” McClellan said of his father who died in 2000. The youngest of six children, he lost a sister in 2006 and a brother in 2011.
“They all would have been right there in my corner like a living siblings,” McClellan said while expressing gratitude that his mother has been able to take pride of his time in office. “If they could see this now, it would be unbelievable. They have always been behind me 100%. My family has been the foundation of my life.”
McClellan said one of the things he has been most proud of was getting a bill establishing a Black Heritage Trail, highlighting African Americans who have made a different, into the Senate. The Assembly approved it this year and he hopes it will pass the Senate in November.
From there, it will be a Gov. Phil Murphy signature away to becoming law. In bipartisan fashion, the bill is sponsored on the Senate side by Testa, and Democrats Troy Singleton and Shirley Turner.
“[African American] lineage is deeper in New Jersey,” McClellan said. “Black people have done so many great things in businesses and museums that live on. New Jersey is a tourism state and we should be promoting Black History all over.”
In asking for another term, McClellan and the work of him and his team is not done, but they have established a record of fighting for South Jersey.
“We wanted to bring more notoriety to South Jersey and I think we have,” McClellan said. “We have a hidden gem and it needs to be celebrated more and we’ve done that. We will continue to do that — God, family and community.
“We’ve done what we said we were doing to do and we’ve helped so many people through the COVID pandemic. We fought for small business and tourism. I think people respect and love that about us,” McClellan said.
Through it all, the Ocean City native said the fancy of title of “New Jersey Assemblyman” has not changed him or how people view him on the streets of Ocean City.
“I’m treated like Antwan like anyone else,” McClellan said with a laugh. “I’m still the little kid from Fourth Street. People don’t see that title of assemblyman. I’m still the kid at Shiloh Baptist Church running through the pillars and the pews. I love it that way. That’s a title is part of me but it’s not who I am.”
McClellan, along with Simonsen and Testa are asking District 1 voters to keep those titles for another two years.
Note from AC JosepH Media: If you like this story and others posted on Front Runner New Jersey.com., lend us a hand so we can keep producing articles like these for New Jersey and the world to see. Click on SUPPORT FRNJ and make a contribution that will do directly in making more stories like this available. Thank you for reading.