During the height of the pandemic, New Jersey gym owner Ian Smith became a fierce critic of lockdowns. In fact, the co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr spent much of his time talking on Fox News about his dissatisfaction with Covid mandates.
The burly and bearded gym owner risked fines and possible jail time when he and his business partner refused to close their gym in South Jersey in defiance of Governor Phil Murphy’s executive orders.
Now, Smith has announced on social media that he’ll be running as a Republican against Democrat
Congressman Andy Kim in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District. Smith’s official announcement is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.
“This is an open invite for everybody, Republicans, Independents and Democrats, alike,” Smith said on Instagram. “I will be formally announcing and I’ll be touching on some of the policies and principles of this campaign, as well as how I plan to serve the people of New Jersey as a Congressman.”
Smith then added he’ll reveal more details on Fox News.
“And afterwards, I’ll be on Tucker Carlson discussing that with the nation,” Smith said.
Steve Kush tells InsiderNJ he’s representing Smith as a political consultant. Kush happens to be the
same person behind truck driver Ed Durr’s campaign. Durr was responsible for one of the biggest political upsets in the state, beating former New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“We should take him seriously,” said Kush, referring to Smith. “This is a real campaign. This is not an exercise in vanity.
“There will be more than enough money raised. He (Smith) is against government forced mandates. If you choose to wear a mask, that’s your choice. If you choose to get vaccinated, that’s your choice.”
Smith’s announcement comes as some polls show that while Americans are concerned about the spread of the Coronavirus, they believe it might be time to accept living with the virus and moving on with their daily activities.
A Monmouth University poll finds that 70 percent of Americans agree with the sentiment that “it’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.” Pollsters say responses were based on partisanship — 89 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Independents and 47 percent Democrats agreeing with the sentiment.
The New Jersey-based poll also finds the vast majority of the people questioned continue to support some preventative measures, like wearing face masks and social distancing, however, they don’t support workplace vaccine mandates.
Fifty-two percent of Americans questioned in the poll said they support instituting or re-instituting face masks and social distancing guidelines, while 45 percent were against it. However, 53 percent of those questioned in the Monmouth Poll oppose workplace vaccine mandates, while 43 percent support them.
“A key factor in the public’s inclination to accept having to live with Covid is the intransigence of a sizable segment of the population on vaccination,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “It seems unlikely that herd immunity could ever be achieved through preventative measures.”
In addition, 53 percent of Americans in the poll said they believe President Joe Biden is doing a bad job handling the Coronavirus outbreak, while 43 percent said he’s doing a good job. The poll revealing Biden’s approval rating on his handling of the Coronavirus has been dropping steadily since the Democrat took office. Back in April of 2021, 62 percent of Americans felt Biden was doing a good job, according to the Monmouth Poll.
“A lot of people did what they were supposed to do, they wore masks and the majority of people in New Jersey got vaccinated and still got the virus at Christmas,” said Republican State Senator Holly Schepisi, “thank God it was not so bad. Now, we have these mandates coming out that you’re going to be fired if you don’t get the booster, which by no means has stopped the current virus.”
The State Senator, who represents New Jersey’s 39th Legislative District, is referring to Democrat
Murphy’s latest executive orders requiring New Jersey health care workers, employees in group homes and prisons, to get the booster. While vaccination doesn’t prevent being infected with Covid, studies show getting vaccinated reduces severe Covid illness. Schepisi points out she and her immediate family are all vaccinated but that she’s against more forced government mandates.
“I believe all mandates at this point need to go away,” said Schepisi, who is a mother, as well. “I believe people should be able to do what is appropriate for them and their families. Omicron is over and our rate of transmission is down to the lowest it’s been, and it’s not going to magically just vanish. I am not going to spend the rest of my life having to get a shot that makes me violently ill and takes me out for four days every four months. I feel a lot of people feel exactly the same.”
Schepisi says she believes in encouraging the wearing of masks when the state’s dealing with high Covid transmission levels. But she adds the masks should be the right ones, like the KN95 or N95s.
Democrat State Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake cautions against getting too relaxed.
“Everyone should continue to be cautious and protect themselves, their families and their communities by following Covid protocols,” said Timberlake, who represents East Orange, Orange, Clifton and Montclair.
“While people say we should learn to live with the virus, we must not lose the compassion for people who are currently experiencing the virus and the help and assistance that’s needed in order to help them get through this difficult, life-threatening time.“
Timberlake also says the public must never forget the emotional toll Covid has taken on so many Americans.
“We must also remember, a lot of people lost loved ones and are still trying to cope,” Timberlake added.
Schepisi says the virus also took a toll on business owners, who found themselves struggling to survive financially after shutdown mandates. She says many New Jersey businesses received little support, and that the large majority of business owners who suffered were women and minorities.
Schepisi has been mentioned as a possible New Jersey gubernatorial candidate in the next election.
“I have not ruled out running for Governor,” she tells InsiderNJ. “I have learned to never say never to anything. It depends on the right opportunity for me and my family. I think people in New Jersey want to see somebody who is going to fight for the small business owner, who is going to fight for parents and for working mothers.”
Still, behind the scenes, many New Jersey politicians on both sides of the aisle tell InsiderNJ they don’t want extreme political candidates like Smith representing either party. But one Republican, who didn’t want to be identified, says “it’s a response to a lot of people believing their voices are not being heard and they want people, who have the personality and gumption, to stop mandates.”
“I think people are going to find out he’s not an extremist,” Kush insists of Smith.
The Coronavirus won’t be the only issue Smith will have to address. Smith served five-and-a-half years in prison for killing college student Kevin Ade back in 2007 while drunk driving. InsiderNJ has obtained an excerpt from Smith’s candidacy speech that addresses the deadly crash.
“I’m going to tell you about a terrible tragedy,” Smith is expected to say during his Thursday speech. “When I was 20 years old, I woke up after a night of drinking in my college apartment, got in my car and moments later I was the sole cause of a motor vehicle accident that took the life of a young man named Kevin. My actions broke the hearts of a family and an entire community, and that’s something that they’ll never fully recover from. There are many people who are still hurt and angry with me for this, and I cannot blame them for feeling this way. The guilt from this accident is something I face everyday.”