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New Jersey gym owner who defied COVID closures running for US House seat

A New Jersey gym owner who became known during the pandemic for defying the state’s COVID-19 closures is running for the U.S. House.

Ian Smith, the owner of Atlis Gym in Bellmawr, announced on Twitter on Sunday that he is seeking to oust Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) to represent New Jersey’s third congressional district in Washington.

Smith said he will formally unveil his campaign on Thursday. “I am truly excited to have the possibility to serve the people of NJ with a platform focused on liberty, small government, and America First policies,” Smith wrote in a tweet

The gym owner made headlines throughout the pandemic for refusing to comply with Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D-N.J.) COVID-19 mitigation measures, including a mandate that gyms keep their indoor spaces closed to the public.

He was arrested in July 2020 along with his co-owner Frank Trumbetti on charges of fourth-degree contempt and obstruction and violation of a disaster control act.

The two owners had posted a video of their arrest on the gym’s Facebook page, writing “Welcome to America 2020, where feeding your family and standing up for your Constitutional rights is illegal.”

In March 2021, the gym said it would give free memberships to people who do not get the COVID-19 vaccine. The promotion was in response to Krispy Kreme offering free donuts to individuals who received the jab.

Smith is the second Republican candidate to jump into the Garden State race, joining business owner Robert Healey, Jr.

They are both looking to take on Kim, a two-term congressman who serves on the Armed Services, Small Business and Foreign Affairs committees.

The new congressional map New Jersey adopted last month delivered a large win to Kim, whose district became more Democratic, according to FiveThirtyEight. It reportedly moved from plus five Republican to plus five Democratic.

Smith has employed Republican political consultant Steve Kush to help with his campaign, according to the New Jersey Globe. Kush reportedly assisted with truck driver Edward R. Durr’s upset win over New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Smith was sentenced to more than five years in prison in 2007 after driving drunk and killing a 19-year-old, according to NJ.com. He was sentenced when he was 20 years old.

In a video about that accident, posted to Instagram in 2020, Smith said: “What we stand for is far bigger than me. I understand people’s resentment and hatred towards me. All I ask is you listen to the details and make your decision based off of that.”

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