Phil Rizzo, a MAGA-backed candidate seeking the Republican nomination for governor in New Jersey, has a spectacular home. Five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, three fireplaces, a six-burner Viking stove, two Sub-Zero freezers, wet bar, a pond and a heated concrete swimming pool situated on six secluded acres in northern New Jersey, according its Zillow listing.
But perhaps the property’s most attractive feature to Rizzo and his family is the fact they get to live there property tax-free. That’s because Rizzo is the founder and pastor of the tiny City Baptist Church, which bought the house from him in 2017 for $1.65 million and declared it a parsonage. That designation means neither he nor the church have to pay the more than $15,000 in property taxes that otherwise would be owed.
Rizzo announced his candidacy in February and has the support of some of New Jersey’s pro-Trump personalities, including former Ocean County GOP Chair George Gilmore. Gilmore’s influence in party politics has waned, however, after he was convicted of three federal tax offenses. Lucky for him then-President Donald Trump pardoned him in January.
An online bio states that he is a third generation real estate developer who abandoned the business and formed City Baptist Church in 2012. Initially the congregation of about 60 met in a rented storefront in Hoboken, N.J., but had to relocate when the building was sold. Until the coronavirus pandemic hit, services were held in a high school auditorium.
Rizzo’s politics are pure Trump. He has espoused the baseless claim about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and the conspiracy theory that the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was the work on left-wing activists.
When questioned by Politico about the parsonage status of his home, Rizzo said that when he “decided to walk away” from his business of building and renovating homes, his church was not able to provide a salary.
“Instead, the church decided to purchase my home as an asset and allow my family and I to continue living there,” he said. “In addition, the home provided peaceful and beautiful acreage in Harding, out of the city, where we could bring our church and community for family dinners, picnics, games, Bible studies, and kids events.”
His campaign refused to answer follow-up questions about how the church was able to raise the money to purchase his home, why it paid him more for the house than he paid for it, whether he or the church paid for the renovations and examples of recent church events he held at the home.