ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — A city councilman declared victory Tuesday in the Democratic mayoral primary in this seaside gambling resort and immediately signaled he will use Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s takeover of the city’s political power and physical assets as a weapon against the Republican mayor.
Atlantic City Councilman Frank Gilliam’s campaign said that he had a lead in the absentee ballots that would give him a win over Councilman Marty Small. Those votes had yet to be certified late Tuesday, and provisional ballots also remained outstanding.
Small did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday night.
Gilliam, who was sharply critical of Mayor Don Guardian as the state instituted a takeover last November, wasted little time hanging the takeover around his opponent’s neck.
“Putting Atlantic City first has been our motto,” Gilliam said. “Don Guardian put the state first. As we move forward, Chris Christie is more or less a thing of the past.”
There are few obvious reasons why anyone would want to be mayor of Atlantic City these days, aside from the $103,000 annual salary.
The job has little power, because of the takeover. The state has the right to unilaterally break union contracts, cancel actions by local officials and seize and sell city assets, including a much-coveted water utility.
Guardian ran unopposed in the Republican primary, and Joseph Polillo, a former city official and frequent mayoral candidate, is running in November as an independent.
During Guardian’s first four-year term, five of the city’s 12 casinos shut down, although much of that had to do with economic circumstances that began well before he took office, including the proliferation of casinos on New Jersey’s borders.
“I have spent the past 3 1/2 years rebuilding Atlantic City, whether it was rebuilding parks and playgrounds, restoring the Boardwalk, repaving city streets, streamlining city government or courting new businesses and development back into Atlantic City,” Guardian said.
As its gambling industry contracted, the city’s debt soared to nearly a half-billion dollars. Christie’s administration seized power last November, appointing former U.S. Sen. Jeff Chiesa as the city’s overseer with the power to take vast, unchallenged actions. So far, the state has used it on things big and small, from negotiating a tax settlement with Atlantic City’s top casino, the Borgata, to imposing regulations on how the resort’s Boardwalk rolling chairs operate.
Former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy, who won the Democratic primary to replace the term-limited Christie, has said he would end the takeover upon taking office. Republican primary winner Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said she would evaluate it.
Meanwhile, in Camden, the leader of the City Council won the Democratic primary to be the city’s next mayor. Councilman Frank Moran defeated challengers Raymond Lamboy and Theo Spencer in Tuesday’s primary. There were no Republicans in the race.
The mayor of New Jersey’s second-largest city, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, will be up for re-election later this year.
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