By Brenda Flanagan
“I love coming to work every day. I know you think I’m crazy,” said Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian.
With typical dry humor, Guardian made it very clear during his “unofficial” State of the City speech, that he’s still chafing under the constraints of a state takeover and views Gov. Chris Christie as more of a hindrance to the city’s recovery from its financial chaos.
“We’ve got to work with the state, honestly — for another year until he leaves on Jan. 20, when we get a new governor who might love Atlantic City again. I’m going to make a prediction. I don’t care who you elect as governor, they’re going to like Atlantic City and me better than the current guy,” Guardian said.
Guardian addressed the Metropolitan Business and Citizens Association luncheon, and with a PowerPoint presentation, laid out his fiscal vision for 2017. He highlighted civic improvements, new development and revenues, but admitted the grim reality: Atlantic City’s new state overseer Jeff Chiesa plans deep cuts — including perhaps 250 police and firefighter jobs. Guardian will argue to maintain minimums.
“It means you got to get 15 firefighters to a fire within 10 minutes of someone calling 911. This is the standard that the entire country uses. When you don’t have that, you’re going to lose the home,” Guardian said.
City and Atlantic County officials today continued arguing over how to divvy up casino payments made in lieu of taxes. The difference adds up to $40 million over the next decade and to apply pressure, county freeholders voted to withhold more than $13 million in tax appeal refunds. One freeholder called it a cry for help from the state.
“Don’t put the county against the city, or the city against the county. You took over AC. Give us the support that you say you’ll have,” said Atlantic County Freeholder Alex Marino.
“Legally, we’re due the money. Secondly, we’re starting off the year wrong, having one level of government argue against another level of government about the money we must get,” said Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz.
The state had no comment. Guardian says Atlantic City will fight the county in court over the money. But there’s nothing he can do to fight the Taj Mahal owner’s recent decision to surrender its New Jersey casino license and furthermore, deed restrict the property so that it can’t re-open as a gaming hall.
“If he doesn’t have any faith in the city — I get it — of the state, but don’t let us lose that building and let it sit vacant on the boardwalk. We need the thousands of jobs, we need the taxes and we need the activities it draws to bring people to Atlantic City,” Guardian said.
Amidst all the mayhem, Guardian, a Republican, told the lunch crowd he does want another term as mayor. And he really wants a new governor — even a Democrat like Phil Murphy, who’s promised to free Atlantic City from state control.
“I’m going to back the individual for governor who’s going to help the people and businesses of Atlantic City,” Guardian said.
So as always politics looms large in AC. As the mayor runs for re-election, he’s betting New Jersey voters will pick a new governor who believes in rolling back the state takeover.