By Brenda Flanagan
“I don’t know the reason why he didn’t show,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.
Assembly members glared at the empty chair. Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian had just bailed on their special committee hearing — called specifically to discuss plans to rescue Atlantic City and its beleaguered casino industry. Instead, they got the chair minus the mayor.
“I think it was a lost opportunity for Mayor Guardian,” said Caputo.
Committee Chairman Caputo expressed deep misgivings.
“It doesn’t look good,” he said. “Because when you call up 10 minutes before the meeting and say you can’t be there, naturally people are gonna think there’s something that’s not coming out.”
Guardian’s aide said, “Unfortunately, the mayor did have to cancel to handle a personal matter at home.”
Earlier this week, Guardian did give NJTV News a preview of his rescue plan for Atlantic City. It included slashing $60 million from the municipal budget and and cutting 150 city jobs — including cops and firefighters. Guardian also opposes plans to open casinos in northern New Jersey. As Assemblyman Chris Brown explained today, even talking about it hurts.
“Because if I’m someone in the private sector who is looking to make a large investment in Atlantic City, and I know the state is foolishly thinking about expanding gaming into North Jersey and cannibalizing 42 percent of the people who travel there now, I’m not gonna make that investment,” he said.
“There are no casinos in North Jersey at this point and the people who live in those zip codes are not going there any more. You got that clear? And when you look at those casinos, those buildings on the boardwalk and you see them closing, one after another, doesn’t that bother you? You wanna blame somebody for that?” Caputo asked.
Caputo pointed to Revel’s spectacular failure as evidence Atlantic City crashed on its own.
“What happened to it?” Caputo asked. “Well, I’ll be happy to answer the question,” replied Brown. “No, you don’t have to answer. I’m just telling you there’s your major investment that was ill-conceived, right from the beginning,” Caputo said.
Both sides agreed Atlantic City’s biggest challenge right now is controlling runaway property taxes — up 53 percent over the past couple years.
“Who’s gonna invest in Atlantic City if you have property taxes going up 53 percent? So we have to stabilize that first before we go anywhere,” said Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo.
Meanwhile, Stockton College wants to buy Showboat, negotiations to sell Revel continue and multi-billionaire Carl Icahn’s bid to buy the Taj Mahal remains ongoing, even as Taj prepares to close Dec. 12.
A bankruptcy hearing for the Taj Mahal scheduled for today was postponed and Mayor Guardian said earlier they’re “very close” to reaching an agreement. If that played into his decision not to attend the committee hearing today, he’s not saying.