By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
A large crowd turned out for the press conference outside city hall. From the opening prayer, it was clear where this was going.
“Father, this city has been the goose that laid the golden egg. They have taken all that we have given, but they don’t want to give us anything in return,” said Pastor Wong Young.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian read a fiery statement saying he was hoping for a partnership with the state as well as some financial aid.
“In the end, all of our concerns fell on deaf ears. The final piece of legislation that the state presented to us was far from a partnership. It was much worse. It was absolutely a fascist dictatorship,” he said.
The plan he objects to would allow the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton to take over virtually every aspect of Atlantic City government.
It could break collective bargaining agreements with the city’s workforce unions. It could sell off the city’s water authority, a prospect speakers here compared to the tainted water system of Flint, Michigan.
“The plan would allow the state to appoint a non-elected official to unilaterally terminate all collective bargaining agreements, unilaterally see, lease or monetize all AC owned assets, unilaterally abolish non-elected positions and terminate all employees, unilaterally veto the minutes of city council…This is an insult to democracy and to American citizens living in Atlantic City,” Guardian said.
Last month, Guardian stood with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie and appeared to accept a takeover in return for financial rescue.
He says what he agreed to then has changed for the worse.
“Although we agree the state has to take a lot more control of our finances, we’ll allow them to do that, but we can’t allow them to take over the rest of the city. There’s no reason that they should be doing that,” Guardian said.
Sweeney told NJTV News today, “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in the mayor. He knew what he was getting into. The city can’t control its costs. Just saying, ‘Give us more money and give us a chance’? They’ve been given plenty of chances. It’s time for the mayor to look in the mirror.”
City Council President Marty Small said Gov. Christie deserves some blame for over-selling the benefit of creating a state-run tourism district six years ago.
“Let’s talk a couple of blocks down the street, the illustrious tourism district that has been an epic failure. Where’s the development? Where’s the businesses? Where are the changes? It looks the same as it did since that fateful hot day in July 2010 when he came down here spewing a bunch of rhetoric and delivering nothing,” Small said.
In the parade of speakers were some who suggested racism played a part in the state’s calculation — Mayor Guardian among them.
“Taking away the civil rights of those that live in AC would never happen in Mendham, in Short Hills or Linwood,” he said.
Guardian says the city has lost 70 percent of its tax ratable base and will run out of cash sometime this spring. He said Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressman Frank LoBiondo have all been helpful — why can’t the state?
“As we stand here, the partner missing at this table of recovery is the state of New Jersey,” Guardian said.