Atlantic City’s future is uncertain but if past is precedent, it will prevail. Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and the Corruption of Atlantic City author Nelson Johnson told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that Atlantic City has had a purpose for existing and that it has always served as a resort.
“What makes Atlantic City so special, was it has a singular purpose for existing,” said Johnson. “It’s a resort and it’s never been anything but a resort. That’s what makes it such a strange experiment in urban American history.”
Johnson also said that Atlantic City also dedicated itself to the fast buck and that traditionally the town had a short season. During the first half of the 20th century, Johnson said that the season in Atlantic City used to last between 10 and 12 weeks and that the town had to make money while it could.
Meanwhile, the city’s political history and criminal history have been tangled. Johnson said that Nucky Johnson was a real person and that he wore two hats. According to Johnson, Nucky was a serious player in organized crime and was an important power in state and national politics. Johnson said that Nucky was a fascinating character to do research on and to write about as well.
Johnson said that Nucky’s legacy is twofold, one being Boardwalk Hall and the other a dysfunctional city government.
“Boardwalk Hall remains one of the best profit making arenas of its size in the nation, ranks in the top 10 consistently for dollars per seat,” said Johnson. “The second legacy is a dysfunctional city government. Atlantic City had such a long tradition of bossism. That when the system collapsed, the conventional methods for exercising and passing on power, they never took root and so what we have is a dysfunctional city government that never has really learned to deal with conventional methods for exercising and transferring power.”
Back in the 1970s, there were promises that legalizing gambling would save the city from certain death. Johnson said that the city was saved from certain death and that the casinos did not make those promises but that politicians did. He also said that the town never planned how to integrate casinos into society and the biggest thing was job creation and that now with competition those jobs are eroding.
As for how much of Atlantic City’s history remains in the present, Johnson said that some terms of a dysfunctional city hall can be seen. He also said that how Atlantic City made itself great by staging spectacles and events was what drew people into the city and that it’s going to be the key for the future of the city.
On what facts of history on Atlantic City that many may not know, Johnson said that what stands out was the way Nucky Johnson ran his organization.
“The many cool things about Nucky Johnson, what I think is the coolest thing, is how his organization worked so effectively without having to use violence,” said Johnson. “Real power is never having to exercise force and Nucky’s presence in the community and his organization was so strong that they got their way simply by saying this how things will be and if you buck the system, they didn’t harm you physically. They would destroy you financially.”