By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
“I have great respect for the mayor. He has inherited an awful mess. And he’s working hard to try to fix it,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
But, said Christie, it’s not enough.
“What we are doing is giving to the mayor, through the emergency manager, enhanced tools to be able to bring this to a successful resolution,” the governor said.
With all the stakeholders around the table, the governor said it’s time to bring expert and objective leadership to the Atlantic City crisis.
By executive order, he named a restructuring expert, Kevin Lavin, and the man who steered Detroit through bankruptcy, Kevyn Orr, to manage Atlantic City’s future.
“We haven’t gotten there. And I can’t wait any longer. And so we need to take more aggressive action,” Christie said.
Mayor Don Guardian was at the table.
Ever since Christie’s commission on gaming, sports and entertainment proposed an emergency manager for the city back in November, Guardian has been opposed.
Today, he tried to put the best face on a situation that will take away much of his authority.
“At first I heard a comment from one of the gentlemen, that said they wanted an emergency manager, fire the entire workforce of the city and take over. That’s a lot different than the governor saying we’re gonna continue to help the city, we’re going to provide you with additional tools that you need and gonna work with the mayor and city council,” Guardian said.
Lavin, who has been restructuring companies for 25 years, including former Gov. Jon Corzine’s firm MF Global, will be full-time here and vowed to work with the mayor.
“People in our business are not power-hungry. They’re there to get a job done and then make other people look good. That’s what we’re here to do,” Lavin said.
Orr, who will be special counsel to Lavin, essentially a consultant, said you can’t compare Atlantic City to Detroit.
“Each enterprise is different, so be very, very careful with anyone trying to analogize what happened in any other community with what may or may not happen here. They are not directly relevant. It is not a template,” Orr said.
Atlantic City has lost half its gambling revenue and nearly half its tax base in the past few years.
City government and the casino industry are reeling from the effects.
At the mayor’s side stood the new city council president, who felt less constrained to be diplomatic.
“I find it very opposing that we would have outsiders come into the city and dictate the direction of the city without sitting down with the city fathers and getting their input,” said Frank Gilliam.
Christie urged all at the table to put the interests of the city ahead of their own.
“This is something that needs to be done. It’s something all of us worked hard to try to avoid having to do. But it is also, let me say, not the end of the world,” Christie said.
Last week he was criticized for not mentioning Atlantic City in his State of the State address. Today Gov. Christie met it head on, even as he is also being criticized for spending time out of state.