By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Gov. Christie enlisted a new ally in his public fight to take over Atlantic City’s government. Dennis Levinson has been Atlantic County executive for 16 years and wants the extra $4 million a year that would come to the county from a takeover and recovery package.
“We’ve had our differences, the governor and I. In fact we don’t agree on everything. He likes Trump I like Cruz but that’s the way things are. When this is over we’re all be friends again,” Levinson said.
The governor spoke and took questions for over an hour on why he believes a state takeover is the only way to save Atlantic City. Here are some highlights:
“The city’s failed to pursue any outsourcing of even basic municipal resources, such as park or playground operation, grass cutting, field maintenance, even trash collection. What the county does for many, many other municipalities in this county and saves money for those municipalities the city refuses to engage in that.”
“I find it fascinating today I see the AFL-CIO sent out a message saying that we’re attempting to protect bond holders and go after city employees. Every press conference I’ve had I’ve talked about the fact that I want the authority to negotiate with the bond holders and the casinos who are owed money but that I’m not going to do that without also having the public sector union workers have to also contribute to the sacrifices being made in the city. The AFL this morning says the bond holders, my Wall Street friends, will be left untouched. More lies from the city administration and their union bosses.”
“I regret I have to do this, but just remember, remember who the other folks who oppose this are standing with. They’re standing with people who are receiving excessive pay, they’re standing with people who are making excessive health benefits part of their life. They also, by the way, interestingly, don’t oppose the rest of the takeover. All right, think about this. They’re not saying we don’t want the state to take over the city. All they’re saying now is we just don’t want the state to be able to deal with the public sector unions. The speaker has not objected to one other part of the takeover bill and you heard all of the authority that we have in the takeover bill. He hasn’t objected to one piece of that. So let’s put aside this idea of democracy.”
“So much of this conversation being generated by the mayor and the speaker is like Alice in Wonderland. You know? You head into this vortex. As I was flying in here today, I was thinking to myself I’m going to the land where up is down and down is up. And that common sense has taken a leave of absence.”
He also took some serious shots at Mayor Don Guardian.
“The mayor is an articulate guy and now he is asking for prayer and all the rest of it, it’s a wonderful thing. He’s a great guy. He has no idea what he’s talking about. Zero idea of what he is talking about,” Christie said.
When asked about the press conferences held, by both he and Mayor Guardian, over the past couple of weeks and why they have not met, Christie replied, “because there’s no purpose in meeting with a liar.”
The county executive’s office is right across a courtyard from City Hall, where the mayor and city council president held their own news conference to respond to the governor, especially some of the governor’s harsh language.
When questioned about Christie referring to Mayor Guardian a liar he said, “I’m sorry that he has to use name calling. He should use facts and information, he should be trying to move the city forward, he should be a diplomat like we’re trying to be diplomats. The solutions are in front of us. Reduce the cost of city government continually, get the casinos to be allowed to redirect the funds to the city and provide some of the state aid that he provides to every other city.”
“I’m disappointed in an individual that should be more diplomatic than politician running the state of New Jersey. So I’m disappointed and like I can say about every urban mayor in this state, we can’t wait for Jan. 14, 2018 when we have a new governor.”
Here are some other highlights.
“When the situation again, not because of mismanagement of the city budget, we’re in this problem because we went from over $20 billion to a little over $6 billion of assessed value. We lost 70 percent of the value. We’re getting $150 million less in taxes than we just did six or seven years ago.”
“I can tell you who I stay with. I stand with the residences of Atlantic City and their businesses and I stand for democratic principles that he wants to erode and I stand for the rights of working men and women to have collective bargaining and I stand for the people that work in any government agency that need to be protected from politicians. That’s why there’s a civil service program.”
“But if we do a bankruptcy, it’s not an Atlantic City bankruptcy, it’s a Chris Christie bankruptcy. He’s forcing us into, he’s starving us into bankruptcy.”
“His credibility is shot. You see it in the approval ratings. So let’s not let him come down here and use the divide and conquer method. We’ve been together, we’re going to continue to be together and let’s just stand strong,” said Atlantic City Council President Marty Small.
The clapping was by municipal workers who filled that city council chamber and who are strongly against the state takeover.
Mary Alice Williams: Michael, the state takeover bill passed in the Senate, stalled in the Assembly. What’s happening with that?
Aron: Well the full Assembly meets tomorrow and people are wondering whether Vinny Prieto, the Assembly speaker, has something up his sleeve. He could reintroduce half of the package, the so-called PILOT bill – the one the governor won’t sign unless it’s got a companion bill, the takeover bill. He put out a statement today rapping the governor very hard, saying Christie’s all talk and no action and saying that if Christie and Sweeney don’t agree to some kind of compromise, that Prieto will come up with his own bill that would represent his position on this.
Williams: Atlantic City’s government was scheduled to shut down Friday except for essential services. Where does that stand?
Aron: That’s been pushed off. A maneuver has been executed here. They’ve decided to extend the normal pay period from 14 days to 28 days. That apparently eases the cash burden. The mayor is now saying that they have enough money to last until June. I’m told that the state monitor, who monitors their finances, says they’ll run out of cash now in mid-May. But no shutdown this Friday.
Williams: OK, Michael Aron, thank you very much.