Atlantic City’s Democratic mayoral primary pits the incumbent against a challenger with the county party behind him and a retired city police officer who prides himself on not being a politician.

While the Republicans will run Don Guardian against whoever wins the three-man race, the Democratic primary is thought of as the real contest, with the winner taking the city’s top seat since the partisan elections were reinstated in 2001.

Mayor Lorenzo Langford, 57, will not have the party line on the ballot June 4, as outgoing Atlantic County Freeholder Charles Garrett was given that nod — despite the Atlantic City Democratic Party favoring Langford.

“Most of the voters that we spoke to are offended that their choice is not being considered,” the mayor said. “I’m comforted that we’re poised to win this thing.”

Garrett, 66, said he is proud of the six years he has been freeholder and called the party support a great honor.

The lack of party backing or the help that comes with the incumbency doesn’t seem to bother retired Atlantic City Police Officer David Davidson Jr., 52, who sees the race as a David-versus-Goliath feat, with him being the choice against the status quo.

“The number of people I’ve spoken to and the doors I’ve knocked on, they all want to go away from the status quo,” he said. “Those people currently holding the leadership positions aren’t getting the job done.”

Davidson said he originally asked for the endorsement of the city police union, which he led for several years, but withdrew because of worry that Langford would seek retribution against the members if he should win re-election.

“You know what he says, ‘I don’t get mad, I get even,’” Davidson said, referencing a comment the mayor made at a 2010 City Council meeting when his decision to replace a longtime municipal judge was questioned.

Before that meeting ended, Langford apologized, saying his “came out in a real arrogant and clumsy kind of way” made “in the heat of battle.”

Langford called Davidson’s allegations “baloney,” and instead said he believed the retired officer decided not to seek the endorsement out of fear he would “face the embarrassment of not having their backing.”

Langford said the relationship between the police and administration is much improved, bolstered by Chief Ernest Jubilee, Public Safety Director Will Glass and “a significant infusion of younger police officers who are more objective in their thinking.”

And good relationships is what the race should be about, Garrett said.

“This election is about effective government leadership that can work with community stakeholders at all levels to foster the positive growth and development of our great city,” he said. “This means working cooperatively with citizens, the business community, and local, county and state government for the benefit of the entire city.”

Langford has become well-known for his battles with Gov. Chris Christie since the creation of the Tourism District. Rather than trying to sit down and work things out, the mayor attacked by likening the plan to apartheid and “pimps and prostitutes,” Davidson said, adding that the district was created “because the city failed to handle its business.”

“This public battle with the governor is about feeding his ego,” Davidson said of Langford. “He’s fond of saying, ‘I won’t go along to get along.’ But sometimes you have to for the greater good.”

Langford, however, said peopole appreciate that he is standing up for the city and its residents.

“I absolutely will not roll over for anybody,” he said. “When the governor is right and proposes something that will be good for the city, you’ll see me standing in support of that.”

For instance, the requirement that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority must stay in the city is a good thing, he said.

Garrett said the city should have grown bigger with a population twice its about 35,000 residents.

He said he wants to create new private sector jobs, and lower and stabilize property taxes, while protecting and providing seniors with better service.

But Davidson said Garrett could have done much of that during his years as freeholder.

“I’m not a politician,” he said. “With me, the city is actually going to have leadership that does what it says it’s going to do.”

Contact Lynda Cohen:

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Five years as Ocean County bureau chief, 12 years as regional news editor (not continuous), 10 years as copy editor (also not continuous), all at The Press of Atlantic City.