Atlantic City’s high homicide rate has prompted Gov. Chris Christie to attack Mayor Lorenzo Langford, saying he has failed the city.
“I’ve said all along that I have grave concerns about the leadership in that city, and I’ve made that very clear over and over again,” Christie told reporters Tuesday. “The mayor there has failed, and he’s impossible to work with in any kind of significant way.”
Christie, who answered questions from the press following a tour of a family center in Jersey City, said he is concerned Atlantic City has had 15 homicides in 2012 — on track to make this year among the most violent in the city’s history. The Republican governor, who has made the revival of the tourism and casino industry in Atlantic City a priority of his tenure, appeared to blame Langford, a Democrat, for some of the city’s problems.
“He is very difficult,” Christie said of Langford. “If you talk to anybody who tries to work down in Atlantic City, it is very difficult to work with the mayor, and I think that’s really indicative.”
The mayor is away this week and could not be reached for comment.
But while critical of Langford’s management of the city — “in the outer parts of the city” — the governor praised the beautification and safety improvements that have been made inside the city’s Tourism District. The district was created by legislation last year, and state officials were given more regulatory control over that area.
“I think you’re seeing a real improvement in terms of the way it looks and the way it feels and the crime levels inside the Tourism District,” Christie said. “Now there are other parts of the city that have always been difficult and problematic.”
The separation of Atlantic City into two distinct areas would appear to contradict what public safety officials said they have been working toward, which is to stress that they see no difference in how the Tourism District and rest of the city are policed.
Leaders have refused to disclose staffing levels from outside agencies — such as State Police — including how many are assigned to each area or where they may patrol.
Tourism District Commander Tom Gilbert, who was appointed by Christie, and city Public Safety Director Willie Glass declined to weigh in on a possible battle between their respective bosses. Instead, both stressed the cooperation that exists between agencies.
“We’re still all working together,” Gilbert said. “Everybody’s engaged from top to bottom. Those things aren’t going to stop at some geographical border within the city.”
Glass said, “It’s basically a 24/7 job that we all take seriously.”
The governor has made his public criticism of political opponents a hallmark of his leadership style, said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair University.
“I really think it’s his brand of politics,” she said of Christie. “Across the board, we’ve seen the governor call political opponents to task.”
At the same time, Langford was elected by citizens of Atlantic City and blaming him for its woes isn’t helpful, said Harrison, a Galloway resident and unaffiliated voter.
“There are a lot of ways other than to publicly chastise public officials,” she said. “If this personal feud is getting in the way of getting things done, it really does the public a disservice.”
Vince Polistina, a former Republican state assemblyman from Egg Harbor Township who, when he unsuccessfully ran for a state Senate seat, had the backing of Langford, said he didn’t agree with Christie’s characterization of the mayor.
“I never found him to be a difficult person to work with,” Polistina said of Langford.
The public acrimony between Christie and Langford has existed for years. Both have taken jabs at each other in public.
“It got started off on the wrong foot,” Polistina said of Christie and Langford’s relationship.
When the Tourism District was created, Langford likened the division to South African apartheid — an analogy that resulted in heavy criticism of the mayor, said Polistina, adding he was among those who denounced the comments. Christie and Langford have never been able to repair their relationship since then, Polistina said.
“I don’t think it’s something that can’t be solved by getting them into a room,” he said. “The future of Atlantic City is too important to get it disrupted by partisan politics.”
The city’s image already has been tarnished in recent times, according to Polistina, who cited a decision by the City Council to buy new cars for some of their members’ use.
“It doesn’t send a good message,” he said.
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