ATLANTIC CITY — The candidates vying to become the mayor of this city for the next four years spent Thursday afternoon mostly questioning each other’s previous decisions.
During the debate hosted by WOND-AM 1400’s “Off The Press with Scott Cronick” in Dante Hall, it once again became Republican incumbent Don Guardian and Democratic challenger Frank Gilliam heatedly attacking one another about previous moves and how they would affect the next four years if elected.
Cronick’s format allowed the candidates to ask each other direct questions during the debate, instead of questions coming from a moderator or from the audience. Each of the four candidates got to ask one question during each round, but Gilliam and Guardian both directed questions only at each other.
Gilliam, who currently serves on City Council, questioned Guardian’s plan to move forward with Atlantic City, citing a lack of a clear recovery plan for the city’s finances when Guardian was first elected.
“You refuse to be upfront and forthright — that’s why in November you won’t be here,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam also questioned the recipients of the $300,000 Guardian raised to go toward scholarships for Atlantic City residents, and challenged Guardian on the fact that his directors are from outside Atlantic County and blamed it on the “suffering” of Atlantic City.
Guardian responded by saying he isn’t “paid for” or organized by outside parties and his leadership is within Atlantic City.
Guardian, who is seeking a second term in the Nov. 7 election, questioned Gilliam’s voting record, saying he voted to raise taxes when first elected to City Council, and voted against accepting $200,000 in contributions to finish Brown’s Park.
Guardian said City Council approved the city’s budget and questioned whether taxes would be raised again.
Gilliam called Guardian misleading, and said the $200,000 toward the park was grouped with other items that he didn’t want to vote “yes” on.
Guardian also accused Gilliam of not attending civic association meetings over the past four years.
Gilliam said the duty of a council member is to complete city legislative duties and focus on the budget, and said he works on more important issues.
“They really expect the people that are elected to be there and to listen and to take care of what their concerns are,” Guardian said. “Shame on you for not recognizing that.”
Joseph Polillo, running as an independent, challenged Guardian during the debate as well, saying he should have filed suit against the state in federal court against the takeover.
When Polillo asked about the rise in taxes over the past four years, Guardian quickly changed it to Gilliam, saying Gilliam was council president during some of the tax hikes.
“The city has made a lot of bad decisions,” Guardian said. “I inherited all of these problems as I became mayor.”
Henry “Hank” Green, running for the Green Party, mentioned suing the state in federal court and wanting to challenge every one of its decisions in the city.
Green asked Gilliam if he would vote for a contract in the city associated with George Norcross.
Gilliam said, as he did in last week’s debate, he didn’t know Norcross and never had an opportunity to vote on anything to do with his involvement in the city, “but the mayor has.”
Gilliam quickly turned the answer on Guardian, citing Guardian’s voting abilities as a board member for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Guardian mentioned “the choice is pretty clear” as to whom to vote for if you want the “Camden County political machine” to run the city.
“I am owned by no one,” Guardian said.
Gilliam called Guardian a “failure” and closed by saying they didn’t need another four years of the Guardian administration.
Polillo and Green both discussed their disappointment with the city not challenging the state on taking over the city’s finances and believing it was unconstitutional.
“Those two guys think the election is between them,” Polillo said. “They’re going to be sadly mistaken.”