ATLANTIC CITY — Marty Small had it all planned out.
Following his loss to Mayor Lorenzo Langford in the 2009 Democratic primary for mayor, Small decided it was time to re-tool his life: as a person, as an employee of the Atlantic City School District and as a 2nd Ward councilman.
He mapped out a schedule to improve his life personally, professionally and politically, with Sept. 1, 2009, being the date to start his transformation as a “more visible” city councilman. Two days later, he was indicted — again.
“It was like, here we go again,” Small said from his Presbyterian Avenue home Tuesday, a day after being acquitted on 10 counts of voter-fraud-related charges connected to his mayoral campaign. He faced similar charges related to handling ballots in the 2005 Democratic mayoral primary between Langford and Bob Levy, but was acquitted after jurors deliberated for half an hour.
This time Small was threatened with a maximum of 68 years in prison and, at the least, the threat of losing his ability to serve as an elected official or a public employee.
Now, after beating the state on voter fraud charges again, Small is back to planning his future. But with some crucial decisions ahead of him, he’s thinking far differently than he was before the indictment.
To start, his career in politics could be coming to an end.
Small is up for re-election this year, along with five other council members, and is still considering whether he wants to run another campaign considering the past scrutiny from the state.
“To be honest, that decision is still up in the air,” he said. “It’s something we have to decide as a family because, I mean, we’ve been through a lot these last five years.
“I’m torn,” he added with his two children sitting on his lap. “The money that I spent on these two cases, I could have put both of these kids through college. And it’s just like, is it worth it? But then when you sit back and look at it, I’m a competitor. I’m not a quitter. I’m a fighter.”
One fight he is seriously considering is another one with the state — on the civil end. When he first learned of his indictment in 2009, Small vowed privately that he would sue the state once he made it through trial. On Tuesday, he said he’s already had discussions about the option with attorneys and intends to look into it further in the coming weeks.
“That is a possibility because this has to stop,” Small said. “All I ever wanted to do when getting involved in politics was serve my city and serve the people I represent to the best of my ability. And that didn’t include two major indictments in four years. So, a message needs to be sent.”
The circumstances around the 2009 election had already been trying for the 36-year-old councilman.
Small’s campaign had fallen apart after he narrowly lost the endorsement of the city’s Democratic Committee. His City Council running mates, campaign donors and expected political strategists soon abandoned him. A month after the election, his replacement running mate, 19-year-old Dafiq Rasheed, died in a tragic swimming accident. And his wife, La’Quetta, was pregnant with their second child, now-1-year-old Marty Jr.
The indictment only made coping with the challenges more difficult, particularly with his growing family.
Questions swirled shortly after the state announced its charges about whether Small would be suspended or fired from his job as coordinator for the city school district’s after-school sports program. In June, he was laid off for budget cuts before being brought back at a reduced salary. Eventually an epic trial schedule forced him to temporarily go on unpaid leave from work to regularly appear in court.
Small estimates the unpaid leave alone cost him about $19,000 in income, along with struggling to pay for his private attorney, Stephen Funk. The councilman was the only one of the six defendants to pay for their attorney.
And the charges against him threatened to end his career in the public sector.
“The first eight ‘not guilty’ verdicts meant he wasn’t going to prison,” Small’s attorney, Stephen Funk, said after the verdict. “But we needed not guilty across the board. If not, he could have no job in public service. That was gift number two, to him and to the people of Atlantic City.”
As the case dragged on, Small’s wife, La’Quetta, tried to ease her husband’s stress.
“I just tried to make his life easier at home, taking care of the kids, things around the house,” said La’Quetta Small, who also works as vice principal at Atlantic City’s Uptown School Complex. Small’s aunt, Gloria Small, also pitched in to help with the family’s daily tasks, as well as with moral support.
“There’s just too many fatherless children out there,” Gloria Small said. “I’m just glad God was on our side. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.”
And Small, lately speaking more spiritually than ever, said he believes that God’s eyes will be looking upon him kindly in the future. That’s why he’s taking such a different approach to planning what comes next compared to where he was after the 2009 election. He’s leaving much of his future to be guided by his faith.
“Any decision that I make from here forward is going to involve God,” he said. “No matter how big your plans are, if the timing isn’t right, it’s not going to happen. It’s coming from a higher power.”
Staff Writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
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