ATLANTIC CITY - The state is the pimp and Atlantic City is the prostitute.
That's how Mayor Lorenzo Langford likened the relationship between the two sides as the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority prepares to launch a new Tourism District within the resort, effectively stripping the city of some of its powers.
The comments came during one in a series of community meetings hosted by the CRDA after authority officials discussed their plans to build arms of the agency designed to collaborate with the community.
"When you talk about collaboration, there's collaboration between a pimp and his hooker," he said.
Langford's comments, which have previously likened the state plan to South African apartheid, were part of one of his more lengthy public speeches about his opposition to the Tourism District.
"I don't get any joy from going around the block being the voice of dissent," he said before a small room residents, mostly from the city's Bungalow Park section. "I have a responsibility to visitors, but my primary responsibility is to the citizens. I work from the inside out. CRDA works from the outside in. I work from the bottom up, CRDA works from the top down."
Susan Ney Thompson, the authority's interim executive director, declined to comment on the mayor's words, but insisted that the two sides have made some progress in their disagreements regarding the district.
Several residents did express concern about their potential loss of power with the changes that are expected to be formally enacted at CRDA's board meeting on April 19. One of those changes requires the city to cede its planning and zoning powers to the CRDA within the district's boundaries,
During the meeting, Paul Weiss, the authority's chief counsel, stressed to residents that their voice would not be silenced as a result of the change in planning and zoning authority.
"All of these hearings take place in public and allow public input," he said, also noting that Langford is a board member at the CRDA and can be approached with resident concerns in that capacity. "Our (board) meetings are just like City Council meetings."
However, residents currently have the power to petition City Council ordinances they disagree with. If enough signatures are obtained, a citywide referendum can be held. That voter power would appear to be lost under the control of the CRDA.
Although ordinances are not commonly required regarding typical planning and development issues, major measures like establishing a master plan for the city are ultimately approved by ordinance.
When confronted by a reporter with the scenario, Weiss said, "That's a very good question. I'd like to think about that and get back to you."
Thursday's meeting was scheduled to be the authority's last community meeting, but a last-minute gathering was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the Atlantic Villas Apartments at 818 North Maryland Avenue.
The community meetings were part of an attempt to show residents the agency was interested with the questions and ideas of area residents. And the agency is looking to expand on that.
Along with plans to establish an advisory commission made up of a select group of residents representing various neighborhoods, CRDA has added a section to its list of new divisions to be established on April 19.
The Community Development Partnerships Division will be a new area of the CRDA that focuses on aiding development and improvements for residential areas, including those outside the district. The division is not part of the requirements of the state law that created the Tourism District.
"We will be able to engage directly with the needs of the areas," Thompson said. "A neighborhood might ahve an initiative and we can provide assistance or put them in contact with different programs ... We're at the beginning of this. We need to hear from you to learn what exactly needs to be done."
But Langford, who applauded the work of Thompson and her willingness to reach out to the community, said asking the city's advice after stripping it of its authority does little to ease the pain.
"They're not accountable to you, they're not accountable to us," he said of CRDA. "They're accountable to the governor. And if the governor wants his way, then damn you. To hell with you."