ATLANTIC CITY -City Council president Marty Small won at the polls in Tuesday's Democratic mayoral primary, but his rival Frank Gilliam was celebrating nonetheless.
Small was leading by 100 votes at the polls, with all 21 districts reporting. Small won 1,529 votes while Gilliam had 1,429.
But Gilliam was holding a commanding lead in the mail-in ballots, 694 to 209. His supporters, convinced their edge in mail-in ballots was enough erupted in celebration shortly after 9 p.m.
Gilliam congratulated Small on running a tough campaign, but said that if he holds onto the victory, it will be a new day for Atlantic City.
"This whole campaign has been a journey," Gilliam said. "We've had great support throughout, and I look forward to continuing to work with Marty Small in the future."
Small, disappointed, thanked his supporters and campaign workers for their efforts.
"I'm an athlete I know how to lose," he said.
Small said he expected he'd serve out his remaining two years on Council, but wouldn't run again for office.
The Gilliam/Small rivalry has been heated over the past year even before the two declared their candidacy for mayor.
Tense city council meetings over the Municipal Utilities Authority and the state takeover have put the two at odds on several issues, with Gilliam keeping the idea of bankruptcy on the table for Atlantic City.
The rivalry reached a new level in the last several weeks when Gilliam distributed two campaign mailers highlighting drug-distribution charges in 1993 and an arson charge in 2005 against Small. Small was never convicted, and the charges were dropped.
Small, meanwhile, called for Gilliam to drop out of the race after it was revealed that a former girlfriend filed for a restraining order against him in 1997 under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
Leading into the elections, Small secured endorsements from casino union Local 54 and the Atlantic City police union.
Gilliam's campaign, however, was more active around the city with billboards, commercials, and signs. He also held $50,000 fundraising edge over Small as of last week.
Gilliam will match up against incumbent Don Guardian, who ran unopposed in Tuesday's primary.
Guardian and Small have been on the same side of several issues, including fighting the state takeover and dissolving the Municipal Utilities Authority.
Small declined to say whether he would support Gilliam in the general election against Guardian. He said that Tuesday night was not the time for endorsements, and instead thanked his supporters again for their vote.
Atlantic County Democratic Chairperson Mike Suleiman, who attended the Gilliam rally Tuesday night, said his main goal for the future is to unite the party heading into the general election.
"I have great respect for everyone who ran in this election," he said. "They really stuck their necks out and did a good job. But now is the time to unite and defeat the Trump Republicans in November."