ATLANTIC CITY — The state takeover of this city could be short-lived.

Gov. Chris Christie’s administration finally has control of the city’s finances for as many as five years after a long battle with city officials. But a few candidates for governor are against the takeover, possibly giving Christie’s designee, Jeff Chiesa, until January 2018 to make decisions on behalf of the city.

Former U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy, a Democrat, was the first to come out against the takeover, saying after a November rally in the city that he would end state control if elected governor.

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“I think you have to find a better solution,” he said Nov. 11. “I wish someone could show me the evidence where (state takeovers) have worked and where the people of the community have benefited. And I don’t see the evidence.”

Murphy told a crowd at Kelsey’s restaurant that city assets would be sold and union contracts tossed out the window under the takeover. He said state takeovers typically happen in cities with large minority populations.

“As opposed to big-footing the community, I’d be working with the community,” Murphy said. “And I think that gives you a better result.”

Murphy’s Democratic primary rival, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said Wednesday he’s against the takeover and would end it on Day One as governor.

“New Jersey has never been particularly good at taking over anything, and when they do, the stench that’s left behind is usually worse than what was there beforehand,” said Wisniewski, D-Middlesex.

Instead, he said, the best way to fix Atlantic City’s finances is by reinventing the economy there, focusing less on casinos and more on assets such as the ocean, nearby airport and universities, and abundance of wind energy.

“Atlantic City needs support from the state to reinvent the casino industry,” he said. “It needs the support from the state to capitalize on all of its natural attributes, to create new industries where they don’t exist. And that can only be done with assistance from the state, not control from the state.”

On the Republican side, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli said in a statement he would explore bankruptcy for the city.

“All along, I’ve said municipal bankruptcy is in the best long-term interest of Atlantic City, and I would explore it as governor,” said Ciattarelli, R-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset. “It represents the best way to completely hit the reset button. It would remove all politics in that an overseer would be appointed by a bankruptcy court judge, not a politician.”

He added that a state takeover seems heavy-handed but said Chiesa is “very competent and widely respected.”

“Hopefully, he will use his far-reaching powers to do what is necessary for the benefit of not just Atlantic City, but all of Atlantic County,” the statement said.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick has not decided whether he will run for governor but said officials should let Chiesa do his job to fix the city’s finances.

“I think that we should give Jeff Chiesa, who I think is respected by everyone, the opportunity to work with the parties and come up with a plan,” said Bramnick, R-Morris, Somerset, Union. “We’re in the middle of this — you can call it a takeover — but basically it’s a way to reduce expenses and make Atlantic City solvent. And this is what Jeff Chiesa is in the process of doing. So my position is let him develop the plan and use his judgment, which as I said is respected across the aisles, to let him do his job.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is also considering a run for governor, declined through a spokesman to answer whether she supports the takeover because the Department of Community Affairs and Governor’s Office are handling the issue.

Mayor Don Guardian has warred with Christie over the takeover. At the New Jersey State League of Municipalities’ annual conference last month, Guardian said he needed a governor with heart, brains and courage, not one who would take over the city.

Christie spoke at the conference in Atlantic City but didn’t mention the takeover. Just before the governor arrived, Guardian posed for pictures with Murphy and Guadagno at his sides.

Contact: 609-272-7215

Twitter @_Hetrick


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