ATLANTIC CITY — The president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is set to speak out Thursday against the state takeover of the resort.

NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks will speak at a 1 p.m. news conference in council chambers, officials at the city’s NAACP branch said.

At the event, Brooks will express support for city workers who stand to lose jobs or have their pay cut, according to Charles Goodman, a member of the Atlantic City NAACP.

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The event also will highlight the local branch’s petition drive to force a referendum on any sale or lease of the city’s water authority. Goodman has asked workers at the Municipal Utilities Authority to attend the event wearing their uniforms.

“Just as Martin Luther King went to Memphis to help out the union workers on the trash trucks in sanitation, Brooks is coming here to help us,” Goodman said.

The news conference will include remarks by New Jersey state AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech, Food & Water Watch Project Director Mary Grant and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 198 President Bill DiLorenzo.

Residents and activists launched a campaign last month to circulate two related petitions.

One would initiate an ordinance to ensure residents receive the same right to referendum that would be afforded to them absent a state takeover. The other preemptively protests a possible decision to sell or lease the water system to a private company through the Water Infrastructure Protection Act. It requests a referendum before privatization takes place.

The takeover law, the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act, rendered initiatives and referendums as advisory only, saying they “may be followed, or disregarded” by state officials in charge of the city’s finances.

Those organizing the petition drive have acknowledged the law’s language but describe the proposal as a political statement. They need 1,500 signatures to initiate the ordinance but are seeking 5,000 signatures.

“The drive is going pretty good, but we need more volunteers, foot soldiers to handle the various areas,” said Linda Steele, a member and former president of the Atlantic City NAACP.

The Municipal Utilities Authority became a focal point in the fight against the state takeover last year. State officials urged the cash-strapped city to dissolve the MUA to make money off it. But council pulled or voted down measures to do so five times before the state took over major decision-making powers in November.

Residents fear rate hikes and a loss of local control if the authority is sold.

“I don’t think people who live in public housing realize that once a private owner comes into play, that they have to recoup their money they used to purchase (the authority) from the city,” Steele said.

The takeover law gave city officials until late May to “maximize the value” of the water system before the state could do it for them.

Contact: 609-272-7215

Twitter @_Hetrick

Covered high school sports for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Graduated Rowan University in 2014.

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