ATLANTIC CITY — Thomas Carver, the executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, arguably became the most powerful government official in Atlantic City on Tuesday. But his new-found control will likely be short-lived.
“New leadership” is on the horizon at the CRDA, Republican Gov. Chris Christie said during his visit to the resort Tuesday after signing a bill that would transform the development bureau into a superagency. The changes have insiders circulating names to replace Carver, a Democratic appointee.
Assemblyman John Amodeo said he and his colleague, Assemblyman Vince Polistina, both R-Atlantic, suggested two names to the Governor’s Office as long ago as six months. However, Amodeo said, he’s gotten no feedback on either of the names.
“That tells me it’s going to be one of his guys,” he said. “And by one of his guys, I mean someone he has full confidence in and someone probably from North Jersey. You can see the writing on the wall.”
But how long can Christie wait to replace Carver, who will have the power to establish official district boundaries for the next three months? The governor indicated that he and Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, spoke earlier Tuesday about the CRDA’s new leadership and that they would be agreeing on that “relatively quickly.”
Carver has been serving on a month-to-month basis with the CRDA since Gov. Jon S. Corzine failed to grant him a two-year extension in 2009. His situation leaves him vulnerable to Christie’s whim.
If an outsider is chosen to head the authority, it would be a big change from CRDA’s current leadership.
Carver has been in Atlantic City for decades, heading the New Jersey Casino Association from 1984 to 1994, assisting in drafting legislation to establish both the CRDA and the South Jersey Transportation Authority and serving on the CRDA board for several years before replacing developer Curtis Bashaw in 2005.
Carver asked a reporter Tuesday if Christie specifically said he was out as executive director, as some in attendance mistakenly told him.
“OK, so I didn’t get fired yet,” he joked before reverting to his stock answer about his future at the agency: “I work at the pleasure of the governor. If I’m not a pleasure for him then I’m sure he’ll replace me.”
Carver sounded like a director who knows his time is short when he spoke to Atlantic City residents at a recent community meeting, freely criticizing the governor and members of his commission that made the initial recommendations for the Atlantic City tourism industry. Most of them, he noted, are out-of-towners.
“If you had a thimble and you filled it with all of their knowledge of Atlantic City, that thimble wouldn’t be full,” he said. “Could it have been handled better? Absolutely.”
One outsider previously discussed among some state lawmakers is Chris Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corp. The group, also known as DEVCO, was the model used by the governor’s advisers when crafting the public-private aspect of the administration’s proposal for Atlantic City.
Paladino did not return several calls seeking comment.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson acknowledged Tuesday that he previously heard people floating his chief of staff, Howard Kyle, as a possible candidate to head the new, expanded CRDA.
Kyle, of Mays Landing, has been the executive’s trusted adviser for several years and just recently was nominated by Christie to be appointed as a member of the CRDA’s board. The subsequent appointment tempered at least some of Levinson’s concerns over the CRDA running the district.
“I feel a lot more comfortable with the CRDA with him on the board,” Levinson said.
Another name floating through the rumor mill is state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic. Whelan, a resident of Atlantic City, served as the resort’s mayor from 1990 through 2001.
“I have no interest in that at all,” Whelan said. “I like where I’m at.”
Why would a Republican governor appoint a Democrat to steer his vision of Atlantic City? The senator would have to vacate his seat, which is up for election this year. His likely challenger is Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina, who would stroll into the seat if Whelan dropped out.
But beyond enjoying his current position, Whelan said he didn’t like the perception the move could create.
“I wouldn’t want this whole effort to be suspect,” he said. “You know, I supported and pushed this thing and then I get rewarded? That just wouldn’t work.”
Contact Michael Clark:
Tom Carver, CRDA executive director
Carver, a Democratic holdover, has no employment contract and could be removed at the governor's will. It's unlikely he will remain in the position long, but his knowledge of Atlantic City and his close relationships with casino interests could keep him in consideration.
Howard Kyle, chief of staff to Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson
The governor just recently appointed Kyle as a CRDA board member, but some at the state level have privately pushed for him to take the helm. Levinson's longtime wingman, Kyle also served in the same position under former Executive Richard Squires and worked at the Atlantic County Improvement Authority before that.
Chris Paladino, New Brunswick Development Corp. president
Paladino's nonprofit organization, also known as DEVCO, was cited as the model for the Atlantic City Alliance, the private side of the governor's proposed public-private partnership. His name has been discussed among state lawmakers.
George Lynn, former president of AtlantiCare and past chairman of the American Hospital Association
Lynn's proven track record with AtlantiCare makes him attractive for the role. And unlike other potential candidates, he has a close and trusted relationship with Mayor Lorenzo Langford, something that could be valuable considering recent tensions between the city and the state.
Mark Juliano, former Trump CEO
Lawmakers discussed Juliano as a possible fit to run the district as he was removed from his position at Trump, but months have gone by without much mention of him. With his replacement, Bob Griffin, running the private side of this public-private partnership, some could accuse the state of turning the city over to the casino industry, or Trump interests specifically.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic
A name being floated in some political circles, but highly unlikely. Whelan also says he has no interest in the position, and his poor relationship with the mayor would be cancerous to revitalization efforts.