Atlantic City has seen casino closings, financial hardship and a state takeover of the city in the past four years.
After Tuesday’s election, the city will see two new leaders who have promised to work together to help the city prosper.
Governor-elect Phil Murphy and Atlantic City Mayor-elect Frank Gilliam both say they want to move the city forward as partners.
Murphy’s commitment to the state and his governing style could help “heal the wounds” between the city and Trenton, said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University.
“In Atlantic City’s mind and in the minds of many people in the region, the state has essentially taken, taken and taken,” she said. “We’ve turned the page on that chapter.”
Murphy has discussed openness in governing the entire state, including growing and diversifying the economy, which will be attractive for the city — a different tone than outgoing Gov. Chris Christie provided, she said. Murphy has shown willingness to learn about the challenges the city faces, she said.
He also has pledged to undo the state takeover of the city, instead saying the city needs a governor who is a “partner.”
With Murphy and Gilliam both Democrats, there could be more cooperation between the state and the city, said John Froonjian of the Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
Murphy has cited his opposition to the state takeover from a “social justice perspective,” he said.
“It’s a real change in the type of message that’s been coming out of Trenton,” he said. “The need for that intervention and the need for being so directly controlling the city has lessened.”
On election night, Gilliam said to a crowd of supporters and media around him he’s looking forward to having a “prosperous relationship” with governor-elect Murphy and looked forward to meeting with him.
Several polls conducted by Stockton University showed Christie’s unpopularity, which might have had an effect on the election outcome. In Atlantic City, Christie is especially unpopular, experts said.
But the tone is different with Murphy, Harrison said.
“He is much more willing to listen and learn about the challenges Atlantic City has historically faced, the solutions that have been tried,” she said.
While there have been improvements in the city, challenges could remain ahead for the city and state.
Murphy and Gilliam will have to agree on which direction the city will go in terms of marketing it, for example, as a tourist destination or a family-friendly city, Froonjian said.
Another challenge ahead could be the idea of North Jersey gaming. Murphy has said before the election that he is in full support of bringing in North Jersey casinos, citing the creation of jobs in the state.
But during the November 2016 election, voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan that would have cleared two casinos to be built about 72 miles from Atlantic City.
Gilliam said after claiming victory Tuesday he wanted to bring a Democratic leadership to the Democratic city, and looked forward to improving the condition of the city.
That optimism extends across party lines, at least with Chris Brown, a Republican who was elected state Senator in Atlantic County Tuesday.
Brown said while he endorsed Kim Guadagno for governor, he sees common ground with Phil Murphy in ending the state takeover and letting local officials regain control of the city.
Brown consistently clashed with Christie over the takeover.
“Now that the hard fought campaign is behind us, I look forward to working in a bi-partisan manner with the new governor and the new mayor to continue stabilizing the city’s finances while making the city clean and safe,” Brown said.
Another Republican, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, said he met with Murphy during the gubernatorial campaign in person and spoke with him on the phone.
Levinson said they did not get into the “meat” of any policies regarding the Atlantic City takeover or the payments in lieu of property taxes for Atlantic City casinos, but added Murphy promised to have more meetings once he is sworn in as governor.
“Phil Murphy is a gentlemen, and I was really impressed with his demeanor,” Levinson said. “He was extremely gracious (during the meeting and phone call) and I am rooting for him to succeed.”