The hallmark of the South African system of apartheid was the doctrine of separate but unequal. It was a system where the dominant indigenous people of color were subjugated and controlled by an imperialistic white minority.
In Atlantic City, the creation of a Tourism District mirrors this dogma. The governor and the Legislature have further divided the city into a "tale of two cities," whereas half of the city lies within the geographical boundaries of the Tourism District and the other half does not. The Tourism District will receive special consideration and additional resources. Conversely, the parts that are outside the district will not. Is this not separate but unequal?
It is ironic that during Black History Month, simultaneously, The Press is publishing excerpts from Nelson Johnson's book, "The Northside," which brings into focus the old segregated Atlantic City. During that era, there was an imaginary line of demarcation that separated black neighborhoods from the commercial district and white neighborhoods. Now, as a result of the Tourism District boundaries, real lines have been drawn to replace imaginary ones. And the real one is exactly the same as the former imaginary line that isolated the black community. The historical white neighborhoods of Lower Chelsea, Chelsea and Ducktown, although more diverse now, are included in the district. But none of the historically African-American neighborhoods are in the district. Moreover, an additional and separate police precinct to secure and patrol the district will be created and funded by the city. This means people who reside outside of the Tourism District will end up paying for a service that is not even rendered unto them.
When Gov. Chris Christie first came to Atlantic City to announce his concept, despite being snubbed, I gave him the benefit of the doubt with respect to a partnership. City officials and residents gave him more than adequate opportunity to get it right and assuage our concerns. It is obvious now that Christie never intended to respect our sovereignty. Therefore, all doubt has been removed. It is unprofessional and completely unacceptable when a governor comes to a city and announces a plan to radically change that city and doesn't even have enough respect to consult with local officials who have been duly elected.
Comparatively speaking, if the federal government decided to intercede into the affairs of the state of New Jersey, it would be completely justified given the historical corruption and ineptitude of our state government. The track record of New Jersey is far worse when compared to other states than Atlantic City's record is when compared to other cities across the state. Imagine if President Barack Obama hatched a scheme for New Jersey and came to Trenton without conferring with or inviting input from our duly elected officials; whites and blacks - but especially whites - would be up in arms. The point is, when a white imperialistic out-of-town minority imposes its will on the indigenous people of color (the majority) and usurps the sovereign right of that majority to govern themselves by stripping away zoning, planning and policing, it is reminiscent of apartheid. So don't chastise me and accuse me of race-baiting for calling attention to the obvious, inherently racist reality that I did not create.
In conclusion, what we need is honest dialogue. It has been said by state Sens. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, and others that we have to make the Boardwalk "clean and safe" in order to bring back the casino patrons that we lost. This is disingenuous at best, as it suggests that the reason why they left in the first place is because the Boardwalk is not clean and safe. The truth is, the Boardwalk is the safest part of the city. Furthermore, there is no empirical evidence to support this fallacy. Crime has declined in Atlantic City for 16 straight years. Therefore, when the crime rate was worse than it is now, it didn't deter the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa or Revel Entertainment from investing billions in Atlantic City. On the contrary, the real reasons why the numbers are down in the casino industry are: (1) the downturn in the national economy; (2) the proliferation of casino gambling in neighboring jurisdictions, such as Pennsylvania and Delaware; and (3) the casino industry's own failure to sufficiently re-invest in Atlantic City.
With respect to zoning and planning, no would-be casino operator has ever divested in Atlantic City because of red tape or any other problems associated with the zoning and planning process. Penthouse, The Dunes, Mirage Resorts, Penn Gaming and Pinnacle Entertainment all divested in Atlantic City due to market conditions, financing issues or other factors beyond the control of the city of Atlantic City. Hence, if it isn't broken, why mess with it?
The attempt here is to make Atlantic City a scapegoat for the ills that have beset the casino industry. Once again, this represents the latest scheme to wrest control of Atlantic City. As this region continues to celebrate Black History Month and "The Northside," we should be mindful that some things never change. Or maybe, the more some things change, the more they really do stay the same.
Lorenzo T. Langford is mayor of Atlantic City.