Many things have changed for the better in Atlantic City, which makes it more disappointing to see that politicians haven’t put the city’s history of dirty campaign and election practices behind them.
The dubious attack recently by a super political action committee on Councilman Marty Small, a Democratic primary mayoral candidate, brought back memories of the long history of dirty tricks and election fraud in Atlantic City.
The super PAC, named Our Atlantic City, raises and spends funds anonymously in support of Small’s rival for the nomination, Councilman Frank Gilliam. It put videos and photos online that attempted to portray Small as too friendly with a convicted felon.
The effort was pretty clumsy. A 19-minute rap music video was edited down to two minutes, with a two-second shot of Small spliced in to make it seem like he was with Chais K. Hill. Hill was convicted in 2006 of drug distribution and is fighting a 2015 indictment on drug distribution and other charges.
The discovery that the video was misleadingly edited, inevitable in the internet age, was just the beginning. Turned out Hill, a principal in a local video production company, had shot the video announcement of Small’s campaign — and Gilliam’s, and that of Republican Mayor Donald Guardian. Hill is even featured holding a Gilliam-for-mayor sign.
Small said he knew Hill from his days working for the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City. “I’ve been an asset for people with troubled pasts, and I’m going to continue to be an asset,” Small said.
Super PACs typically raise large sums from corporations, unions and individuals, by law can’t coordinate with candidates or parties, and are rarely active in small municipal elections. This one seems to have been created to mount the attack on Small anonymously.
Gilliam’s response when asked about the PAC attack was telling. He told a reporter that if the video was at all truthful, Small should quit the campaign — ensuring Gilliam’s victory.
And yet a few years ago, Gilliam said, “We don’t support any administration that’s against a second chance” for someone with a crime in their past.
By the city’s historic standards of election misbehavior, the sleazy attack on Small is rather tame. About a decade ago, current and former city council members hired a prostitute to seduce another council member and secretly videotaped it to blackmail their rival. (Four people went to jail for that.)
Vote fraud was so rampant in city elections past that the Legislature had to severely tighten state limits on messenger and bearer ballots, which instead of helping shut-ins vote had become a method of ballot stuffing.
And in one mayoral election, foes of a candidate brazenly announced a baseless accusation of child sexual abuse a week before the election.
Like those terrible incidents, the video attack on Small attempts to turn the attention of voters from the important issues to an emotional reaction lasting only long enough to shift the outcome of the election.
Atlantic City is moving toward a more authentic future and putting its corrupt ways behind it. Voters should consider who is best suited to help the city keep developing in the right direction.