After four years of a Republican mayor, Democrats in Atlantic City resumed control of city government at the start of the year. Their achievements so far: an apparent and perhaps yet-unresolved party coup, criminal charges by the party against its newly elected mayor, and a fight over $1.3 million in last-minute, lame-duck spending before the mayor took office.
That’s hitting the ground fast. Maybe with enough effort and time Atlantic City partisans can reach the depths of the past, when a prostitute was hired to star in a blackmail videotaping of a councilman or wild accusations of child sexual abuse were concocted days before an election.
Fellow Democrats started turning on Frank Gilliam soon after he defeated incumbent Don Guardian in November to become the new mayor. After Christmas, in Guardian’s last days in office, Council President Marty Small Sr. — who had been defeated by Gilliam for the party’s mayoral nomination — allied with Guardian to hastily spend the $1.3 million still left in the MGM Atlantic City Endowment Fund. Just a few days later and Small would have needed agreement from Gilliam instead of the lame-duck Guardian. Now Gilliam is holding up the allocation of the funds to see if he can still have a say in how they’re spent.
In early March, a group of members of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee apparently or supposedly voted to take over the organization and replace its chairwoman. They’ve since said that chairwoman doesn’t recognize the authority of their group and they’re having trouble getting the computer passwords and bank records they want.
The usurping city Democratic Committee soon after filed a criminal complaint against Gilliam, his former campaign manager and a local bank over a check to the committee that had been signed by Gilliam and placed in his campaign account prior to the election. Gilliam said the signing and deposit was an oversight and he had returned the money to the committee.
A Superior Court judge quickly dismissed the complaint, finding there was “no probable cause to believe that an offense was committed.”
Former city Councilman Craig Callaway — previously imprisoned on a federal bribery conviction and by the state in the political blackmail case — then convinced the reorganized city Democratic Committee to pursue legal action seeking compensatory and punitive damages due to the “embarrassment and humiliation that this body was inflicted.”
Meanwhile, the real Atlantic City continues to rebound from the combination of intense regional casino gambling competition and the severe national recession.
City government continues to improve its financial stability, to get its debt under control and its spending in line with its reduced but still very substantial revenues.
But don’t thank the officials of this small town for that. Thank state government, which took control of most city operations and its finances in November 2016.
Local officials haven’t fully endorsed and joined the effort to restore Atlantic City. They are, however, making a compelling case for the state to retain essential control for a long time.