What kind of leader does Atlantic City need? That's the question city voters must answer when they elect a mayor on Nov. 5.
The next mayor must be able to work with residents, business owners, City Council members and, especially, with state officials, who are playing a larger role in the city than ever before. The mayor must understand how vital tourism is to the city's economy and to residents who depend on that economy. The mayor must be dedicated to delivering services as efficiently as possible, rather than seeing City Hall as an employment agency.
Most important, the mayor must be someone who can get things done.
With those criteria in mind, we think it is virtually undeniable that Republican Don Guardian is the best candidate for the job.
Guardian, director of the Special Improve
ment Division of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, has worked to improve the city for 20 years. He has the intelligence and the energy to guide the city, and he has concrete plans to tackle its biggest challenges.
Guardian's most valuable trait is that he is a hands-on manager who has proven he can make things happen. That quality is often in short supply in Atlantic City. In areas from public safety to derelict properties, initiatives to improve the city have languished.
In his approach to the city's challenges, Guardian demonstrates a mastery of detail. He has shown and an ability to supply services much more effectively - and with far fewer employees - than city government. Guardian is the man behind practical measures that have made the Tourism District cleaner and safer, and he promises to extend the same services to the entire city.
In contrast, incumbent Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who is also being challenged by independent Democrat John McQueen Jr., has never come to terms with the Tourism District.
Rather than see state involvement as an opportunity, Langford's response has been to withdraw and to snipe at state officials, calling the creation of the Tourism District "apartheid." Langford may have been legitimately concerned that the neighborhoods would be left out of efforts to rescue the city, but his inability to work with the state did the residents of those neighborhoods no favors.
Some of the criticism Langford has received - such as when Gov. Chris Christie blamed him for the city residents who stayed behind during Hurricane Sandy - has been unfounded. But leaders find a way to work in challenging circumstances and with people they may not like, and Langford, who declined an invitation to appear before The Press editorial board, has not.
The next few years will be a crucial time in Atlantic City's history. Residents face soaring property taxes, the casino industry continues to struggle, violent crime remains a vexing problem, and the city's progress will determine whether it will continue to have significant support from the state.
Is the way to deal with these challenges more of the same?
We think the answer is clear, which is why The Press endorses Don Guardian, who can take the city in a new, better direction.