Gov. Chris Christie tells the editorial board of The Press of Atlantic City on Thursday in Pleasantville that he has broad powers to intervene in Atlantic City government and can force Margate to accept a dune program.

Vernon Ogrodnek

If re-elected, Gov. Chris Christie would have the state take an even more “aggressive” role in the governing of Atlantic City, he told The Press of Atlantic City’s editorial board Thursday.

Christie also cited a state law that would give him broad, sweeping powers to overrule any referendum or unwillingness of city government and force Margate to accept a dune program.

The governor touched on several issues facing the area at The Press meeting, held the same day a new statewide Richard Stockton College of New Jersey poll showed him with a 33-point lead over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, 61 percent to 28 percent.

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Asked about how to evaluate Atlantic City gambling after a five-year period of resisting North Jersey gambling is up, Christie said expanding traffic at Atlantic City International Airport is the first thing that has to happen to make Atlantic City a “destination resort (and) and an active convention resort” — though he would not comment on a published report that he was working on enticing United Airlines to provide service there.

The next step, he said, is that “there has to be change in the city government. ... The city itself is a problem. The city government is an enormous problem. It’s been one of the most frustrating relationships in my governorship between myself and anybody in the municipality.”

But he said the reason he has not been more supportive of Republican mayoral candidate Don Guardian is because he is focused on the gubernatorial and legislative races. He added he has not spoken with Guardian.

“We have to examine all different ways to deal with dysfunction and waste in the city, and if that means the state becoming more aggressive, that’s what it means,” Christie said. Asked for specifics, he said, “Is it more fiscal control over the city? Is it taking over contractual negotiations for the city? There are all gradations of options. ... I’m not going to box myself in or preclude any options at this point, (but) I’m not going to have anything off the table.”

Regarding an expansion of the Tourism District to include more of or the entire city, he said he doesn’t want to “dilute” the district’s mission. But as to whether the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority should take over code enforcement, one of the last duties still carried out by the city in the district, “I think you’ll see Sen. Sweeney and I work together after the election to correct some of the obvious deficiencies, and that would be one of them.”

Christie said he is mostly satisfied with the work of the CRDA and Atlantic City Alliance.

With the growth of casinos in neighboring states, “One of the things the CRDA and Atlantic City Alliance have to do better, from a public relations perspective, is really bring in the media and talking to folks about, ‘How do you define success in Atlantic City,’” he said. “We are no longer going to be the dominant gaming venue east of the Mississippi. Those days have come and gone.”

If nongambling revenue continues to rise, he said, ”then I think there’s going to be less incentive to expand gaming to other parts of the state.”

Going forward, Christie said, casinos in the Meadowlands are “not inevitable ... but that very much depends on what happens here.” If North Jersey politicians are still pushing for gambling expansion despite that growth, “That’s where the governor has to come in and be the arbiter.”

Regarding Margate’s decision on whether to join the federal dune program, Christie said the state Disaster Control Act gives the governor “pretty broad authority” to disregard any refusal by the voters or the city commission and instead go forward with a dune program anyway. Any opposition to dunes is “stupid,” he said.

“Any folks, whether homeowners fighting easements or municipalities, they fight me on this on their own risk,” Christie said. “And I’m not going to be paying legal fees afterwards.”

In a second term, Christie said his goals would be to reduce business taxes, expand the school choice program to increase reimbursements to school districts, amend the state statute that mandates “last in, first out” in teacher layoffs, add “danger to the community” to flight risk as a legal reason to withhold bail for violent offenders, and open drug courts to end jail sentences for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders.

As to whether he makes decisions based on national ambitions for the Republican presidential nomination, he cited decisions not “incredibly popular” with some in his party, such as expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, signing 10 gun-control bills, and reaching the state’s 2020 goals for reducing carbon emissions.

“There’s plenty of people who disagree with me often,” he said. “But I don’t think they ever doubt I’m telling them what I think, and I’m doing what I think is best for the state. When I’m calling out (Congress) for not holding a vote for 100 days on aid after Sandy, I don’t think that’s playing to my national ambitions. ... If you do your job well, people like people who do their job well — even if they don’t agree with every way they do their job.”

Contact Steven Lemongello:


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