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Atlantic City Democrats denounce mayor, councilman after casino nightclub fight

ATLANTIC CITY — The Democratic Committee has distanced itself from the mayor and an at-large councilman in the wake of the officials’ involvement in a melee outside a casino nightclub earlier this month.

The Atlantic City Democratic Committee voted to denounce Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. and Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II following their roles in a fight outside Haven Nightclub at Golden Nugget Atlantic City on Nov. 11. The vote took place during a special emergency meeting Monday night at Local 54 UNITE HERE headquarters.

By a 27 to 3 vote in favor of the formal resolution, the committee denounced “in the strongest terms the egregious situation” the two elected officials “put themselves in.” The resolution further called on Gov. Phil Murphy or Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver to exercise their executive power to “temporarily suspend and remove both immediately from their positions without pay until the legal process is resolved.”

Gilliam did not respond to a request for comment.

Fauntleroy responded via text message that the ACDC news release announcing the meeting spelled his name incorrectly.

“It’s with two ‘ee’s at the end,” he wrote. “Jeffree, like Jeff is free from their nonsense.”

The committee’s resolution acknowledges that the body supported both Gilliam and Fauntleroy during their 2017 campaigns.

“We then, the Atlantic City Democratic Committee are publicly apologizing to the victims of a vicious physical and emotional attack imposed upon them by the two elected Atlantic City officials,” the resolution stated. “We also apologize to the Golden Nugget Casino Hotel and the citizens of our city.”

Video footage reviewed by The Press of Atlantic City showed Gilliam and Fauntleroy getting into a fight with at least two unidentified men outside Haven at 2:22 a.m. The video shows Gilliam exchanging punches with an unidentified individual and Fauntleroy tossing another man to the ground from behind.

Three summonses were issued to Gilliam, two for simple assault and one for harassment. Fauntleroy was issued two summonses, one each for simple assault and harassment. According to the documents, the elected officials were issued the summonses Nov. 14 and are due in court on Dec. 3 for determination of probable cause.

The committee chair, Gwen Lewis, said the body would not be entertaining a recall petition until the legal process was complete. By law, a recall petition cannot be circulated until Jan. 2, 2019, one year after both officials were sworn into office.

The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the incident at the Golden Nugget. No charges have been filed or arrests made in connection with the incident.

Monday’s denouncement is not the first sign of discord between Gilliam and the Atlantic City Democratic Committee. In March, the Democratic organization filed a complaint in municipal court against the mayor and his former campaign manager alleging theft by unlawful taking when Gilliam deposited a $10,000 check meant for the committee into his own campaign account. A judge dismissed the complaint in April after finding no probable cause.

In June, Gilliam lost his ward’s Democratic County Committee seat to Fire Chief Scott Evans. Fauntleroy choose not to seek re-election to the county committee.

Gilliam and Fauntleroy were both elected to their respective offices in 2017, running on a joint ticket with At-Large Councilmen Moisse “Mo” Delgado and George Tibbitt.

Inside Pleasantville High, Gloria Salazar Ramirez shares her story

PLEASANTVILLE — Dressed in her Army blue coat and gray shirt, decorated heavily with ribbons, pins and medals, Gloria Salazar Ramirez grinned as she showed a photo of a new haircut she was considering.

Although her long and shiny black hair was parted in the middle and tied back in a low ponytail, the 15-year-old wanted her new style to go bold. Shoulder-length with bright blonde highlights, a post-breakup look.

“It’s a new beginning,” Gloria said with a smile.

Gloria is open and honest about her life, sharing personal experiences, even with a reporter whom she has only met once before.

She is one of several teens from Pleasantville High School who has agreed to participate in a series of stories about the school and life in the city from a student’s perspective.

The Pleasantville JROTC Battalion Commander takes school and life pretty seriously, but she said she wasn’t always that way.

“I used to be a very nasty kid,” Gloria said, until she joined the training corps for young aspiring Army officers.

She was seated on a stool inside the JROTC classroom one Wednesday afternoon.

Behind her were dozens of trophies and awards that the JROTC here had earned over the years at drill competitions. Gloria’s brown eyes widened when she spoke about the upcoming home competition, in which she gets to hand out trophies at the end.

She likes to be a leader, and recalled a story her dad often tells her from when she was in kindergarten. The class was told to settle down, and when a classmate wasn’t listening, Gloria walked over and sat him down.

“I’ve always had that bossiness in me, but there’s a difference between being bossy and being a leader,” Gloria said.

The teen is thoughtful when she speaks, closing her eyes and pausing to pick the right word.

“When you’re a leader, you can’t curse at someone, or you can’t force them to do something. You have to find a way to talk to them or to use your leadership skills to make them see the authority figure in you,” she said.

Being a junior and leader of the JROTC is prestigious and can be stressful, but Gloria said it also gives her a chance to get away from her responsibilities at home and meet new people.

And it will help her when she applies to college, which the junior is already thinking about: UCLA, Tampa and New Jersey City University in Jersey City.

“My eighth grade history teacher, he told me if I ever want to be successful I needed to get out Pleasantville because Pleasantville wasn’t the place to be successful,” Gloria said.

She has heard the same from other people, too.

Hearing that hurt her, Gloria said.

“It’s hard to get away from your hometown, but if I want to buy my mom a house or if I want to buy my dad a car, it’s true,” she said.

Gloria said she wasn’t optimistic for the city she calls home to see a turnaround from crime, violence and gangs.

She said she doesn’t think there is a fix for Pleasantville anymore. The teenager said that the violence she experiences near her southend home frightens them both her and her 2-year-old niece, whom she often babysits.

“There’s shooting going on, I have neighbors who are drug dealers and there’s cops in the neighborhood almost every other day,” she said. “She gets scared very easily so I try to put the TV on and put up the volume, distract her from it because it’s not good for a 2-year-old to be raised like that.”

Gloria said her parents would like to move, to buy a house in another town, but she wants to wait until high school is over.

“I have my spot here in JROTC, and I like the school. It’s a good school,” said Gloria. “It just gets a bad reputation. Problems are in any school, it’s just how you handle the problems.”

Tropicana's new top man a familiar face in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Steve Callender has paid his dues to the casino industry.

Since starting as a craps dealer at Resorts International Hotel Casino in 1978, Callender has worked his way up through the ranks, with stints at various properties in Atlantic City, including Bally’s and the Hilton Casino Resort.

For the last six years, Callender, 64, of Brigantine, has been second in command at Tropicana Atlantic City, overseeing day-to-day operations as the property’s general manager.

But following the sale of Tropicana to Reno-based Eldorado Resorts, Callender has been given the reins to Atlantic City’s second-highest grossing property.

Callender said his new role will not differ all that much from his previous responsibilities.

“I’m the face of Tropicana Atlantic City, to the customers, to the employees,” he said. “It’s a very important position, (but) I spend a lot of time in the operation, spending time with folks. They know me; they’re used to seeing me.”

The acquisition of Tropicana Entertainment by Eldorado from Icahn Enterprises means the brand’s reach has expanded significantly, he said. Where Tropicana was eight properties, Eldorado now operates 28 casino hotels in 12 states.

Tropicana sale to Eldorado Resorts complete

Eldorado Resorts completed the acquisition of Tropicana Entertainment on Monday from Icahn Enterprises, which includes operating rights of the casino hotel in Atlantic City.

“It’s exciting. When you’re part of something that big, there are a lot of efficiencies to be had and a lot of changes you can make to improve your property,” said Callender. “I think the synergies that can be had from all these companies coming together are good. I think it’s good for Atlantic City and certainly good for our guests and for our employees.”

Callender knows he has big shoes to fill with the departure of his friend and boss, former president and CEO Tony Rodio, who now leads Affinity Gaming in Las Vegas.

Rodio taught him plenty during their time together, he said, and those lessons will be evident in how Tropicana operates going forward.

“I’d rather listen to Tony talk about casino business than anybody I’ve ever worked with,” Callender said. “I was an operations guy. But Tony made me understand that everybody has to be a marketer on a property, everybody has to be an entrepreneur, everybody has to leverage their assets to make sure we’re getting everything we can out of every employee. And the Eldorado folks will be able to profit from me spending time with Tony.”

Rodio and Callender were instrumental in bringing Tropicana back to relevance after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2008. When billionaire real estate investor Carl Icahn purchased Tropicana Entertainment in 2010, he tasked the veteran Atlantic City duo with resurrecting the property’s beaten image with a focus on guest service and more amenities.

“We’ve done a really wonderful job of expanding the business and this property,” Callender said. “I got here eight years ago and it was a little dysfunctional, frankly. It had been through some tough times, and it needed a lot of help and a lot of work. We were lucky enough to have an owner who let us spend money on it, to develop it.”

The team delivered and, in 2017, Tropicana became Atlantic City’s second-highest gaming revenue-generating property, reporting $390.9 million.

Dan Heneghan, an industry consultant and retired public information officer for the Casino Control Commission, said Callender has proven himself at every level of casino operations.

“With his tremendous knowledge of the Atlantic City market, (Callender) helped to guide the Tropicana through an extraordinarily difficult time and turn it into one of the city’s strongest properties,” Heneghan said. “Atlantic City still has some tough times ahead of it with competition from two new properties in the city. Having someone at the helm who has weathered good times and bad is a great asset to have.”

With the arrival of two new casino properties to the Atlantic City Boardwalk this summer — Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Ocean Resort Casino — the entire resort is rebounding.

Bob Ambrose, an industry consultant and adjunct professor of casino management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said Atlantic City is in a transitional period with the addition of the new properties, while also exploring ways to market internet gaming, sports betting and nongaming amenities, which makes Callender the ideal ambassador for Tropicana.

“A great source of knowledge is experience,” Ambrose said. “Steve is a seasoned executive that has worked through the ranks. He understands the Atlantic City market and its position regionally. He knows the employees and is very identifiable to the customer base as part of the Tropicana brand. The new company will be well served under his leadership.”

Callender said Eldorado and Tropicana recognize the evolving landscape of the market and are ready to adapt.

“The market is now starting to expand again,” he said. “We’re hoping that Hard Rock and Ocean can grow the market. They’ve shown that they can do that a little bit through entertainment and more rooms in the market. That always helps. But we’re built to compete. We’re happy to compete against anyone.”

While Hard Rock and Ocean received most of the industry attention this summer, Tropicana has been working quietly to continue to improve, he said, with upgrades currently happening to several restaurants and the player’s lounge. Tropicana has also invested heavily in its recently acquired Chelsea Tower, opening a spa, restaurants, bars and a rooftop pool.

Chelsea property gives Tropicana fifth hotel tower, guests 'change of pace'

ATLANTIC CITY — On the third day of their stay at the Chelsea Tower, Charles and Carol Anisi spent the afternoon sipping drinks under an umbrella at a high-top table of Cabana Five Bar & Pool Deck. The previous night, the Winslow Township, Camden County, couple dined at the Chelsea Five Gastropub before heading back to their ocean-facing room for an ideal view of the Fourth of July fireworks on the Boardwalk.

“We’re doing very well. We remain second in the market (behind only Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa), not losing as much market share as some of the big guys, so we’re excited about that,” said Callender. “It’s hard work. But it felt like there was more people in town (this summer) and that’s great for Atlantic City.”

With a new partnership between sports betting operator William Hill U.S. inked and construction underway for a 5,000-square-foot sportsbook — which the company hopes to have completed by early 2019 — Callender said Tropicana has nowhere to go but up.

“It’s a bright future,” he said. “We have so many nongaming amenities on this property that I think we’ll be able to compete. I think that the firepower of Eldorado gaming is just going to make us even better.”

This story has been updated with the proper spelling of Eldorado Resorts.

MS/sandkphoto MATTHEW STRABUK//  

On April 6th 2018, in Atlantic City at the Soldiers Home on Adriatic, a viewing is held for Rahsir Mazyck, 11, of Atlantic City. Councilman At Large Jeffree Fauntleroy speaks with attendees before heading inside.

ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer/  

Frank Gilliam recites the oath of office at Atlantic City Hall on Monday and is sworn in as the city’s new mayor. Monday, January 1

Vote clears hurdle for legalizing recreational marijuana in NJ

TRENTON — New Jersey is poised to legalize recreational marijuana after a committee approved a complex bill Monday that supporters said will rectify years of unfair prosecution of minorities for drug possession.

Opponents said it would result in more reliance on drugs as the opioid crisis swirls around us, along with more traffic fatalities and mental health problems.

The bill sets up the regulatory framework for treating marijuana like alcohol, restricting its sale to those 21 and older; taxing it at about 12 percent, with 2 percent potentially going to municipalities; and regulating who can sell it. It would allow for more points of sale in cities with high rates of marijuana arrests, including Atlantic City.

The joint Senate Budget and Appropriations and Assembly Appropriations Committee meeting featured four hours of testimony. The vote was 7-4 with two abstentions on the Senate side, and 7-3 with one abstention on the Assembly side.

Pleasantville’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church Pastor Willie Dwayne Francois III spoke in favor of the bill, saying marijuana criminalization law is rooted in white supremacy, used to control and harm people of color.

“It would seem we would like to take the opportunity to strike a blow in that history,” said Francois. “I think legalization of marijuana gets us closer to dismantling structures of white supremacy.”

He called laws criminalizing marijuana a “legal suction machine of mass incarceration.”

Another local resident spoke in opposition to the bill.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, of Brigantine, said marijuana marketers will target the young, who are facing record levels of anxiety and depression.

“What you are really after today is quick financial fix,” said Kennedy, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy. That was was why budget committees had taken up the bill, he said, because legislators expect the tax and economic benefits of legalization to be huge.

“As a former addict myself, I can tell you quick fixes don’t work,” said Kennedy. “You are going to have more problems in the long run. Deal with racial problems and racial bias but do not conflate the two (social justice and legalization).”

The bill (S2703/A4497) will likely face more scrutiny in the full Legislature, where it may not have enough votes to pass. Gov. Phil Murphy, who favors legalization, has not said if he will support this bill, which provides for less tax revenue than he has said he wants.

It grew out of S2703, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, which was introduced in June and has been substantially amended. But the new version had not yet been made available on the Legislature’s website Monday. It would legalize possession of as much as an ounce of marijuana.

It would set up a program for expungement of minor marijuana convictions, potentially changing the lives of thousands of people who haven’t been able to get jobs, college educations or housing because of prior convictions.

Much of the testimony came from those opposed to legalization. A long list of supporters elected to submit written testimony but not speak.

One of the more unusual opponents was Ed Forchion, who said he’s been calling himself the New Jersey Weedman and advocating legalization of marijuana for 20 years. But he said he doesn’t like the bill because it will give the right to sell to “white guys.”

“The biggest market is the black market,” said the self-described seller of illegal marijuana. “What are you going to do with us?”

Forchion said the bill’s regulatory demands and taxing structure will price marijuana out of the range of poorer people, who will continue to rely on black market dealers.

Other opponents talked about increased traffic fatalities in Colorado and Washington, and increased use of marijuana by minors in two of the 10 states and District of Columbia that have already legalized it for recreational use.

Juan Cartagena of Latino Justice spoke in support of legalization as a way to stop people of color from being unfairly targeted for marijuana possession arrests.

“I graduated from Dartmouth and Columbia ... yet I was picked up by police twice in my life on alleged smoking of marijuana,” Cartagena said. “For a Puerto Rican man in Jersey City, that’s not too unusual. The rate of arrest in Jersey City is three times higher for Latinos than whites. My entire life could have been upended. My service as a judge and civil rights lawyer could have been completely different, if not for fact I didn’t possess it.”

But others stressed the harm that will be done by creating a marijuana industry.

“Do not pass this act with commercialization the way that it is,” said Dr. Calvin Chatlos, a Rutgers professor representing the New Jersey Psychiatric Association.

He said 10 percent to 15 percent of youth who smoke marijuana will become addicted, and the drug usually worsens the pre-existing mental disorders of another 20 percent of youth.

Chatlos estimated that for every $1 raised in new tax revenues from cannabis sales, communities spend up to $4 on dealing with mental health and other issues it worsens.

Committee passage of the bills — called the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Act — allows them to continue to be considered in the Legislature, possibly next week. Further amendments are possible, sponsors said.

The ACLU is asking the bill be amended to allow for home growing of marijuana for personal use, and for using money raised to reinvest in communities harmed by the drug war.

The word “marijuana” has been replaced by “cannabis” in the legislation.