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Alex Brandon / Associated Press  

Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman are sworn in Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee.

CRDA adopts 2020 budgets, approves $4M for Tourism District restroom upgrades

ATLANTIC CITY — The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved operating budgets for the authority, Meet AC, the Special Improvement Division and the Convention Center Division during Tuesday’s public meeting.

The CRDA budget increased by 14% to $7.13 million, with salary and employee benefits accounting for a majority of the increase, Board Chairman Robert Mulcahy said.

Last year, the $6.7 million budget was increased nearly 10% from 2018 for similar reasons.

Nearly $6.47 million of the CRDA budget is allocated for the operating costs of the Special Improvement Division. The remaining $1.3 million of the SID budget comes from taxes levied on Tourism District properties. The SID assessment of $38 per $100,000 of assessed value has remained flat since 2011, when the CRDA assumed control of the division, Mulcahy said.

Meet AC, the resort’s convention and visitors bureau, will have a $10.39 million budget for 2020, with $10.1 million from the CRDA.

The combined operating subsidy from CRDA for the Atlantic City Convention Center and Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall totaled $12.7 million. Expected revenues for 2020 from the two CRDA-controlled facilities are $4.8 million, which represents a slight increase from 2019 due to increases from the sports wagering tax and the hotel room fee.

CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty said more events have been booked at Boardwalk Hall for next year than at the same time last year for 2019.

All actions adopted by CRDA are subject to a review period of 10 days from the Governor’s Office, which can veto any item.

Board Vice Chairman Richard Tolson said the budgets adopted Tuesday had been rigorously vetted and reviewed by committee members before being presented to the full board.

“These aren’t being passed as easily as it seems,” Tolson said. “I just want to make that clear. ... It goes quickly here because of the work that is done before.”

The CRDA also approved $4.7 million to renovate eight restrooms in the Tourism District, specifically on the Boardwalk and in Gardner’s Basin. The improvements include utility upgrades.

Mulcahy characterized the action as an “extremely necessary project” for the city.

“This board is responsible for cleaning (the restrooms),” he said. “I have to tell you that some of our people get sick (when cleaning them) ... so this is a really serious thing. It’s important.”

Revenue, economic variety critical to Atlantic City self-rule

TRENTON — Diversification of Atlantic City’s economy and the stabilization of its ratable base are keys to the city returning to local sovereignty, but so are increasing revenue streams, particularly from revenue generated by the resort’s primary economic driver.

The board rejected a single bid for redevelopment of the Southeast Inlet on the grounds that the scope of the project had changed. CRDA Planning and Development Director Lance Landgraf said the authority was “reevaluating” what should be done with the proposed development land parcels.

An application by the owner of the Showboat Hotel Atlantic City to subdivide multiple land parcels was approved by CRDA, which has zoning and land-use authority in the Tourism District where the former casino is located. No applications for development of the subdivided parcels have been submitted, Landgraf said.

Rosa Farias was introduced as the new deputy executive director of the CRDA. Farias takes over the role vacated by Marshall Spevak, who left the authority in August.

Photos from the NJ League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City

Atlantic City Executive Council staying the course sans Johnson

ATLANTIC CITY — The absence of the Atlantic City Executive Council’s two most influential principals was noticeable during this month’s meeting, but the collective group of city stakeholders vowed to move forward with the state’s blueprint.

Neither Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver nor former Special Counsel Jim Johnson were present Tuesday morning at Stockton University’s city campus. However, Kimberly Holmes, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, was introduced to the public- and private-sector stakeholders who comprise the Executive Council.

Holmes, along with DCA Deputy Commissioner Rob Long, will serve as primary pointpersons from Trenton while the city remains under state control.

A former assistant prosecutor in Bergen County and municipal counsel for the City of Newark, Holmes was been with the DCA since April 2018.

“We’ve had some changes, and changes are natural, they happen all the time,” said Mike Epps, executive director of the Atlantic City Initiatives Project Office. “But we have a roadmap that gave us direction, and we knew where we were going. So we will continue on that path, undeterred.”

Johnson, who co-authored the state’s transition report on Atlantic City for Gov. Phil Murphy, accepted the position of corporate counsel for New York City last month. The Executive Council and Initiatives Project Office were both formed based on recommendations contained in Johnson’s report.

Epps added it “would be a fallacy to say that we don’t lose anything by losing Jim, because that is just stupid. We lose a tremendous amount.”

Revenue, economic variety critical to Atlantic City self-rule

TRENTON — Diversification of Atlantic City’s economy and the stabilization of its ratable base are keys to the city returning to local sovereignty, but so are increasing revenue streams, particularly from revenue generated by the resort’s primary economic driver.

“But he gave us good direction, and we will keep moving in that direction, guided by his report and guided by the implementation plan as we move into Year Two,” Epps said.

The Initiatives Project Office introduced its third-quarter progress report Tuesday, detailing key actions between July and September.

Among the items highlighted in the report were initiatives to increase home ownership in the city, including an open house tour conducted by the Chelsea Economic Development Corp. and a property auction where 37 lots were sold for a net to the city of $1.7 million. Several youth-focused programs were implemented in the summer, including an arts diversion program for at-risk city youth, internship programs with Stockton and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, among others, and an Atlantic City Police Athletic League summer camp for 87 children.

Photos from the NJ League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City

Republicans assail security aide who reported Trump call

WASHINGTON (AP) — A career Army officer on Donald Trump’s National Security Council testified Tuesday he was duty-bound to object to the president’s clearly “improper” phone call seeking Ukrainian investigations of U.S. Democrats. Republicans answered him with doubts about his loyalty to the United States.

Arriving on Capitol Hill in military blue with medals across his chest, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told impeachment investigators he felt no hesitation in reporting the president’s request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Vindman, a 20-year military officer who received a Purple Heart for being wounded in the Iraq War, was among the officials who listened in to the July 25 call when Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor” -- investigations of Democrat Joe Biden and other issues.

“It was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to request, to demand an investigation into a political opponent,” Vindman told the House Intelligence Committee.

His testimony launched a pivotal week as the House’s historic impeachment investigation reaches further into Trump’s White House.

Democrats say Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden while withholding U.S. military aid to Kyiv may be grounds for removing the 45th president. Republicans have argued both that there was no linkage between the two matters and that there would be nothing inappropriate even if there was.

In a remarkable day of back-to-back hearings, Vindman testified alongside Jennifer Williams, an adviser in Vice President Mike Pence’s office. Both said they had concerns as they listened to Trump speak with the newly elected Ukrainian president about political investigations into Biden.

Trump insists Zelenskiy did not feel pressured and has cast the impeachment probe as a partisan affair aimed at pushing him from office. The White House lashed out at the Army officer.

It wasn’t the first time Vindman was alarmed over the administration’s push to have Ukraine investigate Democrats, he testified.

He highlighted a July 10 meeting at the White House when Ambassador Gordon Sondland told visiting Ukraine officials they would need to “deliver” before next steps — a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump.

“Ambassador Sondland referred to investigations into the Bidens and Burisma in 2016,” he testified, referring to the gas company in Ukraine where Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.

On both occasions, Vindman said, he took his concerns about the shifting Ukraine policy to the lead counsel at the NSC, John Eisenberg.

An immigrant who came to the U.S. as a toddler from Ukraine, Vindman opened his testimony by assuring his father that in America he would be “fine for telling the truth.”

Yet Vindman spent long stretches fielding Republican attacks on his loyalty and his career in public service. The Republicans’ lead counsel asked at one point about an offer he got from a Ukrainian official to become the country’s defense minister.

Vindman called it “comical” and said he swiftly reported it up his chain of command.

“I’m an American,” Vindman said. “And I immediately dismissed these offers.”

Later Tuesday, the House committee heard from former NSC official Timothy Morrison and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine special envoy, who said he hadn’t understood the scope of the investigations Sondland and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, were pursuing for Trump.

Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is to appear Wednesday as the most-anticipated witness yet.

At the White House, Trump said he watched part of the day’s testimony and slammed the ongoing impeachment hearings as a “disgrace.” Over the weekend, he had assailed Williams as part of the “Never Trumpers” who oppose his presidency, though there is no indication she has shown any partisanship.

Vindman was ready to defend his loyalty to the United States. When the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, addressed him as “Mr. Vindman,” the colonel reminded him to address him by his rank.

He also deflected Republican efforts to get him to divulge everyone he told about the Trump call -- thwarting Trump allies’ attempts to identify the anonymous whistleblower who spurred the impeachment probe.

Nunes bore down once Vindman acknowledged one person he talked to was from the intelligence community. The whistleblower is a CIA official, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Vindman said he does not know who the whistleblower is. He has previously said it is not him.

Trump ally Jim Jordan asked if he ever leaked information. “Never did, never would,” Vindman answered.

Republicans were eager to hear during the afternoon from Morrison, who had supervised Vindman at the NSC. “He had concerns about Vindman's judgment,” the White House tweeted.

But Morrison, who has since left the administration, told lawmakers he was not there to question his former colleagues’ “character or integrity” and did not intend to out the whistleblower.

Morrison, who was also listening to Trump’s call, worried its disclosure would not play well in polarized Washington, and reported it to the NSC’s top lawyer. He testified about his sinking feeling after Sondland told him Trump wanted Zelenskiy to announce the investigations before releasing the military aid. A colleague warned him of “the Gordon problem,” he said.

Vindman is being provided security by the U.S. Army and local law enforcement, according to a U.S. official. The official said the Army is prepared to take additional steps, if needed, including moving Vindman and his family to a more secure location on a base.

Williams, a career State Department official who has worked for three presidential administrations and counts former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a “personal hero,” said the Trump phone call was the first time she had heard anyone specifically seeking investigations from Ukraine.

The reference to Biden and his son Hunter “struck me as political in nature.”

Williams testified the call was unlike about a dozen others she had heard from presidents over her career. When the White House produced a rough transcript later that day, she put it in Vice President Pence’s briefing materials. “I just don’t know if he read it,” she testified earlier in her closed-door House interview.

Pence’s role throughout the impeachment inquiry has been unclear.

The vice president’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, issued a statement saying he “heard nothing wrong or improper on the call.”

Vindman said Trump’s remarks on the call strayed from the talking points prepared for him. And both witnesses said Zelenskiy had mentioned “Burisma” but it was missing from the rough transcript released by the White House.

At the time of the call, the officials were just beginning to make the link with the stalled military aid — $391 million approved by Congress— that Ukraine was relying on as it confronts neighboring Russia.

Vindman said the uneven power dynamic between the presidents of the East European ally and the U.S. made the demand obvious.

“The culture I come from, the military culture, when a senior asks you to do something ... it’s not be taken as a request, it’s to be taken as an order,” he said.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke J. Miller, Laurie Kellman, Colleen Long, Eric Tucker, Lolita Baldor and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

Off-duty detective among those who ran toward chaos at Pleasantville football shooting

PLEASANTVILLE — Nina Mitchell was getting out of her car Friday night at Pleasantville High School when she saw students sprinting from the football field.

She ran in the opposite direction of that mass of people, jumping two fences to get to the field.

The off-duty detective with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, who is also a nurse, began administering first aid to the adult victim of the gunfire that erupted in the bleachers moments before.

Ibn Abdullah by that point was on the field in front of the home field bleachers with gunshot wounds.

Mitchell didn’t think of her own safety, she said Tuesday.

“All I could think of was get in there and help, get in there and help,” said Mitchell, 38, of Egg Harbor Township. “All I could hear was people yelling, ‘They’re shooting. They’re shooting.’ And just kids screaming help, crying, yelling. I saw people carrying people, pulling people by their arms.”

Mitchell’s account of the terror that gripped the record crowd and the teams on the field in the third quarter of Pleasantville’s state playoff matchup with Camden High School on Friday night was highlighted by Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner in a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the field.

Tyner said Mitchell and Pleasantville police Officer JonMarshall Robinson, who arrested the suspected gunman, Alvin Wyatt, exemplified heroism in their split-second decision to rush toward what others were running from.

“For all of those that were retired, or off-duty emergency responders, that did not forget their role and ran toward the gunfire and toward the victims to provide aid, they just did an incredible service to our community,” Tyner said, “and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.”

Unlike Mitchell, Robinson was on duty and had stopped at the game to catch the action. Robinson received a short description of the suspect, scanned the crowd and saw a man in the midst of those fleeing.

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” said Robinson, 28, of Egg Harbor Township. “For some odd reason, he just stood out. He was just running faster than everybody else, wasn’t looking back. It didn’t look like he was running for safety when I approached him.”

Robinson caught up with Wyatt near the goalposts and ordered him on the ground.

“Once he saw that I was an officer and I had my weapon out, he really complied,” Robinson said. “He was like, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ I was like, ‘You tell me. I got a description, and you matched it.’”

Wyatt, 31, of Atlantic City, was charged with three counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, according to affidavits of probable cause. A 15-year-old suffered a graze wound and was treated and released. A 10-year-old boy was hit in the neck and remains in critical condition at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, Tyner said Tuesday, describing his status as “touch and go.”

Abdullah, 27, of Atlantic City, was the alleged target, prosecutors said. He suffered critical injuries and was charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a handgun and certain persons not permitted to possess a handgun after police found a 9mm handgun in his waistband, the affidavit states. Shahid Dixon, 27, Michael Mack, 27, and Tyrell Dorn, 28, all of Atlantic City, and Vance Golden, 26, of Pleasantville, were charged in the shooting after leaving the game, according to affidavits.

“You can never quite be prepared for an incident such as this one when it occurs,” Tyner said. “Without that swift action, without that collaboration, we simply would not have been able to wrap this case up as quickly as we did on that evening.”

Robinson left in the middle of the game to respond to a call offsite and returned about five minutes before shots rang out.

“I was here, and luckily I was here, and I’m sure if I wasn’t then someone else would have caught him as well,” Robinson said.

Asked about the amount of security and police officers typically on duty during a football game, Tyner declined to comment on the evening’s police assignments.

“Suffice it to say that the school district had security on-site and there were Pleasantville police officers on site,” he said.

Camden was leading 6-0 when the game was cut short with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third quarter. The teams will finish the game Wednesday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

“I believe this entire community is thankful to the Eagles organization for stepping up and giving these kids an opportunity to create a different memory other than that which occurred this past Friday,” Tyner said.

Mitchell’s husband is a coach with Pleasantville. She met up with him in the parking lot after Abdullah was taken by an ambulance.

“He walked back out and was like, ‘I didn’t even know you were here,’” she said. “Because it was supposed to be a surprise. I actually was coming to surprise him at his game.”

Staff Writers Molly Bilinski and Lauren Carroll contributed to this report.