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Local
Change of government group concedes in Atlantic City election

{child_flags:featured}Early results: A.C. says no to government change

{child_byline}DAVID DANZIS

Staff Writer

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ATLANTIC CITY — The final ballots have yet to be counted, but early returns suggest the change of government referendum will be defeated.

As of Tuesday night, 3,275 ballots were cast against the proposed change, while 985 votes were in favor.

“As we stated all along, a lot of people drank the Kool-Aid and bought into the North Jersey/McDevitt/billionaire takeover,” said Mayor Marty Small Sr., an early and vocal opponent of the change of government. “I said the good people of Atlantic City will never be for sale.”

Late Tuesday night, Bob McDevitt, one of the leaders of the group trying to change the government, conceded late Tuesday night.

“The people have rejected change and we accept without qualification their decision,” McDevitt said in a statement.

There were no lines of people waiting to cast a ballot or crowds of anxious supporters gathered at an election headquarters.

No groups of campaign workers conducted last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts in neighborhoods, and no unmarked vans transported senior residents to polling locations.

That was the scene — or lack of one — for the city’s first entirely vote-by-mail election, ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. The special election was devoid of any of the common sights associated with campaigns, particularly one of such significance.

Registered voters in Atlantic City cast their ballots either for or against a proposed change of government, a shift that would have eliminated four of the current nine council members and the directly elected mayor. In its place would be a council-manager format with five at-large representatives who would hire a city manager to run the day-to-day operations of government.

“They didn’t win a district. We beat them from Maine to Jackson (avenues) and every neighborhood in between,” Small said.

The final results of the special election could take several days, since the elections board can accept ballots until Thursday that were postmarked by Tuesday.

According to county election officials, 4,260 ballots were scanned Tuesday. The elections board received 600 more ballots and more are expected to arrive Wednesday and Thursday. There are also 1,200 ballots that need to be accounted for that were received before the governor changed the date and mandated vote-by-mail. If a voter returned two ballots, only the second one will be counted.

On Election Day, outside the U.S. Post Office on Atlantic Avenue, one man, who would only give the name Mark, dropped off his ballot before going back to work. Mark, 43, would not say how he voted, but quickly added, “I know a lot of people aren’t going to like it.”

The quiet city streets Tuesday were in stark contrast to the night before, when opponents of the referendum organized a caravan in a final effort to increase awareness and participation.

The symphony of beeping horns and shouts of “Vote No,” could be heard for blocks, as more than two dozen vehicles drove through Atlantic City’s various neighborhoods Monday evening. With signs and messages painted on vehicles, the procession lasted nearly two hours, going from one end of the city to the other.

It was the last act in a boots-on-the-ground campaign where residents and city officials had been knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods encouraging people to vote down the proposed change.

Noting the challenges of campaigning during a global pandemic combined with an election being conducted solely via mail-in ballots, Small said talking to people face-to-face was still the most effective means of connecting.

“We can’t take for granted that people will vote,” Small said. “I’ve always had a tremendous ground game, and we did as much as we possibly could.”

Bob McDevitt, chairman of the political action committee behind the referendum and president of the local casino workers’ union, said phone calls to registered voters have been their primary campaign strategy since March, when the stay-at-home order was issued by the governor.

“Under the circumstances, it’s a strange time, and we left nothing on the table,” McDevitt said Tuesday evening. “It’s in the hands of the voters, and I’m confident the voters will do the right thing.”

Among the stops on Monday evening’s political jaunt by the opposition were Resorts Casino Hotel and McDevitt’s home. Morris Bailey, owner of Resorts, helped finance the referendum by contributing more than $232,000.

A few of the participants in the “Vote No” caravan threw signs over a gate at McDevitt’s townhouse complex while the majority shouted his name and beeped their vehicle’s horn for several minutes, based on multiple videos posted on social media.

McDevitt said some of the behavior exhibited the night before exemplified why more than 3,000 residents signed a petition forcing the special election.

“If I were to describe the last several decades of Atlantic City’s failure to thrive, I would refer to the video from last night’s ‘rally,’” McDevitt said. “The little parade of clown cars disturbing the peace after the 8 o’clock curfew demonstrates the thug mentality of Atlantic City politicians and their stooges. This is exactly why change is needed.”

Small said McDevitt set the “disrespectful” tone early in the campaign by referring to the city’s elected officials and their supporters as a “cartel,” and pinning decades of corruption on those in leadership today.

“You can’t live in a glass house and throw stones,” Small said. “And terms like ‘thug’ has a lot of hidden meanings.”

All 10 of Atlantic City’s elected officials — the mayor and the nine members of council — oppose the proposed change in the form of government, as do the Civic Associations of Atlantic City United, Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey (who represents the city on the county board and serves as Small’s chief of staff) and the NAACP Atlantic City Chapter.

Former Mayor Don Guardian, former state Sen. Ray Lesniak and Resorts President/CEO Mark Giannantonio have all voiced their support for the change of government.

In order for the referendum to be adopted, the number of yes votes cast must meet or exceed “30% of the number of persons voting in such municipality at the last preceding general election,” according to state law.

In the 2019 general election, 6,232 ballots were cast in Atlantic City. Based on that figure, the referendum would require a minimum of 1,869 yes votes to be approved.

If the referendum is successful, the change of government would go into effect exactly four weeks from the date of the special election. Prior to that change, a special election to select the five at-large council members would be held.

Contact: 609-272-7222 ddanzis@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressDanzis

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Contact: 609-272-7222

ddanzis@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

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Edward Lea / Staff Photographer  

Three F-16 Falcons from the 177th Fighter Wing stationed at Atlantic City International Airport and a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst fly over Atlantic City on Tuesday afternoon. View more photos on A4.


Local
177th Fighter Wing flies over New Jersey to thank COVID-19 frontline workers

ATLANTIC CITY — The Boardwalk was quiet Tuesday afternoon. No more than a half-dozen people were seen in a one-block radius. And on the beach, there were fewer people. A woman stood by herself on the jetty. Two women were practicing stretches on beach towels.

And then you heard the roars.

Three F-16 Falcons from the 177th Fighter Wing, which is stationed at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, and a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, soared over the city just after 12:30 p.m. as part of the nationwide Air Force Salutes flyover.

The New Jersey Air National Guard’s jets made their way around the entire state, including flying over Atlantic City, to honor the men and women working on the front lines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar flyover events have happened throughout the country amid the pandemic to salute first responders and health care workers who work around the clock to help fight the pandemic.

Mary Escudero, 57, of Pennsylvania, and her 23-year-old daughter, Dominique, drove down to Atlantic City for the day to get out of the house and enjoy the sunshine.

They had beach chairs and towels to stretch and work out.

“I would do this again and again and again,” Escudero said, of coming to the shore to get away. “It’s a nice day, and there’s definitely not a lot of people.”

The flyover was a bonus for Escudero and her daughter. They had just found out about the event that morning.

“I did hear that it was going to happen and then I forgot about it,” she said. “Then I heard them coming, but it was quick.”

What she misses most about normal life is going to work. She’s a community manager at an apartment complex.

“You’ve got to keep your mind in a good spot and keep healthy,” she said. “Don’t let it get to you that much.”

“Just go with the flow,” her daughter, Dominique, added.

Dominique was a nanny and used to be around kids all day.

“It’s a lot quieter,” she said. “You miss them, too, and you can’t do anything.”

City resident, Griselda Garcia, 36, brought her two sons, Angel Turcios, 15, and Saul Escobar, 9, down to the beach to get some fresh air and to see the jets. While her sons gazed upward and watched the flyover, Garcia recorded it with her phone.

“It’s really nice of them to do that for the people who are working for us,” she said of the first responders and health care workers. “They are doing their best, and they deserve more.”

“I thought that they would do more, like the air show,” Turcios added.

It’s hard to keep busy nowadays, Turcios said. He misses going to school the most. He joked that it was going horribly to go to school at home. It’s hard to concentrate.

“It’s really hard because sometimes they need someone to explain, and I have to do (the teacher’s) job,” Garcia said. “Now I have to be the teacher, and I now know how they feel with our kids in their school. It’s not easy.”

But despite facing challenges with home schooling, she brought her sons out to the beach to show them the importance of thanking the front-line workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“They have to respect this,” she said.


Crime
top story
Cumberland County officials report 14 cases of COVID-19 in jail staff

BRIDGETON — Cumberland County officials on Tuesday said there have been 14 positive COVID-19 cases in county jail staff.

Eleven corrections officers and three civilian employees have tested positive, jail Warden Richard Smith said in a news release, adding “while we cannot control the exposures to the virus our officers encounter outside the jail, we are going to extraordinary lengths to minimize those exposures inside the jail.”

No inmates have tested positive, according to the release.

The release comes a week after Smith sent an email to The Press stating “we do not have 14 officers who are positive for COVID19.”

Smith made the statement in response to an assertion by Stuart Alterman, a lawyer representing the correction officers’ union in a civil lawsuit alleging officials failed to develop policies and provide necessary equipment for corrections officers ahead of the pandemic, that at least that number of officers was positive and that it would be “illogical” to this that no inmates have tested positive.

County Deputy Administrator Jody Hirata said Smith was correct in his original email that it wasn’t 14, rather they had 10 correctional officers and one civilian who tested positive as of last Wednesday.

Alterman said Tuesday that county officials are not being truthful and are “certainly not being transparent” about the jail’s handling of the pandemic, calling the release a public relations attempt that was nicely written, but failed.

“We were on top of this thing from the beginning, and it’s unfortunate that they weren’t,” he said. “We’re talking about lives here. We’re talking about families. We’re talking about the well-being of inmates, staff and the community.”

Last month, county Freeholder Jack Surrency said more than a dozen officers had tested positive. He called for reforms to the county’s Corrections Department, as well as hazard pay for officers.

Surrency on Tuesday sent a package of four resolutions to Freeholder Board Clerk Kimberly Wood concerning reforms to the jail.

The reforms include:

a resolution to provide hazard pay for corrections officers retroactive to March 9;

a resolution requiring the weekly mandatory reporting of all personal protection equipment on hand as well as all personal protection equipment ordered, but not yet received, regardless of source;

a resolution mandating the Cumberland County Department of Corrections perform weekly testing for COVID-19 as to corrections officers and civilian employees, establish protocols for access to weekly testing as to corrections officers, to publish weekly to the public data as to COVID-19 testing concerning corrections officers, staff and inmates, and to implement a policy of aggressive tracing as to any positive test;

and a resolution mandating the immediate adoption of the New Jersey Attorney General guidelines by the Cumberland County Department of Corrections with the updating of all applicable policies within 90 days.

“We need testing, reporting, contact tracing, PPE levels, state guidelines put in place and protocols established,” Surrency said. “This is the fight of our lives. County government needs to raise its game, and we need to do it now.”

Officers affected are isolating at home and will not return to work until they are medically cleared, receiving their normal base pay without the need to use their paid time off, Smith said.

Four officers and one civilian have already returned to work.

“There are a number of exceptional measures we have taken to reduce the chance of exposure to COVID, including work shift scheduling changes that result in a substantial amount of officers and staff working 40 hours in a two-week period that would normally require 80 hours,” Smith said. “Despite the schedule change, we continue to compensate those officers and staff as if they worked their normal shifts so that there is no loss in base pay.”

Officials have prohibited visitors from the jail, and all new inmates are screened by a nurse and placed in a 14-day quarantine, according to the release.

“We are using stringent screening, which requires everyone to be screened for temperature and COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the facility and, if a shift lasts beyond eight hours, screenings are repeated,” Smith said. “While COVID-19 has been an unprecedented epidemic, the control of infectious disease is part of our standard operations as they are frequently encountered in correctional facilities.”

County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella lauded the officials’ efforts.

“Implementing COVID-19 protocols in a jail or prison environment is extremely challenging,” Derella said. “With the full support of our Board of Freeholders, county administration and the county Prosecutor’s Office, Warden Richard Smith has utilized a comprehensive and integrated approach that includes the use of frequent enhanced disinfection and cleaning, use of temperature and health screening upon building entry, use of approved personal protective equipment, shift scheduling alterations, social distancing and the reduction in inmate population.”

The jail has also been dealing with a decrease in the inmate population following an order from Gov. Phil Murphy that mandated the release of certain nonviolent offenders to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, according to the release.

“Although we opposed the indiscriminate release of inmates who present a threat to public safety from our county jail, our county prosecutor has worked hard to ensure that only those who represent no threat to the community were released,” Derella said. “In April of 2019, our county corrections officers and staff were managing an inmate population averaging 320, while, in contrast, in April of 2020 we had 125 correctional staff managing an average daily inmate population of 205.”

“The reduction in the inmate population has allowed us to make schedule alterations that reduce the amount of time our officers and staff are inside the jail facility,” Smith said.

Corrections officers can get tested at Rowan College of South Jersey Cumberland Campus — Vineland Test Site, according to the release. Additional testing resources are available by request through the county Human Resources Department.Contact: 609-272-7241 mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB


State
breaking top story
N.J. to hire 1K contact tracers as part of COVID-19 response

TRENTON — New Jersey will be more than doubling the number of public health professionals currently tracing COVID-19 cases, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday.

New Jersey will hire at least 1,000 people, creating a Community Contact Tracing Corps and supplementing the roughly 800 to 900 mostly county health officials who are currently tracing contacts among coronavirus-positive residents, the first-term Democrat said.

The news came as Murphy announced the state’s COVID-19 data are trending in the right direction, though he stopped short of specifying dates by which the state might reopen its economy.

Newly hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are down 44% since late April; the number of people in the hospital is down 34% since the same time; patients in intensive care and on ventilators are also down by an average of 27% since the same period, the governor said.

“The road back is paved with five words. Public health creates economic health,” Murphy said. “We will move as quickly as we can but as safely as we must.”

But while those data are headed in the right direction, Murphy also said New Jersey is still leading the nation in positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 people.

The state added about 800 new positive cases since Monday, bringing the total to about 141,000. It’s the first time since March 25 that the number of new cases has been below 1,000, Murphy pointed out. There were 198 deaths reported since Monday, bringing the death toll to 9,508.

The state’s more than 500 long-term care facilities must also test all their residents for the virus by May 26 under a new health department order, Murphy said. There must also be a follow-up test a week later, and facilities must update their outbreak prevention plans by May 19, he added.

Murphy unveiled a six-part plan last month aimed at reopening. Increasing testing and contact tracing were initial components of the plan.

Despite calls from some protesters calling for reopening the state immediately, Murphy’s job approval ratings have been high, according to polls.

Murphy repeated his calls for doubling testing to about 20,000 a day by the end of the month. He said expanding testing to first responders was an easy call and argued that expanding to people without symptoms would boost confidence that the state is ready to reopen.

“(It gives) everybody out there the confidence that we have the infrastructure in place and that they know we’re on it, that we can spot a community spread or flareup with very short notice. That gives everybody in the state a kick in their step, a confidence to say, ‘You know what, I’m good on going to the county parks,’” he said.

Murphy said the contact tracing jobs would pay $20 to $25 an hour and the testing and tracing program would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

There are 135 testing site throughout the state, with CVS Pharmacy locations expected to have swab-and-send testing capabilities in place at 50 of its stores across the state by the end of the month, he said.

He also said that the state is directing $6 million in federal funding to Rutgers University to boost its test production capabilities from 10,000 tests per day to 50,000 within the next six to eight weeks.

1st District legislators blast Murphy

Legislators representing the 1st Legislative District blasted Governor Phil Murphy’s announcement that regions of New Jersey that have recovered from the coronavirus will not be allowed to reopen as soon as they are ready.

Senator Michael Testa and Assemblymen Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan (all R-1) said the governor’s approach will lead to a longer lockdown than otherwise necessary in some parts of New Jersey, causing unnecessary economic harm to the South Jersey and Jersey Shore communities they represent.

“It has been over a week now since Cape May County delivered it’s safe and sensible plan for reopening to Governor Murphy,” Assemblyman Erik Simonsen said. “We had heard nothing from the Governor that gives any hope for a timely restart of the $6.6 billion tourism economy that supports 60% of the jobs in our area.”

ATLANTIC COUNTY UPDATE

Atlantic County officials on Tuesday reported 34 new cases of COVID-19, as well as nine additional deaths.

The fatalities include an 18-year-old Mullica Township woman and eight elderly residents of long-term care facilities, according to a news release from county spokeswoman Linda Gilmore. All nine had pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk, according to the Atlantic County Division of Public Health

Seven of the elderly fatalities were from Absecon and included two 80-year-old women, two 80-year old-men, an 81-year-old woman, an 88-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman, according to the release. The other long-term care resident was a 77-year-old man from Linwood.

Additional cases include 34 new positives among 15 men, ages 9 to 87, and 19 women, ages 24 to 98, Gilmore said. Ten cases were identified in Atlantic City residents, eight in Galloway, five in Egg Harbor Township and three in Northfield; Hamilton Township, Hammonton and Ventnor each had two new cases while Pleasantville and Somers Point each had one.

So far, Atlantic County has reported 1,564 cases with 86 deaths and 351 cleared as recovered. Cape May County has reported 470 cases with 34 deaths and 198 designated off quarantine. Cumberland County has reported 1,365 cases and 40 deaths.

Atlantic County will continue its drive-thru testing on Thursday at the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing by appointment for symptomatic county residents with a doctor’s prescription, proof of residency and appointment confirmation.

Appointments are available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and can be made online at aclink.org. Those who are unable to keep their appointments are asked to cancel so that others will have an opportunity to be tested.

CAESARS PLANS TO REOPEN IN PHASES

In Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Council Bluffs and Lake Tahoe, Caesars Entertainment plans to reopen properties in phases in line with anticipated business demand, according to a post on the company’s website.

The company plans to reopen in these markets and increase staff capacity as well as amenities such as restaurants and live entertainment in line with consumer demand and guidance from public health authorities, according to the post.

MGM unveils plan

MGM Resorts International released a report outlining the comprehensive health and safety protocols the company is implementing prior to reopening its domestic properties and resorts which were temporarily closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report details MGM Resorts’ “Seven-Point Safety Plan” — a multi-layered set of protocols and procedures designed in conjunction with medical and scientific experts to deter the spread of the virus, protect customers and employees and rapidly respond to potential new cases, according to a news release. MGM owns Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

O.C. PROMENADE TO REOPEN

Ocean City’s Promenade Food Court is set to reopen Saturday. Guidelines for reopening include tables are placed 6 feet apart, hand sanitizer available, designated an entrance and exit, plexiglass where customers are to order and no outside food.