ATLANTIC CITY — The NAACP held a primary election forum Thursday night, and even though it was only for candidates in the 1st to 4th wards, 9 candidates participated.
All told, 22 people are running for six seats on council. The majority are Democrats challenging Democrat incumbents in the June 4 primary.
Several challengers are former council members who want another shot at city office.
Incumbents claimed responsibility for recent positive developments in town, including bringing developers to the resort, rebuilding the sea wall on the north end, and attracting the developer of North Beach apartments — the first market-rate housing built in the city in decades.
Moderator Pastor Willie Francois of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville had candidates for each ward make statements and answer questions, broken out by party.
Only the 4th Ward — which has five Democrats and three Republicans in the primary race — had Republican candidates participate.
The Chelsea Neighborhood Association held its own candidates night on Thursday for the 4th through 6th wards.
4th Ward Democrats
Assistant Principal at Pleasantville High School Constance “Mandy” Days-Chapman, business owner Surajit “Milton” Chowdhury, and former council member Rizwan Malik are running for the Democratic nomination in the 4th Ward, in the wake of incumbent Democrat William “Speedy” Marsh deciding not to run.
Days-Chapman, who is also vice chair of the Atlantic City Board of Education, said she would advocate for women, children and her community as a councilwoman.
“The issues are the streets. Bridges need to be replaced. There are abandoned homes,” said Days-Chapman. “There is physical and sexual abuse not being addressed. And gender equality. All around our city we need to do better.”
If elected, she would be the only woman on city council.
She also said she cannot serve on both the school board and city council, so would resign from the board of education if elected.
Chowdhury, who formerly worked in the casino and mortgage banking industries, said he wants to focus on fixing the streets and crime in the city.
He decided to run last year when two new casinos opened, and he realized people will be brought to them over roads full of potholes, and with a serious crime problem unsolved.
“I reached out to people on council and said, ‘We are bringing $500 million in investment to town. Do something about potholes and crime.’ They told me there is no money,” said Choudhury.
So he decided to run for city council to help the city find its way out from under $500 million in debt by creating new business ratables.
Malik was a councilman in the 5th Ward from 2012 to 2015, he said, when he authored an ordinance to make utility companies pave a street from corner to corner whenever they opened up the road to work on their lines.
He said he still believes the city should not have agreed to pay casinos back money after successful tax appeals, by bonding and putting the city in debt.
“As everyone knows the state is the one in control of finances right now,” Malik said. “We had the chance in 2011 — we shouldn’t have borrowed all that money. I voted against it. We could have told the banks and casinos we don’t have it. Let the state do something about it.”
The candidate backed by the city Democratic Committee in the primary, Md Hossain Morshed, did not participate. Nor did another who filed to run as a Democrat, Abusaeed “Saeed” Asbuha.
4th Ward Republicans
Sean Reardon and Fred Granese, both running for the GOP nomination in the 4th Ward, were the only Republicans to participate.
Reardon, a real estate investor and redeveloper, said he moved here three years ago and lives on Texas Avenue on the beach block.
“My goal is to improve conditions on the streets,” said Reardon. “The lackluster CRDA is not policing and cleaning up the way it should. It is allowing the resort to show how bad it is in terms of crime and trash.”
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has responsibility for overseeing the tourism district, which encompasses most beach blocks.
Reardon said he would like to see police officers and firefighters living in the city, and there should be a program to reward them if they do.
Fred Granese said he was born and raised in Atlantic City and lives in Venice Park, where he is involved in the Venice Park Civic Association.
The retired firefighter and real estate investor said he has taken it on himself to do street cleaning and drain cleaning in his neighborhood.
“The city really is beautiful when it’s clean, like when I was a kid,” said Granese. “It promotes well being and a feeling of self worth for the community when something is clean.”
He said cleaning up the city would be a major priority for him.
Republican candidate Ronald Bailey did not participate.
The 3rd Ward incumbent Democrat Kaleem Shabazz is being challenged by Democrat Torres Mayfield, another former councilman.
No Republican has filed to run for the nomination.
Mayfield, who said he is a veteran and community activist, said his top priority is public safety for seniors and youth.
“People are suffering,” said Mayfield. “It’s time to come back together and set up our own plan instead of letting people dictate what goes on.”
Mayfield also suggested using more security cameras in the tourism district, equipped with facial recognition software, to keep tourists and residents safer.
Shabazz called himself passionate about public service.
“I count it a high honor and distinct privilege to represent the 3rd Ward” and be on the city’s governing body, Shabazz said.
“I have had perfect attendance,” Shabazz said. “How do you determine how someone does his job? First, you have to be there. Once there, you have to see what they do. I have never missed a council meeting or committee meeting.”
Before Gov. Phil Murphy was elected, Shabazz said he sent him a letter suggesting that, if elected, he set up a task force to help move the city from takeover to self governance.
Murphy did just that, Shabazz said.
Shabazz said the city is increasing numbers of police and starting a community policing program with the help of the CRDA, and has also increased lighting in the 3rd ward with the help of a state grant he helped obtain.
Council President Marty Small is running unopposed in the 2nd Ward, and no Republicans have filed to run in his ward. He said through a spokesman he was out of town on business and could not attend.
First ward incumbent Councilman Aaron “Sporty” Randolph, a Democrat, is being challenged by former council member Robert L. Johnson.
Randolph said he’s had his seat had for two terms and wants to do a lot more.
“I’m short on talk long but long on accomplishments,” he said, listing preventing property tax increases, refurbishing the city’s north end sea wall and getting the Boardwalk rebuilt there, and getting the North Beach luxury apartment complex built as some of the more important things he’s done for the city and first ward.
Randolph acknowledged the flood control system of underground canals and flood gates that was supposed to drain much of the city, including the first ward, hasn’t yet worked properly. But he promised the engineering firm that installed the flood gates at Fishermen’s Park are working to correct problems.
The Democrat challenging him, Johnson, is a former 2nd ward councilman.
The architectural engineer said he has “a new fresh set of eyes with vision and qualifications,” but also stressed his previous experience and ability to “hit the ground running.”
Randolph said the two don’t go together.
“Once you’ve had a bite at the apple and want another bite — I don’t think that’s another set of fresh eyes,” he said.
“I know how to put tog proposals and budgets,” said Johnson. He’s also a developer with 30 years experience, he said, and a licensed real estate agent.
Johnson was asked why he stopped attending City Council meetings after he lost a primary election, but “continued to collect checks and drive a city vehicle?”
He said he had a serious illness and was hospitalized for a time, but returned to council after recovering and served out his term.
Matthew McGrath is running unopposed for the Republican nomination. McGrath did not attend.