ATLANTIC CITY — Claims of racism and cronyism were leveled against the mayor Wednesday by a former councilman for allegedly working behind the scenes to block the appointment of two Muslim women to the local utility board.
Craig Callaway accused Mayor Marty Small Sr. of putting pressure on the state to prevent the appointments of Michelle Kidd and Amena Chowdury to the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority. Callaway, a former City Council president who spent 42 months in prison for bribery and blackmail, said Small was protecting the financial interests of a political supporter.
“It’s about contracts,” Callaway said. “That’s the underlying reason why it happened. Because Mr. Joe Jacobs, who hangs his law license on people who get contracts with the MUA, (was concerned) the board was going to change and he was going to lose his spot at the trough. So he called on his people to exclude and to racially profile. ... And there’s only one thing worse than racism and discrimination, (and that’s) when African Americans are the perpetrators.”
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Jacobs, contacted Thursday, said Callaway’s insinuation was “complete nonsense” and declined to comment further.
Small was seated just a few feet away from Callaway during the public comments at the council meeting Wednesday night but did not directly respond. Afterward, Small said Callaway’s assertions were “laughable” and denied being either racist or involved in preventing the appointments.
“People know my character. I care about the entire city,” Small said. “People need to really understand what’s going on in this political season. Any time I have to defend my character against a criminal convicted felon like Craig Callaway, there’s nothing to say. I’m focused on moving the city forward and doing the right thing.”
Callaway and Small have a history of political and personal conflict. The two influential Atlantic City figures have quarreled both publicly and behind the scenes in fierce political campaigns.
Kidd and Chowdury were approved by council in January to serve as a full member and alternate, respectively, to the MUA board. The state Department of Community Affairs, the agency with direct oversight of the city, reportedly requested resumes from the two women after their appointments.
Kim Holmes, assistant commissioner of the DCA, said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver — who also serves as commissioner of the state agency — was reviewing the matter. While under review, the appointments are pending.
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Callaway said Oliver, the first black woman to serve as speaker of the state Assembly, should have stopped the alleged targeting of the two Muslim women “from its inception.”
Prior to Callaway’s comments, the issue of the MUA appointments was brought up by his sister and chairwoman of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee, Gwendolyn Callaway-Lewis.
“(Kidd and Chowdury) were given disparate treatment,” she said, saying the two women were subjected to background checks in addition to being asked to submit resumes. “And I understand that the state has agreed to this discriminatory act.”
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Third Ward Councilman Kaleem Shabazz said he has known Oliver for nearly three decades and was confident she would do the “right thing.”
The accusations of requested resumes and unfair treatment mirror those made by 2nd Ward Councilwoman LaToya Dunston when she assumed office last year.
Dunston reportedly wrote a letter to Oliver stating, in part, that “never in the history of the controversial state intervention and oversight of our city ... has one of City Council’s board appointments been subjected to this offensive and humiliating sideshow.” Dunston went on to write that since the other council appointments made that same night in January were not subject to the same treatment, “the only obvious difference is that these specific women are both Muslim.”
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Council President George Tibbitt told Holmes, who was in attendance at the council meeting as the state’s representative, that this issue was “starting to tear this community apart.”
“This has to be resolved immediately,” Tibbitt said. “Put them on that damn board now. It’s time that they get on that board and get that chance.”