ATLANTIC CITY — Three candidates vying to represent the city’s 1st Ward on City Council offered varying perspectives on the state of the city and its future during an open forum Tuesday night.
Council Vice President Aaron “Sporty” Randolph, Matthew McGrath and Geoffrey Rosenberger participated in a candidates forum jointly hosted by the 1st Ward and the Bungalow Park civic associations at the Uptown School Complex. With all six ward seats up for grabs Nov. 5, the 1st Ward is the only district with three candidates jockeying for one position.
Questions about the state takeover of the city, code enforcement, a rise in the city’s homeless population, the proposed change in the form of municipal government and neighborhood-specific issues were all posed to the three candidates.
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Randolph, 64, the incumbent Democrat who was first appointed to the seat in 2010, emphasized his connections to the community and willingness to work with state officials. After working with other municipal officials to “fight Trenton” and the state takeover that began in 2016, Randolph said being cooperative with the state has produced better results than being resistant.
“I think that, and I hope that you agree, for the first time, the state is working with the city to improve the quality of life for all our residents,” Randolph said. “Cooperation is key. There is now a line of communication. Until recently, we did not even exist under the state takeover. We have a seat at the table.”
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Rosenberger, 62, the only independent candidate running in Atlantic City this year, pushed back against the idea that residents are benefiting from the state’s involvement. He suggested much of what the state has done recently were simply “givebacks” in an effort to “make the state look good.”
“How many can touch it?” Rosenberger asked rhetorically about tangible improvements for residents under the state takeover. “We are not an equal player, we are an afterthought. ... A place at the table is fine, but I don’t believe it.”
McGrath, the 27-year-old Republican candidate, did not address the state’s role in Atlantic City directly. But on several of the localized issues, such as the installation of catch basins for trash buildup caused by flooding or fixing broken sidewalks and pothole-ridden streets, McGrath said he would use his position on council to “press” the state to do more for residents.
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Trash problem in Gardner’s Basin
The topic of trash buildup in Gardner’s Basin — which started occurring in 2018 after the city activated the Baltic Avenue Canal to reduce flooding citywide — briefly dovetailed into a referendum on council’s effectiveness and accountability, which Randolph scoffed at.
Rosenberger said the trash issue was brought to the governing body “within days” of the canal being turned on and “more than a year later, it’s still not fixed.” He characterized it as a “lack of attention to detail” on the part of council.
Randolph, who is chairman of the public safety and public works committee, said Remington & Vernick Engineers was contacted after the problem was brought to his attention and the firm is working on correcting the problem.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort on my part, or council’s part,” he said. “I’m not going to be held accountable for Vernick or the Public Works Department that runs that pump out here.”
Proposed change in form of government
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The proposed change in the city’s form of government also drew strong remarks from each candidate. A group called Atlantic City Residents for Good Government is circulating a petition to adopt a council-manager form of government as opposed to the current mayor-council system. Should the petition garner enough valid signatures, a special election would be held so residents have the option to decide whether they favor the change.
Proponents claim it would create a more efficient government and reduce costs, while opponents contend it amounts to a coup attempt by special interests from outside the city.
Ultimately, the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency that oversees the city, has the option of treating a successful referendum effort as advisory.
“I’m not going to entertain a new form of government,” Randolph said and discouraged residents from signing the petition.
McGrath said he was not against the change of government but opposed the “direction” such a move would take the city.
“Obviously, we all know that there are some efficiency issues going on here,” he said. “I’m against all the people who are out of the area, who don’t walk the streets, don’t see the people, don’t know what they feel and what they go through on a daily basis. And they want to come in here and they want to take our resources.”
Rosenberger said the petition effort was “suspect at best” but indicated he understood the genesis for wanting change in Atlantic City.
“What they’re saying to us is the system is broken. And I can attest to the system being broken because it’s hard to bring people with money into this town. One of the reasons is the unstable politics and the makeup of the council in their decisions,” he said.