ATLANTIC CITY — At a news conference in April, where city and state leaders introduced a timetable for actions that would affect the resort’s future, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver referred to the man seated to her left as “a knight on a white horse.”
It was a seemingly out-of-place statement about a man dressed in a tailored suit with polished shoes and eyeglasses. And to some, the praise may have appeared hyperbolic and slightly over the top.
But for those who worked alongside or in the charge of Jim Johnson during his tenure as Gov. Phil Murphy’s special counsel for the Atlantic City transition, the characterization may not have gone far enough.
“He’s a man of high integrity. And he’s one of the smartest people I know,” Mayor Marty Small Sr. said last month upon hearing Johnson would be leaving Atlantic City to become corporate counsel in New York City. “He wants to see Atlantic City succeed, and we want to continue to carry out elements of his mission.”
Johnson, 58, departs Atlantic City with a legacy that could very well eclipse the man who appointed him and will almost certainly be looked upon more favorably than that of former Gov. Chris Christie, who spearheaded the state takeover in 2016. Under Christie, the state settled multimillion-dollar tax appeals from the casinos and cut the city’s budget to more manageable levels.
The transition report focused on “breaking down silos” that the various entities in Atlantic City had historically operated from.
“Among the most important things accomplished is a spirit of collaboration and engagement across sectors within the city that was not present when I arrived,” Johnson said recently when asked how he viewed his time in Atlantic City. “And because of a lot of people pulling together, I think there’s a very different approach.”
Under Johnson’s direction, the Atlantic City Executive Council — a collective of city, county and state elected officials and regional public and private stakeholders — was formed to implement the transition report’s recommendations.
In short time, the Executive Council secured funding for a supermarket and an expansion of AtlantiCare’s City Campus, required ethics training for employees in City Hall, hosted multiple well-attended town hall meetings to elicit feedback from residents and created internship opportunities for Atlantic City youth.
“He delivered the first report on Atlantic City, that I can remember, that focused on quality-of-life issues rather than economic silver bullets or a one-size-fits-all approach,” Small said in 2018, while he was still council president, about the state’s transition report, often referred to as the Johnson report.
Murphy, in a statement last month announcing Johnson’s new position, said simply: “New York City’s gain is New Jersey’s loss.”
Johnson spent almost two years in Atlantic City, far exceeding the initial 45-day timetable Murphy requested in February 2018. He did the work — which included countless trips from his hometown of Montclair, Essex County — for $1 per year.
Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency that oversees the city during the takeover, said Johnson’s efforts put the state “in a very good place to continue to steadily execute the long-range strategies for Atlantic City.”
“Jim’s legacy of service in Atlantic City is significant,” Ryan said in a statement. “In the 20 months he served as Governor’s Special Counsel for Atlantic City, he led efforts to craft a comprehensive Transition Report for the city, establish a structural framework that includes the Atlantic City Executive Council and the Atlantic City Initiatives Project Office within DCA, and develop an implementation plan to carry out the recommendations detailed in the Transition Report. Because Jim’s role was a transitional one, his planning and work was focused on better positioning the City and DCA to address challenges facing Atlantic City.”
Rosa Farias, deputy executive director and policy director for the Initiatives Project Office, said Johnson would disapprove of people fawning over him but is deserving of the accolades. Farias said Johnson’s mantra of “find the joy” altered her somewhat cynical view of public sector work and would stay with her. She said Johnson embodied his credo because “he never complained, ever.”
“We need to help families and communities find joy, because that means that you’re hitting the apex of the work that you’re doing,” she said. “He imprinted that on me.”
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ATLANTIC CITY — When the final school bell rings and classes end, where a student heads next could determine the rest of their life.
ATLANTIC CITY — Robert Hilliard, 52, works in the warehouse sorting donations at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. He’s been at the mission for two months and is a part of its Work Readiness Program, which helps those in need get back to work.
ATLANTIC CITY — Before Jim Johnson released his report on revitalizing Atlantic City, school officials were already trying to create pathways to success for students here.
Atlantic City ranks near the top for New Jersey places most impacted by climate change.
Atlantic City has civic associations that were first organized more than a century ago and still drive change in their neighborhoods. ... These associations act independently to protect and beautify their neighborhoods by raising funds and applying for grants. They have also come together to marshal forces in opposition to initiatives where the community voice has not been included from the start. Their voice, insight and energy are some of the strengths that will help propel Atlantic City forward. In a city that has become one of the most diverse in the State, they can build a sense of inclusion among communities.”
ATLANTIC CITY — Sparkle Prevard remembers walking into the New York Avenue School each morning to teachers welcoming students by singing “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” The city’s black community was, and still is, full of loving, caring people, she said.
ATLANTIC CITY — On a sunny morning in September, Laura Engelmann and her staff at AtlantiCare’s Health Plex on Atlantic Avenue prepared a slew of fruits and vegetables to be given out as part of a regular “pop-up market.”
ATLANTIC CITY — Marla Scheffler munched on a piece of arugula on a recent Friday, enjoying the product of her care and patience: a vibrant vegetable garden, in the middle of the city, just around the corner from her home.
ATLANTIC CITY — On a Thursday in August, sitting in the gym at the back of the Salvation Army on Texas Avenue, Jeff Litton ate a heaping plate of chicken, rice, green beans, carrots and a roll.
This was a violent summer for Atlantic City, and the city’s youth suffered the brunt of it.
ATLANTIC CITY — Sylvester Showell sometimes has to make three stops to get all of the groceries he needs.
Food deserts leave A.C. far from part of Garden State
ATLANTIC CITY — With a focus on diversifying the regional economy to include sectors outside casino gaming and tourism, the greater Atlantic City region has begun to further embrace technology as a means for job creation and economic development.
ATLANTIC CITY — A free concert series returned to Gardner’s Basin this year after a three-year hiatus, and so did locals, beach chairs in hand, to sit in the grass and enjoy an entertainment staple they thought they’d lost forever.
ATLANTIC CITY — There are really two places called Atlantic City when it comes to bolstering jobs.
The screen door slams each time one more neighborhood kid filters into Danielle Fletcher’s Indiana Avenue home. Fletcher hustles around her kitchen, putting french fries in the oven, frying chicken on the stove and cutting watermelon into slices.
ATLANTIC CITY — In between sipping from a glass bottle of mango juice at a table at Jeni’s Pizza and Mexican Food on Arctic Avenue, Kevin Gil-Clara talked about the struggle of surviving through the winter as a student and a resident of Atlantic City.
ATLANTIC CITY — When people visit the Absecon Lighthouse between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. most Thursdays, the first person they see and the friendly voice they hear belongs to a gray-haired woman with glasses wearing a lighthouse cap and sweatshirt.
For Kyle Schuster, a 22-year-old studying marine biology at Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus, life is good at the college’s beachfront dorm.
Twice a year, John Conway and his wife, Carol, fly to visit Atlantic City from their home in Tampa, Florida.
ATLANTIC CITY — Kathleen Jurimas takes the 5:47 a.m. train from Atlantic City to Philadelphia for work every morning. And since the Atlantic City Rail Line returned in May, she’s had to take the bus home.
ATLANTIC CITY — Cyclists riding down Pacific or Atlantic avenues might feel the rush of wind on their backs as trucks, cars and jitneys stream past them.
ATLANTIC CITY — Dayshawn Reynolds doesn’t own a car.
ATLANTIC CITY — During the mornings inside the bus terminal at Atlantic and Ohio avenues, a steady flow of people moves in and out to purchase tickets, check schedules or grab a seat and wait.
ATLANTIC CITY — A coordinated effort between the city and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority will result in a reduction in the number of rooming houses in the Tourism District.
ATLANTIC CITY — Like he does most afternoons, Edward Selva, 26, waited for the jitney near Columbia Avenue to pick him up for work. The Lower Chelsea stop is convenient for the 26-year-old food service worker, who lives nearby.
ATLANTIC CITY — Now that WinnDevelopment has purchased three historic buildings long used for low-income housing, the company will begin renovating 153 rental units with residents on site.
ATLANTIC CITY — Drive down Pacific Avenue, past old motels converted into condos, and you might guess how it looks inside: popcorn ceilings, a musky smell and sticky carpets.
The days of building public housing in huge towers or “villages” only for the poor are over, officials say.
ATLANTIC CITY — Velvet Wright loved her tiny, red row home on North Tennessee Avenue.
A video that captured a fight inside the McDonald’s on Arkansas Avenue in March racked up more than 1 million views on Facebook and sparked multiple online comments.
ATLANTIC CITY — Juan Pemberti began his law enforcement career in Atlantic City as a Class II Special Officer.
ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White grew up here, rented his first apartment and bought his first home here.
ATLANTIC CITY — Since buying Gem Liquor Store at Atlantic and North Indiana avenues last month, Dharam Patel has put in a half-dozen security cameras, but he said he still needs to install more outside to watch for loitering and other illicit behavior on the street.
When Danielle Fletcher, who has lived in Atlantic City all 43 years of her life, saw a group of boys arguing outside the Atlantic Avenue barbershop where her sons were getting their hair cut, her first instinct was that things might escalate.
David Schwartz read off the headlines of a Las Vegas newspaper Wednesday afternoon in quick succession; police were arresting suspects and investigating robberies and a shooting, but he paused to read further into the murder of a professor he knew.
ATLANTIC CITY — Sharon Aloi remembers years ago when she saw more patrol cars parked in the city, including one near her property in Lower Chelsea.
ATLANTIC CITY — A bright yellow backhoe sat on top of five feet of rubble in the middle of Keener Avenue in the resort’s Westside neighborhood Thursday evening. A bedroom door flapped on its hinges inside half a row home, the house’s insides exposed.
ATLANTIC CITY — Shamirah Howard, 26, is trying to keep her young son on the right path, which is part of what led her to bring Lyfe Watson, 9, to the boxing gym on the third floor of the Atlantic City Police Athletic League on a recent Thursday evening.
ATLANTIC CITY — Many years back, Doug Martin remembers staring out his window and watching his family members leave for work, thinking to himself, “I just want to be normal. I just want to be normal.”
ATLANTIC CITY — The people who approached the Hope One van one day in late March were from various backgrounds and on different steps along the path to recovery.
ATLANTIC CITY — Ronsha Dickerson put it like this: An urban black woman makes a prenatal appointment. This is not her first pregnancy, and she has Medicaid.
ATLANTIC CITY — Music blared from an old-school boom box inside the fitness room at the Uptown Complex on a recent Thursday evening.
ATLANTIC CITY — In a city as diverse in demographics and economic status as Atlantic City, having access to quality care can mean the difference between life and death.
ATLANTIC CITY — A little less than two hours before the sun rose over the city Feb. 10, Demond Tally was shot dead as he walked from his neighbor’s home to his own on Presbyterian Avenue.
Shanita White had only known Tamara Etheridge for about 15 weeks before the two shared one of the most intimate moments a person can experience.
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The smallest surviving baby ever born at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Mainland Campus celebrated her first birthday Tuesday with the doctors and nurses who cared for her during her 113-day stay last year.
ATLANTIC CITY — Pastor Raymond Hollis Jr. and his wife, Shonda, inherited the blighted property on North Connecticut Avenue after his father passed away in 2011.
ATLANTIC CITY — When Ralia Williams was a freshman at Atlantic City High School, her aunt recommended she see school counselors for her anger issues.
Atlantic City’s Health Department, down to just one employee and 20 percent of its 2014 funding, is a health department in name only.
ATLANTIC CITY — Nearly a year ago, Alyssa Spruill was at a prenatal visit with her doctor when she learned she would have to deliver her baby 16 weeks early after developing severe preeclampsia.
ATLANTIC CITY — Within these 48 city blocks, men, women and children are falling through the cracks of health care.
ASBURY PARK — Former Mayor Ed Johnson still remembers a trip he took to Trenton in 2001.
The block of Tennessee Avenue between the Boardwalk and Pacific Avenue has seen a recent flurry of investment and redevelopment, resulting in a handful of new businesses opening their doors.
Staff at the Comfort Inn on the Black Horse Pike became accustomed to seeing guests sell narcotics in the parking lot.
ASBURY PARK — Local musician Reg Satana was a child here in the 1960s, at the end of the resort’s former life as a popular family vacation spot with beaches and a middle-class downtown.
ATLANTIC CITY — Rather than sit back and wait for those in need to come to them, a group of vested community stakeholders is taking its efforts to the streets.
ATLANTIC CITY — A few doors down from Sheila Freeman’s quaint, bayside house sits a home with its windows boarded up and overgrown grass spilling onto the sidewalk.
Atlantic City has had difficulty in shielding its visitors from unpleasant urban realities such as poverty, crime and drug use, which is often visible right outside the doors of the city’s casino hotels.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Jenn Hampton was walking past boarded up buildings on Asbury Park’s boardwalk when she had an idea.
ATLANTIC CITY — The team of city code enforcement officials met up at North New Jersey and Magellan avenues shortly after 10 a.m.
Atlantic City code enforcement officers conduct walk-throughs as a way of updating the resorts list of abandoned and blighted properties. The city has 12 compliance officers to cover 11 densely populated square miles.
ATLANTIC CITY — When the TV news show “60 Minutes” came to town on the 20th anniversary of legalized gambling here, Atlantic City was booming — beating out Las Vegas for gaming revenue.