Of all the regional races in next week’s election, the one offering the clearest choice is for Atlantic County executive.
That choice is between Dennis Levinson, a Republican incumbent with a long record of prudent fiscal policy and tackling traditional concerns of county government, and Democratic challenger Susan Korngut, a Northfield councilwomen who would take an activist approach, pushing the county into new efforts to help neglected people and communities.
Levinson, in his 20th year as county executive, put county finances near the top of his accomplishments during a recent meeting with the editorial board of The Press. This year’s budget is $5 million smaller, and S&P and Moody’s rate Atlantic County’s fiscal position in the top 18% among counties nationwide.
Under Levinson’s current term, the county has worked to diversify the economy and help state efforts to stabilize and restore nearly bankrupt Atlantic City. That has included financing the city campus of Stockton University when the state and city couldn’t, and spending millions on building the National Aviation Research and Technology Park at the airport.
He’s proud of the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, which has grown dramatically trying to meet great demand for it from families and has a student body that is 65% minorities. Among the eight department heads in his administration, he said, three are women and two are African Americans.
At the request of Atlantic City, the county took over its public health services, including its clinics and Meals on Wheels — even though the city’s annual revenue of $164 million dwarfs the county’s $54 million. Levinson said the city’s problems are manageable and “easily correctible with people of good will.” He suggested starting with enforcing codes and making the city clean and safe, so property values go up.
Levinson said the county will build a second building in the research and technology park and a hangar at the airport, the next steps in its goal of starting a new aviation industry.
Korngut grew up in Margate and after law school spent about a year in insurance defense at a prominent Atlantic City firm before opening her solo practice of 20 years in family law. That’s where her heart is, she told the editorial board, “fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves.”
The election of President Trump prompted her to enter politics and she won election to Northfield City Council in 2017. There she pushed the city to address domestic violence, drafted a ban on balloon releases and started a social media program matching senior citizens who wanted show shoveled from their walks with volunteers to do it. If seniors want to give kids money for the work and the kids will accept it, they can. The first two snowstorms she did some shoveling herself. Now there are many volunteers and she’s expanding the program countywide.
Korngut said her priorities for Atlantic County would be “foreclosures, sex trafficking and always jobs,” making the county a hub for tech jobs.
She said the county should seek involvement in the state’s substantial effort to reduce infant mortality in the Atlantic City area and provide a mobile van with obstetric and gynecological services. She would make people more aware of the protections available under Gov. Phil Murphy’s package of foreclosure reforms.
“And gun violence, every time, God forbid, there’s a shooting in Atlantic City, my butt would be on the spot where that person was gunned down,” Korngut said.
Levinson cited compelling the state to give Atlantic County its promised 13.5% share of casino payments in lieu of taxes as an accomplishment.
Korngut said the county is getting too much money from the casinos, it’s “really hurting” the people of Atlantic City and “they need to keep more of that.”
We think Levinson would continue to keep the county’s finances sound by spending prudently when needed on projects of countywide benefit and limiting taxes.
Korngut would push the county to address more problems and provide social services, even those normally the responsibility of other levels of government. And she would disrupt political organizations to do it. “A lot of people on both sides (Democrats and Republicans) don’t want the change that I’m bringing because the status quo kind of works for people and it keeps people in power,” she said.
This is about as clear a choice as voters get.