ATLANTIC CITY — Frank Gilliam was elected the next mayor of the city Tuesday night surrounded by dozens of supporters.
Preliminary election results showed the Democratic candidate Gilliam, an Atlantic City councilman and city native, defeating incumbent Republican Don Guardian at the polls by 10 p.m.
“This is the beginning of a new era in Atlantic City," Gilliam said after polls closed from his campaign headquarters on Atlantic Avenue.
Gilliam, who has been a city councilman since 2009 and was re-elected to his at-large seat in 2013, will replace Guardian, who was elected as mayor of the resort in 2013.
Gilliam surrounded himself, first in a huddle with his Democratic ticket for the three open council-at-large seats, and then around his supporters from around the city, to talk about what he plans to do as mayor of the city.
"It's going to always be about the people," Gilliam said. "We love Atlantic City."
He said Tuesday night he's excited to bring employment, a family-friendly community, and to "take care of our community."
"Now it's time for us to actually take the front seat," he said.
At the Guardian headquarters down the road on Atlantic Avenue, however, the mood was somber and quiet. Guardian called Gilliam and left him a message regarding the defeat.
"The election is done, it's finished, and we have a new mayor of Atlantic City. I wish him well," Guardian said.
Gilliam has been promising voters a better Atlantic City if elected mayor, one that will be saved from the past four years of debt and having been under state control.
He has said he wants to focus on shaping up the city’s finances, improving tax rates and bringing in more development for the city to appeal to people of all ages. He also said he would like to clean up the beach blocks to raise the value of housing.
Guardian campaigned for a second term by taking credit for stabilizing the city’s finances and more interest from investors on new projects coming to the city, such as South Jersey Gas and Stockton University’s city campus. Promises for another four years didn’t prove enough for an easy victory Tuesday night, though.
"Times change. We'll be moving on. The sun rises tomorrow, and I'll be getting up with the sun," he said.
Also on the ballot for mayor were Joseph Polillo, running as an Independent, and Henry “Hank” Green, running as a Green Party candidate. According to unofficial Atlantic County Clerk's Office results, Polillo had about 133 votes at the polls and Green had 107.
The preliminary results also showed a victory for Democratic incumbent council-at-large candidates George Tibbitt and Moisse “Mo” Delgado. The third at-large seat was won by Jeffree Fauntleroy II.
Delgado won a council seat in 2009 and was re-elected in 2013, and Tibbitt was first elected to Council in 2005, and was re-elected twice in 2009 and 2013. This will be Fauntleroy’s first term in office.
Fauntleroy celebrated tearfully with his mother by his side Tuesday night.
The three Democratic council-at-large council candidates defeated Guardian’s team of Republicans, who included Ron Bailey, Paul Tonacci and Stacey Kammerman, the only woman running for a seat in Atlantic City. They also defeated Tom Forkin, a former city solicitor who ran for council-at-large as an Independent.
Throughout the campaign, Gilliam and Guardian both clashed views and opinions of one another, using attack methods in debates or public forums on policy, what they have done with their time in office and what one another sees in the future of the resort.
The week before the election brought up further drama, with allegations by the Guardian campaign that former Atlantic City Councilman Craig Callaway was paying messengers to obtain ballots filled out for Democrats, including Gilliam.
The Guardian campaign hired private detectives, requested investigations and took legal action in attempts to get permission to challenge the ballots before they were counted.
Judge Julio Mendez ruled Monday that state law does not allow for the review of ballots before the election, and Guardian's attorney asked Tuesday for the preservation of all election materials, including documents and electronically stored information pending further litigation.
Guardian said Tuesday night said the election was "done" and "finished" and he will accept the results.
The election also falls right around the first year's completion of a state takeover, as well as the election for a new governor.
Gubernatorial Democratic candidate Phil Murphy was elected governor against Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Murphy has said he would end the state takeover of the city and instead work together with city officials as partners.
Gilliam said he's looking forward to having a "prosperous" relationship with the governor.
"This is going to be a true partnership," he said.
Staff Writer Lauren Carroll contributed to this report.