Atlantic City takeover proposal rattles local leadersListen
New Jersey lawmakers introduced a bill, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, that would give the state power over Atlantic City’s government — including the right to sell city-owned assets of water and sewer facilities.
When New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney announced this week that he would propose a state takeover of Atlantic City, local leaders objected.
“Don’t come in here with a hostile takeover, a plantation mentality,” said Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey at a Wednesday morning press conference.
“It takes our sovereign right to govern our own city away,” said Atlantic City Council President Marty Small.
Wednesday night, Sweeney made good on his promise. Lawmakers introduced a bill, sponsored by Sweeney, that would give the state power over Atlantic City’s government, including the right to sell city-owned assets including water, sewer, wastewater, and stormwater facilities.
Sweeney wants the city save money by selling off the Bader Field airport site as well as its water company, a move several local politicians had specifically criticized.
At the Wednesday morning press conference, Atlantic City Council members and Mayor Don Guardian seemed more surprised than anything else that politicians in Trenton, who had been working with local officials to try to solve Atlantic City’s budgetary problems, would suddenly suggest a complete municipal takeover without warning.
“We’re dumbfounded,” said Guardian, “of why the wonderful support we’ve received from the Senate and Assembly isn’t continuing. We thought we had good working relations.”
Sweeney floated the takeover proposal hours after Gov. Chris Christie — flanked by Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto — announced a plan to expand casino gambling into North Jersey and kick some gambling revenue back to Atlantic City.
Throughout the day on Wednesday, word of a potential state takeover of Atlantic City invited comparisons to Camden, which was stripped of much of its authority by the state in 2002.
“We’re not the Camden of 10 years ago,” said Guardian, imploring leaders in Trenton to work with Atlantic City instead of around it. “We’re sitting at the table to negotiate.”
Howard Gillette, professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University, said many people look back on the Camden takeover as a mixed bag.
“The situation didn’t turn around radically, in part because of the recession,” said Gillette. “At the same time, parts of the legislation … remain the kind of foundation for the city’s recovery, and that is money that were invested in the educational and medical institutions in the city.”
Guardian said it is too early to say whether Atlantic City would fight a state takeover in court.
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