Could Detroit’s emergency manager be a model for Atlantic City?

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Atlantic City is in a bona fide financial mess, as its tax base shrinks while taxes soar. The city’s longstanding casinos are closing at a steady clip, and many residents are fleeing the area for better jobs and more stability.

On the advice of a special panel, the administration of Gov. Chris Christie is considering turning over the reins of America’s playground to an emergency manager, who would presumably have nearly total control of Atlantic City’s finances.

Has this strategy actually worked in the past?

We put that question to WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter, who has been covering Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

“He was able to take troubled finances and turn them into a posture where the city may actually be on a decent financial footing at the moment,” Klinefelter said.

Orr assumed control of the beleaguered city’s finances last year. He made the case for his position by saying that something — anything — had to be done.

“Does anybody think it’s OK to have 40-year-old trees growing through the roofs of dilapidated houses,” Orr asked. “Does anybody think our children should walk through the dark streets home from school at night in October?”

But even though Orr may have been able to turn around Detroit’s finances, the installation of an emergency manager smacked of a government takeover to some residents.

“You don’t have the right to take our city from us. I’m so tired of being in war mode,” said activist Sandra Hines. “They have literally declared war on us. And we are assembling our troops to fight you back.”

By appointing Orr, Klinefelter said, the city took on a mix of the good and the bad. “It’s a look in the mirror, but at the same time it’s also kind of a slap in the face from an outsider.”

Klinefelter added that the similarities between the two cities — “the urban decay, the reliance on a particular industry” — means that Atlantic City could pretty easily adopt the model from Detroit.

If Atlantic City does go the way of Detroit and installs an emergency manager, the only sure thing is that it will be a gamble.

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