Atlantic City’s Controversial Effort to Eliminate Elected Mayor’s Post Gets Casino-Connected Donations

Posted on: December 1, 2019, 11:57h. 

Last updated on: December 2, 2019, 10:33h.

Morris Bailey, who owns Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel, has contributed more than $126,000 to a referendum effort that could reorganize the New Jersey seaside community’s city government, according to news reports. Unions are also supporting the cause.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small is among those rejecting the effort to replace an elected mayor with a city manager in the New Jersey community. (Image: Edward Lea/The Press of Atlantic City)

The referendum advocates a city manager and a smaller city council, as well as a mayor chosen from among the council members. That’s in place of the current elected mayor and larger city council. The referendum effort has faced charges of racism and comes as the former mayor resigned after pleading guilty to a federal charge.

Morris Bailey, who is also chairman of JEMB Realty Corp., gave a major donation to the Atlantic City Residents for Good Government political action committee (PAC), the Press of Atlantic City reported on Sunday. In total, the PAC has raised more than $150,000, according to data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Other supporters of the cause include: Resorts Casino Hotel CEO Mark Giannantonio, and various construction and gaming venue unions, the Press reported. The unions include those representing allied craft workers, building trades, casino employees, electrical workers, elevator construction workers, painters, pipefitters, and plumbers, the report said.

Several union officials who are also members of the Atlantic City Casino Reinvestment Development Authority executive board also made donations to the PAC. The PAC used the money for consultants, mailings, and organized efforts to get voters to support the cause.

The Press reported the Department of Community Affairs, a state oversight body, does not have to comply with referendum results. But referendum organizers remain hopeful.

Atlantic City Petition Effort Appears Successful

One key supporter of the referendum, Unite Here Local 54 President Bob McDevitt, says the PAC already has enough signatures to hold a referendum. The effort requires at least 2,472 signatures, and the petition should be given to city officials in the “coming weeks,” media reports said.

“The only people that are (against this) are those who are part of the cartel,” McDevitt told the Press.

“I believe we should have less people running a government. I think it’s more efficient and it makes sense for a community this size,” McDevitt further told NJTV.

“No major city that has the kind of hospitality industry that we have has a main drag with the kind of undesirables and buildings that should be torn down.”

Racism Charged

But NJTV reported some Atlantic City politicians see the referendum effort as a move with racial overtones.

“It is at the height of arrogance and represents deep-seated racial bias and animus that makes us wonder which state are we living in: New Jersey or Alabama? The move reflects a mindset that believes African Americans and other races can’t govern and don’t have the backbone or the courage to fight,” Atlantic City’s then-City Council President Marty Small — who has since become mayor — was quoted by NJTV in June.

McDevitt and others involved with the PAC reject the racism allegations. “I find it personally insulting that anyone who steps up to question what kind of government we have is insulted by being called a racist,” McDevitt told NJTV.

“I’ve raised five children in this city. I’ve lived here since 1995. If I was a racist, I wouldn’t live here.”

In June, Atlantic City City Council councilman at-large George Tibbitt warned, “Don’t sign that petition.”

It’s a scam,” Tibbitt told NJTV about the petition effort. “And even if they pass it, we’re going to give them a good, old-fashioned butt-whooping.”

In October, former Mayor Frank Gilliam resigned the post after pleading guilty to wire fraud. He allegedly stole $87,000 from a youth basketball program he founded.

The effort comes as a study released last month conducted for the state of New Jersey by professors at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy confirmed concerns held by some operators that Atlantic City is oversaturated and cannot sustain its current level of nine gaming properties.

Also, last month Marty Small said it is “unacceptable” that Atlantic City does not get a direct cut of the tax revenue generated by legal sports betting.