Vote to Change Atlantic City Government Postponed, Referendum Backed by Casino Power Players

Posted on: March 20, 2020, 02:15h. 

Last updated on: March 19, 2020, 06:12h.

The Atlantic City government referendum vote that, if passed, would change how the town administers itself, is being postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Atlantic City government vote election
The Atlantic City Boardwalk is a ghost town during the statewide closure on non-essential businesses. (Image: Lori Nichola/NJ Advanced Media)

The special election was slated for March 31. But with the state on lockdown, the referendum vote is being postponed six weeks to May 12. However, no polling stations will be open on that date, as only vote-by-mail ballots will be accepted.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed Executive Order No. 105 yesterday, which cancels the planned March 31 special election. It follows a March 16 order from the governor that forced Atlantic City casinos to close indefinitely.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold, we must take aggressive and swift action to help mitigate further spread and flatten the curve,” Murphy stated.

The governor continued, “My top priority is to keep New Jerseyans healthy and safe during this pandemic, and these new measures will ensure that all New Jersey voters are able to safely exercise their right to vote and be engaged in our democracy.”

New Jersey has 742 confirmed coronavirus cases. Atlantic County has three positive test results.

Casinos Back Changes

A committee called Atlantic City Residents for Good Government successfully forced a special election by acquiring and submitting the necessary signatures to the City Clerk.

The referendum question asks city residents whether they want to replace Atlantic City’s current government led by an elected mayor and nine-member City Council with a smaller five-member council that would appoint a city manager.

The campaign is backed by Resorts Casino Hotel owner Morris Bailey, and has the support of Unite Here Local 54, the casino union that represents some 10,000 workers in town.

The committee says FBI data reveals Atlantic City is ranked the 12th-most dangerous city in New Jersey. “This year, taxes increased an average of 57 percent ($637) on a home valued at $150,000, and four out of the last eight mayors have been indicted while in office,” the Atlantic City Residents for Good Government argues.

Former one-term Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian (R), who is now the business administrator for Toms River, recently endorsed the referendum.

“Atlantic City has a lot of big city issues, and you can’t keep trying to run it as a small Jersey Shore town,” Guardian said. “The best way is to find someone with the experience and the administrative background that really knows how to run a municipality.”

One Change Made

Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen says the town is in worse shape today than in 2017, when his company purchased the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal for $50 million and invested $562 million to turn the Boardwalk resort into Hard Rock Atlantic City.

The executive hasn’t officially backed the change of government push, but recently lambasted local officials for not even being able to change light bulbs in street lights that have been out for months.

That’s about to change. This week, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the city announced it’s executing a citywide streetlight repair project, with allocated funds not to exceed $500,000.