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GOMES GAMING | News | Press of Atlantic City - July 22, 2010

Christie's plan is a partnership, Mayor Lorenzo Langford says

Jeff Vasser of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford and Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small listen as Gov. Chris Christie reveals his plan for the city in Atlantic City’s Kennedy Plaza in front of Boardwalk Hall.

ATLANTIC CITY - Mayor Lorenzo Langford embraced Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed intervention in Atlantic City on Wednesday, saying he “didn’t perceive it as a takeover.”

Langford, who withheld reaction to the goveror’s plan before hearing him speak at Boardwalk Hall, said he interpreted Christie’s proposal as a partnership, not an attack on Atlantic City’s authority.

But the mayor did not hear Christie’s initial speech at the Meadowlands three and a half hours earlier, which featured a less conciliatory speech from the governor that was laden with criticisms of Atlantic City’s leadership.

“Atlantic City has had a historically corrupt, ineffective, inefficient government,” the governor said during his initial announcement in northern New Jersey, referring to long-term, wasteful spending by successive Atlantic City governments.

Once in Atlantic City, the governor dodged a question about his current level of confidence in Atlantic City’s government, saying, “My confidence is in the city itself. This is not a time to look back in the rearview mirror and assess blame.”

Christie’s announcement Wednesday could undercut some of Langford’s efforts to help revitalize Atlantic City, which were being organized by the mayor’s Strategic Planning Committee. The panel, assembled in November, consists of casino executives, business leaders and politicians focusing on everything from improving lighting on the Boardwalk to developing revenue-sharing formulas among casinos.

Some of the same proposed improvements and issues are outlined in Christie’s report.

“It would be one thing if the state was taking over the whole city, but this is only partial,” said Dennis Gomes, a former casino executive and committee member. “We can all continue to work together.”

Langford also did not see Christie’s initiative getting in the way of the committee, adding that he hopes to get representatives from the Governor’s Office to attend their frequent meetings — an invitation the governor has not previously accepted.

The mayor’s restrained reaction to the governor’s proposal was in contrast to what some expected Wednesday.

Former Mayor Scott Evans, who attended the governor’s speech, predicted Langford wouldn’t even show up.

“This is a historic day in Atlantic City,” he said. “It’s a shame it had to come to this.”

Evans insisted Christie’s intervention would never have happened if he were still mayor. However, the state made efforts to control aspects of Atlantic City while Evans served in the executive seat, too, including successful legislation that gave the state final approval rights on the potential sale of Bader Field, a former airport owned by the municipality.

Langford has been outspoken about potential state takeovers in the past, including calling state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, a “Benedict Arnold” after he proposed the Bader Field legislation.

The mayor’s lone criticism came when asked about the governor’s approach to unveiling his plan, which left most state and city officials in the dark. Langford said he didn’t feel he was given “proper notice” of the governor’s plan, the details of which he collected throughout Wednesday from various news reports while he awaited the arrival of the report.

“It could have been handled a little better,” he said. “But this is bigger than that.”
Assemblymen Vince Polistina and John Amodeo, both R-Atlantic, and Whelan attended Wednesday night’s City Council meeting to answer any questions the members had.

The three stressed that the governor was clear that the announcement focused on a partnership, not a takeover.

“There’s nothing in the report that talks about a takeover,” Whelan said. “It’s a partnership.”

Many on council said they were happy with the promise of cooperation from the statehouse.

But Councilman Moisse Delgado said he would have a problem if the area outside the Boardwalk and casino district is ignored. “It’s a doughnut hole,” he said. “It seems to be around the issues.”

Delgado said he welcomes any help for the city, “but if it doesn’t include the other areas we need help in, I’m going to be skeptical.”

Councilman Dennis Mason, a retired police officer, said he hoped that perhaps the addition of additional security in the casino tourism district would allow the current police force to double its efforts in those areas beyond the state’s focus.
“That would be a great relief,” he said.

“I think today was a great day for Atlantic City and the future,” Councilman Frank Gilliam said in calling for an open dialogue between the city and the state.

Staff writers Lynda Cohen and Juliet Fletcher contributed to this report.


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