Atlantic City storm gathers, and it’s no nor’easter | Editorial

Frank Gilliam, as mayor of the casino city, is not doing anything to help its image.

If there are some vacant billboards around Atlantic City, former mayor Don Guardian should lease them, plaster his photograph on them, and add the question “Miss me yet?”

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If casino city residents and A.C. movers and shakers who live elsewhere in South Jersey weren’t nervous when current Mayor Frank Gilliam got into a fist fight outside the Golden Nugget last month, confirmation that the FBI raided Gilliam’s house Monday morning ought to make them queasy. City voters who ousted Guardian after one term, in favor of Gilliam, might soon regret their choice.




The FBI offered no reason for executing its search warrant Monday, so it’s premature to conclude that criminal charges against the mayor will follow. Prosecutors declined to file charges against Gilliam and Atlantic City Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy after the Nov. 11 Golden Nugget fracas, in which Fauntleroy was also involved.

Nonetheless, Gilliam’s 11 months in office threaten to damage a city that must do all it can to inspire faith from Wall Street bond rating houses, private investors and guests worried about public safety that things are OK.

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Financial sloppiness led the state to take over Atlantic City’s budget 2016, in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. A.C. also been has been fighting a bipartisan reputation of public corruption dating back a century to Enoch “Nucky” Johnson’s time as Republican political boss and Atlantic County sheriff. 

The city committee for Gilliam’s own party, the Democrats, wanted Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver to suspend Gilliam and Fauntleroy from their posts without pay after last month’s fight was disclosed. How’s that for a vote of confidence? (Oliver, who also serves as state director of community affairs, declined to sideline the pair.

The point is that recent headlines about Gilliam and his administration could bring back worst-case stereotypes about Atlantic City, at time when the countervailing forces of casino reopenings and office building ribbon-cuttings are starting to win the day.

Say what you will about Guardian’s strange push-back against the state financial takeover even as the city continued to make loopy, unsustainable fiscal decisions. The guy presented the image of being in charge of a place that was moving forward.

Oddly, most Atlantic City voters who picked Gilliam over Guardian in 2017 would likely say they did so because Guardian was too compliant with state takeover demands, once it was clear that his rants (“facist dictatorship,” etc.) would not help him obtain a bailout on the city’s own terms. Ironically, the new questions surrounding Gilliam and his administration will probably lengthen the time that Trenton keeps its heavy hand on Atlantic City. A few months ago, Oliver and Gov. Phil Murphy appeared ready to ease up. They’ve got to think that doing so now, before all the new dust settles, would be irresponsible.

Ex-mayor Guardian has settled into his new $175,000 job as Toms River Township’s business administrator. He’s probably not looking back. But Gilliam, his appointees and the city council could use a large dose of the enthusiasm that Guardian projected when he was Atlantic City’s mayor.

If there’s smoke, but no fire, where FBI agents tread, and the trading of body blows is no big deal, these are just distractions that city officials should not allow to overwhelm the positive momentum that was Atlantic City’s dominant story in 2018. 

On the other hand, if the storm clouds are genuine, the city again needs new leadership that can prove to all that it can stay out of trouble while trying to turn the corner as a recreational destination and a stable place to live and work.

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This article was originally published by Nj.com. Read the original article here.

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