[toc]On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian conceded a contentious mayoral race to his opponent, Frank Gilliam, Jr. Angry residents ousted Guardian after a single term in office, which saw five casinos close and the state take over most of the city government’s functions.
The new mayor declared victory in his first attempt to capture the office. Gilliam, a Democrat, had been serving as an at-large councilman for the city since 2014.
The concession came less than two hours after voting closed in Atlantic City. Guardian acknowledged an overwhelming number of absentee ballots voting in favor of Gilliam as the driving force behind the loss.
Guardian has also alleged voter fraud with regard to the decisive absentee ballots. He has claimed many of these ballots belong to dead or former residents of the city, and are thus invalid.
For his part, Gilliam has denied any sort of shenanigans with ballots. Aside from a single ballot thrown out, neither the elections board nor the city prosecutor has stated any concerns about the process.
Incumbent mayor was probably doomed already
Regardless of claims of voter fraud, Guardian was probably in bad shape in this election from the start. The closure of five major New Jersey casinos and the state’s takeover of the city left a palpable tension in the city’s electorate.
Four of those properties – Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, Showboat Casino, Revel, and Trump Plaza – closed their doors in 2014. A fifth, Trump Taj Mahal, closed in September 2016.
The declining economy, growing budget shortfalls, and a monstrous public debt in excess of $500 million in the city drew the attention of state legislators. In May 2016, the state government issued the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act.
The law gave Atlantic City officials 150 days to present a plan to balance the city’s budget. In recent times, the city budget had featured deficits topping $100 million.
In failing to meet the state’s challenge, Guardian likely sealed his own fate. Three months later, the city presented a budget that relied heavily on the receipt of hundreds of millions in state aid.
The state rejected that budget and a subsequent one in November of last year. Thus, the state took over the fiscal and other major decision-making in the city.
The new mayor faces an uphill battle
As of today, Atlantic City remains under state control. City officials run day-to-day operations, but are largely out of the loop in terms of the city’s overall direction.
For residents, the takeover has been extremely unpopular. Gilliam largely rode into office on the promise of returning control to local authorities.
We shall see. For right now, taxes are lower, new casinos are appearing, and gambling revenues are up.
Gilliam must take care to act while things are looking better. Otherwise, Guardian won’t be the last one-term mayor in America’s Playground.
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