Rob Long, the deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, will assume the role of overseer for Atlantic City next month. The current overseer, Timothy Cunningham, has announced that he will depart for the private sector in mid-August 2018.
Officially, Cunningham is the director of the Division of Local Government Services. However, that title effectively puts him in charge of the state’s management of Atlantic City.
Long’s role will be a combined position. He will execute the duties of both Cunningham and Jeffrey Chiesa, the former overseer.
Gov. Phil Murphy removed Chiesa from his position in spring 2018. Long stated that he plans not to implement change so much as ensure that city government continues its progress.
His goal will be the ultimate transfer of state control back into the hands of local government. He will also sit on the board of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which oversees how state funds go to public and private redevelopment projects around New Jersey.
Overseer Cunningham leaving the public eye
Under Cunningham, Atlantic City has made great financial progress. Since his appointment in 2016, the city has released two budgets that lowered the tax burden on citizens.
However, the pressure of the position wore on Cunningham. He voiced his desire to vacate the position in December 2017.
At the time, he believed that his departure could come as early as June 2018:
“It took a little bit longer,” he said. “But I have a wonderful relationship with the lieutenant governor and I’m leaving for no other reason than personal circumstances.”
Cunningham will take a role with New Jersey law firm Archer & Greiner. He previously worked with Trenton-based firm GluckWalrath.
There may be an end in sight for the takeover
The state’s takeover of Atlantic City’s government has been contentious since it was first discussed. Since then-Gov. Chris Christie passed the Municipal Recovery and Stabilization Act in 2016, the city’s elected officials have found themselves hamstrung by people from Trenton.
Unfortunately, the state had little choice. The city carried $500 million in debt and projected another $100 million in deficits for the year’s budget.
However, the city had been slapped with a three-year sequence of five casino closures. Nothing was working.
Now, three of those casinos have reopened as new properties. Two of them, Ocean Resort and Hard Rock Atlantic City, opened to great fanfare last month, and the third, Showboat, came back to life as a non-gaming hotel.
New Jersey is also enjoying an injection of revenue and excitement because of sports betting. The state’s triumphant US Supreme Court win and subsequent legalization have got the nation talking about and, more importantly, visiting the Garden State again.
Since Murphy’s election, there have been rumbles that ending the takeover might be on his agenda. With so much good news in America’s Playground, there may be a reason to hope.