Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on his intentions to end the state’s management of Atlantic City. On Monday, he took another step toward making that goal a reality.
Murphy’s administration announced that it would be removing former Gov. Chris Christie‘s longtime ally Jeffrey Chiesa as head of the state takeover of the city. Control of the takeover will soon reside with Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
“I am happy about the steps taken by Gov. Murphy and Lt. Governor Oliver,” Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam said in a statement from his office as reported in the Press of Atlantic City. “Atlantic City’s rebirth is looking very bright.”
The review process and its recommendations
A review of the takeover began about a month after Murphy assumed office. He appointed his one-time gubernatorial rival, Jim Johnson, to review the takeover in the role of special counsel.
Monday’s announcement and recommendations came from that review.
Johnson worked alongside the attorney general to review current litigation and to provide the necessary recommendations to return Atlantic City to local control.
During the fall 2017 campaign for governor, Murphy and Johnson both made clear their intentions to end the takeover. Appointing Johnson to the role of special counsel was a clear signal that he was living up to his campaign promise.
Based on the recommendations from the review, the Murphy administration commits to:
- Reverting all government functions to the DCA
- Ending designee within 30 days
- Keeping some existing litigation with Chiesa, Shahinian and Giantomasi PC
- Assigning other litigation to the attorney general’s office or appropriate counsel
- Designating business development opportunities to various state agencies
“DCA will continue to play an active role in Atlantic City to build upon the significant gains the City and State have made over the last 18 months in stabilizing Atlantic City’s finances,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, commissioner of the DCA, in a statement from Gov. Murphy’s office.
What do the recommendations mean for Atlantic City?
It is hardly a surprise that Murphy took steps to replace Chiesa. This action is encouraging, but there is no indication of when Murphy intends on completely lifting the takeover.
The legislation states that control can last until 2021. As mentioned, Murphy campaigned on ending the takeover. Since taking office, he has been more ambiguous about his plans for the city, focusing more on partnerships and less on relinquishing control.
“The economic revitalization of Atlantic City is critical to advancing our overall state economy,” Murphy said in the statement. “The actions we are taking today will ensure we are working in full partnership with the city to ensure economic growth and empowerment for all Atlantic City residents.”
Oliver also focused on partnering with the city in her statement:
“This ongoing partnership between DCA’s knowledgeable local government experts and the City’s governing body and its professionals will keep Atlantic City moving in the right direction for its residents and businesses and the surrounding region,” she said.
Optimism is spreading in Atlantic City
When the takeover started, the city was in dire straits. Five casinos closed, property taxes dropped by $14 million, and the city’s debt ballooned to over $500 million.
Today, Atlantic City is growing. The former Trump Taj Mahal and Revel casinos are in new hands and are undergoing renovations. Hard Rock Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino will bring nearly 5,000 new jobs to The Boardwalk when they open this summer.
Additionally, the state created a budget with a municipal tax decrease for the first time in 10 years. The state also settled with Borgata casino on its tax appeal.
Council President Marty Small recognizes that the work to regaining control is ongoing. She applauded the administration’s steps in a statement, saying the recommendations from the review process show the administration’s confidence “in Atlantic City’s governing body.”
“We need to continue to work hard with the state on all business pertaining to the good people of Atlantic City,” Small said to the Press.
As Atlantic City heads into one of the most anticipated summers in quite awhile, you can bet on the city to continue to do what is necessary to bring control back where it belongs.