It's (seemingly always) election time in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Elections this year in this seaside gambling resort have seemed like spins of the roulette wheel: There's always another one coming right up.

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When voters cast ballots for a mayor to lead Atlantic City for the next year, it will be the third time so far this year that they have been asked to vote.

First it was a referendum on doing away with a directly elected mayor, which failed. Then came the spring primaries and finally, the general election.

But the next mayor will only serve for a year, and there will be at least two more elections next year before someone can truly settle into the mayor's chair at City Hall.

“By this time next year, I will have had the unenviable distinction of having to win five elections in 18 months,” said the incumbent Marty Small, a Democrat.

Small, a longtime City Councilman, became mayor a year ago when his Democratic predecessor, Frank Gilliam, pleaded guilty to stealing $87,000 from a youth basketball program he had founded. Due at least in part to the coronavirus outbreak, Gilliam still has not been sentenced and remains at home.

“We had to deal with an FBI investigation that took down my predecessor, a pandemic, protests, and fighting off a change of government, not to mention the day-to-day challenges of running a city,” Small said. “I stepped in and restored order.”

He cited a municipal tax decrease, the beginning of demolition work on the former Trump Plaza casino building, which had been crumbling, and keeping the beach and Boardwalk open to attract tourists during the coronavirus pandemic as successes.

His Republican challenger, Tom Forkin, says there is much more to be done, starting with ending a state takeover of the city's main governmental functions. Launched nearly five years ago under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, the administration of current Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy recently said the state needs to retain control longer than the five-year period initially envisioned.

Forkin, who teaches financial literacy at a local technical school, says he would sue the state in federal court to end the takeover on the grounds that it violates the civil rights of residents, many of them people of color.

“The state takeover is a train wreck,” said Forkin, a former assistant city solicitor under former Democratic Mayor James Whelan. “The state is not our friend.”

Forkin also said a law capping property taxes for Atlantic City's nine casinos needs to be renegotiated in order to establish a minimum level of revenue the city will receive.

He also said Atlantic City needs to do a much better job cleaning itself up and improving public safety if it wants tourists to bring their money here.

The winner of the election will serve the remainder of Gilliam's unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31, 2021. Next year's general election will choose a mayor for a full four-year term.


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