NJ extends Atlantic City takeover to 2021 and city is OK with that
The state’s takeover of local government in Atlantic City isn’t going to end soon and might extend through 2021, though local leaders say they’re happy with a new strategic plan released Thursday after months of consultation with people in the city.
As a candidate, Gov. Phil Murphy promised to end the state takeover of Atlantic City. But he says his team had a “pretty clear-eyed sense of what the challenges were” and had objected to state-dictated solutions – what he called a “bigfooting of this community.”
“That doesn’t mean that Atlantic City doesn’t need the state, that the state isn’t going to stay the course and be a partner,” Murphy said.
Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam says the new plan was a long time coming and thanked Murphy for sending special counsel Jim Johnson to the city to talk with locals about what’s needed.
“This report is only a roadmap. It will not – and I repeat, it will not work – unless we break the silos that have caused Atlantic City to reach such a low,” Gilliam said.
“We will not look at ourselves as a welfare case because we’re not. We will not look at ourselves as a dilapidated town because we’re not,” he said.
The 64-page report compiled by Johnson, who was a rival of Murphy’s in the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary, suggests a training program for municipal department heads, redirecting state funding to youth programs, a working group to tackle public health problems and a renewed focus on planning for growth beyond tourism.
“This report is an invitation to all of us: Come on in, the water’s fine,” Johnson said.
Johnson says the city’s economy needs to further diversify, noting the poverty rate in Atlantic City was 25 percent when casinos opened 40 years ago – and over 37 percent now.
“This moment of promise is also fragile,” Johnson said.
Murphy says he likes what he sees in the independent review he commissioned but that his administration is still reviewing the recommendations.
“We’re not going away,” Murphy said. “You heard a lot of words of optimism, and they’re genuine. But as they say in the NFL, that’s why you play the game. We’ve got to go out and execute this plan. It’s an extraordinary plan. We have to go out and execute it.”