State takeover, Trump win a double downer for Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY -- A state takeover of Atlantic City's decision-making power and assets the morning after Donald Trump won the presidential election has left residents of this teetering seaside gambling resort feeling doubly hopeless.
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration on Wednesday seized power over the city's assets and major decision-making authority, deciding the struggling seaside gambling resort is incapable of making the kinds of hard decisions needed to pay off its half-billion-dollar debt and restore financial stability.
Conversations Thursday with two dozen Atlantic City residents revealed a populace deeply depressed and despairing that anyone in power on the state or national level will listen to or care about them.
LeQuan Jones, an entertainment and sports promoter, encountered City Council President Marty Small outside a downtown store Thursday morning and lamented that this sort of personal interaction will be lost under state supervision.
"I don't know anyone in the state; I know Marty," he said. "I can talk to him. The state doesn't understand Atlantic City; we're just one big casino to them. They don't understand or respect the residents of the city and what we need and what we want."
Small said the takeover undid decades of progress in civil and voting rights for Atlantic City.
"This sets Atlantic City back 60 years," he said. "It's disappointing that the fights our forefathers fought for -- voting rights and sovereignty -- are the same fights we have to fight again now. We want the state to walk with us, not run us over."
The state takeover came after Christie's administration rejected a five-year austerity plan that Atlantic City had proposed. The state said the plan did not do enough to quickly repair the city's finances, which have cratered with the decline of its casino industry.
Under the takeover, the state can cancel decisions by the City Council, hire or fire workers, break union contracts and sell off city assets, including the former Bader Field airport property and the city's much-coveted water works.
"It's politics, and politics has become dirtier than the streets," said Lontrell Owens as he browsed the selection of hair care products that Richard Rodgers had set up on a card table on a downtown street.
"We need to have people in our own city that understand the city making decisions for the city," Rodgers said. Referring to nearly 40 years of casino taxes and redevelopment funds, he said, "The state has been taking money out of here for years; Atlantic City should be a rich town."
Numerous residents also volunteered that the election of Republican Donald Trump has added to their hopelessness. They fear Trump will ignore them -- and people like them across the country -- rather than taking a special interest in lifting up the city whose casino industry he helped build. About 80 percent of Atlantic City's votes for president were cast for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"Donald Trump is going to be the perfect puppet," said resident Yahsyn Ward. "He has no political knowledge or experience, which is the perfect situation for those who want to control him."
A Trump spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.
Abdullah Anderson, a downtown barber, said he's wary of anyone Christie would appoint to oversee Atlantic City, given the governor's appointments of officials recently convicted of orchestrating the politically motivated shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, creating four days of paralyzing traffic jams.
"How do we trust a guy appointed by Christie?" Anderson said. "Look at the type of people Christie appointed to the Port Authority, who gave us Bridgegate."
Christie is heading Trump's transition team, which is helping the president-elect pick a Cabinet and fill hundreds of appointee positions.
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