On January 1, Atlantic City will be gaining a new mayor and it will be an openly gay Republican! Mayor-elect Don Guardian is creating hope for the first time in the very troubled city. People have such faith in him he was endorsed by both Republican Governor Christie and Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney over two term incumbent Demcratic Mayor Lorenzo Langford
The Wall Street Journal reports:
He rides a bike instead of driving a car through the city; he is an openly gay Republican; he has strong opinions about street cleanliness and trash cans.
Don Guardian is the newly elected mayor of this economically challenged city. And while the colorful 60-year-old resident has worked for years to improve the look of the gambling district, he is acutely aware that Atlantic City's days solely as a casino destination are over.
"We are a one basket town. We put all of our hopes in just casinos," said Mr. Guardian. "That's never a wise move."
New Jersey is more than half way through an effort to try to turn around the gambling center, where casinos provide millions of tax dollars a year to the city and the state. It is an uphill climb: Revenue from the 12 casinos has declined in each of the past six years.
Mr. Guardian, director of the city's special improvement district in the area that includes the casinos, is the first Republican elected to lead Atlantic City since 1984.
New Jersey legalized Atlantic City gambling in 1976, and the city was the region's casino destination for decades. In 2006, the casinos hit their peak annual revenue of more than $5 billion, but revenue has declined since competitors opened in Pennsylvania and New York. Atlantic City's population also has fallen, and unemployment and poverty rates in the city are well above the state's average.
Last week, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Atlantic City's $219 million in debt to just above junk status. The ratings firm cited the declines in gambling revenue and a wave of property tax appeals from the casinos. About 70% of the city's $16 billion tax base comes from the gambling industry, making the city's $245 million budget vulnerable to downturns in the industry, Moody's wrote.
Mr. Guardian, a native of Bergen County in northern New Jersey, ran a grass-roots campaign without significant party backing. A first-time candidate, he said he knocked on 3,000 doors and held cookouts at residential towers to introduce himself to voters.
Mr. Guardian made inroads with the city's many ethnic groups, some who had felt ignored politically, said Daniel Douglas, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
"It was mostly hard work and innovations in reaching out to folks," Mr. Douglas said about Mr. Guardian.
The race was close, and Mr. Langford challenged the results after initially conceding. Mr. Guardian was certified the winner last week. Of the 7,497 ballots cast, Mr. Guardian received 3,929 votes and Mr. Langford received 3,568, according to records from the county clerk.
Mr. Guardian said he is hoping to start small in leading the city, for example, by improving the city's security and cleanliness with technology that will allow inspectors to use mobile devices to report problems. He wants to tap a $3 million grant from a state authority to add more security cameras and to integrate existing private ones to allow police to use them.
Mr. Guardian said he would conduct a national search to replace employees he deems ineffective. He said he intends to reduce the size of the workforce by 100 through attrition and retirements to help with the budget.
In the long run, Mr. Guardian said he would use aggressive marketing to bring more conventions to fill empty hotel rooms during the week.
He also hopes to create an R&B museum, revive an entertainment district and attract a college branch through a partnership with Stockton College. He plans to meet with the college's president in the coming weeks.