Frank Gilliam only narrowly won the Atlantic City Democratic mayoral primary, but he pulled in three dollars for every one dollar given to his opponent, and most of that money came from outside of Atlantic County.
Gilliam’s astonishing cash pile – a little over $107,000 in June, according to state filings – turned out to be crucial in helping him win an election just on mail-in ballots, where financial wherewithal made a difference reaching voters from a distance. (The result was confirmed after an appeal by losing candidate Marty Small).
Coming from a city that makes a habit of flirting with bankruptcy and where more than one third of the population lives below the poverty line, it is not surprising that both candidates reached outside of Atlantic City for financial support. What is more surprising, however, is that most of Gilliam’s biggest contributors came from outside of Atlantic County. In fact, the biggest non-union contributor to Gilliam’s primary race was the Cumberland County Democratic Organization.
The June primary was emblematic of a wider political battle between outsiders and locals that has long played out in Atlantic City but which has been felt more acutely since the state took over the city’s government in November. Small was the locals’ candidate, who fought the takeover and who went from door-to-door to win his votes. Gilliam, who said he would work with the authors of the takeover, told us he knew the fight against Small would be tough, for that reason. “Marty is a 15-year seasoned politician…I didn’t take Marty or any competitor lightly,” Gilliam said in an interview. Small, who did not receive any financial support from county Democratic groups, did not respond to a message requesting comment.
Gilliam has been connected often to South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross and State Senator Steve Sweeney (also backed by the Cumberland County Democratic Organization). Many expected the Norcross/Sweeney influence to make itself felt in this year’s mayoral race (InsiderNJ had some predictive insight into this battle in April) but the extent of the financial support for Gilliam reveals there is a lot at stake. Gilliam raised more for his primary than current Mayor Don Guardian raised for his general election campaign in 2013. (Gilliam will challenge Guardian’s bid for reelection in November).
The two biggest contributors to Gilliam’s primary campaign were the New Jersey bricklayers’ union and the ironworkers’ union (local 399). Both forked out $8,200 on a primary (not a small amount for either of them) and both have a vested interest in the state-sponsored takeover. Two major construction projects in Atlantic City – Stockton University’s new campus and the Hard Rock Casino – are being built with union labor, and with financial support from the state. Some of that financial support comes via the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The director of the bricklayers union, Richard Tolson, is already on the CRDA board. The director of the iron workers union, Richard Sweeney, is Steve Sweeney’s brother.
Gilliam said it was not significant that he received financial backing from groups tied to Sweeney and Norcross. “Do I know George Norcross? No I do not. Have I met the individual? Maybe one time in passing,” he said, adding, “My job as the leader of Atlantic City is not to ostracize any particular person that may have interests or may want to do something in AC.”
Gilliam said he knows Sweeney and has a relationship with him, and this is a positive thing for Atlantic City. “South Jersey needs to bond together a lot more to make sure that the southern part of the state isn’t left out,” he said.
The filings show Gilliam spent almost $80,000 on his primary campaign, mostly on $100 get-out-the-vote payouts to Atlantic City residents. The money spent equates to about $36.45 per vote (just shy of 4,000 people in total voted, Gilliam received 2,147 votes). The left over funds were diverted to his general election campaign fund, according to the filings.
One way of looking at the campaign records, as Gilliam suggested, is as a testament to the interest in Atlantic City from outside of the immediate area. “Atlantic City is making certain strides in the right direction,” he said, adding, “A lot more people are bullish.”
Gilliam also said his ability to raise a lot of money for his campaign shows how he can use his relationships for the good of the city. But when questioned about some of the individual contributions – for instance, from the New York-based Chief Financial Officer of SoulCycle – Gilliam said he didn’t know all of them personally, or their interest in his campaign. “Some was from fundraisers,” he said.
You can download a detailed electronic database of Gilliam’s primary election campaign finance contributions here. Proceeds from the sale of the data go to support Route 40’s reporting costs.