Atlantic City residents are hopeful that New Jersey’s next governor has a plan for the city that will involve more listening to local residents – and an end to the state takeover.
Residents who took part in a dinner conversation about the state’s gubernatorial race before the election said they wanted to see the next governor end the state takeover of Atlantic City government that was enacted a year ago by Gov. Chris Christie. Speaking after the election was won by the Democratic candidate Phil Murphy (who has committed to ending takeover) the same residents were cautiously optimistic the state control would come to an end. They are waiting to hear what the new governor is planning for the city – and hoping Murphy might listen more closely and spend more time in the city.
“Just like everyone…I’m waiting to see what Phil Murphy and Sheila Oliver have planned for Atlantic City,” said Bungalow Park resident Frank Becktel, who took part in the Voting Block political potluck discussion ahead of the election. “Whatever the plan is, I️ hope there is some follow through. That would be a nice change of pace around here.”
The Voting Block participants – almost all of whom were from the Bungalow Park neighborhood – slammed Christie for the takeover, angered by the millions spent by the state on external lawyers to run the city and the disenfranchisement of individual taxpayers.
Mary Ann Hardiman, another Bungalow Park resident who took part in the conversation before the election, said she is hoping that Murphy will listen to local residents’ concerns about safety and that he will “really get serious with the homeless and drug users in the city.” Along with others in the neighborhood, she said she wants him to “make the casinos more responsible for the upkeep of the city, not just the tax-paying citizens.”
Gov. Christie’s administration backed emergency legislation to stave off a debt default by Atlantic City, which led to a deal with the city’s largest taxpayers (the casinos) that locked in their tax rates to reduce future tax appeals. With large swathes of land owned by the state, or used for affordable housing, homeowners are angry that the state’s bailout left them bearing more of the tax burden. “Lower my taxes!” was a request echoed by multiple Bungalow Park residents.
Geoff Rosenberger, who lives in Atlantic City’s First Ward, said he expects better communications between the new governor and Atlantic City. “I personally believe the governor’s office will be more open to communicating about the economic value of Atlantic City and her people as a link in the entire county… They will be more open to communicating with city and county, and not use the opportunity to play one against the other.”
Rosenberger noted that there are more people – outside of politics – who are trying to have their voices heard in Atlantic City. One of the consequences of the takeover has been a coming together of local citizens to fight a state-backed effort to make money by selling or spinning off the city’s water authority. Several residents said they hope that people continue to be more engaged in local government.
The widespread Democratic victories in the November elections were not a sweeping endorsement of that party, said Rosenberger, but part of “the ongoing repudiation of the things we don’t like about existing politics and politicians.”
“It’s increasingly clear it’s time to put partisan politics aside,” he added.
This story is part of the Voting Block series and was produced in collaboration with The Record, NJ Spotlight, WHYY, WNYC, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Cooperative Media and New America Media. To read all the stories in this series, visit VotingBlockNJ.com. You can read Route 40’s Voting Block series and access podcasts of the dinner conversations here.