It’s more than 100 days since the Great Atlantic City Takeover began, and Jeffrey Chiesa does not have an adequate nickname.
Officially, he is the “Designee of the Director of Local Government Services” but, you know, they create these strings of gobbledygook on purpose. So you won’t be able to talk about them. I’m proposing “Boardwalk Emperor” as an alternative.
The Boardwalk Emperor, Jeffrey Chiesa, has not been spotted publicly in Atlantic City since November, but we have a clearer picture of his majesty’s ambitions here, in our Queen of Resorts, courtesy of his attorney Ronald Israel who casually revealed some of the details before a Superior Court Judge on Tuesday.
Under something called the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act (see?), the Boardwalk Emperor has a wide-ranging mandate in Atlantic City. How wide? That was the question before Judge Julio Mendez, and Mr. Israel’s position was: very wide indeed. At times he seemed to be arguing that Jeffrey Chiesa could ceremonially disembowel Lucy the Elephant on the steps of the Taj Mahal at high noon if it would “assist” Atlantic City in its Stabilization and Recovery.
In fact, the Emperor wants only to cut the number of firefighters in the city by 44%. (!) He wants those firefighters who get to keep their jobs to work longer, more dangerous shifts. And he wants them to accept a 19% pay cut for the privilege.
The firefighters, unsurprisingly, want to stop this carnage and have turned to the courts to save them. But the Emperor must not be stopped, or even slowed down, by the firefighters and their inconvenient contracts. Because there are many other Line Items on the Imperial Agenda. This is just the beginning.
Or to quote directly from Mr. Israel, what he thinks the firefighters are really saying is, “Don’t come after us.”
Then Mr. Israel followed up with:
“Well, if we don’t come after them, then we can’t go after the police. We can’t go after the county.
“We can’t go after the county and the police, then who’s the next person that we can’t go after?
“It starts here.
“We have to be able to go after everybody.”
It’s possible Mr. Israel didn’t intend to advertise the Emperor’s plan of attack so candidly. It was mid-afternoon and he’d been arguing for 30 entire minutes. And making the case that firefighters are overpaid, and that a city that is littered with moldering high-rises should have fewer emergency personnel is exhausting.
Lawyers, I’m told, are professionally concerned with precedent. The precedent that would be affirmed here is that the Emperor can tear up a contract without even a friendly chat with the union that negotiated it. If they prove they can do that in Atlantic City with the Fire Department, it’s open season to “go after” the “county” the “police” and “everybody.”
Interpret that as you will.
If you’re a cop or a detective and you go to the next Imperial meeting, remember they are billing $350 per hour ($400 in the Emperor’s case) to lecture you on how overpaid you are.
The Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act was a piece of bipartisan legislation, meaning the big man in Trenton, Chris Christie, who is theoretically a Republican, has combined with the big man in Camden, George Norcross, who is theoretically a Democrat, to affect his Enormous Agenda somewhere in the Garden State. In Atlantic City, that agenda involves breaking the public employee unions. The governor’s people may be using the law to dissect the firefighters union. But Norcross’ people created the law in the first place.
“Public employee unions.”
That’s a euphemism for cops, firemen, schoolteachers, sanitation workers—people who provide the framework for our civil society. These are some of the last un-outsourceable jobs in America. Until the Robot Squad has been perfected, those jobs will have to be done by human beings who will have a modicum of political power that can be converted into a dignified salary, health insurance for their families and, god-forbid, a solvent retirement. Naturally, Governor Christie became a celebrity by attacking them.
But did the governor miss the memo? Our billionaire president is all about the working man. Labor is in. Infrastructure spending is the new norm. And Make America Work Again is the mantra. So why is the governor still busting a union?
One theory is he’s not. The legislative attack on the cops and firemen is a diversion from the real work of the government. Which is what? For that you’d need to look at the other partner in the bipartisan effort: Team Norcross. His constituents are hard at work all over Atlantic City.
So if you were a cop or firemen, what would you do? Clowns to the left of you, jokers to the right.
I know some turned to Trump, since he’s neither a Conservative Republican nor an Evil Liberal, and a billionaire fabulist might just do the trick. Ironically, they might be right. If Trump can coax Christie to Washington, the bipartisan fiesta might be put on hold. Mr. Israel says “many” politicians are calling for the fire department to be dissolved, but right now none of them seem to be running for governor.
That could change.
So, as goes Atlantic City, so too the rest of our republic: A broke society with more billionaires than ever, pits one half of the working class against the other.