In New Jersey, the administration of Republican governor Chris Christie has assumed complete control over fiscally distressed Atlantic City with the state now holding the power to take over key functions usually controlled by local leaders such as renegotiating union contracts, hiring and firing employees and selling community assets.
According to a report from the NJ Advance Media news outlet, Wednesday saw the city’s Local Finance Board approve a five-year takeover plan under the controversial Municipal Stabilization And Recovery Act by a vote of five-to-zero while Christie stated that the move represented the best way to keep the city from becoming the first New Jersey municipality since 1938 to go bankrupt.
Atlantic City is currently in debt to the tune of more than $500 million after seeing its tax base plummet thanks to the closure of five casinos since 2014. The seaside city of 39,000 people has now become the first municipality to be taken over by the state since Camden in 2002 with Timothy Cunningham, Division Of Local Government Services Director for the New Jersey Department Of Community Affairs, set to oversee the immediate takeover.
“This is definitely a sad day in the history of Atlantic City,” said Marty Small, President for Atlantic City Council.
The move followed months of arguments and uncertainty while 44-year-old Cunningham declared that he has still to decide whether he or a designee will oversee the day-to-day operations in the city.
“I’m still absorbing the magnitude of the responsibility that’s been leveled upon me today,” said Cunningham. “It’s an unbelievable responsibility, one I lost sleep over the last the couple of days heading into this and I’m sure I’m going to lose sleep tonight.”
Ralph Caputo, a Democratic member of the New Jersey General Assembly, explained that the move could put off gamblers from visiting the troubled city’s remaining casinos.
“Customers don’t like to go to a losing place,” said Caputo, a former Atlantic City casino executive and an opponent of the takeover. “It’s just the personality of the market. They go to places with an image of winning.”
Community activist Steve Young criticized the move by invoking Christie’s long-time involvement with President-Elect Donald Trump.
“This is an example of what this country could turn out to be under Chris Christie and President-Elect Donald Trump, taking away our rights and sovereignty,” said Young. “Who do we talk to as residents? What will government look like with the state of New Jersey overpowering the residents? We are headed for some bad times and your city could be next.”