In front of about a hundred supporters and allies, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian kicked off his re-election today and announced his running mates in the courtyard outside of City Hall. Despite high winds that chilled an already low temperature, the crowd was fired up when Guardian took to the podium after being introduced by longtime neighbor and community activist Shelly Jefferson. Running with the slogan of “Rebuilding Atlantic City”, Guardian outlined the progress he believes Atlantic City has made during his tenure, despite the many challenges the city faces.
The political landscape in Atlantic City is dominated by the state takeover, and Governor Christie will likely be a central player as well the emergency manager he designated, former Attorney General Jeff Chiesa. The city’s fire
unions filed a lawsuit against the state last month, and the police union just filed a lawsuit today to block the state’s salary and benefit cutbacks, first reported by radio host Harry Hurley. “Too severe,” Guardian told Insider NJ, when asked what he thought of the state’s cutbacks. There’s a Guardian v. Christie dynamic (Atlantic City v. state) as much as Guardian v. whoever-wins-the-Dem-primary, which features Council members Marty Small and Frank Gilliam duking it out in June, in addition to Fareed Abdullah. “The real problem is the man in the Statehouse. But we’re going to survive with Don and his team,” Shelly Jefferson told Insider NJ. Guardian’s supporters and allies argue that mayor inherited a herculean task and came into office facing an uphill battle, and that Governor Christie had his sights set on taking over Atlantic City long before Guardian won his office against the partisan odds in 2013.
“They said a Republican could never be elected in Atlantic City. Well, never say never. When I first ran, I said I would only serve two terms and done. We need to continue our progress, we’re only halfway done,” Guardian said today. When he won in 2013, Guardian became the first Republican to win the AC mayor’s seat since 1990, and the first openly gay mayor ever in the city where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly ten-to-one. He overcame that party affiliation deficit to defeat sitting Mayor Lorenzo Langford (whose own predecessor, Bob Levy, resigned from office after disappearing for nearly two weeks). Langford at the time was hemorrhaging from the fallout out of his handling of Hurricane Sandy and became a target of a then-popular Governor Christie, who labeled him a failure. Guardian won in November by a thin margin of 50%-47%. At the time, Atlantic City was in crisis mode as local and state government sought to ameliorate the effects of the casino industry downturn (five have closed since then) and keep the city afloat.
At the podium today, Guardian said “we need to bring Atlantic City beyond the casinos.” The most recent casino closing was the Taj Mahal in September, which still bears the Trump name – or at least a few letters of it. Owner Carl
Icahn and Guardian beefed over the property; Icahn not wanting to take a loss on the sale and Guardian not wanting another vacant casino on the boardwalk. At one point, Icahn chided Guardian, saying he would sell it to the city for $300 million – the amount Icahn had lost. Earlier this month, an agreement was reached to sell the casino to Hard Rock International, a move Guardian is happy with and believes will help move the city in the right direction. Part of that includes retiring-Senator Jim Whelan’s successor in LD2, who Guardian hopes will be Chris Brown. That race changed yesterday when Assemblyman Mazzeo announced he would not pursue the Senate seat, opting to run for re-election to the Assembly, while Colin Bell goes for the top spot. “I’m with Chris Brown all the way, he will do a tremendous job,” Guardian told Insider NJ. Referring to the takeover vote in the Legislature, he said “there were only two South Jersey legislators who stood by Atlantic City: Chris Brown and Jeff Van Drew, in Cape May County.”
He announced his running mates. “Atlantic City is a diverse city and I wanted my ticket to reflect that,” said Guardian. “You may not know them
because they haven’t sought the spotlight and because they are new to politics, but they aren’t new to serving Atlantic City.” The candidates are: Paul Tonnacci, the co-owner of Atlantic City Bottle Company; Stacey Kammerman, CEO of Kammerman’s Marina (and the only female candidate running), and Ronald Bailey, a career EMT.
As the kick-off ended, Guardian thanked his staff, including Chief of Staff Chris Filiciello, his chiefs and directors, just about every ethnic community in Atlantic City, and his husband, Louis, before jetting to the WBGN radio headquarters for his interview segment “Ask The Mayor” with well-respected radio host Harry Hurley.
As the supporters dissipated in search of warmth, Shelley Jefferson, reflected on her longtime neighbor. “He’s always there for you. He’s been helping people long before he was mayor. His predecessors didn’t fight hard enough for Atlantic City. You have to be representing the community,” she told Insider NJ. “You know, he’s the only Atlantic City mayor who’s been invited to the White House. That’s never happened before. When President Obama signed the equal rights legislation, Mayor Guardian was there, even had him right there on stage.”
Before she departs for her car, she leans in closely and says, “a lot of people were surprised when Don won. Not me.”
A press conference is planned for tomorrow at City Hall on the police and fire cutbacks. The mayor will be there. Unlike Levy, Guardian has no plans to disappear. Whatever happens, he’s all in.
- Atlantic City
- Atlantic City GOP
- Bob Levy
- Chris Brown
- Chris Christie
- Colin Bell
- Don Guardian
- Fareed Abdullah
- Frank Gilliam
- Harry Hurley
- Jeff Chiesa
- Jeff Van Drew
- Jim Whelan
- Lorenzo Langford
- Marty Small
- Paul Tonnacci
- Ronald Bailey
- Shelley Jefferson
- Shelly Jefferson
- Stacey Kammerman
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