Championed by a labor leader and casino money and put down by a bipartisan group of City Hall denizens and their allies and leaders from both parties and two factions of Democrats, the referendum vote for a change of government perished tonight in Atlantic City.
The unofficial vote tally was 3,275 “no” to 985 “yes”, with 1,800 votes still to count by Friday, Election Night results sufficient to kill – and bury – a challenge to the mayor and council form of government in the seaside gambling mecca.
“This feels great,” said Mayor Marty Small. “It’s a relief. For a year we had this hanging over our heads. Ray
Lesniak came into town and acted like he owned it, and it all came crashing down.
“They don’t even have a thousand votes,” the mayor added. “The people of Atlantic City have spoken.”
“Four to one. I knew it was doomed,” added Craig Callaway, local Democratic leader, minder of the rival party faction, who teamed up with the mayor to defeat the change of government question, but now stands on the opposite side of a local mayoral fight in the Democratic Primary rescheduled for July 7th.
Callaway backs Pamela Thomas-Fields, who’s running against Small.
For the moment, they enjoyed their mutual euphoria, while the forces of Bob McDevitt, who spearheaded the “yes” movement for a change of government, and former state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) conceded defeat.
“I guess the machine was stronger there than we thought,” Lesniak told InsiderNJ.
Unite Here! Local 54 boss McDevitt was on the ground throughout the referendum fight, having harvested the petition signatures to score the special election, and even serving as a Monday night magnet for those combined “No” vote caravan forces dedicated to seeing him defeated.
“After the first night of counting the ballots it is clear that the referendum to
change the government structure in Atlantic City will be defeated by a wide margin even though counting continues,” McDevitt said in a statement.
We congratulate the opposition to the question and thereby concede defeat. The citizens of Atlantic City have spoken and the Atlantic City Residents for Good Government respect their choice. There are many challenges ahead for Atlantic City as we begin to reopen business on the heels of the devastating pandemic. We wish the elected officials well in their struggles ahead and offer a heartfelt thanks to all our supporters who worked so tirelessly on behalf of our cause. The people have rejected change and we accept without qualification their decision.”
Ward 6 Councilman Jesse Kurtz, a Republican who joined the caravan in the streets on Monday and
campaigned against the change of government alongside his Democratic rivals in his long-struggling hometown, celebrated the win with his counterparts in the other party.
“I am grateful to the people of Atlantic City for standing strong against Big Casino and out-of-town interests,” said the councilman. “There were countless people who worked together in a coalition as diverse as the neighborhoods represented by our ward system of government. The crushing defeat of this hostile takeover attempt of local government should serve as a warning to anyone else who might seek to disenfranchise the rights of our residents.”