Upon Further Review…

While conceding Atlantic City’s government is broken, Casino Connection publisher Roger Gros sees more danger in the change of government referendum to be contested on March 31.

When I posted my first impression of the effort to change the form of government in Atlantic City several weeks ago, I was undecided. Clearly the current government in Atlantic City is inept, corrupt and ineffective and could stand to be tinkered with to hopefully eliminate some of those problems.

And if this current effort to change the form of government wasn’t fatally flawed—we’ll get to that in a moment—I probably could see myself voting for it.

After all, I respect some of the people pushing and supporting the effort. Morris Bailey owns Resorts casino and has been the savior of that storied property, Atlantic City’s first casino. His interest in Atlantic City is of course business related. He wants to invest more in AC but wants to be assured that his investment won’t be fruitless because of the negativity of city government. If AC were cleaner and safer, more people would visit. Ditto for the CEO of the property, Mark Giannantonio. He’s been in AC for many years and knows full well the hardships his customers overcome to visit Resorts.

Former state Senator Ray Lesniak is also an AC vet, even if he hails from North Jersey. Lesniak was a good friend of the late senator and former AC mayor, Jim Whelan. They worked together on many pieces of legislation and efforts to aid AC. And the crowning achievement of his career was to legalize sports betting in the U.S. by challenging—initially by himself—the piece of federal law that prevented sports betting from being legalized nationwide. The success of that effort should be credited to him more so than former Governor Chris Christie.

And the recent support of former Mayor Don Guardian would give me pause when thinking about voting no. Guardian did his best for AC during his one term, although he was totally handcuffed by the state takeover. What convinced him to support the change of government is still a mystery to me, but I respect him for it.

Now we come to the “fatal flaws.”

For me, the first flaw, although not the most serious, is the participation of Local 54 President Bob McDevitt. Now as leader of the union, you would expect that he’d advocate for his members, which he does. But as a resident of Atlantic City, you’d think he’d weigh the good of the city as well, which he does not.

McDevitt almost singlehandedly shut down Revel. He wanted the casino to force the independent restaurants within the walls of Revel to hire only Local 54 members. Then-Revel president, Kevin DeSanctis, told me at the time he was willing to allow Revel employees to decide whether they wanted to be represented by 54, but when it came to independent businesses who were already paying Revel to be able to operate in the property, he drew the line. He said he didn’t have the right to insist on union membership of their employees.

But Local 54 only represents a fraction of the workers at Revel or any other casino for that matter. McDevitt’s hard line with Revel officials impacted every employee not just Local 54 members, so he was only interested in his power, not the good of the city or any other employees.

While McDevitt represents his members well, it’s apparently not every member. Whenever his leadership is challenged in a union election, he uses pressure and threats to keep his voters in line and then ostracizes those who dare to challenge his authority. His tactics are underhanded and strong-armed, and emblematic of someone who can’t make a good argument for remaining in office.

Not someone I want remotely close to running our city.

The second flaw is the most serious, in my estimation. This change removes the ability of citizens to petition the government if they don’t like what’s going on. That is patently anti-American. It goes against everything representative democracy stands for and for that reason alone, I’m voting against this measure.

The other flaws are not so fatal. Eliminating council positions is a no brainer. For a city of 35,000 people to have nine councilmen and a mayor is overkill. I’d even be willing to talk about reverting to the commission form of government that I worked to change back in the early 1980s. Looking back now, it was no worse than the mess we’re in right now. And having a professional city manager who is responsive to elected officials isn’t such a bad idea either.

Opponents of the change say it would threaten the city-owned water authority and would maybe lead to a giveaway of Bader Field, the last huge plot of land still owned by the city. But they fail to worry about what happens to these assets with the current government in place, which has not shown to be very responsible in handling the city’s business. I would fear their involvement in a giveaway much more than the change of government supporters.

And sorry, I don’t buy the racial element to this. Atlantic City is a diverse community with many different ethnic groups, and we’re all in this together. What hurts one group hurts all groups. And the current city government doesn’t represent any group with any clarity or passion, which hurts everyone. I don’t think a changed government would do any different.

So while I’m going to vote “no,” I want to know what we can do to improve the way the city operates. Lots of diverse elements have united to oppose this change. If we vote it down, will these same elements unite to fix the problems we still have in the city? Voting “no” changes nothing and we need solutions, not more problems.

I’m voting “no” but I’ll be waiting to see who comes up with viable and effective ideas to improve the city. Because we can’t do this anymore. We’ve run out of time. Let’s fix this mess and make Atlantic City great again.