Christie nukes Atlantic City mayor as fiscal impasse lingers

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie came to Atlantic City Wednesday, not to meet with its embattled mayor, but to denounce him as "a liar" who has "zero idea" what he's doing.

The governor used his harshest language yet to criticize Mayor Don Guardian, a fellow Republican, as the seaside gambling resort draws closer to going broke. He used a press conference with Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson to take repeated shots at Guardian in the harshest and most personal language he has used against him to date, reminiscent of the invective he frequently hurled at Guardian's Democratic predecessor, Lorenzo Langford.

Asked about complaints by Guardian that he has not met with the governor in months as his city inches closer to bankruptcy, Christie replied, "Because there's no purpose in meeting with a liar."

Christie accused Guardian of agreeing to a state takeover in a Statehouse news conference with leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, then changing his mind. Guardian said lawmakers promised to make changes to protect the city's interest but failed to make good on them.

"He has no idea what he's talking about," Christie said. "Zero idea what he's talking about."

Christie also seemed to insult Guardian's intelligence as well as his competency.

"The mayor's math and his understanding match his management ability," Christie said.

At his news conference afterward, Guardian disputed many of Christie's criticisms and laid much of the blame for his city's fiscal crisis on the doorstep of the state, which has appointed monitors to oversee the city and school system.

"I'm sorry the mayor has to use name-calling," Guardian said. "He should be a diplomat like we're trying to be a diplomat, and he should be working to move the city forward. I learned to be a politician and I realize that's how politicians talk. I'm disappointed, and I can say, like every urban mayor in the state of New Jersey, that we wait until Jan. 14, 2018 when we have a new governor."

The back-and-forth came as the city continued to sink deeper into a fiscal crisis. It would run out of money if a measure the city council is to consider Wednesday night is not adopted. That measure would change the city's payroll schedule to give the city some breathing room through the end of May.

But major structural problems remain, which would be addressed by two bills stalled in the state Legislature. One would let casinos make payments in lieu of taxes in return for not appealing their tax assessments — something they have done to devastating effect in recent years as the city's casino industry contracts. Four of its 12 casinos shut down in 2014.

Democratic state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto continues to refuse to post an Atlantic City takeover bill for a vote unless provisions are added protecting public employee contracts, which Guardian supports. Prieto said he will introduce his own takeover bill, protecting collective bargaining for public unions and setting benchmarks the city must meet under state supervision.

Prieto said Christie "spends an inordinate amount of time casting blame on others for his failings."

"If he put as much effort into using his authority to save Atlantic City or negotiating a compromise as he does talking, maybe we could have resolved this situation," said Prieto, who predicted the takeover bill as it currently stands would not pass in the Assembly.

The bill would give the state vast control over Atlantic City's finances and most of its major decision-making power, including the right to cancel union contracts, dissolve city agencies and sell off city land and assets.


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