The owner of Resorts Casino Hotel, Morris Bailey, has contributed more than $126,000 toward an effort to change Atlantic City’s form of government, according to filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
The contributions are to a political action committee (PAC) called Atlantic City Residents for Good Government, which has raised more than $150,000 to move the city from a mayor-council format to a council-manager style, The Press of Atlantic City reports.
The businessman grew up in Atlantic City during its heyday before casino gaming and believes the seaside resort can be great again with the right leadership, according to Resorts CEO/President Mark Giannantonio, who also supports the change.
Besides Bailey’s significant contributions to the PAC, unions with ties to Atlantic City and South Jersey have also donated. The bricklayers and allied crafts, plumbers and pipefitters, painters, roofers, electrical workers, elevator construction, casino workers and building trades unions have all contributed, according to the ELEC report.
The unions that have donated also have another tie to Atlantic City: the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority executive board. Representatives, members or officers of the bricklayers and allied crafts (Richard Tolson), electrical workers (Edward Gant) and building trades (William Mullen) all sit on the CRDA board, as does Giannantonio.
The PAC started with nearly $43,000 as an opening balance that was transferred from an unknown prior campaign. According to the Oct. 15 state filing, Atlantic City Residents for Good Government has spent more than $163,000 for consulting, mailers and get-out-the-vote efforts.
The PAC is collecting signatures for a petition to force a ballot referendum through which Atlantic City residents will decide whether the municipal government should change. The proposed change would cut the number of council members from nine to five while eliminating a directly elected mayor. Instead, a mayor would be selected annually from among the five at-large council members and a city manager would serve as the chief executive.
Under the 2016 legislation that gave the state direct oversight of the city’s finances, the Department of Community Affairs can treat successful referendum efforts in Atlantic City as advisory, and the state agency can reject a ballot decision regardless of the electorate’s choice.
Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Unite Here Local 54 President Bob McDevitt, Bailey and Giannantonio have all worked, in some capacity, to support the petition. Atlantic City Residents for Good Government’s petition effort is built on the premise that the current style of representation has allowed too many elected officials to further their own self-interests at the expense of the city and its residents.
Opponents of the proposal contend the petition effort amounts to little more than a coup attempt by powerful outsiders who want to exert their influence over one of the state’s largest economic engines.
McDevitt, who has spearheaded the effort, said the group has obtained enough valid signatures and will submit the petition in the coming weeks. In response to the criticism facing the petition effort, McDevitt said opponents have a “vested interest in maintaining the status quo.”