ATLANTIC CITY — Everything changes, and not always for the better. As New Jersey enjoys one of its last, provisional moments in the national spotlight because of Governor Chris Christie, its lawmakers and mayors and operatives and lobbyists are descending on Atlantic City for the annual League of Municipalities conference. Christie’s reward, his long-predicted place in the coming Trump administration, will be one of his last opportunities to bring the state the kind of attention lavished on the convictions of two of his top aides in federal court.
Christie’s heir apparent, meanwhile, has commanded attention here for his early sweep of the Democratic primary but little else. While last year’s conference saw healthy competition between Senate President Steve Sweeney, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and former U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy with each gubernatorial hopeful hoping to outdo the other, Murphy’s securing of key endorsements from northern chairs has made his nomination a fait accompli and his path to the governor’s mansion an open door.
After the state’s record 10th credit downgrade under Christie, Murphy could not be shaking hands and making promises about the state’s economic future at a worse time.
Atlantic City, once a bulwark against the disfunction, gridlock and heedless lending that characterize the State House, has been placed under Trenton’s supervision after its financial recovery plan failed to meet the governor’s standards. With out-of-state competition and a saturated gaming market guaranteed to cut into Atlantic City’s already decimated ratable base, Christie has ensured that Murphy will have his work cut out for him.
Atlantic City’s decline is not so easily separated from the state’s, regardless of what the governor insists.
Every New Jersey resident without a Goldman Sachs pedigree will face long odds of recovery unless the state’s borrowing practices change once the man who championed the failed $2.4 billion Revel Casino is out of office. But at a time when Donald Trump’s long record of bankruptcies and self-seeking dishonesty in Atlantic City can lead him to a ten-point bump over Mitt Romney in the congressional district encompassing Atlantic City, that change seems unlikely.
When Senate Democrats’ and Christie’s plan to making up for the state’s losses from Atlantic City’s long decline is two more casinos, the chances seem even thinner. But give voters credit—the recent ballot question to allow those new locations sank like a stone.
With Atlantic City expected to reverse an economic spiral by undergoing cuts to a municipal budget that pales next to the rush of outside investment that fed its 80s and 90s heyday, it’s difficult to see what there is for the people driving the agenda in New Jersey to celebrate. Maybe that’s why Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, Christie’s understudy and the woman likely to run as an incumbent next year, is sitting this one out.