The two most public men in this hour of political reckoning battled in Atlantic City Mayor Bob Levy's absence today.
Levy, who's rumored to be the target of a federal probe into his alleged mischaracterization of Vietnam service in order to collect thousands of dollars' worth of benefits, has not reported for work since Wednesday.Mayor'sspokesman Nick Morici this afternoon said business administrator Domenic Cappella told him the mayor is officially on "medical leave," and the mayor's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs, did not returnphone calls.
With Levy gone from the public stage, Democratic Assemblyman (and former Atlantic City Mayor) Jim Whelan today again called onthe mayorto clarify his situation and resign if the rumorsare true, sparking Sen. (and Egg Harbor Township Mayor) James "Sonny" McCullough to hit with the charge that Whelan is using Levy's apparent political demise to grandstand in their District 2 Senate race.
Whelan, who is the only Atlantic City Mayor in recent years not to leave in handcuffs or in ethical trouble, said, "There is a cloud over the city. I just think the city, which is the economic engine of this district, cannotafford to be paralyzedwhile this thing is played out in silence, denials, charges, and claims of innocence."
McCullough said Whelan was "stabbing his old friend in the back" and questioned why Whelan couldn't find Levy and personally inquire about the mayor's situation, or even contact his wife,as opposed tomaking a major case.
"Why wouldn't you call your best buddy up?" McCullough wondered.
GOP campaign manager Ed Kline hit Whelan on the Levy connection in a press release he issued today on behalf of McCullough's District 2 team.
“As Mayor of Atlantic City, Whelan hired Levy, assisted him politically, and was one of his strongest supporters when he ran for mayor. But, aside from their strong political alliance, Whelan and Levy worked together on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol, they rowed together on a regular basis, and their spouses are close personal friends. Yet, at the first sign that Levy faced potential legal or criminal difficulties, Whelan danced to the tune of his Camden County benefactors and turned viciously on the man he called friend for so many years."
In response, Whelan said government service is not about protecting friends but serving the public interest.
"He's the mayor of Atlantic City," Whelan said of Levy. "He can't be hiding while this is out there."
Levy's handlers told Whelan the mayor is in the hospital. "I feel bad he's in the hospital," said Whelan.
Professional associates confirm that the mayor has been in ill-health with back problems and – according to McCullough -blood clots on his lung.
But sources say that the mayor's absence this week likely has to do with his knowledge of the federal probe, andhis reluctanceto pull the plug on staff who will be dispaced by his resignation.