Anticipating the summit: clashes mark Atlantic City ahead of Christie landing

DSCN0328On the eve of tomorrow’s third summit in Atlantic City, state Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) slapped at Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2), accusing the Republican assemblyman of playing politics with delicate legislation Whelan says aims at putting the gutted gaming capital on an upward swing.Brown may be counting on a bigger, executive-level stick wielded by Governor Chris Christie, with whom Whelan already had words last time the governor hit town.

A source expects Christie to make a state takeover – broken here on PolitickerNJ – official.

For the moment, Whelan focused on Brown.

“There has been a lot of overheated and misinformed rhetoric from local political leaders that passing the much needed PILOT legislation is problematic,” said Whelan, singling out controversial legislation championed by his colleague, Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2), designed to protect the casinos. “One example of the obstacles to this bill is Assemblyman Chris Brown’s competing idea; legislation that is unconstitutional – a five year tax freeze only works if property owners are denied their constitutional right to appeal their assessments.

“As long as Assemblyman Brown has an opposing bill there will be very little Republican support in the Assembly for this much needed legislation that will benefit middle-class families and businesses across Atlantic County,” the senator added. “It is my sincere hope that Assemblyman Brown drops his competing proposal and joins his fellow Republicans to support the PILOT legislation and the rest of the legislative package.”

Against the backdrop of Atlantic City foundering, Mayor Don Guardian trying to assert his local authority and Christie on the verge of seizing control of the city and concentrating power with the state, Brown is heading into the teeth of his own re-election contest against Mazzeo.

The two men are fighting to stay in office, possibly as part of a 2015 set-up to a showdown over Whelan’s senate seat in 2017, should the veteran senator retire.

“Mazzeo’s bill in his own words is designed to stabilize property taxes for a few casinos,” Brown hit back in a statement. “It has been my position all along we should not just stabilize property taxes for a few casinos off  the backs of hard working middle class families.”

Both Whelan and Brown appeared to fight for the broad backing of other Atlantic County officials.

“As we face the reality of another very difficult budget year due to declining ratables it is becoming clear that without this PILOT legislation taxes will be raised significantly for Atlantic County taxpayers and businesses,” Whelan said. “Unfortunately, this realization has come late to many who previously opposed the legislation.

“It is my hope that County Executive Levinson, Freeholder Chairman Formica, Mayor Guardian and the various mayors and other elected officials will continue to join Assemblyman Mazzeo, Senate President Sweeney and me to rally taxpayers and elected officials across the county in support of the bill with the same fervor as they did in their previous opposition,” the senator added. “In order for the PILOT to get legislative approval, we need a clear consensus of local leadership behind it if it is going to have any chance of passage in Trenton.”

But Brown claimed the support of that swathe of concerned electeds who voiced early opposition to Mazzeo’s plan, starting with Levinson, a powerful Republican up for re-election this year and on the line with Brown.

“I am not alone in this position,” said the Republican assemblyman. “County Executive Dennis Levinson; Atlantic County Republican and Democratic Freeholders; Republican, Democrat, and Independent  mayors agreed with me Mazzeo’s plan is flawed. I am happy through my efforts County Executive Levinson and Mayor Guardian proposed changes to Mazzeo’s plan to make sure hard working families throughout the county are treated fairly.  Perhaps Assemblyman Mazzeo will amend his plan to include those changes.”

While Democrats remain hopeful of absorbing county and local input into Mazzeo’s PILOT, the GOP has other designs on the executive end. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source said the Mazzeo plan has a major brick wall in front of it ultimately in the form of Christie.

“Stick a fork in the PILOT plan,” said the source in anticipation of full state control of Atlantic City.



Anticipating the summit: clashes mark Atlantic City ahead of Christie landing