HACKENSACK – The state is divided on how to deal with Atlantic City. In one corner sits Governor Chris Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney, claiming that an AC takeover and the PILOT bill are the way to go if casino expansion is ever to pass. In the other corner sits Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, ardently arguing that the takeover bill goes too far and damages pre-existing collective bargaining in the city.
Because of the spat, Christie has accused Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop of playing political boss and using Prieto as a means to make Sweeney, likely one of this main political foes in the 2017 gubernatorial race, look bad.
At an event in Hackensack on Thursday night, PolitickerNJ asked another probable gubernatorial hopeful, former Ambassador Phil Murphy, for his take on the Atlantic City takeover and the fallout it could have. According to Murphy, he sees the takeover from the perspective he holds as a national board member for the NAACP.
“The African American community, and the community in general, is particularly upset about this,” Murphy said. “There is a feeling like ‘Hey wait a minute, what happened to Democracy? We just elected councilmembers.’”
According to Murphy, while he understands that the budget and negotiations are formidable issues, he understands why many are squirming at the thought of a state takeover.
“There are only 39,000 people in Atlantic City but there is a huge budget for reasons that are historic,” Murphy said. “There is work to be done, that is for sure, but there is a feeling that they are being big footed. And they also look around at other experiences around the state and say, ‘Hey wait a minute, where did that get those communities?’ Whether it is schools that are taken over or other communities.”
For Murphy, many of Prieto’s concerns have merit when looking at the AC takeover.
“I will say that Speaker Prieto has a rightful concern that I hope this isn’t just an excuse to blow up what was honest engine, fully transparent, above-board collective bargaining agreements,” Murphy said. “I am anxious about it, I have to say.”
Murphy also criticized Christie for his “my way or the highway” approach to the takeover.
“I don’t think that is Democracy,” Murphy said. “I think you work things out. Particularly if you have local officials and, I might add, a Republican mayor who seems like a reasonable guy.”
Murphy’s remarks came hot on the heels of his second town hall event at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. Over 300 people attended and SOPAC was so packed that people were barred from entering at the door. From there, Murphy rushed to Hackensack for an event at the Elk’s Lodge. The Hackensack event was organized by the Bergen African American Voter Coalition, the Bergen County Coalition, Bergen County Stone Wall Democrats, Bergen County Young Democrats, the Latin American Democratic Organization and Unity. Murphy was a cosponsor of the event focused on bringing a diverse group of Democrats together as they aim to up representation in the county government.
One of Murphy’s likely competitors for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and the source of Christie’s ire on the takeover, Fulop, was also at the event and worked the room.
According to event organizer Joseph Barreto, the presence of both Murphy and Fulop was significant.
“When you have two people who a year and a half from now may be running the state come out and support us and show they care, that means something,” Barreto said. “It means they will get support, they will get votes. They both have reached out.”
In addition to Murphy and Fulop, the event was also attended by the likes of Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, Assemblyman Tim Eustace, Bergen Freeholder candidate Germaine Ortiz, Bergen Dems Vice Chair Gloria Oh, Freeholder Tom Sullivan, Freeholder Steve Tanelli, Bergen County Clerk John Hogan, Bergen Sheriff Michael Saudino, CD5 candidate Josh Gottheimer and Paramus councilman Pat Verile.