ATLANTIC CITY — Jim Johnson, a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary, has been named special counsel to review the future of the state’s involvement in Atlantic City.
Gov. Phil Murphy and the Department of Community Affairs announced Thursday that Johnson, 57, will serve as special counsel specifically to provide “recommendations for the process of returning the city to local control.”
Johnson will work with the attorney general and review ongoing litigation in Atlantic City, according to the announce-ment. He will be paid $1 per year for his work as counsel.
State officials did not address what the future will hold for Jeffrey Chiesa, the former state attorney general and U.S. senator who has been serving as the Local Government Service director’s designee since the state took over the city’s finances in November 2016.
“This administration is committed to getting Atlantic City back on its feet, and we will do so by working with its leaders, not by stepping over them,” Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, also the DCA commissioner, said in a statement.
In November 2016, the state Local Finance Board voted to take major decision-making powers away from city officials and grant them to Local Government Services Director Timothy Cunningham.
Chiesa, a close ally of then-Gov. Chris Christie, was named designee to run the city’s finances.
While the future of the state takeover has been uncertain since Murphy was inaugurated, Cunningham announced to City Council in January that he would stick around for a while longer.
“Atlantic City is poised for a comeback, and I am sure that Jim’s guidance will play a critical role in the growth and economic revitalization of the city,” Murphy said in a statement. “Jim has years of governmental experience and knows how to work with tough budgets, traits that will serve him well in this role.”
Johnson, of Montclair, Essex County, ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last year, losing to Murphy. He served under former President Bill Clinton as undersecretary for enforcement at the U.S. Treasury and was previously a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. He is currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, accord-ing to the announcement.
During his campaign, Johnson said he would end the state takeover of the city if elected governor.
“The first of many visits to family members in Atlantic City was when I was four years old. I have always considered it to be a special place,” Johnson said in a statement. “We’re in a moment filled with challenges and opportunities and I am honored that Governor Murphy and Lieutenant Governor Oliver have asked me to take on this important role.”
Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam said Thursday he wasn’t clear on the details of the appointment other than that he would serve in an advisory capacity. He said he was told this is a necessary step to figure out what the state’s new role will be.
“I’m very excited to see some kind of movement toward a clear understanding of what this is going to be,” Gilliam said. “I still don’t know specifically what this means.”
City Council President Marty Small said he looked forward to working with Johnson. Small and Johnson ran on the same ticket in the June primary, he said.
“Jim Johnson is an extremely qualified person,” Small said. “We look forward to working hard with anyone to make this city better.”
Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato said they look forward to meeting with Johnson.
“We appreciate Governor Murphy’s timely actions in regards to Atlantic City’s future and we look forward to continuing to work with his office and Mr. Johnson as we chart the path forward for the betterment of Atlantic City’s hard-working families and businesses,” they said in a statement.
State Sen. Chris Brown said he looks forward to working with Johnson and Murphy to develop a plan to right-size the city’s budget.
This story has been updated. An earlier version of this story originally stated Johnson will replace Chiesa, but his future has not been addressed by state officials.
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