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Atlantic City mayoral candidates prepared for election, governing challenges
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Atlantic City mayoral candidates prepared for election, governing challenges

Atlantic City election

The 2020 general election will be conducted almost exclusively via vote-by-mail, including the race for Atlantic City mayor.

With an ongoing pandemic and talk of mail-in fraud, we’ve got the answers to your election questions.

ATLANTIC CITY — Election Day is officially Nov. 3, but registered voters have already started to receive and return their mail-in ballots, meaning candidates running for public office have been forced to adjust typical campaigning strategies.

For the two contenders seeking a one-year unexpired term as chief executive of Atlantic City, campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic is basically old hat.

Both Mayor Marty Small Sr. and Thomas Forkin worked against a citywide change of government referendum in the spring, and the incumbent survived a three-way Democratic primary in the summer, each of which was almost entirely vote-by-mail.

An increase in social media communication, fewer in-person forums and targeted canvassing are elements both campaigns have employed as a result of COVID-19’s impact on this year’s general election, in addition to traditional standbys, such as mailers and media spots.

“We had two times to practice,” Small said of his campaign team. “It is a different type of an election. ... We just want to continue to take our message to the voters and earn the voters’ confidence.”

Forkin, the former chair of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee who is now seeking office as a Republican, said the big takeaway from May’s unsuccessful referendum campaign was that residents want change — just not the kind offered by the new-government proponents — and his strategy has been to embrace that preference among voters.

“Our goal is to meet that desire for change and ensure that the promises of casino gaming are kept for the residents of Atlantic City, to which they have not been for the past 40 years. The cornerstone of those promises (were) lower taxes and higher employment,” Forkin said.

Small and Forkin will square off in a televised debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday from inside the Fannie Lou Hamer Room on the Atlantic City campus of Stockton University. The two candidates recently participated in a virtual/radio debate on WOND-AM 1400’s “Off The Press with Scott Cronick,” which can be viewed on the host’s Facebook page.

The candidates are vying for the remaining year of the term left by former Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr., who is awaiting sentencing by a federal court for stealing more than $87,000 from a youth basketball program.

Small, who has been serving as mayor since October 2019, said the past year has been rife with challenges — including the push to change the government, COVID-19 and a day of looting and vandalism borne from national social unrest — that no one could have predicted.

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“Those are things you deal with (over the course) of a full term, but I had to deal with all of that in the first few months,” he said. “But, like I’ve said, my life experiences have prepared me for this moment. I haven’t walked in here one day not knowing what to do. I got my opportunity, and I believe I’m making the best of it.”

Small said his campaign is focused on the successes of the past 12 months, citing the demolition of the former Trump Plaza, a second municipal property tax decrease in five years, securing two coronavirus testing sites for residents and the restoration of a city health department as examples.

Meanwhile, Forkin has homed in on issues he and a handful of others have been harping on for years and believe no one in either city or state government is willing to change. The casino payment-in-lieu-of-taxes legislation, the creation of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s Tourism District and the annual siphoning of casino-related taxes and fees by Trenton are all problems Forkin says will continue to chip away at local control and exacerbate Atlantic City’s fiscal problems.

“We must challenge the state on its unconstitutional taking of our municipal assets and inequitable taking of our tax resources,” Forkin said.

The state remains in control of Atlantic City until at least 2021, although Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and other state lawmakers have indicated the need for oversight to extend further.

“We must return our city control back to our community, which means hiring directors who live in the city, having weekly town hall meetings to address community concerns, challenging the state directly as to the unconstitutionality of the casino PILOT and state takeover, retaining the luxury, room and parking tax in Atlantic City, and using that revenue stream to pay the public safety budget, thus stabilizing property taxes, sparking home ownership and small business development,” Forkin said.

The need for additional city revenue from casino-related sources is something Small and Oliver have advocated for, with both testifying in Trenton before a legislative committee last year. City government also proactively enacted a 2% municipal tax on cannabis sales, anticipating the statewide ballot question on legalizing recreational marijuana will pass.

Even without additional revenue, Small said he has plans to implement new city programs for youth, recreation, seniors, violence prevention and health.

“People know me — I’m a man of my word, first and foremost. I don’t (say) I’m going to do anything unless I know it’s going to get done. I don’t play those games,” Small said.

On his desk, Small has a coffee mug gifted to him by Jim Johnson, the former special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy. The mug has the words “We’ve always done it this way” inside a red circle with a slash through them. Small said it is a reminder that Atlantic City cannot repeat the mistakes of the past.

“I love a challenge, and I would have it no other way than to be leading this great city during these challenging times and be responsible for the ultimate comeback story, which is Atlantic City,” Small said.

As far as how he would approach a mayoral tenure, Forkin said it was about “service above self.”

“This election isn’t about power and special interests, it’s about public service,” he said. “We need competent and independent leaders who are not in the pocket of the state and special interests, and who have the courage to stand up to them.”

Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

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Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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