{child_flags:featured}Early results: A.C. says no to government change

{child_byline}DAVID DANZIS

Staff Writer

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ATLANTIC CITY — The final ballots have yet to be counted, but early returns suggest the change of government referendum will be defeated.

As of Tuesday night, 3,275 ballots were cast against the proposed change, while 985 votes were in favor.

“As we stated all along, a lot of people drank the Kool-Aid and bought into the North Jersey/McDevitt/billionaire takeover,” said Mayor Marty Small Sr., an early and vocal opponent of the change of government. “I said the good people of Atlantic City will never be for sale.”

Late Tuesday night, Bob McDevitt, one of the leaders of the group trying to change the government, conceded late Tuesday night.

“The people have rejected change and we accept without qualification their decision,” McDevitt said in a statement.

There were no lines of people waiting to cast a ballot or crowds of anxious supporters gathered at an election headquarters.

No groups of campaign workers conducted last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts in neighborhoods, and no unmarked vans transported senior residents to polling locations.

That was the scene — or lack of one — for the city’s first entirely vote-by-mail election, ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. The special election was devoid of any of the common sights associated with campaigns, particularly one of such significance.

Registered voters in Atlantic City cast their ballots either for or against a proposed change of government, a shift that would have eliminated four of the current nine council members and the directly elected mayor. In its place would be a council-manager format with five at-large representatives who would hire a city manager to run the day-to-day operations of government.

“They didn’t win a district. We beat them from Maine to Jackson (avenues) and every neighborhood in between,” Small said.

The final results of the special election could take several days, since the elections board can accept ballots until Thursday that were postmarked by Tuesday.

According to county election officials, 4,260 ballots were scanned Tuesday. The elections board received 600 more ballots and more are expected to arrive Wednesday and Thursday. There are also 1,200 ballots that need to be accounted for that were received before the governor changed the date and mandated vote-by-mail. If a voter returned two ballots, only the second one will be counted.

On Election Day, outside the U.S. Post Office on Atlantic Avenue, one man, who would only give the name Mark, dropped off his ballot before going back to work. Mark, 43, would not say how he voted, but quickly added, “I know a lot of people aren’t going to like it.”

The quiet city streets Tuesday were in stark contrast to the night before, when opponents of the referendum organized a caravan in a final effort to increase awareness and participation.

The symphony of beeping horns and shouts of “Vote No,” could be heard for blocks, as more than two dozen vehicles drove through Atlantic City’s various neighborhoods Monday evening. With signs and messages painted on vehicles, the procession lasted nearly two hours, going from one end of the city to the other.

It was the last act in a boots-on-the-ground campaign where residents and city officials had been knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods encouraging people to vote down the proposed change.

Noting the challenges of campaigning during a global pandemic combined with an election being conducted solely via mail-in ballots, Small said talking to people face-to-face was still the most effective means of connecting.

“We can’t take for granted that people will vote,” Small said. “I’ve always had a tremendous ground game, and we did as much as we possibly could.”

Bob McDevitt, chairman of the political action committee behind the referendum and president of the local casino workers’ union, said phone calls to registered voters have been their primary campaign strategy since March, when the stay-at-home order was issued by the governor.

“Under the circumstances, it’s a strange time, and we left nothing on the table,” McDevitt said Tuesday evening. “It’s in the hands of the voters, and I’m confident the voters will do the right thing.”

Among the stops on Monday evening’s political jaunt by the opposition were Resorts Casino Hotel and McDevitt’s home. Morris Bailey, owner of Resorts, helped finance the referendum by contributing more than $232,000.

A few of the participants in the “Vote No” caravan threw signs over a gate at McDevitt’s townhouse complex while the majority shouted his name and beeped their vehicle’s horn for several minutes, based on multiple videos posted on social media.

McDevitt said some of the behavior exhibited the night before exemplified why more than 3,000 residents signed a petition forcing the special election.

“If I were to describe the last several decades of Atlantic City’s failure to thrive, I would refer to the video from last night’s ‘rally,’” McDevitt said. “The little parade of clown cars disturbing the peace after the 8 o’clock curfew demonstrates the thug mentality of Atlantic City politicians and their stooges. This is exactly why change is needed.”

Small said McDevitt set the “disrespectful” tone early in the campaign by referring to the city’s elected officials and their supporters as a “cartel,” and pinning decades of corruption on those in leadership today.

“You can’t live in a glass house and throw stones,” Small said. “And terms like ‘thug’ has a lot of hidden meanings.”

All 10 of Atlantic City’s elected officials — the mayor and the nine members of council — oppose the proposed change in the form of government, as do the Civic Associations of Atlantic City United, Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey (who represents the city on the county board and serves as Small’s chief of staff) and the NAACP Atlantic City Chapter.

Former Mayor Don Guardian, former state Sen. Ray Lesniak and Resorts President/CEO Mark Giannantonio have all voiced their support for the change of government.

In order for the referendum to be adopted, the number of yes votes cast must meet or exceed “30% of the number of persons voting in such municipality at the last preceding general election,” according to state law.

In the 2019 general election, 6,232 ballots were cast in Atlantic City. Based on that figure, the referendum would require a minimum of 1,869 yes votes to be approved.

If the referendum is successful, the change of government would go into effect exactly four weeks from the date of the special election. Prior to that change, a special election to select the five at-large council members would be held.

Contact: 609-272-7222 ddanzis@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressDanzis

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Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

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Contact: 609-272-7222

ddanzis@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

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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