Atlantic City officials and local interest groups opposing a change in the city’s form of government have focused their campaign too much on fearmongering.
They’ve claimed that a municipal government with a council, mayor and professional manager would give outsiders control of Atlantic City. That’s ridiculous on the face of it, since the proposed form would be democratically elected just like the current form.
Voters will always ultimately control and be responsible for Atlantic City no matter which of the many forms of local government is used. In America, democracy isn’t just the norm, it’s the law.
We were disappointed to see Sen. Ronald Rice of Essex County join this disinformation campaign, especially by making a claim that he should and perhaps does know is doubly false.
The Newark Democrat described the government change effort by Atlantic City Residents for Good Government as “casino operators and big-money people try(ing) to take over local government.”
No, a different municipal government form would still be elected by Atlantic City residents, still under their control and couldn’t be taken over by anyone.
Casino operators and officials, however, make the most absurd imaginary bad guys for this sort of attempt to scare residents. Their participation in local politics was restricted in the legislation that made casino gambling legal in Atlantic City.
The section of New Jersey law is well-known, but for Rice’s benefit, we’ll quote from it at some length: No holder of a casino license, casino company officer, key or principal employee or anyone acting on their behalf “shall directly or indirectly, pay or contribute any money or thing of value to any candidate for nomination or election to any public office in this State, or to any committee of any political party in this State, or to any group, committee or association organized in support of any such candidate or political party.”
The question of whether to change the form of Atlantic City’s government isn’t about politics. It’s easy for those who benefit from city politics to think it is. But the politics will come later, and existing politicians and interest groups still will be able to pursue their interests under any government form.
It’s a question about good government, whether a different form would better empower voters to ensure that their local government works for them. Would it be less likely to be corrupt and dysfunctional than the existing form of government?
Voters will give their answer through their mail-in ballots in the referendum that’s been pushed back to May 12 by COVID-19.
Rice and local foes of change should make their case why they think the current form is best and quit misinforming and scaring residents.