ATLANTIC CITY — Vowing to be the voice of change for residents and businesses in a post-COVID-19 world, James “Jimmy” Whitehead formally announced his campaign for mayor Wednesday morning.
Whitehead is challenging incumbent Mayor Marty Small Sr. and Pamela Thomas-Fields in the July 7 Democratic primary election. The 63-year-old Navy veteran unsuccessfully sought the party’s nomination for mayor in 2017, when both he and Small lost to former Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr.
At his campaign headquarters on Atlantic Avenue, Whitehead talked about the community’s collective victory against a change of government referendum last week, which he, Small, Thomas-Fields and Republican candidate Thomas Forkin all opposed. On Tuesday, he said “our job is not done.”
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“We’re going to bring Atlantic City back … and give Atlantic City residents what they are demanding — their voice for change to be heard,” Whitehead said. “We will clean sweep Atlantic City Hall and replace the status quo with our fresh, mature, integrity-driven, visionary leadership.”
Among a five-point plan presented Tuesday, Whitehead said he wants to shift the city’s economic reliance from casino gaming and tourism and develop cybersecurity, education and technology jobs through private partnerships. He said a full economic development plan would be released soon.
Whitehead has an uphill battle to win the party’s nomination. The Atlantic County Democratic Committee has awarded the party line to Small, while the Atlantic City Democratic Committee has endorsed Thomas-Fields.
Whitehead’s campaign manager, Derek Brock, said residents have “accepted mediocrity” from their elected officials for too long and the result has been “higher taxes and crumbling infrastructure.”
“Our leadership has failed us and has practically brought Atlantic City to its knees,” Brock said.
City resident and campaign supporter Geoff Rosenberger — who unsuccessfully ran for City Council as an independent in 2019 — said the party has “failed the city by repeatedly not putting up new leadership when leadership fails the city.” The party’s selections, Rosenberger said, appear to be a fight “about power over the people, instead of power for the people.”
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Following the referendum defeat, Whitehead said now is the time for Atlantic City to regain its sovereignty from the state, which took control of the city’s finances and major policy-making decisions in 2016.
“We would like to recalibrate our current arrangements with the state and negotiate returning the power of Atlantic City back to the people of Atlantic City,” he said.
Rosenberger said voters’ rejection of the change of government referendum “was not an endorsement of those in office.” He said the “state-designed plan has failed” and that local leaders, such as Whitehead, need to chart the city’s future.
“The referendum did remind us that change is needed,” he said, “and that it’s up to us to decide what that change is. Current circumstances have created the perfect storm. It’s time for the pendulum to swing back toward the city and for the flexibility to come from the state for the city to come up with its own solutions.”
Whitehead also said the city needs to keep all casino-related taxes and fees, such as luxury, room and parking. Small, Thomas-Fields and Forkin have each made similar demands of the state, with the mayor testifying in Trenton to that effect with Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver at his side in late 2019.
The four declared mayoral candidates are seeking to serve the final year remaining on Gilliam’s original four-year term. Gilliam resigned in October after pleading guilty in federal court to wire fraud.