Atlantic City Democrats have asked a New Jersey Superior Court judge to cancel the scheduled March 31 election that would give local voters the power to potentially overhaul the city’s government.
Attorney Samuel Lashman filed a civil action on behalf of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee on Tuesday. The three-count complaint asks Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez to stay the election on grounds that the group behind the petition forged signatures and participated in fraudulent actions.
There was a pattern of fraud so rampant as to cause doubt,” Lashman argues in the filing.
The attorney says illegal or improper signatures were collected, ineligible voter signatures were accepted, forgeries were committed, affidavits were deceitful, and addresses were falsified.
On March 31, Atlantic City is scheduled to hold a special election to determine if area residents want to change their government.
If the referendum passes, Atlantic City would pivot from a mayor-led government to an appointed city manager. City Council would be trimmed from nine members to five. The smaller council would be elected by a citywide vote, and then those five individuals would appoint a city manager who would act as the chief executive.
The election is largely being funded by Resorts Casino owner Morris Bailey. Supporters include former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D) and Unite Here Local 54 union boss Bob McDevitt. McDevitt, who represents thousands of workers employed at Atlantic City’s casinos, said the legal complaint from the Democrats is nonsense.
“This whole thing is absurd,” McDevitt opined. “This is America. They can hire a lawyer and file whatever they want. But at the end of the day, 3,000 people signed a petition seeking this change, and there’s going to be a reckoning at the ballot box, not in a courtroom.”
After initially falling short of the necessary signatures, the group behind the election – Atlantic City Residents for Good Government – received word from the City Clerk’s office that the required minimum of 935 valid signatures were certified and the election would be scheduled for March 31. Many of the 3,000 submitted signatures were revoked by the City Clerk.
Casinos Desire Change
The Atlantic City Democrats trying to block the election have made accusations that the effort is anti-minority.
“The move reflects a mindset that believes African Americans and other races can’t govern and don’t have the backbone or the courage to fight,” Mayor Marty Small (D) said in June. The Democrat doubled down on those claims this week in an interview with Insider NJ.
It’s offensive,” the mayor declared. “It’s personal to the core when you have someone like Ray Lesniak, a retired North Jersey senator, more concerned about Atlantic City than he is about the affairs of his own backyard.”
Small and the rest of the City Council say the government vote is a power grab by the wealthy. “We call this the billionaire North Jersey takeover,” Small stated last month.
Morris isn’t the only casino owner demanding change in Atlantic City. Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen opined last month that the town is in worse shape today than it was when the casino company decided to make a more than $560 million bet on its Boardwalk property.
Allen said street lights have been out for months, and “when you’re in a resort environment where safety and security is so important, if the city can’t get something fixed as simple as the street lighting, then maybe a change is needed.”