ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — After weeks of pledging cooperation with a threatened state takeover of his city, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian on Monday blasted the plan as "a fascist dictatorship."
The Republican mayor said he is lining up other state lawmakers to introduce a different financial recovery bill that would be a true partnership between the cash-strapped city and the state.
Senate President Steve Sweeney has introduced a bill that would give the state vast control over Atlantic City's finances, including the right to cancel union contracts, sell city assets and land, and declare bankruptcy. Gov. Chris Christie has supported a state takeover, saying the gambling resort spends too much and needs to get its finances in order.
The mayor says the city could run out of cash within the next two months.
"Far from a partnership, it was absolutely a fascist dictatorship," Guardian said of the takeover bill pending in the state Legislature.
Guardian said his administration made $25 million in cuts to last year's budget and is amendable to further savings. But he said the plan now being considered in Trenton strips his residents of their civil and Constitutional rights, and urged the full Legislature to "vote this bill down."
"This is an insult to democracy and to American citizens living in Atlantic City," he said outside City Hall. "Today it's Atlantic City, but tomorrow it will be Paterson or Trenton. The civil rights of our citizens are being trampled on. Taking away the Constitutional rights of residents would never happen in Mendham, Short Hills, or Livingston."
The bill says the state Local Finance Board "may in its exclusive discretion assume, reallocate to, and vest in the Director, any of the functions, powers, privileges, and immunities of the governing body of" Atlantic City for five years. It appears to leave few responsibilities to Atlantic City's elected officials.
The measure replaces an earlier takeover bill introduced in January and incorporates several changes suggested by Christie. The original takeover plan would have lasted 15 years, instead of five.
State officials had no immediate response to Guardian's comments.
City Council President Marty Small said "this is about hypocrisy at the highest levels."
He said the state criticized Atlantic City's fiscal management, but vetoed measures that would have helped it get back on its feet.
Small said Atlantic City's tax ratable base has shrunk with the contraction of its casino industry. In 2010, the city's property was worth a collective $20.5 billion, he said. It is now worth about $6.6 billion.
Betty Lewis, president of the city's NAACP chapter, threatened a civil rights lawsuit against the state "if they continue to usurp our rights."
"The state takeover proposal seems to be about racism and greed," she said.