The Atlantic City Democratic Committee is trying to stop a March 31 referendum to change the city’s form of government, filing a lawsuit in Superior Court today that alleges that petitions were defective and fraudulent.
A group led by Unite Here Local 54 casino workers union president Bob McDevitt, Resorts Casino owner Morris Bailey and former State Sen. Raymond Lesniak got enough signatures on a petition to force a special election that could eliminate the direct election of mayors in Atlantic City.
Under the referendum, which interim mayor Martin Small plans to oppose, a powerful city manager would be appointed by the council and the mayor would hold a figurehead role.
The lawsuit claims that the City Clerk continued to accept additional signatures at the December 11, 2019 deadline and that that some circulators were not registered voters and in some cases were minors.
Some of the signatures were forged, the lawsuit alleges, and some petitions that were circulated correctly had additional signatures added to it later.
The Democrats say that many or most of the circulators were paid to obtain three signatures on the petition, something they say is “just as if a campaign worker was paid to obtain mail in ballots and was paid per ballot obtained or to register voters and was paid per voter registered.”
According to the lawsuit, New Jersey-based Red Cloud Strategies hired and paid circulators based on the number of signatures obtained, rather than hourly. The filing claims that circulators wore badges that identified themselves as officials of the Linden and Roselle Democratic Party and not Red Cloud.
They also allege that Linden councilwoman Rashonna Crosby signed as a circulator when she was the notary, and that in some cases, the circulators “lied or misrepresented their identities.”
“Signatories have been shown photos of circulators listed on the Petition and reported to the Plaintiff’s investigator that the correct circulator was not the same person listed in writing,” the lawsuit claims. “It is believed that certain petition pages were left unattended for voters to sign which the circulators then fraudulently or falsely represented they personally witnessed.
The Atlantic City Democratic action also alleges civil rights violations, claiming that the elimination of ward council seats would affect the diverse composition of the governing body.
“The neighborhoods of the City tend to have one or two groups which do form majorities in their neighborhoods but are not of sufficient size that those groups would be able to elect a Council Member on an at large basis and the form of government proposed uniquely disenfranchises numerous groups,” the lawsuit states. “As an example, there is only one Hispanic Council Member although Hispanics represent 30% of the population.”
South Asians would also not get representation, the lawsuit claims.
The local party organization is controlled by former councilman Craig Callaway.
The Atlantic City Democrats are being represented by Samuel Lashman.