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Atlantic City referendum defeated in landslide

City voters overwhelmingly vote to keep current form of government

By Nikita Biryukov, May 12 2020 8:13 pm

Voters in Atlantic City slapped down a referendum that would have eliminated the city’s mayor and reduced the number of seats on the city’s council.

The referendum, which was opposed by incumbent councilmembers, Mayor Marty Small and the Callaway family-led Atlantic City Democratic organization, was defeated 985 to 3,275.

Some ballots remain uncounted — one source said about 1,800 — not enough to change the results of the election.

The measure would have replaced the mayor’s post with a council-appointed city manager and cut down the number of council seats from nine to five.

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.  It had the backing of former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian.

Atlantic City For Good Government filed 3,033 signatures to get a change of government referendum on the ballot, but just 985 voters actually voted to change their form of government.

The referendum’s defeat sets up a July primary between Small and Pamela Thomas-Fields, who has the backing of powerbroker Craig Callaway and, by extension, the Atlantic City Democratic Organization.

Atlantic City Democrats had gone to court to challenge the referendum, alleging the petitions were defective and fraudulent, but a judge tossed the case.

Small became mayor last October when Frank Gilliam suddenly resigned after admitting that he stole $87,000 from a youth basketball league he founded and used the money to pay for personal expenses.

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