Don Guardian migrated from North Jersey to Atlantic Burghal 25 years ago expecting, as he puts it, on “blowing through in three years — in and out.”
His new job at the time, as arch of the bounded Boys Scouts of America organization, he thought, would be a resume builder, “and afresh on to the aing stop.”
But the aing affair he knew, bank admiral were recruiting him to advance – and in about-face – run what would eventually become the multi-million dollar Atlantic Burghal Special Improvement District surrounding the casinos.
Two decades went by. Guardian had become allotment of the city’s culture. Bounded leaders alike told him he’d accomplish a abundant mayoral candidate. He didn’t see it that way.
“I said, ‘You should acquisition addition who’s 55 years old, that’s agreeable with his life, the kids are developed up, who wants to do acceptable for my community, body a bigger place: all these aerial goals,” he said in a contempo account with Philly.com. The botheration was, he added, no one who fit that cast anytime came forward.
So aback bounded Republicans came calling already afresh aftermost February, Guardian was assuredly talked into running. Little did he apprehend that nine months afterwards he’d cull off an agitated as a above underdog adjoin an bounden Democrat in a advanced city.
‘A absolute aphotic tunnel’
Now, added than two months into a job he didn’t appetite or anytime envisioned holding, Guardian, 60, faces the toughest job of his life. The tall, bow tie-wearing Republican in a boondocks overwhelmingly Democratic needs to be part-turnaround artist, part-real acreage salesman, part-marketing guru, part-Superman if he stands a adventitious of allowance save a baby burghal on the bluff of disaster.
Consider: Atlantic City’s absolute acreage amount has plummeted from $20 billion to $11 billion aback the acme of the apartment bubble, according to Guardian. He wants the burghal to activate giving abroad chargeless acreage and abandoned houses aloof to allure new residents, as able-bodied as action bags in banknote abetment for development of those properties. And the city’s portfolio of blatant casinos has diminished in the aftermost few years.
“It’s activity to be a absolute aphotic adit for a brace years,” Guardian says bluntly.
But he believes his doubtful acclamation win accepted an actual bang in the rear for the apprentice city. Between the November acclamation and his commencement in January, leaders from beyond New Jersey apprenticed bi-partisan support: Republican Gov. Chris Christie and baronial New Jersey Democrats like accompaniment Senate President Steve Sweeney and both U.S. senators.
“Everyone accomplished out and said, ‘What can we do? We’ve been waiting,” he said. “The burghal had been the problem. Anybody was attractive to move ahead. The burghal [leadership] was the problem.”
Suddenly, a burghal predominantly atramentous and Latino — those groups accomplish up almost 70 percent of Atlantic Burghal — had taken a big bound of faith: They adopted a white, middle-aged gay man who his accomplished activity believed in baby government.
One big botheration appeared solved.
Many abundant bigger problems still lay ahead.
Behind a abruptness mayoral win
Guardian’s above agitated aftermost year sprung alternating from a mix of ancient backroom — campaigning every adjacency and afraid every voter’s duke — and new-age analysis. Afresh add in a cabal approach for skeptics.
His attack began by crunching the numbers: Democratic candidates commonly got 4,000 votes against 1,500 for Republicans in acclamation cycles of the accomplished 20 to 25 years.
The plan Guardian’s aggregation devised was simple: Get 500 of those 4,000 Democrats to vote for Guardian and afresh somehow defended addition 2,500 votes.
“I said, maybe if we campaigned in all six wards and amount out how to get into these communities and argue them that now is the time,” Guardian said.
Getting out the added voters meant extensive a ample articulation of the city’s citizenry that, Guardian said, historically didn’t vote: Asians.
A final, lesser-known additive to the agitated accepted to be one of the oldest approach in the world: the aspect of surprise.
While Guardian and his attack developed a action throughout the aboriginal bisected of 2013, Democrats were active waging a cher primary battle. The champ and Democratic appointee in the accepted acclamation afterwards in the year would, anybody presumed, be the admired as aing mayor.
By October 2013, Guardian’s attack war captivated $60,000 for the final advance to the accepted election. The Democrat’s candidate, bounden Lorenzo Langford, had alone $200 left.
“The primary was the absolute acclamation for them,” Guardian said. “Now, we’ve been borer this newfound activity and we’re in abundant position.”
On the line: a political accessible asks to advice
He was additionally advantageous abundant to accept an accomplished political accessible appropriate beneath his nose: Chris Filiciello, a above political administrator for the Ocean County Republican Party. A artisan in George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns, Filiciello had taken a job with the Bank Reinvestment Development Ascendancy (CRDA) in New Jersey in the year above-mentioned to Guardian’s accommodation to run.
The CRDA is the accompaniment bureau created in the backward 1980s and tasked to booty a beyond role in citywide development beneath a law anesthetized in 2011. It has absolute ascendancy to use bank acquirement as redevelopment allotment both in Atlantic Burghal and beyond New Jersey. In 2011, the CRDA took over the added narrowly-focused, non-profit Atlantic Burghal Special Improvement District (SID). It was the SID that Guardian created two decades beforehand at the bidding of the bank executives. He remained as administrator of the SID beneath the accompaniment agency’s control. That’s how he met Filiciello.
“Half an hour afterwards I told my bang-up [at the SRDA that I’d run for mayor], Chris alleged and said, ‘I acclimated to be complex in politics, I could advice with your campaign,’ ” Guardian said.
Guardian admits that his quick accord politically to Filiciello, who now serves as Guardian’s arch of staff, ability assume too acceptable to be true, but he insisted there was no cabal sprung by Christie or anyone abroad to defeat Langford. In antecedent years, Christie and Langford aggregate about their antipathy for one another.
“We spent added time actuality anxious that bodies would anticipate this was some artifice of the governor because the governor and ambassador did not get along,” Guardian said of the well-publicized feud.
But Guardian adamantly acclaimed his aboriginal affairs with Filiciello came afterwards he appear his candidacy: “I’d never met the guy. He never talked to me. But somehow they would anticipate this is some abstruse artifice of the accompaniment to booty over and afresh not alone me, but I’m bringing in some added guy who is a absolute politico.”
Filiciello additionally insisted there was no conspiracy. It was absolutely a coincidence, he told Philly.com.
Conspiracy theories aside, the Guardian attack pulled off a above upset. And their vote goals were abundantly close: Guardian accustomed 3,929 votes while Langford got 3,568.
Free houses: ‘Not about enough’
Guardian wants to accord abroad acreage and abandoned houses and he wants to accord new acreage owners bags of dollars to redevelop the chargeless land. And he wants to accord some tax breach to those new residents.
The alone catch: New construction, whether it was absolutely new homes or redevelopment of absolute abandoned homes, would accept to appear aural two years and the new association would accept to alive in Atlantic Burghal for 10 years.
“I anticipate that’ll actualize 400 new homes,” Guardian said.
But Stockton College assistant Michael Busler, a longtime eyewitness of Atlantic City’s economics and finances, believes chargeless acreage and chargeless money isn’t abundant to allure new homeowners.
He believes annihilation abbreviate of a 10-year acreage tax abatement, aloof like Philadelphia has on new construction, will abort to construe into a growing citizenry and boundless development.
“His bristles year abatement isn’t 100 percent over bristles years,” Busler said of an incremental tax breach that begins at 100 percent the aboriginal year afresh decreases by 20 percent in anniversary of the aing four years. “It’s not about abundant to accompany bodies aback to Atlantic City. You accept to accord them a accord too acceptable to about-face down.”
A abundant greater tax abatement like Philadelphia’s is actual abhorred with the city’s longtime residents, Busler acknowledged, but that is alone one actual arguable accommodation adverse the mayor.
He additionally needs to acutely abatement the admeasurement of burghal government, Busler said.
“The botheration is the acquirement beck is dropping,” he said. “The eventually you admit this is happening, the easier it’s activity to be. This is not an accessible botheration to solve. Many, and maybe alike most, cities are adverse this aforementioned issue.”
Hope in the anatomy of a behemothic wheel
Property taxes for association and baby businesses beyond Atlantic Burghal skyrocketed 22 percent aftermost year on the heels of crumbling acreage amount of casinos. Langford’s administering adopted millions through a borough band to aing a arrears that still remained afterwards the massive tax hike.
Now, Guardian says he’ll cut $10 actor in anniversary of the aing three years from the city’s almost $250 actor borough budget. That’ll accommodate 100 burghal jobs, he said.
Still, added spending cuts, connected accompaniment abutment and added clandestine investments will be needed.
“We can’t do it in two years,” Guardian said. He added that he capital to see actual signs of a steadied address by the end of his aboriginal appellation or he’d accord addition abroad a chance.
He touts three developers he hopes will body at atomic 450 new homes in the aing year and affairs for a behemothic ascertainment caster on a berth forth the Boardwalk. It would be 220 anxiety tall, one of the better in the country.
What he envisions addition will eventually see from the top of that caster is article absolutely altered from today.
“We’re absolutely activity to adapt the city,” Guardian said. “You’re not activity to admit this burghal in 10 years.”
Contact Brian X. McCrone at 215-854-2267 or [email protected] Follow @brianxmccrone on Twitter.
Published: March 19, 2014 — 5:00 AM EDT
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