Langford: 'There are those that don’t believe the Atlantic City fathers are capable of handling this business. And again, that speaks to a level of arrogance and it also speaks to an underlying air of racism — point blank, as I’ve pointed out.'
ATLANTIC CITY — It’s nearing the end of January 2012 and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) has a state mandate to deliver its master plan for Atlantic City’s planned tourism district by Feb. 1. The district, which does not include the entire city — mainly the residential sections of town are left out — was devised as a way to help boost tourism in the struggling city and increase the local and state economy. Atlantic City Weekly recently caught up with the mayor of Atlantic City, Lorenzo T. Langford, to get his feelings on the matter.
Do you think 2012 will be a pivotal year in Atlantic City’s history? There is a lot of cooperation going on, but there is still a negative perception of the city out there and a perception that Atlantic City is only about gambling. Do you think that 2012 will change that perception?
I think we have the opportunity to start to change that perception certainly in 2012. I don’t know that you can change that perception in one year. It took us a long time, 30 years, to get where we are, to develop the identity, the personality, that Atlantic City has become a gambling town. So I don’t expect that you’d be able to undo that within a year, but I certainly think that 2012 presents an opportunity to start moving in that direction.
With Revel potentially opening up in the next few months, Hard Rock potentially breaking ground by the end of the year —
Well, Revel definitely is going to be opening before the summer. Actually they will be opening up in the spring. Maybe even before the spring because spring officially is March 21 and they may beat that deadline. I don’t know that Hard Rock is going to break ground in 2012. They’re certainly doing all of the preliminary work that’s necessary as a precursor, so to speak, before breaking ground. So I don’t know that’s it’s going to happen in 2012 — but certainly shortly thereafter.
Revel has in their plans an outdoor concert area. How do you think that will affect the other entertainment venues in the city?
It’s all good. Competition makes a better profit.
The more the merrier in terms of venues in Atlantic City, right?
All of the competing interests who are in the entertainment game will have to step up their game as it were. I just happen to believe that there is enough talent, on the one hand, to go around and, on the other hand, enough creative minds working at the various establishments to be able to know how to fill their particular niche. So I don’t think that Revel opening up or entering into the entertainment market, so to speak, should be seen necessarily as a death nail for anybody else.
It should in fact even make Atlantic City more of an entertainment mecca than it already is.
Exactly. What’s everybody else going to do when Revel rolls out their calendar of entertainers? Fold their tent and go home? I don’t think so. It just provides more opportunity for us to create more diversity in terms of entertainment that comes to Atlantic City and then when you add it all together it makes the aggregate all the more better.
Have you had any conversations with ACA CEO Liza Cartmell? Good relationship?
I have. I think she’s very bright, very energetic, understands the task that’s before her. Given all that together and $30 million in your pocket to work with, I don’t see how she can fail.
You’ve lived in Atlantic City your whole life. Do you have faith in the governor’s plan for the city and how it’s unfolding?
I have no faith in anybody who’s not really from Atlantic City. My faith, first of all, is in God and I trust in God and I trust in the people of Atlantic City. Politicians — governors, mayors, and senators — we all come and go. People of Atlantic City are here, have been here, and will be here. Come what may, we’re here to stay and we will find a way to not only survive but to thrive either because of or in spite of various politicians.
I think it was about a year ago in this room you had a press conference and one of your major concerns, which you mentioned again at the MBCA luncheon earlier this month at Bally’s, was that the governor’s plan ignored the residents of the city. The district’s new commander Tom Gilbert (retired from New Jersey State Police) has said he wants to make it clear that the “clean and safe” goal is for the whole city, not just the tourism district.
And I would ask rhetorically, “Why separate the city? Why divide it into two parts?” Why was it necessary to bifurcate? Why was it necessary to segregate the city into two parts? If your concern really is for the whole city, there’s no need to divide it.
Those views have been printed here before. Has the governor’s office or anyone from the CRDA, or anyone involved in the tourism district spoken to you directly about this particular issue?
Let me say this: There are those who give this office the respect that this office is due. Certainly the folk at the CRDA are cognizant of that. And I’m not talking about the personality that occupies this chair. I’m talking about the overriding principle. The governor and his office do not afford this office the respect that it’s due. Respect is a two-way street. The governor is the governor; I understand that. But he’s a man just like I am. He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like me.
So he’s never reached out to you?
No, he hasn’t and I’ll say I think it’s because of his arrogance and the fact that he thinks he’s above humbling himself and affording the kind of respect that’s due. That’s his shortcoming. Let me say this to you. When the governor was trying to get support for his “Tool Kit” [initiative], during the dinner hour, at 6:30 one evening, the governor called me at home. It was a weeknight. He called me at home because he was looking for urban mayors, particularly some from the opposite party to get on board — and I did.
With the “Tool Kit” – some radical changes that the governor sought to enact. For an example, this whole golden parachute notion where a lot of our public safety sector employees leave with these astronomical buyouts. We need to rein that in and I supported the governor on that and still do. My point though is when it’s something you want you can find the time to call me at home, but you come in with a tourism district, and you don’t even have the common courtesy and decency to call me and let me know what you’re thinking. You basically shove it down my throat and then say: “Well, either he gets on board or the hell with him.” Well, if you can call me when there’s something you need, then why can’t you call me out of respect? See, I thank God that my parents raised me the way that they did. I understand respect and it doesn’t matter what I feel about a person personally. I’m always going to afford you the respect that your position commands. He would do well to take a page out of that book.
Has anyone from his office or even from —
They don’t talk to me. And don’t get me wrong, this is not sour grapes. I’m not crying over spilled milk. Just personally, I get in where I fit in and I don’t give a damn whether they talk to me or not because I’m going to do what I’ve got to do regardless. I don’t kiss anybody’s ring and I sure as hell don’t kiss anybody’s ass. Listen, that’s his problem as I said.
How about the CRDA, whose board you sit on?
They’re great. I’ve got a great relationship with them so far. They understand that it’s in our best interest to work together and because of that they afford this office, not the individual, [respect]. No matter who is here, I suspect that [the CRDA’s] John Palmieri and Susan Ney Thompson would afford this office the respect that it deserves and they do.
Do you think that, in black and white terms — no pun intended — that the district that they are planning could be seen as segregation?
I think they do now, but I think that had it not been for me pointing that out, perhaps they would not have. I referenced [it] in my official state of the city address [Jan. 18]. You know what’s ironic, we just celebrated the life and legacy of one of the greatest Americans that ever walked the earth – the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It was the Civil Rights Movement that I think was largely responsible for the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and that was to combat the segregated South. They gave all Americans the right to vote and it was akin to the principle of self-governance. But what does [the statute] S-11 do when you usurp the zoning and planning functions of the city and put them in the hands of outsiders who don’t live in the city and who haven’t been elected by anybody? It goes to the heart of self-governance. It strikes at the very core. So if you’re going to come in and segregate a city and then usurp our rights of self-governance away, I would say to you that’s pretty close to being back to where we were back in 1964. Now I’m sure that that wasn’t the intent, but that’s the reality anyway. So don’t be too proud to admit that you’ve made a mistake. Humble yourself and just correct it, that’s all.
Atlantic City is a small city —
Listen, I’m glad that the governor has focused on Atlantic City and I’m glad that there is $30 million a year for the next five years to market Atlantic City and there are some good things that have happened as a result of the governing legislature making Atlantic City a focal point. But all of it’s not good, so I’m not suggesting that you throw the baby out with the bathwater. What I am suggesting is if there’s something wrong, correct it, and one of the things that’s wrong is taking the zoning and planning away from the city. Everybody will tell you that there was nothing wrong with it. It worked wonderfully well. So if it ain’t broke, why fix it? See, we get back to ego. Let’s put the cards on the table and call it for what it really is. There are those that don’t believe the Atlantic City fathers are capable of handling this business. And again, that speaks to a level of arrogance and it also speaks to an underlying air of racism — point blank, as I’ve pointed out. The state of New Jersey, the governor, the legislature – they are in no position to question our integrity or our competence given the history of the State of New Jersey: Highest property taxes, highest car [insurance], c’mon, we are viewed as the most corrupt state in the nation. So governor, you got enough on your plate to try to fix that. You ought to give me the same respect that you’re asking the residents of New Jersey to give you. Give me a chance to fix it. Don’t judge me by those who came before me, just as you don’t want the residents of New Jersey judging you by the misdeeds of those who preceded you.
Ideally, how would you fix the problem?
What problem? Between the governor and I?
In regard to the underlying —
It’s not mine to fix. I’m the victim. I’m not the perpetrator. If there are those who believe that people of color are not capable of running this town, that’s their problem, not mine.
So you think that if there were a white mayor, things would be different?
I think the city was in worse shape politically when Mayor [James] Whelan [now a senator] was the mayor. There was never any talk of usurping the authority away from the city during the 12 years that Jim Whelan ran this town into the grave, where we basically ended up with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I came in and fixed his mess in four years. I’ve demonstrated my competence and in the three years that I was out, under Mayor [Bob] Levy — same situation, right back to where we were. Now I’m back and I’m cleaning up his mess.
Seemingly that could have been a time —
That was the time, right? So what’s the difference? How come when you have white mayors, there’s no mention of state interventions or state takeovers?
You don’t think that the state of the economy, the sliding gaming revenues in Atlantic City, the new gambling choices in other nearby states had anything —
Again, that’s a very disingenuous argument. As a matter of fact, it’s a boldface lie. The Hansen Committee, the Hansen Commission and Mackenzie Report said that the reason why the numbers are down in the casino industry is because of municipal government’s inability or unwillingness to work cooperatively with the casino industry. That’s a damn lie. The numbers are down because of the downturn in the national economy and the proliferation of gaming in neighboring jurisdictions, right? Everybody knows that. So why are you blaming me? Why are you blaming the city for the ills that have befallen the casino industry? Again, that’s the underlying racist problem.
The city has good relationships with all of the casinos, no?
I can recite for you specific instances time and time again where casinos have come to Atlantic City asking for our support and cooperation and they got it. I challenged those who would agree with and support the Hansen Commission study and Mackenzie Report. I challenge them to give me examples where we haven’t. … Here’s my point, again - if you made a mistake, admit it. Just be humble enough to admit it and then we can move on. Admit the mistake, correct the problem, let’s put it behind us and move on. But I’m not going to allow you to blame me for your problems when it wasn’t my fault. Not going to happen.
For the residents of the city, who may feel negatively about the planned tourism district and how there is a line being drawn by the state within the city, what would you say to them in terms of how a positive outcome can come out of all this for the future of the city?
The question is not for me to ask residents how do you feel about this. The question is for those who drew the boundaries and usurped the authority to ask the question of residents. And I would say, what’s the point? That’s the question that should have been put on the table before the bill was voted into law and it didn’t happen.
Do you think the public hearings that they’ve had have had any impact at all?
I think it’s window dressing. A dog and pony show. Because really it’s a fait de complete. What’s going to come out of these studies and this master plan is what’s going to be implemented. Let’s talk to people and create the perception that they’ve got input. One of the questions that I’ve raised that there is a citizen’s advisory committee for this whole tourism stuff at the CRDA, what authority do they have? If you’re telling me, I want to hear your opinion but I have no authority to have that opinion become real, then what’s the real point?
How is your relationship with [CRDA head] John Palmieiri?
With only one month until the June 6 city-wide election, residents were anxious to express their concerns and see what Democratic candidates envision for the future of Atlantic City. The well-organized event was sponsored by the local N.A.A.C.P., the Venice Park Civic Association and the Westside Neighborhood Protection Association.
On Tuesday morning, April 9, the ACA, CRDA and ACCVA teamed up for a presentation at the Sheraton to unveil new DO AC spring/summer campaign and highlight other new initiatives in the city from Margaritaville to Revel's new beach bar. Watch the new ad videos here.
"We think we have the money set aside. We've identified the funding. We believe we have a good site but we may determine that there are other sites that we need to review as well."
Jubilee: "Things don’t work that way in policing. The Atlantic City Police Department has jurisdiction for the entire city.”
From Pop Lloyd to Pattie Harris to Nucky Johnson and the Northside, not to mention Nina Simone and Sam Cooke and other entertainers' connections to Atlantic City and region.
Although A.C. tourism has taken a well-publicized hit based on increased competition elsewhere, funnel cake continues to enhance the saltwater air, rolling chairs move like motorized vehicles, and the resort continues to offer amenities that landlocked gambling boxes simply cannot.
The City of Atlantic City is planning a massive Multi-Cultural and Heritage Festival, which will take over the resort town for three days, June 1-3.
'There's so much that's going on that's good and it really has enabled us to build a campaign that is very positive and is very upbeat and that does really talk to all of the really positive things that are going on.'
“The master plan is designed to breathe new life into this historic coastal playground and transform the city into a highly desirable place to live, work, play and visit."
The day after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sent staffers to visit Atlantic City Mayor Langford, the mayor says he doesn't feel much different about the concerns he raised last week and that the ball is in the governor's court now.
"I get offended when the governor and others advocate that we need an increased police presence on the Boardwalk to create the ‘perception’ that the city is safe, because the reality is that the Boardwalk is safe. But even to address just the ‘perception’ [of the city’s tourists] they advocate more resources. What about the neighborhoods?"
Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation today to create an Atlantic City Tourism District and announced a breakthrough in the Revel Casino project.
As in previous years, the Metropolitan Business & Citizens Association (MBCA) Winter luncheon kickoff event at Resorts in Atlantic City featured a keynote address — an unofficial state of the city address — by Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford.
On a sizzling hot Boardwalk Wednesday Governor Chris Christie did his best to say that the state was looking to help Atlantic City, not take over. “I’m here to extend the hand of partnership to the city,” Christie said. "We are entering into this public private partnership because we have to remake ourselves. We want to make Atlantic City a place where families and businesses want to be and want to come back to again and again.”
“This is about jobs, it’s about getting people back to work, it’s about bringing this city back into where it feels, once again, like the preeminent entertainment resort on the East Coast."
"Revel Entertainment said Thursday that it has secured the final $1 billion-plus it needs to finish its half-built casino on the Atlantic City Boardwalk."
Watch the video of Atlantic City Mayor Langford on CNN Nov. 1 accusing Gov. Christie of a 'double standard.'