In an exclusive interview with Atlantic City Weekly, the mayor of Atlantic City talks about a variety of topics including his relationship with NJ Gov. Chris Christie, his recent trip to China, the Revel project, what may be on tap for Bader Field and the city he grew up in.
It's 1pm on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend and Mayor Lorenzo Langford has already attended several important city meetings. Arriving at City Hall for a scheduled interview with Atlantic City Weekly, Langford is in good spirits. Before the interview, talk turns to our respective Thanksgiving holidays and then to our mutual admiration for the musician-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron.
(The mayor's a huge fan, and if he has it his way, Scott-Heron could be performing in Atlantic City next summer.)
Born and raised in Atlantic City, Lorenzo Langford is an avid fan of HBO's Boardwalk Empire — he tunes in weekly — and has a deep-rooted passion for the residents of his hometown. The one-time casino worker who is currently serving his second (non-consecutive) term as Atlantic City's mayor faces many challenges, as most mayor's do in today's tough economy. But, Langford says, he is optimistic about the future of Atlantic City.
Your September trip to China. Was it a success in your opinion? What did you hope to accomplish there?
Let me answer your first part. Was it a success or not? I answer that rhetorically: Nothing beats a failure but a try. I had nothing to lose by going to China. Nor did the taxpayers of Atlantic City, because they didn’t pay for the trip, and I kind of mixed business with pleasure. I took some of my personal time as I am entitled and I preface my answer by disclosing that upfront.
Now the purpose of the trip was two-fold. I went fishing, not literally, but trying to see if there might be any investment trees in China that I could shake something loose from, that might be interested in investing in Atlantic City. And secondly to talk about a foreign-student-exchange program to provide our Atlantic City students an opportunity to travel abroad and see some other countries. So, from that perspective, yes, it was a successful trip.
I met two individuals over there, and again, part of it was to ostensibly forge a sister city relationship with two cities, one in China (Zhanjiang) and one in Korea (Chungcheongbuk-do). Those relationships for the most part are symbolic and while they are important, they really were not my primary purpose for going. I wanted to seek out some potential investment.
But let me start with the sister city relationship. I have titillated the interest of some folk in formulating that relationship. In addition to that there is a city in France, which had established a sister city relationship with the City of Atlantic City way back in 1974. They called us, right out of the blue. It was amazing how all of the stars seemed to align at the same time. Right when we were putting the finishing touches on this China trip, the phone rings and it’s our sister city representatives in France, who none of us even knew existed. And they’re like we established this sister city relationship in 1974 and nothing’s happened. It’s been dormant. And we wanted to know if you would still be interested in getting this thing started all over again. And I was like, cool.
And since then, they have come here to Atlantic City. And we had a big meeting right here [in the Mayor’s conference room] and we had representatives from the Board of Education, again because my focus is on foreign-student exchange. The good news is, that’s going to happen ...
So I’m saying all that because I thought the trip was successful because I think we’re going to be able a) to actually start a foreign-student exchange program on two levels: the collegiate level … and the high school level. My hope is that for like a two-week period, I can get the corporate sponsors to sponsor a student and have that student visit China and stay with a family over there and that at some point have us reciprocate and receive one of their students over here. That’s what I’m trying to do because I want to broaden the horizon of our young folk ...
... It is projected that within two years China will become the No. 1 economy on the planet. So that position that we [Americans] have enjoyed for the last 100 years is changing. It is predicted that within the next 10 years, India will surpass the U.S. and have the second biggest economy on the planet. So you can see what’s happening. I think that we would be doing our children a disservice if we didn’t at least share with them that perspective and have them understand that the world is much bigger than just the geographical confines of the United States. And that’s why I think it’s important for us to think globally.
Interestingly enough, last Wednesday night [Thanksgiving Eve] I actually met with one of the guys at the Taj Mahal who I met with in China. This guy, among other things, is a promoter. They had this kid who’s the hottest act in China appearing at the Taj Mahal Wednesday night on the eve of Thanksgiving. The show was actually Thanksgiving Day because it started at one o’clock in the morning ... and this is what’s interesting and I’m trying to give you a feel for the level this guy is on. He has the No. 1 act in China booked for the Taj Mahal at a 1am show! I can’t even get passed that. (Laughs.) Because they wanted me to come to the show and I was like, you got to be kidding me. That late? It’s just not going to happen. But at any rate, he said the show was sold out — and we’re talking about the [Taj Mahal’s] Mark Etess Arena. They oversold the show by 900 tickets, a wonderful problem for a promoter to have, right? And most of the tickets were sold in Hong Kong ...
Now I’m thinking could any promoter around here, in the States, pack the Mark Etess Arena for a 1am show? I don’t think so. I don’t care who the act is, you’re not going to put 5,600 people in that arena at 1am. It’s just not going to happen. But more importantly, how do you get people from Hong Kong to fly across the country to come to a show at the Taj Mahal? Now, obviously they’re gambling too, like [on] a junket. But that’s a lot of tickets, man. So, to quote that famous bank robber when they asked him why he robbed that bank, his answer was, ‘because that’s where the money’s at.’ So when people ask me why I went to China, I say that’s where the money’s at. They’re going to have the No. 1 economy on the planet and as a symbol of how these guys do business they’re going to sell the tickets in Hong Kong and then put the people on planes to come to see the shows — they’ve got some money, man. That’s what I’m trying to say ...
So to answer your question, yes, I think the trip was a success. Now, can I point to something tangible yet? No I can’t. But the beginning of a thousand-mile journey begins with the first step. And so I think if we sit here a year from now and you ask me the same question, I’m going to be able to say we got the foreign-student exchange program off the ground and it’s up and running. So we’ve realized that. And, I’ve had some guys from China come to Atlantic City to look around ... So, again, to me it was a success, particularly when you consider the fact that basically I used time that I had and my own and private money — no taxpayer dollars were expended, so who could be mad about that?
Did you meet with anybody else?
I did meet another guy in China. So I have two guys in China that told me they are interested in coming and taking a look around. I didn’t get that commitment from anybody in South Korea.
Did you have a whole entourage with you?
No, just my one aide, Mohamed.
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"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.”
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