Joined: 17 Aug 2005
Location: Twin Cities, MN
|Posted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 9:36 pm Post subject: A.C. and Corzine both ask: Who is in charge here?
|A.C. and Corzine both ask: Who is in charge here?
Saturday, October 06, 2007
BY DEBORAH HOWLETT
It's been 10 days since Atlantic City Mayor Bob Levy was last seen in public.
His mysterious disappearance amid reports of a federal investiga tion into the veracity of his military service record, as well as worries about his health, has raised a tricky question: Who's in charge?
Angry local activists stormed city hall yesterday in an effort to "take control" from the city administrator and install the city council president as acting mayor. A few hours later, Gov. Jon Corzine held a news conference on the Boardwalk a mile away to announce that he has asked Attorney General Anne Milgram to offer a formal opinion on whether Levy has aban doned his office, and, if he has, what happens next.
"Clearly, we are faced with an unusual set of circumstances," Cor zine said. "I'm not here to advocate a state takeover. I hope it doesn't come to that."
Corzine declined to give a firm deadline for resolving the issue, saying only that it needed to happen quickly.
"It seems to me what the situation is today cannot go on for any extended period," he said. "You can't just create a vacuum that allows for dysfunctional and chaotic behavior."
Atlantic County Executive Den nis Levinson, a Republican, questioned Corzine's depiction of the situation as dire, or even serious.
"This is not a crisis. This is a political dispute," Levinson said. "This is a Chicken Little scenario. The sky is not falling. The trash is getting picked up. The police are doing their jobs. Where is the cri sis?"
Republican state Sen. James "Sonny" McCullough, who is also mayor of Egg Harbor Township, called a late-afternoon news conference to accuse Corzine of manufacturing a crisis in order to "shore up" the election campaign of Democratic Assemblyman Jim Whelan. A former three-term mayor of Atlantic City, Whelan is challenging McCullough for the seat that McCullough won when Sen. Bill Gormley retired earlier this year.
"The governor's visit today accomplishes nothing other than playing partisan politics with the future of the city and its people," McCullough said.
Whelan, who appeared with Corzine on the Boardwalk, said Levy's disappearance has created myriad problems.
"Atlantic City is not functioning in any way it should," Whelan said. "To allow the government to continue to flounder the way it has the past couple of weeks is unacceptable."
Whelan has been friends with Levy since the two worked summers together as lifeguards on the beaches of this resort town. He said he has not heard from Levy and does not know his whereabouts.
Levy was last seen in public Sept. 26, when he signed seven bills passed by the council and then vanished.
The official word at city hall is that Levy is on indefinite medical leave and he verbally gave control of the city to administrator Dominic Cappella. Levy's lawyer, who is out of the country until next week, and his wife have said they know Levy's whereabouts but have refused to disclose them. Cappella has said federal privacy rules on health care prevent him from say ing where the mayor is.
Frustration over the lack of information has been escalating.
A noon rally yesterday turned into a bit of civil disobedience as activists stormed city hall and were barred from entering the seventh- floor mayor's office by Police Chief John Mooney.
No one was arrested or injured, according to police, but the demonstrators' anger was clear.
"Our objective was to take over city hall," said Charles Turner, a leader of a committee that is trying to recall Levy from office. "We feel the business administrator should not be acting in the capacity as mayor. He was not elected by the people and the mayor didn't put anything in writing."
Any resolution of the situation, short of Levy reappearing, will have to wait at least until the end of the long Columbus Day weekend.
City Councilman G. Bruce Ward said he filed a lawsuit yesterday asking the county Superior Court to issue a declaratory judgment that Levy has vacated his office and, by law, Council President William "Speedy" Marsh should be installed as acting mayor. He said he expected the lawsuit would have a hearing before a judge Tuesday.
State law says an elected office is considered to be "vacated" if the officeholder is absent for 60 consecutive days, which would mean Levy could remain missing until after Thanksgiving before legal action is taken.
"It would lead to a great degree of uncertainty to wait 60 days," Corzine said.
Deborah Howlett may be reached at (609) 989-0273 or dhowlett@star ledger.com.