Gay, Republican and Now Mayor of Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - What do you call a gay Republican who obsesses about street sweepers, frets that the city's business isn't conducted in enough languages and toys with the idea of giving free land to the poor to get it back on the tax rolls?
As of Wednesday in Atlantic City, it's Mr. Mayor.
Don Guardian was sworn in as the resort city's 49th mayor amid a brutal slowdown that has seen it lose its place as the nation's second-largest gambling market, with casino revenues falling more than 40 percent and thousands of jobs being lost in the past six years. The 60-year-old Guardian warns of challenging times ahead as his administration tries to turn things around.
"The first couple years are going to be tough," he said. "We're going to be trimming the budget and looking for additional funding from the state and federal governments to help us."
Guardian is a most unlikely mayor. His triumph in November over incumbent Democrat Lorenzo Langford shocked the city, where Democrats enjoy a 9-to-1 advantage in registration; he will be Atlantic City's first Republican mayor in 23 years.
"Everybody brings their own life experiences," he said. "I'm an openly gay, white Republican Roman Catholic. I'm a good man, and I make good decisions. I bring that to the job."
Guardian is the longtime head of Atlantic City's Special Improvement District, tasked with planting flowers, installing benches, cleaning streets and generally sprucing up key areas of the resort. Indeed, in a resort defined for many by its casinos, Guardian is as excited about street sweepers as he is about straight flushes. He promises that by the end of the month, every street in the city will be cleaned five days a week, and one of the first things he did after being elected was meet with public works employees who clean the streets in his neighborhood to get to know them and encourage them.
His priorities include addressing the city's crime problem, streamlining the process for developers to build and putting vacant land back on the tax rolls. He also says one of his goals is to work better with Gov. Chris Christie on matters of concern to Atlantic City - a goal the Republican governor has said he shares. Christie and Langford were antagonists who sparred over management of the city and its efforts to evacuate residents before Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, among other topics.
Guardian also said he will unveil initiatives to attract new commercial and residential development to Atlantic City.
A particular challenge will be ending a string of tax appeals by casinos that are costing the city millions in lost revenue. He has already met with casino executives and pledged a more cooperative effort, but he couldn't say specifically how the goal of ending tax appeals might be accomplished, particularly with the value of the casinos falling as the Atlantic City gambling market contracts.
"For gaming, the days of monopoly are gone; that's something we understand," Guardian said. "Our plan is to help them by running an efficient government and providing services that are second to none. There is no reason for casinos to be filing tax appeals and taking us to court. We can all sit down at the same table. We have to find a fair and equitable way for the casinos to pay taxes."