By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY â€“ Mayoral candidate Pamela Thomas-Fields is waging two campaigns as Atlantic City politics are entering a crucial stretch over the next few months.
In July, the veteran City of Atlantic City employee and longtime political volunteer, will be trying to beat out Mayor Marty Small in the Democratic primary to fill out the term left when Frank Gilliam resigned. The Democrat would be favored to win the November primary.
Before that, though, Thomas-Field and Small will be on the same side as they try to beat a proposal to change Atlantic City’s form of government that could essentially make the July vote a moot point.
The May 12 vote would change Atlantic City form of government from a “strong mayor” form â€“ where the mayor is directly voted on by the public and runs the administration â€“ to a “weak mayor” form â€“ where an all at-large city council picks a mayor from its own ranks and a city manager, who is not publicly elected, will would run the city.
“The May 12 referendum vote has been the focus of our campaign,” Thomas-Fields told Front Runner New Jersey. “The future of our city depends on this vote, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic it is an especially challenging time for our residents. We have had to adapt to other ways of communicating and have utilized Facebook Live to let residents know why we must Vote No and protect our rights and our city.
If Atlantic City residents vote down the change, Thomas-Fields will have a chance to become the first African-American woman, or any woman, voted to lead the city.
“I believe the people are still engaged, and they’re spreading the message,” she said. “We are going full speed now and guess what, once we get through May 12, we pick right back up and go full speed to July. The people I talk with, both the youth and our seniors, are engaged and excited for bold new leadership and having the first female mayor in the city’s history.”
Thomas-Fields currently works in the city’s planning department has more than 25 years in city government work, including economic development. She is also an adjunct professor at Stockton University.
She also cross one huge hurdle when she won the endorsement of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee last month. While Small blamed powerful Atlantic City political operative Craig Callaway for the loss, Thomas-Fields said her campaign is based on voters wanting representation that will have their best interest at heart.
“I think people have lost their faith in democracy,” Thomas-Fields said. “Politics now has a negative meaning for many. But the politics I knew, the politics I was raised with as a child, was for good. Those were real leaders who were reliable and trustworthy, and they took their jobs seriously.
“They were true public servants. Our job as an elected official is to listen to your constituents and help bring about the things that they want. I want to be that open ear for Atlantic City, and a voice for change,” she added.
A native of Newark born to two teachers, Thomas-Fields said she fell in love with Atlantic City while spending summers in the city with her parents. That love led to graduate from Stockton University and becoming an educator herself before going into local government.
“[My parents] bought a summer home in Atlantic City when I was 9 and we would spend our summers here. There was something about it here that made me want to stay and so I went to Stockton University and afterwards became a teacher here.
“I worked at the Family Center in Atlantic City and an opportunity came up for me to be involved on a political campaign (Gibb Jones was running for First Ward councilman). I helped run the campaign and we won in a run-off election. That was 25 years ago and I’ve worked in City Hall ever since,” she continued.
She said it was her father, John Thomas, who fueled her interest in politics and civil rights, setting passionate examples of activism through his life.
“He marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was at Selma,” Thomas-Fields said. “He is a World War II veteran that earned his undergraduate and graduates degrees from Rutgers New Brunswick and became one of the first black teachers in our community. He believed that everyone was entitled to a fair and equal education.
“He viewed education as a way for greater opportunities and a way to get the things you want in life. He knew to make change you had to know the law and be knowledgeable about your government, and he empowered young people to do just that. His experiences of prejudice and injustice moved him to be a part of that positive change he wanted for his community. I remember he was very active in politics while I was growing up.
“But back then, politics was a force for good. I can remember my father holding focus groups in our dining room, campaigning for the DNC, because actually both of my parents were district leaders. Politics and democracy has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My father’s legacy of optimism and activism is the backdrop to everything I have accomplished,” she said.
One of the causes that has been close to Thomas-Field’s heart is her involvement with the Atlantic City Women’s March Steering Committee. She has been part of that committee from its beginning and said she always feel the energy generated by the group.
“That came about from my connection to [Atlantic County Freeholder] Ashley Bennett, who I met at a networking night with my Stockton students,” Thomas-Fields said. “She went on to become District 3 Freeholder in Atlantic County. She went on to speak at the women’s march in New York City and was motivated to bring it down to Atlantic City.
“She asked me to be on the committee and it has been such an honor to be around so many dynamic and encouraging women. This was our second year, and when I spoke at the march I truly felt the energy in that moment, that I had arrived as a leader for this city,” she added.
Thomas-Fields touched on several other subjects in her interview with Front Runner New Jersey.com.
FRNJ: If you went on to win in July and November, you would become the first female mayor in the history of Atlantic City. What would that legacy mean for you?
Pamela Thomas-Fields: Becoming not only the first female mayor of Atlantic City, but the first African American Female mayor would be a validation that all my hard work has paid off. That my sacrifices and commitments to my education and career were not all for naught. As women, our voices are often tuned out or down-played. To be an example for other women that yes, we will have a seat at the table and our voices will be heard, that is what I want to be. And for everyone else who feels that they are not heard, I want to be their voice for change. It has been a gratifying experience already to aspire to that role in public service, and to achieve it would be truly humbling.
FRNJ: How would you make Atlantic City different?
Pamela Thomas-Fields: I believe this city needs a healing. It has experienced real trauma–from Sandy, the 2008 recession, corruption, a takeover by the state. These are difficult things for people. To be able to increase the quality of life for our residents, we have to bring about a healing through listening, through getting to the hearts and souls of the people who call Atlantic City home. You can’t help people unless they know that you truly sincerely care about them.
Then you can start tackling the core issues. My platform, and I know it sounds cliche, but it really comes down to it, is Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. By focusing first on the health of our residents, which have some of the worst public health outcomes in the state, we can begin to improve their quality of life. HIV, addiction, infant mortality, mental illness, these are all things that our residents are struggling with. The city no longer has a department of health and we still do not have a supermarket. These are basic things that benefit a community. Wealthy and Wise refers to economic development and educational opportunities, and that can be academics or our union trades. We have to support small businesses and leverage our educational institutions to bring opportunity home.
This is going to take everyone coming to the table, and collaborating across our government agencies and working with the casinos in partnership. Making sure that all stakeholders can be a part of the process, not overlook them, and to use our resources to create opportunities for people here. It is all about how you approach it, and as mayor I would open the lines of communication for the benefit of the economy and our residents.
FRNJ: FRNJ focuses on presenting positive African-American role models. How seriously do you take your role as a role model for young people? Why?
Pamela Thomas-Fields: I’ve always said to my Stockton students that I aim to be an example. My faith is my guide and I am still learning and growing every day. I believe that if you have expectations of people, especially our young people, that you have to live up to them yourself. I have been so blessed to have had great mentors and so many people that gave of themselves for me to better myself. Because of this I feel it is my responsibility to be the same type of role model. I hope to inspire young women and men in Atlantic City to want more, to never settle, and to fight for a seat at the table to be decision makers in their community.
FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Pamela Thomas-Fields: Well, in one year I see myself as the first female mayor of Atlantic City. So in five years I hope turn the city in the direction of opportunity. Of advancement and inclusiveness. I want to be an example of leadership in government and leverage our city’s diversity to build on the talents of our residents. To be able to deliver on my platform of Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, to really improve the quality of life for people in Atlantic City and bring about a thriving economy, that is what I hope to achieve in five years.
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