Atlantic City NAACP Rejects Proposal From Polistina to Reduce AC City Council Seats, Votes for Mayor

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Tim Alexander, left, speak to Atlantic City NAACP members at their May 13 meeting

BY CLYDE HUGHES | AC JosepH Media

ATLANTIC CITY — A letter from State Sen. Vince Polistina to NAACP New Jersey State Conference President Richard Smith over a proposal to reduce the number of Atlantic City council members and take away the rights of the voters to pick a mayor was met with angry response among local members.

During the Atlantic City NAACP’s May meeting, President Kaleem Shabazz, who also represents Ward 3 on the city council, shared the letter with members about Polistina’s proposal. In the letter, he details numerous past problems with city administrations and scandals and what he says is a lack of desire to change since he’s been representing the area since 2021 and senator for District 2.

Some of Polistina’s proposals include reducing the number of city council members from the current nine to 5 and having the five select the mayor from that group instead of the public.

He also suggested that appointed representatives from Stockton University, AtlantiCare Health System, the Casino Association of New Jersey, and the largest non-gaming entity in the city join in selecting the mayor as well.

“Legislation has not been introduced because it is important for me to first try to meet to get thoughts/input from people to improve the legislation.

He said Shabazz has rejected an offer to meet. Shabazz said at the meeting that any effort to reduce those who are representing the citizens of Atlantic City, including the mayor, is a nonstarter.

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“Our framework [to oppose the proposal] has to be, in my mind, that this is an unconstitutional, illegal, anti-civil rights move and I think people would see that,” Shabazz said at the May 13 NAACP meeting at the Atlantic Cape College Worthington campus.

Shabazz said he would like to see Polistina’s legislation to no avail.

“I don’t understand the mindset of immediately rejecting conversations about the city, seemingly just wanting to continue a cycle of poverty and decline,” Polistina wrote.

“I don’t understand why he don’t understand,” said civil rights attorney Tim Alexander, who attended the NAACP meeting to address the proposal. Alexander said it would be illegal on the basis of diluting the voting power of residents by taking away representatives and carving out special voting rights for corporations like AtlantiCare and the casino industry.

“Why would you want to talk about something that’s unethical and unconstitutional,” Alexander told the NAACP  “There are no details about what council members would stay who would think there would be a few details here and there’s none.”

Alexander, who is also running for Congress, said the best line of attack for NAACP members and the general public in Atlantic City is to voice concern that Polistina’s legislation on its face would be unlawful.

Aaron “Sporty” Randolph, the current city council president, urged people to remember the proposal at the ballot box not only in November but the next time Polistina is up for re-election.

Alexander said such a proposal would not be taken seriously if it wasn’t for the fact that it was proposed by a state senator in the same district.

“I suspect we’ll never hear about this again,” Alexander said. “But if it does, you are armed with the law and the constitution and know it is illegal.”

Polistina copied local State Rep. Don Guardian, who is a former mayor of Atlantic City and Claire Swift. Guardian and Swift appear to have not spoken publicly on the legislation.

NJ District 2 Sen. Vince Polistina, Assemblyman Don Guardian, Assemblywoman Claire Swift

In 2000, Guardian supported a similar city referendum to reduce city council seats from nine to five and for that group to hand-pick the mayor. The voters, though, soundly defeated that legislation with 76.8% of the vote.

Some NAACP City NAACP members, like Anthony Brower, of Friends in Action, wondered if those organizers were seeking essentially to get a second bite at the apple with Polistina’s legislation to get around voter’s clear intent. Other members suggested a letter-writing campaign to Polistina calling for him to stand back from the proposal.

No one at the meeting spoke in favor of the proposal or suggested it merited further discussion.

Ironically, in March, Polistina proposed a Senate bill for a state takeover of Atlantic City Public Schools.


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