‘God-awful’ vs. ‘hypocrisy’: Christie spars with A.C.’s Langford

Lorenzo Langford, former mayor.
Lorenzo Langford, former mayor.
Posted: February 28, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - Within hours of announcing he would run for a third term as Atlantic City's mayor, Lorenzo Langford on Wednesday was again embroiled in a long-distance altercation with Gov. Christie, who said the resort's leader has "no idea what he's doing" and runs the "most God-awful, wasteful" municipal government in the nation.

Langford, 57, a Democrat who four years ago vowed that he had made his last run for mayor, fired back via e-mail that Christie's record as governor is "one of hypocrisy."

Langford did not return calls for direct comment.

In a speech to party faithful Tuesday night, Langford said he changed his mind after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy pummeled the region. He said he also was upset about the Christie administration's creation of a state-run tourism district three years ago in a deal that allowed the Division of Community Affairs to monitor Atlantic City's spending.

Initially, Langford described the October 2010 agreement as "collaborative," with the state covering the city's $9.5 million budget deficit and sparing property owners a significant tax increase. The deal created state oversight of city functions down to trash removal and street cleaning.

But the climate quickly dissolved into he said/he said spats between the mayor and governor, and the mayor began skipping important city functions - including the recent announcement of the return of the Miss America Pageant.

A year into the partnership, Langford likened the deal to "apartheid," saying the tourism district had created "two Atlantic Cities" and that "a white, imperialistic, out-of-town minority" had imposed its will on the "indigenous people of color" by stripping away the ability of local residents to govern.

Christie contended that Langford had become "impossible to work with" and accused him of race-baiting, "playing to the lowest common denominator" when it came to getting the city on board with the state's efforts to dig Atlantic City out of a financial hole.

Some of the most heated skirmishes in the politicians' verbal battles came during the hurricanes. During Irene, the governor called Langford a "rogue" mayor, accusing him of putting the city's residents in harm's way by failing to heed an order to evacuate the entire New Jersey Shore. Some residents who did leave complained that they ended up stranded in a shelter in Trenton without power for days while very little actually happened at the shore.

In both storms, against the governor's wishes, Langford opened shelters in Atlantic City, where about 80 percent of the island was ultimately flooded during Sandy. Christie contended that the mayor's poor leadership ultimately endangered as many as 40,000 residents and visitors.

"Because Mayor Langford was worried some of his people were angry? That's not leadership, people," Christie said during a news conference hours before the storm struck. Langford said the governor was way off base. He wanted residents to leave town, but if they couldn't or wouldn't, they should at least go to a shelter.

On Wednesday, Langford said he resented that the state had "physically occupied" City Hall for three years and that he had been unable to govern beyond what was mandated. His latest bid for office would be an attempt to "defend our right to self-governance," according to a statement he made to 200 party members who gathered Tuesday at his election headquarters.

The state has identified 40 issues that were "successfully addressed" over the last three years while the city was under the state's "watchful eye," Langford said in an e-mail.

When state auditors concluded their work in Atlantic City last fall, local officials began crafting a new municipal budget that included an ordinance giving Langford a raise.

On Wednesday, Christie attacked that raise. "This guy just voted himself a $16,000 raise," the governor said. "America is the greatest country in the world if that can happen."

The mayor defended his time in office. "If Atlantic City is one of the most wasteful governments in America, then what does that say about the Christie administration, [which] has oversight? That's tantamount to calling his own subordinates incompetent. Which begs the question: Are they incompetent, or is he just full of baloney?"

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at philly.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.


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