Wednesday's spat between Gov. Chris Christie and Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford made for good headlines, but a South Jersey industry watcher says it's not good for business.
"Even if they don't agree with each other, taking this out in public is not a good thing," said Michael Busler, an associate professor at Stockton College and a fellow at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.
During a town hall meeting Wednesday in Montville, Christie called Atlantic City one of the "worst run" cities in the country, and said Langford "has no idea what he's doing," according to published reports.
The mayor later shot back, telling the Press of Atlantic City that Christie's legacy is "one of hypocrisy" and criticizing the governor for the state's high property taxes and auto insurance rates.
Busler said Atlantic City certainly has fiscal problems. He said falling casino property values have devastated the city's ratable base, prompting the city to raise property taxes to the point where some homeowners can no longer afford to live there. That, and the casino industry's struggles, has put pressure on the job and housing markets. Langford, meanwhile, was recently given a $16,000 raise.
Busler said the friction between Langford and Christie dates back to the governor's 2011 signing of a law giving the state control over the city's tourism district. That move brought a new regulatory structure and new energy to the tourism district, but it has yet to result in a significant turnaround in the gaming industry's fortunes.
Busler said the move has also brought frustration from residents who were expecting a stronger state police presence in the city to help curb rising crime.
The result, he said, is continued tension between the city and the state.
"And instead of the two sides working together, which they really have to do, they seem to be drifting further apart," he said. "And now it's to the point where you're getting some name-calling. And that's not a good thing."
As to what prompted the most recent war of words, Busler notes that both Christie and Langford are up for re-election. Christie is well ahead of his challenger in the polls. Langford, who formally announced his re-election bid this week, is facing two Democratic primary opponents.
"The timing is, I think, a little more than coincidence," Busler said.
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