ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Marty Small Sr. said he had time. And he used it on Tuesday, at one point asking aides to open a seventh-floor window to cool the room down, winds whistling into the mayor’s conference room.
For more than an hour, a heated Small had lawyers explain why the city had no choice but to evict Gregory Wood and his popular food truck Fishheads from Gardner’s Basin on Saturday during a nor’easter. And then he railed, one by one, against a host of political “enemies” and “opportunists” he says have exploited the food truck saga.
“This is politics at its worst,” he said. “Look at the cast of characters.”
In the end, he extended a small olive branch to Wood and Fishheads, saying, “If there’s a spot anywhere in this city for Fishheads, this administration will still entertain it.”
Wood, in a separate conversation Tuesday, said he was willing to make his trailer fully mobile to work events and weekends, which could be enough to satisfy the state Green Acres regulations that allow temporary food trucks at the 12-acre site.
But any resolution seemed far off as Small, with hundreds watching a livestream on Facebook, took aim at the people he said were exploiting the situation to score political points.
“My enemies are mad because I’m killing it,” he said, of his performance as mayor. “That’s what we’re doing for Black people and people in Atlantic City.”
He sounded betrayed and exasperated, defiant and determined to redirect the conversation to his administration’s accomplishments, including a tax decrease, antiviolence programs, and fully staffing the recreation department.
He called former Mayor Don Guardian, now a state assemblyman, “the biggest fraud on the planet Earth.”
“When was the last time he bought a Fishheads sandwich?” Small said. “He lives a football throw from Fishheads. Now when it’s an opportunity to attack me, you want to support the Black community.”
He produced a letter Guardian wrote as mayor in which he advocated for another restaurant at Gardner’s Basin, Back Bay Ale House, and did not mention Fishheads, and declared it a “smoking gun.”
Guardian was traveling overseas on a legislative trip and was not available for comment.
Wood, however, said on Wednesday that on the contrary, Guardian had championed for him and Fishheads in the early 2000s,” and had helped secure about $50,000 grants and aid that allowed a dining area to be built in front of the popular food truck.
Small called State Sen. Vince Polistina, who has been advocating for Wood and trying to broker a compromise with the state, “a liar,” for suggesting that Wood stay while he was trying to work a deal.
Polistina said Tuesday after the news conference he had been in contact with the governor’s office and the state Department of Environmental Protection prior to the eviction and felt that a compromise was within reach that would allow the popular Fishheads to remain at Gardner’s Basin.
“The bottom line is a week ago, I was actively working every day with the governor’s office and the DEP to find a path for Fishheads to stay,” he said. “No matter what they say about the history, the claims that it’s not political ring hollow. A lot of words from him mean very little.”
Small lashed out at two members of the Atlantic City Council who have opposed him and advocated for Wood and for Fishheads.
Anthony Swan, the city’ business administrator, outlined years of negotiations with the state and National Park Service over the Gardner’s Basin restrictions, which he said left the city no choice but to seek Fishheads’ removal. He said Wood had been given ample notice.
Small also denied that an encounter last summer between his wife, La’Quetta Small, and Wood outside Fishheads had anything to do with the city’s action against Fishheads.
“Let’s dismiss that theory that this is something personal,” Mayor Small said.