ATLANTIC CITY - Gov. Christie said he felt like he was in "Alice in Wonderland."
"As I was flying in here, I was thinking to myself, I'm going to the land where right now up is down and down is up," Christie said.
He did land in Atlantic City Wednesday, but did not meet with the city's Mayor, Don Guardian, but met instead with the County Executive, Dennis Levinson, and held a press conference in the County Office Building across the courtyard from City Hall.
"There's no purpose in meeting with a liar," Christie said, of Guardian.
Guardian, who held his second set of dueling press conferences with Christie this week, the first in Trenton, said the statement disappointed him, but "I've realized that's how politicians talk."
He, in turn, characterized Christie's entrance into town as coming in "through a back alley" to a "loading dock," and said the governor has ignored years of residents asking him to hold a town hall meeting in Atlantic City.
The two elected leaders, Mayor and Governor, did not break bread, needless to say, even with the city heading for a cash crisis by week's end.
UPDATE: Wednesday night, City Council voted 9-0 on a modified 28-day payroll plan that will keep City Hall open past Friday, when the mayor had warned that all non-essential services would cease and essential employees would be paid with IOUs until May 2, when new taxes come in.
Christie continued his tough rhetoric about the city's failings and desperate needs, and insisted only a full state takeover giving him authority over all city operations and the right to rip up union contracts would solve the crisis.
He said Levinson, the County Executive, had agreed to take over certain functions of the city, to be named later. In return, Christie and Levinson said, the governor had "guaranteed" that the county would get 13.5 percent of the city's taxes, above the 10.6 required by state law. That amounts to $4 million a year, Levinson said.
Levinson said he had no interest in taking on the city's police department, and Christie said any suggestion that the police department was on the table for regionalization had "no basis in fact."
Levinson and Christie did however say that the county might seek to take over the city's much-sought after Municipal Utility Authority - their Water Works, in Monopoly parlance. City officials have said they are concerned the water utility would be sold to a private company, and residents would be hit with increases for service, amounting to tax hike. Estimates are that the city could net $100 million but the state's Emergency Manager recommended making it a city department and monetizing it for about $4 million a year.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, meanwhile, who has refused to post the takeover bill for a vote, was set to introduce compromise bill on Thursday that preserves collective bargaining rights and creates an "Atlantic City Planning Committee" as oversight.
But Christie said again said he would only sign the original bill and a rescue aid package together.
Christie claimed that Guardian agreed to the full takeover during a five hour telephone call from New Hampshire and then again at press conference with Christie, Guardian and state Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Guardian, however, said his only conversation with the governor was nine minutes long, half about a coming nor'easter, and that he agreed specifically to a new compromise bill. He said the governor then went ahead at the press conference and read from the original bill. And he noted that Sweeney drove to Atlantic City the night of the press conference to assure City Council that the resulting bill would not be the original takeover.
"The mayor sits around and talks about scenarios that are like, how many angels can you dance on the head of a pin?" Christie said. "It's ridiculous. He has no money."
He said the city's delayed payroll plan would "kick the can down the road" for at least a month or two, but said even if City Hall had to shut itself down, it should not concern any would be visitors to the resort. He noted Atlantic City was still the third largest city in the country in terms of gaming revenue, and that non gaming attractions had increased in the last few years.