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Black N.J. legislators: 'Serious problems' with state's Atlantic City plans

The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus held a hearing in Atlantic City about a looming state takeover that members said they would resist on civil rights grounds.

The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus came to an Atlantic City church Thursday to hear constitutional and civil rights concerns residents have about the state's ongoing actions in Atlantic City.

State Sen. Ron Rice (D., Essex), said he had "serious problems" with the state's potential takeover of the city, which could happen if the state rejects a recovery plan due from the city in early November. The state takeover would allow the state to sell assets, end collective bargaining agreements and would sideline the mayor and council.

In addition, Rice said he was concerned that the terms of a $73 million state bridge loan given to Atlantic City were "handcuffing" the city due to unnecessary requirements.

Despite legislation that redirects $78 million of casino revenue to Atlantic City -  money currently being withheld by the state - the state is requiring the city to offer its water utility and disused municipal airport, Bader Field, as additional collateral for the loan. Rice asked for more detailed information on those terms.

Several dozen speakers from Atlantic City described their fears that a state takeover would violate their civil and constitutional rights. The five members of the caucus who traveled to Atlantic City included former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, Assemblywomen Blonnie Watson and Cleopatra Tucker, and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, gathered at the Second Baptist Church in midtown.

Rice said before the hearing that he was concerned that Gov. Christie was content to let the city fail so he could take over its government and take control of assets and contracts.