ATLANTIC CITY - In this betting town, they were wagering yesterday on just when the murk would clear in the saga of the disappearing mayor. And they were laying odds on who his successor might be.
Everyone from residents, to visitors, to city officials, to lawyers for city officials have been speculating that the resignation of Mayor Bob Levy is imminent - and could come as early as today.
That, of course, would ignite a battle for the mayor's office.
"People here are ready to move on," said James J. Leonard Jr., a lawyer representing City Council President William "Speedy" Marsh, who stands to be in charge of city government if Levy leaves. Leonard said he was "hearing from all kinds of sources" that the mayor, who disappeared with his city-owned SUV on Sept. 26, would resign soon.
The mayor's office says Levy is hospitalized, but won't elaborate. Gov. Corzine has called Levy's disappearance "dysfunctional and chaotic" and said his staff was exploring legal options for replacing the mayor. Levy's best friend, Assemblyman Jim Whelan, has called for Levy's resignation.
Lawyer Leonard is looking ahead.
"The resignation would be a mere formality at this point," he said. "We believe the next big issue is going to be the vacancy that will be created by that resignation."
Leonard said he was prepared to argue in court that City Council President Marsh should take charge of city government if the mayor's office were vacant.
That might happen, even if Levy doesn't resign. A hearing is scheduled today before Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong to consider a petition filed last week by City Councilman Bruce Ward, asking the judge to declare that the office of mayor had been abandoned.
City Council last week objected when city business administrator Domenic Cappella named himself Levy's temporary replacement. City residents, led by local activists, staged a protest in City Hall to demonstrate their displeasure at Cappella's claim to the city's top job.
"I just wish if Levy is going to resign he would just do it and explain to us what's been going on. To keep it going on and on makes us look bad in the national spotlight," said Elisha Watson, 47, a lifelong Atlantic City resident, lunching at Johnny Rockets on the Boardwalk yesterday with a group of out-of-town former college roommates.
Levy had been known for his scant attendance record in the two years since he took office. But for almost two weeks, he has been completely missing.
The disappearance comes as Levy - a Vietnam veteran who admitted earlier this year to lying about being a member of the elite Green Berets - was reported to be a subject of a federal investigation into whether he collected $25,000 in undeserved military pension benefits.
Federal prosecutors won't comment on the probe, which has been reported by the Associated Press.
Levy makes $100,000 a year as Atlantic City's mayor. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and was twice decorated for bravery.
Levy hired Edwin Jacobs, a top criminal defense lawyer, just before dropping out of sight.
Levy, a Democrat, had been a lifelong Republican until just before he launched his mayoral campaign in a town historically dominated by Democrats.