ATLANTIC CITY - Former Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford yesterday was named the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary, following a count of more than 1,000 absentee ballots.
In a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans, 11-1, Langford will be the front-runner in the general election race against Republican John McQueen.
"I am elated, I am satisfied, I am relieved and I'm proud," Langford said after being named the primary winner. "I'm proud of the residents, that they did not lie down on this election, that they took it seriously. It's a very good feeling."
The winner in November will serve the remaining year of former Mayor Robert Levy's term. He resigned after admitting he embellished his Vietnam service record to obtain additional pension payments.
Scott Evans, a battalion chief with the Atlantic City Fire Department, has taken over the mayoral position until an election can be held this fall.
Following Tuesday's voting, Langford had a comfortable lead over his two opponents, Evans and former city business administrator Domenic Cappella.
But in an election where only 4,000 people turned out to vote in person and about 1,300 absentee ballots had been turned in, officials would not certify the election until every paper ballot had been counted.
In previous years, absentee ballots - often collected by an impressive political machine made up of friends and relatives of imprisoned former City Council President Craig Callaway - have altered election outcomes.
Langford defeated Evans by 755 votes out of a total of 5,000 cast. Evans got 670 absentees, while Langford picked up 355. The final, unofficial totals were: Langford, 2,746; Evans, 1,991; and Cappella, 282.
"I'm disappointed in the low turnout," Evans said last night. "You're looking at the second-largest gaming city in America, and the highest economic-generating city in New Jersey, and the mayor's office was decided by 5,000 people."
Langford, a self-employed consultant, had said his experience as mayor and his record of improving local finances made him the best choice for residents.
The job of mayor is a high-stakes position in this seaside gambling town, where casino revenues have dropped significantly for the first time since gaming was legalized here 30 years ago. A casino smoking ban and competition from slots parlors in Pennsylvania and New York have caused profits to dwindle.
Three mega casinos worth more then $11 billion to the city are on the drawing board and officials may be looking to the new mayor to assume the job as front-man in assisting them in convincing casino companies they should continue to invest in Atlantic City despite the economic downturn.