Despite all the Trenton backroom convulsing in the previous 24 hours over Atlantic City, Gov. Christie didn't say a word in his State of the State speech Tuesday about the place.
But he was about the only one who stayed silent. Christie's presence, and those of other power brokers, was clearly being felt as a new state takeover plan was threatened, last-minute changes were crunched into a casino tax stabilization bill, and a North Jersey casino referendum compromise was reached.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) blamed the takeover impulse in part on "Atlantic City fatigue" in Trenton.
On Tuesday, it was Atlantic City that was feeling Trenton fatigue.
Mayor Don Guardian and other officials were caught "completely off guard" by Sweeney's call Monday for a far-reaching takeover of Atlantic City government - the fourth version of such "drastic" state intervention to overtake the Boardwalk since 2010.
"It was our Pearl Harbor here," Guardian told Atlantic City's WOND Radio host Don Williams on Tuesday morning, calling in from his car on his way to Trenton.
Three previous state takeovers of Atlantic City - a much-ballyhooed, Christie-announced, state-controlled tourism district in 2010; a quieter fiscal monitor working under the auspices of the Department of Community Affairs who approves all spending; and a state emergency manager who rarely says or releases anything publicly and was appointed by Christie a year ago - remain in place.
"We have been working with the state monitor since 2010. We've had the emergency manager since last year," Guardian said. "I can tell you that we've been cooperating with everything they've asked us to do. So this comes as a complete shock."
Council President Marty Small noted the state's track record in town. "They took over the tourism district in 2010. And under their watch, four casinos closed."
"It's not going to happen any time quick," Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic) said.
Some suggested that the takeover move was designed to wrest control of the city's Municipal Utility Authority and put it into private hands. The MUA has been a sought-after asset in Atlantic City. Philip Norcross, brother of South Jersey power broker George E. Norcross III, is a lobbyist for New Jersey American Water and was part of a meeting in July that discussed a state takeover of assets in Atlantic City.
"The only thing that some people in Trenton wanted was the MUA, to sell it," said Guardian, who wants the city to take over the utility. "But the emergency manager, as well as City Council and myself, have agreed that made no sense."
The emergency manager, Kevin Lavin, was given a broad mandate by Christie but has remained largely unseen. Lavin's contract runs through Jan. 21, his spokesman said, and Lavin was not empowered to make "unilateral decisions" but to report findings to Christie, who reserved the right to invoke emergency action.
Lavin has spent more than $1.7 million to audit, study, analyze, draft reports, and oversee negotiations with Borgata parent company Boyd Gaming, which is owed about $150 million in tax refunds.
Sweeney told reporters all previous overseers should be held responsible. "This puts it on steroids," he said of his new plan of state control.
"If this action doesn't succeed, I will support a declaration of bankruptcy for Atlantic City."
A news release announcing the plan from Sweeney, Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo, and Republican Sen. Kevin O'Toole - both of North Jersey - was issued during the State of the State address.
Their bill, which was to be introduced Wednesday, justifies a takeover by citing Atlantic City's "unique classification" as a gaming city - even as the same legislators work to end that monopoly by allowing North Jersey casinos.
The bill sets up the state's Local Finance Board, which already oversees A.C. finances, with "extraordinary power" to take control of government operations, including the authority to sell municipal assets. It allows the mayor and council to participate in preparing an annual budget.
It leaves the right to declare bankruptcy in the hands of the city itself.
Asked about Guardian's contention that the takeover was about the water authority, Sweeney said, "It's not about water." Nevertheless, he said, privatizing the department could save $100 million.
"We're going to give Atlantic City a chance" before pushing the bill, Sweeney said, but "the clock is ticking."
"This is a very clear statement to Atlantic City," Sweeney said. "Get your act together, knock off the B.S., and start addressing what you need to address. The state is not going to come in and bail you out anymore. You need to fix this."
Now that the Legislature is on track to ask voters to expand gaming to North Jersey - and share tax revenues to bolster Atlantic City - Sweeney said the city's finances must be better managed.
"This is nothing that they didn't know wasn't coming," he said.