ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam, his shiners starting to fade under his eyes from a weekend fistfight outside a casino, was a no-show Wednesday at the annual "Mayor's Box Luncheon" at the New Jersey League of Municipalities meeting.
The mayor's traditional "Host City Welcome" was eliminated from the program, which featured state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal discussing the state's long history of politicians' "bad behavior."
Gilliam was an honored guest later in the day, however, seated next to Gov. Murphy at a ribbon-cutting for the new South Jersey Gas Co. headquarters in Atlantic City and giving a speech.
"No exchanges on that," Murphy said when asked to comment on Gilliam's situation.
Before his speech, Grewal — who ordered the investigation of Gilliam and Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II to be transferred to Cape May County — said the incident was a figurative black eye on Atlantic City.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who has control over the city's operations, payroll, assets, and budget under a state takeover entering its third year, reiterated Wednesday that she had had no discussions with Gilliam about the incident, which she previously called "troubling."
She said she did not ask Gilliam to stay away or discuss his possible presence to give a welcome to Atlantic City.
Michael Darcy, the League of Municipalities' executive director, said he had reached out to Gilliam and the two decided mutually it would be better for Gilliam to stay away and allow the focus to be on the content of the luncheon itself, which included speeches and awards.
"He wasn't happy about it," Darcy said. "We're not happy about it. We would rather have the host city do the welcome."
There were reporters and cameras lined up waiting for Gilliam to arrive at the luncheon.
Gilliam did attend an earlier workshop by the league, hosted by the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, and moderated by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and attended by Camden Mayor Frank Moran and others.
Baraka thanked Gilliam for "allowing us to be here in Atlantic City."
"I know he has a very challenging job," Baraka said. "He has a myriad of issues that he has to deal with, I know something about that. I think he's been handling it in stride, with grace and intelligence."
Gilliam discussed the city's improvement in technology, STEM summer programs, opioid issues, anticipated marijuana legalization, and other topics in the workshop, titled "Innovation Cities: Advancing the Quality of Urban Living."
There was no discussion of the incident, which remains under investigation. Gilliam enigmatically answered "today" when asked by reporters Tuesday night whether he was still mayor, he continued business as usual Wednesday in and out of City Hall.
The mayor has little actual power under the state takeover, a fact that was noted later in the day by former Gov. Chris Christie, who spoke to a gathering of Morris County attendees in another Sheraton ballroom around a hallway from the mayorless Mayor's Box Luncheon.
Christie, who began the state takeover of Atlantic City in an acrimonious position with then-Mayor Don Guardian, said he was used to being "disappointed" with the city's mayors.
"I think it's just another example of the way they disappoint us," he said. "The good news is they're not in a position to make any major decisions anymore. And they won't be for quite some time."