Atlantic City corrupted again as mayor disappears

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey Fri Oct 5, 2007 7:46pm EDT

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ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - To most Americans Atlantic City is host to seedy casinos, poverty, crime, murder and corrupt politics.

Now the one-time home of Miss America is in the news for all the wrong reasons again; its mayor has gone missing after being caught embellishing his Vietnam War record.

Mayor Robert Levy told aides on September 29 he was taking sick leave, and verbally transferred authority to city official Domenic Capella in a move that members of the city council say is illegal. Levy has not been heard from since.

The crisis brought New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine to the city's famed boardwalk on Friday where he told a news conference, "What the situation is today can't go on for any extended period of time."

"I don't think it's slipping into dysfunctionality but it very easily could do," he said.

Corzine said he had asked the state's attorney general to look into whether Levy's actions were an abandonment of office and called on city leaders to resolve the crisis soon.

"I'm not here to advocate for a state takeover," he said.

Members of the nine-seat city council asked the state attorney general if Levy was entitled to hand power to Capella, and at least one councilor is seeking a declaration from a judge that Levy acted illegally.

Capella did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Corzine refused to say who he thought should become mayor if Levy turns out to have abandoned his office and said he did not know where Levy is.

He refused to comment on reports the mayor is under investigation by federal authorities for falsifying his military record and taking a pension linked to his military service in Vietnam.

Nick Morici, a spokesman for Levy, said on Friday he had "no concrete information" on the reports of the investigation.

"I don't expect him to resign," Morici said, adding he knew nothing of Levy's condition or whereabouts.

Past mayors of Atlantic City have included Michael Matthews, ejected by voters in March 1983 after being charged with extortion and taking bribes for himself and the Mafia.

In 1989, James Usry, the city's first black mayor, was arrested along with 13 other political leaders to face charges including bribery, conspiracy, and accepting unlawful gifts.

City councilor Bruce Ward said in an interview that the council has asked the New Jersey Superior Court in Atlantic City to declare that the mayor's position has been vacated in light of Levy's actions.

"City Hall is being run illegally," Ward said.

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