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August 22, 2017

N.J. state senator and former Atlantic City mayor dies

Jim Whelan, a Philadelphia native and former Atlantic City mayor who was nearing the end of his term as a state senator for Atlantic County, died Tuesday. He was 68.

Whelan, a Democrat, served as Atlantic City's mayor from 1990 to 2001. He served as a New Jersey Assemblyman from 2006 to 2008, when he left for a seat in the state Senate. He was re-elected in 2011.

A post on Whelan's Facebook page confirmed the senator's passing and stated that "we ask that everyone please respect the privacy of the Whelan family during this extremely difficult time."

Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement Tuesday night that he was shocked and deeply sadden by Whelan's sudden passing. 

"Jim was a true friend, a confidant and champion for the people of South Jersey and the entire state," Sweeney said. "He gave so much of his life to public service, serving as a teacher, a councilman, as mayor, and for more than a decade in the Legislature fighting for policies to help improve the lives of the residents of the state. He was a man of integrity and honor, and he was a friend to all of us."

Whelan announced in January that he would not seek re-election in November, saying, "It's time."

According to his Facebook page, he underwent surgery in early July at the University of Pennsylvania to remove cancerous cells from his kidney.

"I have had a great run in politics, but as with everything else in life, there comes a time and for me, that time is now," Whelan said in a statement at the time.

He had a history with President Donald Trump, who owned two casinos in the city for more than two decades until they both closed down in the last few years.

Last August, Whelan appeared in an advertisement supporting Trump's opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton. In it, he called Trump a "carnival barker" and a "PT Barnum," according to a Press of Atlantic City report.

The ad showed Trump talking about how he loved Atlantic City and said, "many people said when I left is when it went bad."

"Frankly I wasn't sad to see Donald go," Whelan then said in a voice-over as headlines of Trump's casino bankruptcies appeared on the screen.

Gov. Chris Christie posted a statement on the senator's death on Twitter Tuesday night. He called Whelan a "forthright and honest leader [whose] word was his bond."

"While we did not always agree on policy, he was always willing to listen and reason together," it read. "The current comeback of Atlantic City is due in no small part to the efforts and passion of Jim Whelan."

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who represents the state's 2nd Congressional District, said he was shocked by Tuesday night's news.

"Jim Whelan was a dedicated public servant whose legacy in Atlantic County will always be remembered," he said.