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October 26, 2017

In wild radio clash, Atlantic City mayor calls ex-GOP leader a bigot

Politics Radio
Don Guardian Mel Evans/AP

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian answers a question as he waits in the Statehouse for the New Jersey Senate and Assembly to go into session Monday, March 14, 2016, in Trenton, N.J.

As the clock winds down to municipal elections around the country, few races are probably as peculiar as the one in Atlantic City, where the state of New Jersey has been holding court for the past year.

Republican Mayor Don Guardian, by all appearances, doesn't fit the stereotypical GOP profile. He's openly gay, he's not a dogmatic fiscal conservative and he would rather spar with his critics than deflect with canned statements.

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On Thursday morning, Guardian appeared on WPG 1450's Harry Hurley show for an hour-long "Ask the Mayor" program. Everything was fairly civil and substantive until the final 10 minutes, when bitter rival and former Atlantic City Republican Committee Chair Mark Padula jumped on the phone.

Padula resigned from his position in 2015 after a seven-year-run overseeing a largely dysfunctional GOP that hadn't won an election since 1990. Initially a supporter of Guardian, the party's unlikely revivalist, Padula turned on his former ally after the 2013 mayoral election.

The animosity is no secret, either. Padula has a gigantic sign on his front lawn showing Guardian, his partner and two other locals above a caption accusing the mayor of raising property taxes by 86.6 percent in just four years.

On Thursday's show, Padula wasted no time before peppering Guardian with questions about his choice not to abstain from a vote concerning a project at Flagship Resorts, a major campaign donor for the Republican incumbent. Guardian, in no mood to appease Padula, asked point blank about the reason for the giant sign on his yard.

"“You want to take me out for being mayor, but I’m the best mayor and you’re a bigot, Mark,” Guardian told Padula. “That’s why you have a 4-foot by 8-foot sign in your yard with myself and my partner, John Schultz and Gary Hill, because you want to tell people that I’m gay. I tell people that I’m gay. You don’t have to do that. Take down your sign. Your sign is in your yard. Are you gay, Mark? Do you hate gay people, Mark?"

The full exchange unfolds over about 9 minutes in the audio recording below.

Guardian will take on Democratic challenger Frank Gilliam on Nov. 7.