Atlantic City’s political campaigns usually have a touch of drama.
But things have ramped up this time around, with wiretaps, private investigators and — according to the incumbent mayor — hard evidence of voter fraud.
Mayor Don Guardian’s camp is holding a press conference Friday that it claims will include a 16-page private investigator’s report, “along with audio and video evidence that will corroborate the campaign’s charges of voter fraud with mail-in and messenger ballots.”
Opponent Frank Gilliam told BreakingAC on Thursday that he was not worried about any allegations against him, and accused Guardian of playing dirty politics.
He claimed Guardian has sent people into his headquarters trying to get something against him
“I do know their intent to come in there was to actually see if we were doing anything with ballots,” Gilliam said. “We told them, ‘You’re in the wrong place. We don’t do them.’ We would direct them to the Board of Elections down the street.”
The investigation came to light with a Philadelphia Inquirer story in which reporter Amy Rosenberg tagged along when two private investigators working for Guardian’s campaign.
ATLANTIC CITY – Voice recorder in his pocket, Rodney Cotton, 51, got out of the private detectives’ car and headed for the Gilliam for Mayor headquarters on Atlantic Avenue. As the two retired state troopers watched from a distance Saturday, Cotton went inside, then emerged and got into a white van driven by Craig Callaway, a city Democratic Party activist known for quarterbacking exhaustive vote-by-mail operations.
A wired confidential informant claimed he was paid $30 by former Atlantic City political leader Craig Callaway to sign for a messenger ballot for a man he never met. Instead, Callaway took the ballot and put it in his pocket.
When he heard of Friday’s press conference, Callaway questioned Guardian’s sanity.
“Something is mentally wrong with Don Guardian,” Callaway told BreakingAC. “He is not fit to hold the position of mayor because he’s not well.”
Callaway said he is not worried about whatever may have been recorded because “I haven’t broken any laws, and I’m not going to.”
He said there was nothing illegal in his transaction with Guardian informant Rodney Cotton.
The ballot he picked up is for a man who will be working for Callaway’s group on Election Day. Callaway said he suggests all workers vote ahead of time so they can concentrate on helping other voters get to the polls.
Workers are allowed to be paid for getting messenger ballots, just not for votes, he said.
They pay $10 per messenger, with each messenger limited to three ballots by law.
“This guy who they wired up approached me and asked if he could go and participate,” Callaway said.
Cotton tried to negotiate more than the $30 — something Cotton confirmed in the Inquirer story — but Callaway told him he already was getting more than he should since he was only getting one messenger.
Callaway also didn’t deny telling people who he thought they should vote for.
“I support the Democrats,” he said. “What am I going to do, tell them to vote for the Republicans?”
He notes that he did support Guardian in the previous election.
Regardless of Callaway’s work, Gilliam stressed that the former Atlantic City Council president does not work for him.
“It’s important for people to understand that, if someone finds themselves in support of you, that does not mean that person is doing that for us,” Gilliam said.
But, the allegations were not unexpected, Gilliam said, claiming Guardian told him at a debate, “I’m going to get you on voter fraud.”
“I don’t handle any of those ballots or anything of that nature,” Gilliam said.
If his campaign is not involved, Gilliam should want to make sure nothing is being done illegally on his behalf, Guardian said.
“We call on Frank Gilliam and his team to demand a full investigation into this voter fraud immediately,” Guardian said. “The good people of Atlantic City cannot be bought, and we deserve better.”
The issue began when Atlantic City Councilman Jesse Kurtz went to get his own mail-in ballot and found it was already partially filled out — with Democrats checked.
The chairman of the Atlantic City Republican Committee said he got a new ballot, but no explanation for the bad one. He requested an investigation.
But statistician Anthony Marino said that while he believes the claims against Callaway should be investigated, that it was curious that of more than 2,500 vote-by-mail applications requested by Atlantic City residents, the only report of a bad ballot came from a leader of the opposing party.
“The statistical improbability of a claim made by an obvious Republican operative is so extreme that it suggests the need to be carefully investigated as a possible false charge designed to suppress and/or cast doubt on vote totals in this year’s city election,” Marino said. “Given his status, Mr. Kurtz has motivation to make what appears to be an extremely statistically improbable accusation. “
When asked, Kurtz stood by his accusation.
“What happened to me, happened to me,” he said.
Kurtz is still waiting for information on who put the marked ballot into the envelope he received.