A key lawmaker said he is disappointed that Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian canceled his appearance Thursday before a legislative committee to discuss the city's struggling economy.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo said Guardian told him 10 minutes before the meeting began that he wasn't able to attend the hearing.
"It was lost opportunity for Mayor Guardian, who I respect, and I believe he has opinions about this," Caputo said after the hearing. "I don't know the reason why he didn't show, but it doesn't look good."
Guardian's chief of staff, Chris Filiciello, says the mayor had a personal family issue but did not give details. He disputed the cancellation came 10 minutes before the hearing, saying the mayor called about two hours before the hearing was set to begin.
Caputo, who chairs the committee on gambling and the arts, said he wants to reschedule the appearance.
Despite Guardian's cancellation, the hearing carried on briefly and at one point got heated when Caputo, a Democrat, and Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown clashed over the merits of casinos in northern New Jersey.
Brown said he thinks opening casinos in the northern part of the state would "cannibalize" Atlantic City's industry.
Caputo has supported gambling in the Meadowlands.
"There was a $2.4 billion investment in a casino in Atlantic City. What happened?" Caputo asked, referring to the Revel casino, which closed this year.
Brown said he wanted to answer, but Caputo said he didn't have to, cutting him off.
"Here's your major investment that was ill-conceived right from the beginning," Caputo said.
Atlantic City's economy is facing serious headwinds. Four casinos closed this year with the possibility of a fifth, meaning 8,000 lost jobs.
Earlier this week, Senate President Steve Sweeney and state Sen. James Whelan introduced legislation aimed at helping stabilize casinos' tax burden, including a payment in lieu of taxes worth $150 million from casinos over two years.
Associated Press writer Wayne Parry in Atlantic City contributed to this report.