ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Don Guardian, in a tight reelection bid, was in no mood to debate whether he should have recused himself from a recent city planning board decision involving the Flagship Resort, a donor to his campaign.
Guardian, the famously upbeat, bow-tie-wearing, gay, Republican, unlikely mayor of Atlantic City, angrily turned the tables on a caller to the "Ask the Mayor" segment Thursday morning on local talk-radio station WPG-1450's Hurley in the Morning show. The station identified the caller as Mark Padula, the former Republican committee chair in Atlantic City, who once supported Guardian but clearly no longer does.
"You want to take me out for being mayor, but I'm the best mayor and you're a bigot, Mark," Guardian said. "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?"
Padula's front yard, on New Hampshire Avenue along the mayor's near-daily bicycle route, sports a large and conspicuous sign criticizing the mayor for tax hikes. It shows a photo of the mayor and his husband, Louis Fatato, in formal wear, and their straw-hat-wearing friends, Schultz and Hill, another well-known and politically active gay couple in Atlantic City.
After a heated back-and-forth, in which the mayor told Padula to get a life and Padula told Guardian he'd need to get a life after the Nov. 7 election, Guardian pulled no punches.
"Are you a bigot?" Guardian said during the nearly nine-minute exchange. "Do you hate gay people? Why would you put John Schultz and Gary Hill on a poster?"
Padula told him he was being "entertaining," and the two argued about why Padula was no longer chairman of the city's Republican Party. Padula challenged him to name the head of the national Republican Party, which Guardian declined to do.
"Why are you ruining your neighborhood with a 4-foot-by-8-foot banner?" the mayor said.
The sign alleges that Guardian raised taxes 86.6 percent in four years, but Guardian says Padula's taxes have actually gone down by $900. Guardian did raise taxes his first two years in office, but taxes then stabilized and this year, with a state takeover in effect, were reduced.
On Thursday afternoon, Guardian said in an interview that he had felt compelled to call out Padula, a persistent critic who Guardian says repeatedly calls attention to the mayor's sexual orientation.
"There is no one in this town that doesn't know I'm gay," Guardian said. "I got it. I'm gay."
He doubted it would be a factor in the election.
"Listen, that type of either racism or bigotry eventually finds its way to the top, and people despise it," he said. "I don't think anyone is going to vote for me because I'm gay or not vote for me because I'm gay. They'll vote for me based on the last four years."
Padula did not respond to messages for comment.
Guardian faces Democratic Councilman Frank Gilliam on Nov. 7.
In the historically odd political theater of Atlantic City, while the Republican Guardian may have been feuding bitterly with the former Republican Party head, he has also been endorsed by the Democratic City Council president, Marty Small Sr.
The station posted the audio of the exchange, which wrapped up an hour-long program, in the link below.