Atlantic City left in limbo as mayor goes Awol

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The mayor of Atlantic City, the New Jersey gambling resort, has gone missing.

A week and a half ago, a groggy-sounding Robert Levy called in sick, jumped into his city-issued Dodge Durango 4x4 and promptly vanished.

The only word from him has been a 36-word news release suggesting that he was seeking medical attention. Nobody buys that: the widespread assumption is that he walked out on a growing mountain of legal problems.

But the mayor's disappearance is bizarre even by the standards of Atlantic City, a place famous for its colourful politicians, gangsters and fixers. "It's a national embarrassment," Bruce Ward, a city council member, said on Friday. "We have entertainment companies that are considering investing billions of dollars in Atlantic City. They need to know there is stability... And we have 40,000 residents here who need to be protected."

Mayor Levy was under close scrutiny over his military record, ever since he admitted last November that he didn't serve with the fabled Green Berets in Vietnam, as he had long claimed. Now prosecutors are investigating whether he lied about his service to inflate his military pension.

Over the past 40 years, five Atlantic City mayors have been convicted of a variety of criminal offences. Four of the city's last eight mayors have been investigated for corruption. And three city council members are either in jail or under house arrest.

The authorities don't know whether to continue to regard Mayor Levy as absent – his duties are temporarily being filled by the city's business manager – or press for some official ruling so they can seek a full-time replacement. Councilman Ward has already gone to a judge to declare the mayor's office vacant. It is not clear whether, or when, he might receive a ruling.