Tony Newman at 212-613-8026 or Elizabeth M
Atlantic City – At a packed meeting last night, Atlantic City City Council passed an ordinance creating the first ever municipally run syringe access program. The purpose of the program would be to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. Atlantic City has been particularly affected by the AIDS epidemic, with one in 32 African Americans in the city infected with the virus, and 60% of those infections being the result of people sharing dirty needles. The issue has united city officials and residents. City Council President Craig Callaway, the sponsor of the ordinance, said “We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Mayor, and Health Director Ron Cash on this issue. This is the right thing to do morally.” After the votes were counted, and the ordinance passed, jubilant supporters rose to give the council a sustained standing ovation.
During the public portion of the meeting, numerous Atlantic City residents rose to thank the Council for its action. Among them was Michael Conley, a representative of Local 54 who read a statement from union president Robert McDevitt, supporting the ordinance, “Obviously the time has come to change the way we think about addiction” said Conley. Also in attendance were supporters from as far away as Camden and Philadelphia. Camden City Councilman Ali Sloan-El expressed solidarity with the Atlantic City Council and confirmed that Camden planned to move forward with its own ordinance next week. “We hoped to be the first to address this issue, but we’ll be right behind you. We will take up this issue at our meeting on June 24th.”
During the discussion of the ordinance by council members, Councilman Eugene H. Robinson, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saying, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” Robinson, who is a minister, emphasized the ‘paramount’ importance of the fight against AIDS. “I come from the civil rights movement. We made history back then,” Robinson said, “We’re going to make history today.”
Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz, and State Attorney General Peter Harvey are on record saying they will challenge the city’s legal authority to establish a syringe access program. Once the ordinance is signed by Mayor Lorenzo Langford, it could be challenged in Superior Court. But the prospect of a legal challenge did not dampen the spirits of supporters. “Atlantic City is facing a public health crisis that calls for action and leadership,” said Roseanne Scotti, an attorney and the Director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Project-Drug Policy Alliance. “This Council, Mayor Langford, and Health Director Ron Cash have responded. We who fight the battle against AIDS believe that for too long New Jersey has fought with one hand tied behind its back. We stand with Atlantic City today, and will continue to stand with the City against any challenges to this ordinance.”