Thursday, October 4, 2007


Mayor of Atlantic City goes AWOL; Wife says he's sick

The mayor of Atlantic City, N.J., vanished last week. Officials say Mayor Robert Levy is "absent on temporary medical leave," but won't share any details about his hospitalization with the public or press.
"A week ago, Levy signed seven ordinances and then vanished from public life amid a cloud of rumored arrests and resignations," The Press of Atlantic City reports. The (Philadelphia) Inquirer says Levy, who was caught last year lying about his military service, drove off in a city-owned Dodge Durango on Sept. 26.

Levy is said to have verbally transferred power to an underling on Sept. 26. His wife tells On Deadline that city officials don't know what's wrong with the mayor or where he's being treated.
"He hasn't disappeared because disappearing would mean that no one knows where he is," Hazel Levy says. "I know where he is. He is in the hospital and he will be back."

That irks some critics, who want the head of the city council to step in as acting mayor until a special election can be held to select a replacement. KYW-TV describes it as a "constitutional crisis."
"It's not that we have poor leadership - we have no leadership. If there is an investigation, the mayor has to come forward and tell us," Councilman Tim Mancuso says, according to the local paper. "He needs to indicate what is wrong and what has happened. If he is sick, fine and dandy, but we need to know."

Domenic Cappella, the city's business administrator who claims to be acting mayor, says he knows where Levy is, but lawyers have advised him that a federal privacy law bars him from sharing that information with the public. (That's not true, according to legal experts. We have requested comment from Kimberly Baldwin, the city's lawyer, about her interpretation of the HIPAA statute, which appears to govern medical and insurance providers, not employers.)
Robert Calendar, an 80-year-old who was at last night's hearing to discuss his landlord, says the situation is ridiculous. "Monkeys with typewriters on their back can do a better job than this," he tells the Press.

Does he have a point? The Inquirer says a third of the city council is in prison or waiting to be sent there. Another legislator was caught on tape last year with a prostitute, the paper says.
Last November, Levy admitted that he wasn't a member of U.S. Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, during his two tours in Vietnam. He claimed otherwise during his campaign to become mayor, and Editor & Publisher theorizes that the revelations of his dishonesty may have led to his disappearance.

"Since he was elected, the city has essentially been run by the business administrator and that hasn't changed," Press reporter Derek Harper, who wrote the expose, tells the trade magazine. "He's a nice guy who just got in over his head."
We asked Hazel Levy if the revelations about her husband's claims to have been an elite Green Beret were responsible for his absence. "He's sick. He's sick and I don't think the other thing put him in the hospital," she says.

Update at 1:22 p.m. ET: Baldwin, the city's attorney, says she's not aware of any other municipality that has invoked HIPAA as the reason for withholding information about a government official, but says that her interpretation of the federal statute indicates that Atlantic City is covered by the privacy law because it is self-insured. She says everyone is treated the same, and notes that the privacy protections would apply to any other city employee, not just the mayor.

If he doesn't return to work within 60 days, there's a provision of state law that directs the city council to select an acting mayor.