Jim Whelan, a longtime New Jersey state senator who spearheaded efforts to bring rescue aid to distressed Atlantic City as it neared default in 2016, died Tuesday, He was 68.
Whelan’s death was announced Tuesday night on his Facebook page with no cause of death provided. The Democratic lawmaker from Northfield, N.J. had opted not to seek reelection this November. He underwent surgery on July 11 to remove a cancerous growth from his kidney.
Whelan was first elected to the state Senate in 2007 and the former Atlantic City mayor pushed for legislation to provide rescue aid to the struggling gambling hub. Gov. Chris Christie eventually signed the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act in May 2016 that included a $73 million bridge loan agreement and enabled the city’s eight remaining casinos to make fixed payments in lieu of property taxes for 10 years. The state took over Atlantic City finances last November after rejecting the city’s five-year recovery plan.
"The sudden and unexpected passing of Senator Jim Whelan is an enormous loss to the people of Atlantic City, his district and all of the State of New Jersey,” Christie said in a statement. “While we did not always agree on policy, he was always willing to listen and reason together.”
Whelan served three terms as Atlantic City mayor from 1989 to 2001. Whelan captured a state Assembly seat in 2005 and two years later was elected to the Senate for the first of three terms. In addition to fighting for causes in Atlantic City and Atlantic County, Whelen also pushed efforts to expand public-private partnerships throughout the state.
“Jim was rarely one to raise his voice, but was a dogged advocate for Atlantic City, a city he loved dearly, and was determined to see it thrive,” Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said in a statement. “He was the author of many of the initiatives that have helped to revitalize Atlantic City and will be remembered for that work for generations to come.”