The former mayor of Atlantic City, Jim Whelan, who also served as a state legislator representing South Jersey for years, died of a heart attack at his home Tuesday night as he prepared to give an interview, according to the Atlantic County Democratic Committee chairman.
Whelan, 68, died at his Atlantic City house prior to sitting down with a documentary crew from Netflix, the county committee chair, Mike Suleiman, told NBC10.
The interview was going to be about Donald Trump and his casino-owning years in Atlantic City, according to Suleiman, who once worked as an aide to Whelan.
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The well-respected South Jersey politician had a history of heart problems, and had a pacemaker put in last year, Suleiman said.
Whelan "was very passionate about Atlantic City and proud to be a lifelong public servant," his former aide said.
Born in Philadelphia on November 8, 1948, Whelan attended Temple University where he received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in education.
Whelan first served in the Atlantic City School District in the late 1970s before entering politics. He became a member of the Atlantic City Council in the early 1980s before becoming the Mayor of Atlantic City, serving from 1990 to 2001.
Whelan returned to education in 2002, working as a teacher in the Atlantic City School District until 2014. He also served as a member of the New Jersey General Assembly and New Jersey Senate, representing the 2nd district. He announced he would retire as a senator earlier this year.
On July 11, he underwent surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania to remove a cancerous growth from his kidney. On July 31, Whelan announced he was readmitted to the hospital due to complications from blood thinners he was prescribed.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie all released statements on Whelan's death.
"My prayers go out to Kathy and Jim's family," Guardian wrote. "I will always appreciate Jim's guidance when I first became Mayor and showing me the ropes my first few months. He took me under his wing like a big brother. Jim dedicated his whole life to public service to Atlantic City, whether he was serving as a lifeguard, a coach and teacher, Councilman, Mayor, or State Senator. I will keep him and his family in my prayers. May he rest in peace."
“Jim was a true friend, a confidant and champion for the people of South Jersey and the entire state,” Sweeney wrote. “He gave so much of his life to public service, serving as a teacher, a councilman, as mayor, and for more than a decade in the Legislature fighting for policies to help improve the lives of the residents of the state. He was a man of integrity and honor, and he was a friend to all of us.”
"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 wrote. “During my nearly eight years in Trenton, I came to know Jim as a forthright and honest leader who's word was his bond. While we did not always agree on policy, he was always willing to listen and reason together. The current comeback of Atlantic City is due in no small part to the efforts and passion of Jim Whelan.”