Longport officials have little to smile about these days.
Ever since the familiar smiley face disappeared from the borough's water tower during a repainting project last year, residents and visitors have rallied to get it back.
"Oh my God, the number of people who called or asked me about this," said exasperated Mayor Nick Russo on Tuesday. "I couldn't take it anymore."
The borough awarded a $600,000 contract to repair and repaint the 125-foot-tall tower at the intersection of 31st and Devon avenues to the Malaga, Gloucester Township-based, Beckett Enterprises in 2011, but the project was marked by repeated delays.
Russo said the signature smiley face was part of the design specifications - along with the slogan "The Best Port Longport" - but when progress stopped halfway through, residents were left without their cheerful overseer.
"You'd be surprised the little things that make a community," he said.
Solicitor Pat Agnellini said Beckett ultimately failed to complete the project and the borough is now in conversations with its bonding company.
"The smiley face will be back," vowed Agnellini, who grew up in the area and lives in Longport. "It's just a question of how quickly."
Representatives from Beckett Enterprises could not be reached for comment.
Local historian and former Mayor Michael Cohen said the smiley face was added to the now 50-year-old tower in October 1982 by then-Mayor Howard Kupperman upon the suggestion of his daughter.
It drew mixed reactions at the time, but most people grew fond of the blue tower's friendly countenance.
"Back in '82, The Press wrote that 'Longport's water tower must be having a good time if its face is any indication,'" Cohen said. "People took it for granted after awhile."
Russo said some people have even blamed the area's recent bad luck with Hurricane Sandy and other northeasters on the smiley face's absence. The whole affair has been a disappointment, he said.
"I don't know what else has to be done," he said. "It's been months since there's been any work done."
For his part, Cohen joked that the tower's likely to be rusted again by the time the issue is resolved.
"It looks good when it's up there," he said. "But one way or another, as long as we get water, I don't care."
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