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Edward Lea  

Middle Township vs Pleasantville’s during the first half of NJSIAA Soccer Tournament at Plesantville High School Tuesday Oct 29, 2019. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

With new officers, members, NAACP wants to be heard in Cape May County

Woodbine resident Alexander Bland has big plans for a revitalized chapter of the NAACP in Cape May County.

Elected by a strong majority at an October meeting at Whitesboro’s Martin Luther King Center on Main Street, he’s set to be sworn in Nov. 14. He hopes to have that event at the VFW hall in Belleplain.

Bland is the first to hold the office since the death of Christina Hatcher in May 2018, and at 29 is the youngest NAACP branch president in New Jersey.

In a recent interview, Bland said the longstanding organization drifted apart after Hatcher’s death. He said he wants to respect the work done in the past, and bring new energy and focus to the organization.

“The biggest thing is letting people know we’re here. We’re not trying to tear anybody down. We’re trying to build something,” he said. “We’ve got to build membership and start taking up space in the county.”

Bland said he wants to bring former members back into the organization, while expanding membership with an active recruitment effort.

Cape May County’s chapter was out of compliance for years, said Safeer Quraishi, administrative director of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. The local organization did not have officers or regular meetings and fell below the minimum of 50 members to be considered an active chapter.

“I give them all the credit in the world. They went out and did membership drives in the community. They’ve gotten a lot of young people involved as well,” Quraishi said.

As the average age of membership climbs, Quraishi said, it’s important for the NAACP to recruit young members.

“In order to continue the work, in order to do it in more innovative and effective ways, we have to get young people involved,” he said. He added the organization also needs its older members. “We need them to impart their experience and their wisdom.”

Tracy Cardwell, the new assistant treasurer for the chapter, said her mother was involved in the organization while the late Dorothy Mack led the chapter.

“Now I’m coming back,” she said.

While the chapter remains small, it has the attention of local politicians, especially those on the ballot this year. At the election in Whitesboro on Oct. 10, Republican and Democratic candidates for freeholder, state office and municipal elections were on hand to cast their votes as chapter members.

“I got them all signed up,” Bland said, “Everybody got along. I can see now that people realize the NAACP is bigger than a party.”

He also said the chapter represents the entire county, not just one city or area.

“Right now our home base is in Whitesboro,” he said. “But we’re a county branch. We’re not a Middle Township branch, we’re not a Whitesboro branch. We’re countywide.”

Before his election, Bland had gotten media attention for criticizing Middle Township Mayor Tim Donohue for a sarcastic Facebook post about white supremacy, which was later reprinted as an opinion piece on a conservative website. The organization never accused Donohue of racism but did state that the piece seemed arrogant and insensitive.

Since that time, Bland said he has developed a good rapport with the Republican mayor and has invited him to the swearing-in ceremony.

Bland said the organization is happy to work with either political party and wants to work with Cape May County’s Republican Sheriff, Robert Nolan, and the police departments in the county municipalities.

“We are bipartisan, but we’re heavily political,” Bland said.

Other officers of the Cape May County chapter are First Vice President Quantte McNeal, Second Vice President Chris Hines, Secretary Wanda Shepard and Treasurer Sheryl Cisrow.

According to Quraishi, the revitalized chapter is now at more than 80 members. He said the new officers can act in their capacity before the swearing-in ceremony.

Arena Football League teams suspend operations, Blackjacks' future unclear

The Atlantic City Blackjacks may not be back at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall next season.

Ron Jaworski, chairman of the Arena Football League’s Executive Committee, confirmed a report in the Albany Times Union on Tuesday that all six of the league’s franchises will suspend their local operations.

The AFL includes the Blackjacks, 2019 champion Albany Empire, Baltimore Brigade, Columbus Destroyers, Philadelphia Soul and Washington Valor.

The future of the league remains unclear.

“The AFL is not folding,” Jaworski said via text message Tuesday night. “We are ceasing local operations and all teams will be operated through the AFL office as we look to find new investors.”

According to the Times Union, the league’s decision was prompted by a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed against the AFL by an insurance carrier that provided workers compensation coverage for the league between 2009 and 2012, before the current league officials, including President Randall Boe, were involved.

Front office staffs, coaches and the players union were informed of the league’s decision Tuesday afternoon.

Team employees, not including players, will be paid for two weeks. Under the collective bargaining agreement reached in March 2018, all players become free agents at the end of each season.

“We haven’t made a decision on whether to completely suspend operations,” Boe told the Times Union on Tuesday. “That’s a decision that will probably be made in the next several weeks. We do know, under any set of circumstances, we will not be continuing to operate business operation units in our local markets.”

Blackjacks officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. As of Tuesday night, the team’s website was still offering season tickets for 2020. They were running a promotion called a “Trick or Treat” deal in which fans who become a “21 Club Member” by the end of October receive “Blackjack Bucks” that could be used for single-game tickets or Blackjacks merchandise.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority this year unanimously approved a three-year agreement that would offer $500,000 in capital expenditures to buy equipment such as sidewall padding, nets and goal posts to make Boardwalk Hall suitable for Arena League football.

The Blackjacks enjoyed a solid inaugural season in terms of popularity. They failed to make the playoffs, finishing with a 4-8 record, but averaged 5,430 fans for their six home games, including 6,685 for the final two contests.

“This was a great atmosphere all season,” Blackjacks wide receiver Antwane Grant said after the final home game in July. “The fans gave us great energy the whole time with their support.”

The Blackjacks had made inroads in an attempt to succeed where previous professional sports franchises had failed. They were the fifth team to make Atlantic City home in the last 20 years, following the Surf (Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and Can-Am League baseball), Seagulls (United States Basketball League), Boardwalk Bullies (East Coast Hockey League) and CardSharks (National Indoor Football League).

Those other teams either folded or relocated, primarily due to a lack of local support.

According to the Times Union, Boe offered a scenario in which the AFL would become a “traveling league,” whereby players would all practice in one location and play games in different cities each week.

“I wish I had a definitive answer (about the future of the Blackjacks and other teams),” Jaworski said via text message. “There are a lot of balls in the air. All I can say is the AFL ownership is exploring every opportunity to keep the League alive.”

GALLERY: Relive the Atlantic City Blackjacks' first season

Another $1 million in property demolition coming to Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is putting another $1 million toward demolition of dilapidated properties by city government, part of a continuing effort to address blight in the resort.

After decades of casino gambling, blight remains a huge problem. Twenty-three percent of the resort’s housing is vacant, according to the Census Bureau, compared with 11% statewide. And residents routinely ask for help getting rid of eyesores and forcing property owners to clean up their properties.

The board voted at its October meeting to provide an additional $1 million to the city, bringing its investment in city demolition over several years to more than $6.15 million, CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty said.

About $4 million of that has been used in the tourism district.

“The most famous demo was the ‘alligator motel’ on Route 40,” Doherty said of the former Bayview Inn, vacant since a 2017 raid where authorities recovered drugs, weapons and an abandoned alligator in the motel’s swimming pool. “But a lot of demos done in the city have been small houses and properties.”

Bayview was demolished earlier this year at a cost of about $250,000.

Lance Landgraf, director of planning and development at CRDA, said the city has not provided a list of which properties it will remove with the funds.

He estimated the city can demolish about 67 properties with $1 million, based on prior data.

“Properties haven’t been identified as of yet,” said Mayor Marty Small. “Strategically we are going to try to get the best bang for our buck. We’re just glad we got the funds to continue our mission to remove any and all eyesores from the City of Atlantic City.”

Landgraf added: “This is a very good project to help bring back neighborhoods. Dilapidation brings down neighborhoods. You pull down buildings, and it brings a fresh start.”

But Sean Reardon, a real estate investor in the city who is running for City Council in the 4th Ward, said the city needs to have a plan for what to do with all of the empty lots that are left after demos.

“I’m definitely all for properties in the city coming down that need to come down,” Reardon said. “But I don’t want to see us just tear down because the entire city has blocks that have been vacant for decades. That can be an eyesore as well.”

Michael Johnson of the Venice Park Civic Association, who has led a committee to evaluate vacant homes in his neighborhood and come up with a plan to help either remove them or rehabilitate them, said he is hopeful some of the new funds will be used there.

“We had 14 houses in Venice Park (in need of demo) from our perspective,” Johnson said. “But professionals might add to that number or subtract from it.”

It may be more cost effective to demolish some homes that might be salvageable by some measures, he said, and build new.

“If it takes $80,000, but rules say you have to elevate it, that adds more money to it,” Johnson said. “That has to be figured out.”

The city has been attempting to deal with the problem of neighborhood blight, and has made some inroads. The Inlet area was transformed with new townhomes; and the gateway to the city off the Atlantic City Expressway is now a popular shopping center called The Walk. That area for years was dominated by an old and problematic public housing complex.

But the city’s efforts have been complicated by the effects of a national recession, Superstorm Sandy, the casino closings of 2014, the city’s continuing financial problems and deepening poverty. The city’s poverty rate increased from 22.5% in 1969 to 37.6% in 2016, while the state poverty rate has remained relatively stable, moving from 8.1% to 10.4%.

Seven years after Sandy, Councilman William “Speedy” Marsh said the city has a housing initiative to remove damaged homes that cannot be rehabbed, many of which were virtually destroyed in that historic storm.

“This is absolutely a necessity,” Marsh said.

GALLERY: Demolition on Bayview Inn starts

Miss America changes competition format once again

With swimsuits out and evening gowns seemingly not far behind, an outfit of choice will become the standard for the Miss America Competition, which is going through yet another change in competition structure.

The competition that will crown Miss America 2020 will consist of three judged phases including talent, on-stage interview and a new “social impact initiative” pitch, according to a document sent to state titleholders and pageant officials and obtained by The Press of Atlantic City.

The Miss America Organization did not reply to a request for comment on the privately announced format changes.

The major change to this year’s Miss America — to be held for the first time in December in Connecticut — will be when candidates walk the stage in evening gowns, a staple of the pageant since the 1950s and previously a scored event.

According to competition and scoring documents, all candidates will showcase their chosen eveningwear during the opening titleholder introductions and on-stage interview in preliminary competition. For the final night, which will be broadcast on NBC, all candidates will wear their evening-wear only for the introduction.

“An elegant recognition of the Miss America tradition!” the document states.

For the top candidates who make it to the on-stage question and social impact initiative pitch portions of the competition, the candidates are instructed to wear a “job interview” outfit or “what you would wear to give a TED Talk or corporate presentation.”

For what will be the final moments of the competition, the top finalists are instructed to wear “what they would want to be crowned in, should they be selected for the job of Miss America 2020,” with the only stipulation being it cannot be their talent costume.

“I think people will be upset to see Miss America crowned wearing an outfit for a TED Talk,” said former Miss New Jersey 2008 Ashley Fairfield D’Ambrosio. “It’s professional and you can feel empowered in a pantsuit, but I believe the girl who wins will be crowned in a gown.”

In 1949, Miss America’s then-Executive Director Lenora Slaughter, who had headed the pageant since 1935, decided it was improper for the winner to be crowned in a swimsuit and changed the standard so contestants would wear an evening or ball gown for the final moments of the show.

The “candidates choice” phrasing leaves many of the wardrobe guidelines open-ended, which has many fans questioning what the next Miss America will wear during the final moments of the competition. The new guidelines have been interpreted by some as a “phasing out” of the glamorous aspects of Miss America.

The eveningwear competition was previously judged as the “first impression of confidence, stage presence, style and personality.”

“It was about being able to portray your personality,” said D’Ambrosio. “You expressed yourself in talent, in the interview and also in evening gown in an elegant form.”

In 2018, former MAO Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson announced Miss America would no longer be judged on physical appearance, which brought the end of the swimsuit competition and saw an initial change to the evening gown phase.

Miss New Jersey 2018 Jaime Gialloreto was a part of the first candidate class to compete for the crown under the new “Miss America 2.0” rules.

“I think my main concern is that they changed the competition again, after (the 2020 class) won their state titles. From personal experience, it’s frustrating, and I feel bad for the women who got to this point,” Gialloreto said.

At last year’s competition, candidates wore evening gowns while explaining their platforms, renamed “social impact initiatives,” and during the final night, the top 10 finalists walked a “red carpet” and were asked a social impact question by host Ross Matthews. The 2019 pageant also was missing the traditional runway stage at Boardwalk Hall.

The past two years have seen the most drastic changes to the Miss America Competition, as new leadership took the reins.

“It really is a traditional institution,” said writer and fan Michael Callahan. Subtle changes were made to modernize the pageant when Callahan covered Miss America in Atlantic City during the 1980s and ‘90s. But he called the recent changes a “swinging pendulum” to making Miss America less of a pageant.

“We’re going to take the things that it is known for — evening gown, swimsuit — things people identify with the institution, and toss them without discussion or debate,” Callahan said.

“I always loved evening gown,” said Gialloreto. “It was a chance to celebrate the hard work. You have to be glammed up as a competitor, at events or everything, so stepping foot on stage in a dress I loved, it was my moment to celebrate competing that year.”

The Miss America 2020 Competition will be held on Dec. 19 at Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Dates for the preliminaries have not been publicly released, and the MAO has also not yet announced the hosts or judging panels for this year’s competition.

GALLERY: Miss America 2019 photos

Bill Barlow / For The Press  

Alexander Bland is New Jersey’s youngest NAACP branch president. The organization has been inactive since the death of a former president in spring 2018. He’s pushing for more membership and activism from the organization.