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Thousands are expected to descend on Wildwood for Trump's rally. Here's how another city prepared.

The city manager of Battle Creek, Michigan, had only one week’s notice that President Donald Trump was going to be visiting her city for a December campaign rally.

“It was very long days and evenings and nights in logistical preparation,” Rebecca Fleury said, explaining that all city departments were activated to help. “You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Wildwood officials will face a similar situation as they prepare for Trump’s “Keep America Great!” rally Jan. 28 at the Wildwoods Convention Center, even with triple the time to get ready.

On Wednesday, authorities convened in the convention center’s administrative offices to discuss security measures ahead of next Tuesday’s rally featuring Trump and U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd. State Police, Secret Service agents, Coast Guard representatives and Wildwood police were among those seen entering the meeting.

Secret Service agents outside the convention center referred a request for comment to the White House Press Office.

It cost Battle Creek taxpayers $93,000 to host the Trump rally, with 95% of that to pay for fire, police and other city staff, according to a cost analysis released by city officials last week.

In addition, the campaign had a contract with Kellogg Arena, where the rally was held, which racked up $33,000 in costs.

Arena officials have submitted an invoice to the campaign for payment, and city administrators plan to do the same, according to the analysis.

“Our No. 1 objective is to keep visitors and residents safe,” Fleury said. “It is certainly, as we called it many times, a logistical challenge.”

Campaign officials told the city to be prepared for an influx of 20,000 people for the Dec. 18 rally, she said.

For Battle Creek, which has a population of 52,000, its police force of about 112 sworn officers wasn’t going to be enough, so officials called in mutual aid from the surrounding areas, including State Police and the Sheriff’s Office.

Wildwood police Chief Robert N. Regalbuto declined in an email to discuss security measures prior to Trump’s visit but said he would speak about it afterward.

“For operational security reasons, the Secret Service cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means and methods we utilize to carry out our protective responsibilities,” Secret Service spokeswoman Julia McMurray said. “We can say the design and implementation of our security plans are a coordinated effort with our law enforcement partners, public safety representatives and military counterparts to create a safe and secure environment for our protectees.”

Battle Creek officials had some experience dealing with presidential appearances. George W. Bush visited during his presidency in 2004, and Barack Obama visited during his campaign in 2008, Fleury said. But both went to the municipal ballpark, not the downtown arena.

Calling it a “different logistical exercise,” Fleury said they used the bus system to transport attendees with disabilities to the arena for the Trump rally and the focus for law enforcement was to keep people moving to avoid bottlenecking, “because that raises tensions,” she said.

John Siciliano, executive director and chief financial officer of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, said they’re experienced at managing large crowds at the convention center, which hosts the New Jersey State Firemen’s Convention as well as a number of concerts and festivals each year.

“We are planning and preparing for any contingency for this event,” Siciliano said.

Fleury said she was impressed by the Trump campaign and its ability to set up security checkpoints, including bringing staff from the Transportation Security Administration to the arena. However, she wasn’t prepared for the organized and somewhat aggressive vendors that showed up with early ticketholders.

The arena, which can hold about 8,000 people, was capped at 5,500 due to occupancy requirements from the city’s fire marshal, she said. Once it was filled, the campaign set up large screens for people to watch the rally from outside, which worked well.

The convention center in Wildwood has a 7,400-person capacity, but about 100,000 tickets have been requested — more than for any other rally Trump has held, Van Drew said Sunday.

Even with more people than seats in Battle Creek, only two arrests were made in relation to the rally, Fleury said.

And, since the close of the event, Battle Creek officials have held several “hotwashes,” or debriefings to look at what they did well and what they could improve.

“You have to mobilize yourself to prepare your community. It’s another special event,” Fleury said. “It was like you’ve planned a wedding and it was over and you can go, ‘We can breathe.’”

GALLERY: Look back at President Donald Trump in Atlantic City

Staff Writer Colt Shaw contributed to this report.


mbilinski-pressofac / MOLLY BILINSKI / Staff Writer  

Paul Gladue installed a large sign outside the store he runs, Red Barn Adult Books in Egg Harbor City, urging drivers to slow down when entering the city.


Crime
special report
Police, residents make efforts to prevent deaths on South Jersey roads

EGG HARBOR CITY — Just over six months since a 7-year-old and his grandmother were fatally struck walking across the White Horse Pike, cars and trucks continue to speed down the city’s main artery, residents say.

“Nothing’s really changed as far as people speeding through town,” Mattia Brown said. “They’re not slowing down. They slowed down for maybe a week or two, but no. You still have people struggling to cross the pike.”

Shortly after the July accident, members of the city’s Republican Club placed about 50 signs on the pike urging drivers to slow down. Since then, they have steadily disappeared, said Brown, who helped put up the signs.

While traffic fatalities across the state are at a five-year low, two South Jersey counties — Atlantic and Cape May — saw an increase in deaths on the road last year compared to 2018. When added together, 64 people, including pedestrians and drivers, died in 2019 on roads throughout Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, up from 59 the year before but down from 71 in 2014.

The deaths of Marco Yu and his grandmother were two of more than 30 traffic fatalities in Atlantic County last year. But while the July 11 accident spurred members of the community to act, many commuters who use the pike continue to speed through the “drive-through town,” Brown said.

Brown, who owns the Waffle Hut in a shopping plaza in the 800 block of the pike, said she looks out her front windows and sees drivers speed daily.

“If the trucks go past and they’re speeding, you hear it,” she said. “And you jump up thinking somebody’s been in an accident.”

Similarly, Vineland, in Cumberland County, saw three pedestrian accidents within nine days last January, two of them fatal. And, of the 19 total traffic fatalities in the county last year, 10 of them happened in Vineland.

City police have been working to educate and enforce traffic safety laws, giving out citations and informational pamphlets, said Sgt. Nick Dounoulis, who heads the department’s Traffic Safety Unit. Officers also go to schools, soup kitchens and senior centers to educate pedestrians and cyclists.

“Unfortunately, we still have people that, even though they see and they know the message, they still try to take shortcuts,” Dounoulis said. “I think the whole thing — people don’t want to walk the extra 20 feet to get to a crosswalk.”

State Police attribute the overall decline in traffic fatalities to “increased driver safety awareness, education initiatives and traffic enforcement programs,” according to a news release announcing the data. The biggest challenge is reducing behaviors that lead to drivers not paying attention, which they cite as the leading contributing factor in crash fatalities.

Last year, Vineland police gave out about 500 pamphlets and close to 200 citations to pedestrians and motorists, Dounoulis said. But it takes work by everyone, not just police, for the roads to become safer, he added.

“I’ve seen those people actually using the crosswalks and making the effort, and then you see others that know about it but like to take shortcuts,” he said. “I feel that people think they’re cutting time especially when they’re going on a diagonal. Really, in reality, what’d it save you, five seconds? And it may also cost you your life.”

Dounoulis said efforts are continuing to get the word out to pedestrians and drivers about traffic safety.

“I’m going to cross my fingers and say it is working and the message is going out,” he said. “It takes an effort by everyone, and everyone needs to educate each other.”


Politics
Gun rights advocates ask Atlantic County to become sanctuary for 2nd Amendment

NORTHFIELD — Second Amendment advocates packed the Atlantic County freeholders’ meeting Tuesday, asking them to declare the county a sanctuary for lawful gun ownership.

“We are law-abiding citizens, and gun laws in place only hurt law-abiding citizens,” said Sandy Hickerson, of Absecon, organizer of a group of Atlantic County gun owners asking the board to pass a resolution.

“I brought a few close friends,” she said of about 50 people there in support, filling the seats available and every corner of the meeting room.

Several mentioned this week’s gun-rights protest in Virginia, where a recent election gave control of the State House to Democrats promising stronger gun control laws. Thousands marched peacefully in Richmond on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying gun control laws harm only lawful citizens and don’t stop criminal behavior.

Melinda Bruckler, of Egg Harbor Township, said she bought a gun and learned to shoot after a stranger walked into her home at the end of a long private driveway when she was there, then turned and left after seeing her.

“I took a class at the Atlantic County gun range,” she said. “I’m in a ladies group that meets there the fourth Tuesday of the month.”

Hickerson said gun owners are particularly upset about New Jersey’s “Red Flag Law” that took effect last year. Under the new law, a judge may authorize police to confiscate a person’s firearms if the judge determines the person poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself or others.

“There is no due process, it’s unconstitutional,” Hickerson said. “We are guilty until proven innocent.”

Cape May County became the first in the state to pass a 2nd Amendment/Lawful Gun Owner Sanctuary resolution, brought to its freeholder board last month by an associated group of gun owners there.

Some towns, including Maurice River and Downe townships in Cumberland County, have passed similar resolutions, Hickerson said. Middle Township Committee passed a similar resolution Wednesday night.

The resolutions vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but most declare the intention of local officials to oppose any “unconstitutional restrictions” on the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The current movement began last year in Illinois and quickly spread to numerous states, including California, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.

“No other constitutional rights are under attack as much as the 2nd Amendment,” said James J. Casas Jr., of Egg Harbor Township. “No others have financial impediments on them.”

Casas said the group is asking for “an affirmation of inalienable right to self preservation.”

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Casas said. “It’s not about being white supremacist or a gun extremist.”

“Everything you are bringing up here, we’ve heard,” said Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica, a Republican. “I was in business 50 years, and carried a lot of money. I tried to get a concealed carry permit for 30 years. It can’t be done.”

Formica asked for more time to study the resolution, and for more information from the group about specific bills being considered in the state Legislature that concern them.

“We are creatures of the state. We can’t affect gun control at the county level. That comes under the (state) attorney general,” Formica said. “But we are a voice and want to listen.”

Democrats Ashley Bennett, Ernest Coursey and Caren Fitzpatrick said they would study the issue.

“I have a lot of homework to do, and I will do it,” Fitzpatrick said.

Freeholder Amy Gatto asked that the freeholders’ public safety committee take it up and bring any resolution back to the board “as an advertised agenda item.”

When the law changed in 2018, making it illegal to own any magazine capable of accepting more than 10 rounds of ammunition for semiautomatic weapons, Formica said it left him with 20 illegal magazines.

“You’re now a felon,” said someone in the audience.

Joe Raine, of Galloway Township, said the group wants the freeholders to make a statement that Trenton is “pushing citizens too far, making them felons. According to the law, I am one now.”

“Just the other night, my daughter came this close to being abducted,” said John Trainor, of Dennis Township, who said he is retired from the U.S. Army and is involved in the group that convinced the Cape May freeholders to pass a resolution. “It took the police 10 minutes to get to her.”

Trainor said he has top secret clearance yet cannot carry a gun legally in New Jersey, and said people need to have the right to carry guns to protect themselves. Law-abiding citizens would not abuse that right, while criminals will not obey any gun laws, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Local
top story
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP
Political fighting takes over Galloway council meeting

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The shift in mayors this month from Republican Anthony Coppola to Democrat Jim Gorman broke the township’s political factions into three camps, as exhibited by Tuesday’s Township Council meeting.

The Democrats — Gorman, Mary Crawford and Frank Santo — were joined by Robert Maldonado, who was voted onto the council as a Republican, to take control of the government during the Jan. 2 reorganization meeting.

Gorman is now the mayor, and Crawford is deputy mayor, replacing Rich Clute. The same seven members have been serving together for the past two years, and unless someone resigns, they will be on the council for another two years.

This change broke the political factions into three camps, with some overlap. Representatives from all three camps made up the approximately 200 people Tuesday night who filled the Municipal Court and caused at least 10 on- and off-duty uniformed police officers to be present.

The pro-Coppola side sees Maldonado as a turncoat.

They are happy with the way the township has been running and don’t see why Maldonado decided to side with the Democrats. The crowd repeatedly asked him what was wrong that needed to be changed.

In a letter that appeared in The Press on Jan. 15, Maldonado wrote that he voted for a switch in mayor because he thought there was too much favoritism to those in the “good old boys club.”

The attacks Maldonado has received, particularly racial slurs on social media, caused a faction of the township to stick up for him. They say he is a veteran, a family man and a good person.

The third faction wants the seven council members to work together for the good of the township.

Tuesday’s meeting started with Coppola making a motion to invalidate the reorganization meeting of Jan. 2 because he said the coordination through text messages and emails among Gorman, Crawford, Santo and Maldonado constituted a violation of the open meetings law. The text messages were blown up and put on poster boards in the room.

Coppola’s motion did not pass.

The November township election, which saw three Republicans re-elected — Coppola, Clute and Tony DiPietro — was particularly nasty and dragged former Republican Mayor Don Purdy, who has been off the council for two years, into the fray.

Purdy, who was a councilman for eight years, was accused in a letter signed by Gorman and sent out during the political season of political corruption and payouts, personal enrichment and incompetence.

Last month, Purdy filed a tort notice, or notice of intent to sue, for libel against the township. On Tuesday, he asked Gorman and Maldonado whether they knew the details behind actions they voted for earlier in the meeting.

“Any respect I had for you, sir, is out the window,” Purdy told Maldonado.

Maldonado also made a statement at the start of the meeting, after Coppola, saying he was verbally attacked in the parking lot after the Jan. 2 reorganization.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Maldonado’s absences from past council meetings were brought up, but he said that was due to injuries sustained on the job during an incident at Oakcrest High School in Hamilton Township.

“I will always choose good government over blind partisanship. There is no Republican or Democratic way to take out the trash, fill a pothole or balance a budget,” Maldonado wrote to The Press.

In between the warring factions, there are people like Anna Jezycki, who has lived in the township for 50 years and attends virtually every council meeting.

Maldonado is a good father, Jezycki said, but he disappointed her because he betrayed the vote of the people.

Jezycki asked the crowd to stay involved with township government like they were Tuesday night and to continue to go to meetings.

“Be proactive. Be part of the solution,” Jezycki said.

GALLERY: Galloway Township National Night Out