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Workers done cleaning trash-filled aftermath of Trump rally

WILDWOOD — A man was on the lookout for his abandoned chair Wednesday morning outside the Wildwoods Convention Center.

He left it behind to enter President Donald Trump’s rally the night before.

He dug through mounds of trash, blankets, sleeping bags and chairs, as sweeping workers and roving backhoes worked to clean the massive mess left behind in the parking lot, where thousands lined up to see Trump and U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew.

Secret Service limits the number of trash cans in close proximity to rallies, said Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations at the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.

Others turned the surplus into charity. Lisa Russo, 60, of Wildwood, and Janine Hansberry, 46, of Lower Township, collected left-behind tents, sleeping bags and other items to donate to St. Mary’s Thrift Shop in Rio Grande.

They marveled at the amount of trash in the lot along Ocean Avenue, but also at how the grounds crew was making light work of it.

“They’re doing a good job cleaning it up quick,” Hansberry said.

While yellow roadblocks still dotted the city’s sidewalks, Wildwood was winding down Wednesday from Tuesday’s manic rush as thousands, including many from out of state, arrived to try to see the president speak.

Security measures to protect Trump’s arrival choked the streets closest to the convention center, and there was little parking to be found on the city’s main thoroughfares.

Trump praises Van Drew in Wildwood campaign rally

WILDWOOD — As a capacity crowd inside the Wildwoods Convention Center shouted its approval, President Donald Trump showered praise on South Jersey congressman Jeff Van Drew on Tuesday, calling him brave and principled for voting against impeachment charges.

Businesses that were closed for the offseason opened to serve the hungry crowds or offer them overnight accommodations. But the remnants of their long wait in the cold — snacks, food wrappers, hand warmers and more — stayed in the lot.

On Wednesday, city employees and contractors had to deal with the aftermath, and help bring Wildwood back to its typically sleepy winter routine.

A team of about eight people were working by 7 a.m. and had the garbage completely cleaned up by noon, Rose said.

Port-a-potties were trucked out of the lot. Workers swept in front of the Starlux Hotel nearby. A trailer was filled with camping chairs, and mounds of blankets had been separated from the rest of the garbage. Some on the scene said they would be donated.

“We were well prepared for cleanup. We’re so used to major events and large cleanup that it’s really not an issue for us,” Rose said. “By noon, you could not believe there was anything that happened yesterday.”

BEN ROSE / provided  

The lot outside the Wildwoods Convention Center was cleaned up by noon Wednesday after the Trump rally.

Sabrina McCullen, 42, and her girlfriend, Shane Tresselt, 41, both of Wildwood, had the same idea as Russo and Hansberry but were “disgusted” by what was left behind. Videos and photos of the trash got traction on social media, with many using it as a sign that Trump fans didn’t respect their host city.

“I know that we have big events here and everything like that,” McCullen said, “but it’s never been like this before.”

They first filled seven bags of trash on the beach and then turned their attention to the perfectly good things left behind because rally attendees could not bring them inside. On Wednesday morning, they were trying to figure out a suitable place to donate what they found.

“We saw the pictures of how bad it was around here, so we were just like, ‘We’re gonna come down here and clean up,’” McCullen said. “And then we were like, ‘What are they doing with all this? ... They should donate it to the homeless.’”

Mike DiDomenico, general manager of the Oceanic Hotel across from the convention center, was on the premises cleaning up from celebrations the day before. The business opened its restaurant and bar and sold merchandise, but did not rent rooms.

“We had enough bar backs back here last night, so we tried to knock out a lot of it last night,” DiDomenico said. “Across the street looks like a mess, but they’re plowing through it pretty quickly, so that’s good news.”

He sounded happy for the extra business in the middle of the offseason but relieved things would be going back to normal.

“This time of the year, very often we do nothing,” DiDomenico said. “So it’s fantastic. It was good for the area. Everybody got a little shot in the arm, and now it’s back to quiet.”

GALLERY: President Donald Trump visits Wildwood


President Donald Trump introduces adviser and South Jersey native Kellyanne Conway during Tuesday’s rally. It was briefly rumored Wednesday Trump would be coming to Conway’s former stomping grounds of Hammonton.

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Sorry, but rumor of Trump visit to Hammonton unfounded

President Donald Trump hinted he may return to New Jersey for another rally this summer in his speech Tuesday night at the Wildwoods Convention Center, igniting speculation about where he may next appear.

“You know they all say Republicans can’t win (in New Jersey). Tell me why?” Trump said to the thousands packed into the venue, and thousands more who couldn’t get in who were watching him on a massive screen in the parking lot.

“They said, ‘Should you move this to the Meadowlands?’ I said, ‘No, I want to be in South Jersey. We want to be with our friends.’ But we could have filled up the Meadowlands arena two or three times,” Trump said of the more than 150,000 ticket requests that came in to the campaign for a venue that holds 7,400. Maybe we’ll do it during the summer. Should we do it during the summer?”

The response was a deafening roar of approval.

That didn’t stop some from speculating Trump may visit Hammonton.

A social media post Wednesday morning created a furor by saying Trump was coming to Hammonton on a specific date in September.

A Hammonton Republican Club leader quickly said there was no visit scheduled.

At least not yet.

“One or two people thought they were being funny,” said Hammonton Councilman and Regular Republican Club Vice President Michael Torrissi.

Trump praises Van Drew in Wildwood campaign rally

WILDWOOD — As a capacity crowd inside the Wildwoods Convention Center shouted its approval, President Donald Trump showered praise on South Jersey congressman Jeff Van Drew on Tuesday, calling him brave and principled for voting against impeachment charges.

“Do not change your plans. Nothing is happening,” Torrissi said Wednesday, adding the local GOP will try to arrange a visit during warmer weather, since it has no large indoor venue. “If there is, we’ll announce it.”

“As you know, the president throws things out there,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, whom Trump praised during the rally. “Do I think there is something to it? I do.”

But in a competitive election year, Trump has a lot of places he has to get to, Van Drew said.

“Certainly I hope to get him back sometime,” Van Drew said, adding he and Trump were both amazed by the attendance at the rally, and by the large number of people who lined the motorcade route from the Cape May Airport in Lower Township to the Wildwoods Convention Center.

“Anywhere we were driving ... they were lined up along the streets everywhere,” Van Drew said. “It was something neither the president nor I expected. All we could do was wave, and we did.”

People must have figured out where to stand based on police checkpoints and police presence, he said.

He also said he is working to get Vice President Mike Pence to visit the 2nd Congressional District soon.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted on the day of the rally that 158,632 tickets had been requested, and the campaign had identified 73,482 voters — more than 10% of whom didn’t vote in 2016.

And more than 26% of those requesting tickets self-identified as Democrats, according to Parscale.

“This is the largest RSVP number we have ever had for a Trump rally!” tweeted Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump.

Mayor Steve DiDonato said Hammonton is not likely to be able to handle a Trump visit.

“We have no inside venue (big enough), and it would be almost impossible to have a sitting president secure in an outdoor area,” DiDonato said.

Torrissi said the town was talked about as a possible site for Tuesday’s Trump rally, but its venues only hold hundreds of people. Wildwood’s convention center holds about 7,400, and that still left thousands of people who had been waiting in line for hours unable to get in. They watched the rally on large outdoor screens.

Van Drew said before Wildwood was chosen that organizers were looking at Hammonton as a way of paying tribute to President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 visit. But no indoor venue large enough could be found.

Torrissi said people have called him and other town officials asking whether they should cancel vacation plans they had for September, and businesses and local first responders have asked for details to begin preparing.

“We would love him to come,” Torrissi said, adding that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway grew up in nearby Atco and went to high school at St. Joseph in Hammonton.

Sept. 19 is the anniversary of Reagan’s visit, Torrissi said.

“So I believe somebody said, ‘Why not?’” of the incorrect posting. “You know how social media is.”

Gallery of Trump strategist Kellyanne Conway growing up

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Miss America President and CEO Regina Hopper no longer with organization

The Miss America Organization announced Tuesday night that President and CEO Regina Hopper — one of the guiding forces behind the competition’s swimsuit-less, “2.0” rebranding — has left the organization.

According to a statement, the organization’s board Chairwoman Shantel Krebs will assume leadership responsibilities on an interim basis as the board begins a search for a new president and CEO.

Krebs is a former South Dakota secretary of state and was Miss South Dakota 1997.

“We are grateful for Regina’s time, energy and commitment over the past two years, and thank her for her service to the progress of the Miss America Organization,” the statement reads. “The board and staff will strive to make the year of celebration surrounding the 100th anniversary of our program one for the books.”

Hopper said in a statement to The Press of Atlantic City that she formally notified the MAO Board of Directors nearly two weeks ago that she was presented with a new opportunity to return full time to a job involving transportation. Before her time with the MAO, Hopper was the president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

“I am grateful for the Miss America Organization’s Board of Directors’ recognition of my work over the last two years as the president and CEO of the Miss America Organization, which I held in a volunteer, unpaid capacity,” Hopper said. “I am proud of the progress that has (been) made over the last two years to advance scholarship and service opportunities for women while promoting the importance of inclusivity and diversity.”

Hopper became president and CEO of the Miss America Organization in May 2018 as part of a series of changes that came about after an email scandal in December 2017.

Hopper, who was Miss Arkansas 1983, assumed her dual role at the same time that Miss America 1989 Gretchen Carlson became chairwoman of the MAO board.

Carlson stepped down as chairwoman in June 2019.

Hopper was appointed almost six months after the release of emails by former Miss America CEO and Executive Chairman Sam Haskell and board members and employees that used crude and vulgar language to describe past contestants’ weight and sexual history. The emails also revealed efforts by the Haskell-led board to sabotage several former Miss Americas’ post-pageant careers.

Hopper and Carlson were the driving forces behind the rebranding of the pageant dubbed “Miss America 2.0,” which included, among other things, the elimination of the swimsuit and evening gown portions of the competition.

“It’s not really a rebuild but a rebranding of Miss America and making the organization relevant,” Hopper said at the time of her appointment. “The most important message from today’s announcement is that the Miss America stakeholders, as well as the current young women in the program and those young women interested in the program, will see Miss America as something that they want to be a part of.”

Some of the changes overseen by Hopper and Carlson were not well-received by Miss America traditionalists. Shortly after they took control of the organization in 2018, that year’s Miss America, Cara Mund, told The Press and wrote in an open letter to past pageant winners that she had been silenced and bullied by the organization’s leadership.

In her letter, Mund explained how she felt marginalized in the months since Carlson and Hopper took over.

Mund said Tuesday night she fully supports the decision to conduct a nationwide search for a new CEO.

“The Miss America Organization taught me the power of my voice. I applaud the board for implementing this change,” said Mund, a law student at Georgetown University. “Although this is just one step in the right direction, today’s announcement is proof that the truth will always prevail.”

MAO moved the 2020 competition out of Atlantic City in 2019 after failing to get financial assistance from either the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, as it had in the past, or from individual casinos. The CRDA had given the MAO about $4 million a year over the past several years.

The competition was held Dec. 19 at the Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut, where Miss Virginia Camille Schrier was crowned.

Lauren Carroll contributed to this report.

GALLERY: Official portraits of Miss America 2020 candidates

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Longport considering tearing down Borough Hall, building new

LONGPORT — The borough is forming a citizens committee to help determine whether Borough Hall should be demolished and replaced with a new building after mold was found this past summer.

Mold was found in the commission chambers and Centennial Hall in mid-August after the discovery of failed HVAC equipment, Mayor Nick Russo said. Among the contributing factors are the age of the building and water that got underneath the structure after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

While mold remediation has been ongoing since the fall, Russo said other problems have arisen that have made city officials ask whether building anew would be a better option.

“We’ve already put some effort in this,” he said. “But what happens here is you get into one project and you find more problems.”

Mold remediation in the commission chambers is complete and Centennial Hall is close to completion, he said. But the Police Department, also housed in Borough Hall, is a little more complicated, he said.

In the fall, the police were to be moved to trailers on site, but the plan fell through “because it couldn’t accommodate the mission of the Police Department,” Russo said.

“The remediation can’t be done with people in there,” he said. “Administrative stuff can be done in commission chambers, but as far as a holding cell, the Police Department has to come up with a contingency plan for a closed-off area.”

Another factor to consider is cost. In November, borough staff anticipated the mold remediation project would cost $1 million.

“I think that number is probably closer to half a million, or maybe around that number,” he said.

So far, about $67,000 has been spent on mold remediation, said Jenna Kelly, finance officer for the borough.

The cost to build a new hall is unknown, but Russo said an estimate he got about 10 years ago was about $8 million.

“Numerous factors need to be taken into consideration in this decision,” said alternate borough solicitor Pat Agnellini. “The building should be salvageable. It certainly would be cheaper to fix it than to tear it down and rebuild it. The question I have is, what building do you build? What does Longport government look like in 10 years given everything that the state is trying to do with respect to consolidating municipalities and services in municipalities? If you build a building that covers everything it covers now, only to find out five years from now, you’re not covering all services, that is the challenge.”

Russo feels the same way.

“My position would be to try to salvage this building,” he said. “I think it’s structurally sound and it has historical significance.”

Borough Hall was built in the 1920s, originally as the Betty Bacharach Home for Afflicted Children.

“If we’re going to stay in this building, in my opinion, I just felt that the decision was too important to make without input from the public,” he said. “I think it’s worth it to continue to invest in this building because in the long run, it’ll be cheaper.”

About 24 people volunteered to be on the committee, the mayor said. He’s in the process of creating an agenda for the first meeting, but doesn’t have a date set yet.

Margate, Ventnor, Longport police hold Toys for Tots toy drive

Matthew Strabuk / For The Press  

On May 2nd 2018, At the Longport Borough Hall, flood concerns are addressed by members of the Coastal Coalition. Longport Mayor Nick Russo starts off the press conference.