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mbilinski-pressofac / MOLLY BILINSKI/Staff Writer  

Police block Pitney Road at East Ridgewood Avenue while negotiations took place Tuesday.


Local
'You and I are done': Middle Township incumbent criticized for flier criticizing mayor's blog post

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Residents say Township Committee’s lone Democrat went too far in citing writing by Mayor Tim Donohue in a campaign flier.

Donohue angered some over the summer with a social media post about white supremacy, which was later picked up as an opinion piece by the conservative website Save New Jersey.

Committeeman Michael Clark included a link to the piece in his campaign material, including the title “In search of white supremacy,” without further comment.

At Monday’s Township Committee meeting, several people demanded an apology from Clark. They saw the inclusion as tantamount to calling Donohue a racist. At the end of the meeting, Donohue called Clark out directly.

“You and I have worked together for six years. You and I have had disagreements. I have never attacked you personally. We can disagree on policy, we can be on different sides of the campaigns. I have never attacked you personally,” Donohue said. “My family, myself, have been smeared by you for one reason, so that you can try to get reelected. It’s pathetic. And until you retract that statement, and until you are willing to do the right thing and man up and apologize, you and I are done. We are not working on anything together.”

The mayor is not on the ballot this year. Clark, who served as mayor when Democrats were in the majority, faces a challenge from Republican candidate Jim Norris. If Norris takes the seat, the three-member committee will be entirely Republican.

In a recent flier, Clark’s campaign stated he is all that stands in the way of Donohue running the township.

“We need checks and balances, differing opinions and an independent voice to safeguard against abuses and prevent a ‘one-man rule’ Township Committee,” reads the flier.

Former committee member Dan Lockwood, who is active in GOP campaigns in the township, raised the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting, joined by several other residents. A few residents who said they had not seen the flier also spoke, stating that Clark’s campaign went too far for local politics in a township they say remains cordial and neighborly.

Several speakers called on Clark to repudiate the flier, suggesting leaders within the Democratic party had pushed for its inclusion, while others asked whether he believed Donohue to be racist.

Clark did not directly answer that question, instead saying he had never accused Donohue of being a racist. He said the mayor wrote the piece, he merely included a link to it.

“What was the point of putting it on the mailer if you weren’t trying to allude that he was a racist?” Lockwood said.

“I was just trying to make people aware of what he wrote,” Clark replied.

Melanie Collette, a former Republican candidate for Committee, said she has experienced racism in Middle Township as a black woman, but never from Donohue.

“It is absolutely infuriating to see that notation at the bottom of that advertisement indicating that someone is a white supremacist who absolutely is not, particularly when the person responsible absolutely knows better,” she said.

For the most part, Clark said little at the meeting, aside from suggesting white supremacy is not a joking matter. Some speakers said Donohue’s writing was no joke but raised an important issue. Donohue described it as sarcastic both at the Monday meeting and in previous interviews.

The writing drew a rebuke from the Cape May County chapter of the NAACP. The organization did not suggest Donohue was racist but did describe the writing as insensitive and arrogant. New NAACP chapter President Alexander Bland has said in subsequent interviews he has a good rapport with Donohue and has invited the mayor to his swearing-in ceremony in November.

“I do want to apologize for one thing, that I created this distraction and people chose to take advantage of it politically,” Donohue said. “Look, sarcasm goes over some people’s heads, you know?”

The flier includes a photo of Clark in his firefighter gear. He is a longtime volunteer firefighter in the township. It states he will keep Middle Township transparent and affordable. A large photo of Donohue is included in the flier.

“The Democrat Party is really something else. I thought it was just down in Washington, but it must be coming up here. It’s stupid. If you don’t believe the man’s racist, you don’t keep spreading it. You let it drop, and that’s the end of it,” stated resident Peggy Mathis. “Get to real issues.”

GALLERY: Mainland vs Middle football

Local
Atlantic City activist shares memories of young Elijah Cummings

In his student days, the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., was a serious student who was more conservative than many of his classmates at the elite Howard University in Washington, D.C., said Charles Goodman, of Atlantic City.

“He was conservative in dress and demeanor,” said Goodman, who graduated with Cummings in 1973 and plans to attend Cummings’ funeral Friday in the nation’s capital. “He was a solid guy and a very serious guy. You knew he was going places.”

Howard is a private, federally chartered, historically black university that has a long roster of famous graduates, including Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison and the first black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall.

During his career, Cummings mentored countless young people, faith leaders, activists, politicians and others.

PHOTOS of Elijah Cummings through the years

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said in a news release that a formal ceremony open to members of Congress, the Cummings family and invited guests will be held Thursday morning, followed by a public viewing.

A wake and funeral for Cummings is planned the following day at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, where he worshiped for nearly four decades.

Goodman and Cummings both lived in Drew Hall at Howard for a time, Goodman said, and ran against each other for president of the Student Senate in 1971. Goodman, considered more radical, lost to Cummings.

“This really brought back memories,” Goodman said of calling friends to see whether they had old yearbooks.

He said a headline in The Hilltop, the student newspaper, said ‘Cummings calls Goodman Anti-Howard’ for having protested the administration, including taking over the A Building for a time over student issues.

Cummings and Goodman also traveled the country with other members of student government supporting black candidates, Goodman said.

“When we got to New Jersey for Bob Gibson running for mayor (of Newark) ... (the police) sicced dogs on us,” Goodman said. “We went everywhere in the deep South, and you come back to your home state and they sic the dogs on you.”

Goodman said he saw Cummings at homecomings, which both attended just about every year, until Cummings’ health prevented him more recently. They ran in different crowds, he said, both at college and later in life, but were always friendly, he said.

Cummings is the son of a preacher, “so we came from different backgrounds,” Goodman said. “He used to go back home a lot to Baltimore. He grew up in the church.”

Goodman was born in the projects in Atlantic City and was the first person in his family to attend college, he said.

“I consider it an honor to go to Howard and become friends with him and others,” Goodman said of Cummings.

The faculty at Howard included many major names of the Civil Rights movement, including attorney Frank D. Reeves, who worked with Marshall on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit that made school segregation unconstitutional nationwide.

“They were all Howard people,” Goodman said. “I’m sure they were all a huge influence on (Cummings), besides his talents and upbringing in the church.”

After graduating, Goodman stayed in D.C. and worked for former Mayor Marion Barry for 11 years, before Barry was mayor but was running for school board and D.C. Council.

Then he moved to New York City and did concert promoting, and eventually returned to Atlantic City in the 1980s, where he worked in the city recreation program and elsewhere. Each fall, he leads a bus trip to visit historically black colleges and universities for Atlantic City students, including Howard.

Goodman also goes to Howard to visit the students there, and to the chapel for services.

“Last year (Cummings) was due to preach but didn’t make it. He was sick,” Goodman said.

“It has been a highlight to see his growth,” Goodman said. “I’m always telling my wife, how you saw him on TV, that’s the way he always was on campus. Very serious.”

Goodman said he’s upset about Cummings’ death, for more than just personal reasons.

“Obviously you are upset any time anybody passes, but especially at this time,” Goodman said, “when we need a guy like him.”


Crime
Atlantic County prosecutor identifies suspects in decades-old cold cases

Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner, joined by local law enforcement held a press conference announce charges being filed in two COLD CASE HOMICIDES at "All Wars Memorial Building in Atlantic City, New Jersey Tuesday Oct 22, 2019. One of these cold cases is a homicide that occurred in 1996, and remained unsolved for 23 years and the second unsolved cold case homicide occurred in 2010. The mothers and family members of both stand with Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner on stage. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Tuesday marked a step toward closure for Sheila Harvey.

Her son Saleem Tolbert, 26, was shot and killed in 2010 in the city. On Tuesday, charges were announced against a man prosecutors say pulled the trigger, as well as two men involved in a 1996 killing.

“My family has been tortured — pain after pain — not knowing what would happen with the case,” Harvey said. “My son was a lovable person. I miss him so much. Every day, every night, I truly miss him. But I know he must be looking down, smiling, saying, ‘Mom, you don’t have to worry.’”

Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner was flanked on stage by law enforcement officials and the mothers of two victims at the All Wars Memorial Building on Adriatic Avenue. Two suspects have been charged and a third is wanted for their alleged involvement in unsolved murders that occurred in 2010 and 1996, Tyner said.

“When homicide investigations lay dormant and go unsolved for a period of time, survivors do not get the closure, people lose faith in the criminal justice system and even worse, killers mock the system and are free to potentially kill again,” Tyner said.

On July 6, 2010, Atlantic City police responded to a 911 call of shots fired in the 1000 block of Sewell Avenue. Tolbert was found by authorities lying on the steps of a home with multiple gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

After a nine-year investigation, authorities identified Lorin Wright, 33, of Atlantic City, as the person responsible for Tolbert’s murder. Witnesses told authorities Tolbert and Wright were acquaintances, having grown up in the same community in the city.

“It is believed that a prior dispute was the motivation for this senseless killing,” Tyner said in a statement.

In the years since Tolbert’s murder, Wright was indicted in a fatal shooting that occurred on May 5, Mother’s Day, in 2017. Wright has been accused of murdering Keith Cundiff Jr., 32, of Atlantic City, who was previously associated with the 808 Blok gang. Wright, also known as “Boog,” according to the Prosecutor’s Office, has been in jail since 2017.

Wright was arrested Oct. 4 and was charged with murder and weapons offenses. He is being held at the Atlantic County jail in Mays Landing.

In the second case, now more than two decades old, police have arrested one man and are seeking a second.

On May 27, 1996, police received 911 calls reporting a person shot behind a home on North Kentucky Avenue in Stanley Holmes Village. The victim, who was shot multiple times in broad daylight, was identified as 20-year-old Antojuan Huffin and was later pronounced dead at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus.

According to Press archives, Huffin was an aspiring rapper, also known as “Cool-T,” who was turning his life around after early involvement in a local gang.

An investigation at the time determined Huffin was robbed at gunpoint and shot by the then-unidentified suspects.

More than 23 years later, the investigation has identified the two murder suspects: Lamarc Rex, 37, and a 40-year-old man identified by the initials T.C.

Rex was 14 and T.C. was 17 at the time of Huffin’s murder.

T.C. was arrested Friday and charged with two counts of murder, including felony charges. He was processed within the juvenile system, due to his age at the time of the murder, and will remain anonymous until he is waived up to adult court, Tyner said. He is being held at the Atlantic County jail.

Rex has yet to be located by authorities and is considered armed and dangerous. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. Anyone with additional information can call the Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7800.

Huffin’s mother, Vernesta Green, said she still loses sleep over her son’s killing. She thinks about him every day.

“It’s just been a long time,” said Green. “I’m just lost for words right now ... It’s bringing back old wounds, so it’s kind of hard for me.”

Huffin’s son, who was two years old at the time of his father’s killing, stood at the back of the news conference as Tyner spoke. Now 25, Tyner said the man has just faint memories of his dad.

“There are families out there that never get the closure they deserve,” Tyner said.


Education
Whelan's Whales adds special needs swim lesson

ATLANTIC CITY — Most children on the island live within three blocks of a body of water, so learning to swim is important.

For children with special needs who may be prone to wandering, swimming lessons here are critical.

That is why the nonprofit Whelan’s Whales has expanded its mission to help special needs children on the island learn to swim, program coordinator Sari Carroll said.

This fall, 11 students on various levels of the autism spectrum are participating in the inaugural session of Whelan’s Whales’ special needs swim lessons, which are provided for free.

“One of my main concerns is I’ve heard of a lot of autistic children who have drowned in the water before. That’s been a very, very huge fear of mine,” said Kimberly McDonel, the mother of 5-year-old Jayden, who is nonverbal and autistic.

Accidental drowning is among the leading causes of death for children with autism, national statistics show. The McDonels live in Buzby Village, directly across West End Avenue from Beach Thorofare, and that makes Jayden’s swim lessons all the more important to his mother.

“I’m doing it more for safety issues,” McDonel said. “Children on the spectrum are very drawn to the water. He has no awareness of his surroundings. He’s not fearful at all.”

The Whelan’s Whales swimming program for children in Atlantic City was started in 2017 by the owners of the Brigantine Aquatic Center in memory of the late Sen. Jim Whelan, a former Atlantic City school teacher and swim instructor. The program is held at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School and aims to teach kids on the island to swim, promoting safety. About 430 Atlantic City children have received lessons so far.

Carroll has been teaching special needs lessons for eight years in Brigantine, so it was a natural fit to bring the same lessons to Whelan’s Whales.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, 30 years ago before anyone knew what we were doing with these kids,” Carroll said. “They like to be under the water because it blocks out the sensory stuff.”

She said children with autism may be fearful of the noise of an indoor pool at first, but many quickly come to love swimming because of the repetition. Carroll said many children with autism live in Atlantic City but don’t know how to swim.

The children get one-on-one attention from swim instructors like Cassandra Franco, 17, of Brigantine. Franco is a senior at Atlantic City High School and has been swimming all her life. She has been helping Carroll teach lessons since she was 13.

“The children are so eager to learn,” Franco said. “It’s refreshing to see kids who want to learn how to swim. That’s why I really like the MLK swimming. They like the water, they just don’t know how to swim it.”

McDonel is also happy that the program will help her learn what to do in the event of a water emergency with her son, like encouraging him to kick his feet and swim out of the water or to the edge of the pool.

“Honestly, I’m still learning as I go as far as children on the spectrum,” she said. “One day we could be put in a position and our children could be in the water and we wouldn’t know what to do, so it could potentially save their life.”

GALLERY: Students blow bubbles for Autism Awareness

GALLERY: Students blow bubbles for Autism Awareness