ATLANTIC CITY — The Democratic Committee in the city nominated three candidates to fill former Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr.’s remaining term after his resignation last week following a guilty plea to wire fraud.
Interim Mayor Marty Small Sr., Pamela Thomas-Fields and Gwendolyn Callaway Lewis were unanimously selected by the 33 Atlantic City Democratic Committee members in attendance at Tuesday night’s special meeting.
City Council has 30 days to select one of the three nominees to serve an unexpired term until an election in November 2020. Thomas-Fields and Callaway Lewis both said they support Small.
“I’m humbled,” said the 45-year-old Small, who noted that just two years ago the same committee overwhelmingly selected Gilliam over him for mayor. “It just shows how far we’ve come.”
Small, who is also currently serving as council president, was sworn in on an interim basis Friday after Gilliam resigned the previous day. Gilliam pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, for defrauding a youth basketball program he co-founded out of more than $87,000.
Small said he appreciated the support from the Democratic committee members but added he was not “taking council for granted.”
Committee member Durwood Pinkett said he believed Small has matured over the past two years and is ready to “lead the revitalization of Atlantic City.”
“He’s going to make sure that this city’s image is repaired and the people have full faith in government,” Pinkett said.
Thomas-Fields said it was important two women were chosen among the potential nominees for mayor, but she would support Small going forward.
“I do believe (Small) should have an opportunity,” she said. “I think he’s deserving of it.”
Callaway Lewis, chairwoman of the city Democratic Committee, said Small has the “experience and know-how” to lead Atlantic City.
Small is the only candidate running in the 2nd Ward in November’s general election, where all six ward councilmen will be selected. If appointed mayor by council, Small said he would resign his council seat, meaning the 2nd Ward Democratic Committee members would then have to nominate three candidates to fill his vacated position.
As council president, Small earns an annual salary of $28,900, which he continues to make as interim mayor. If appointed mayor by council, Small would earn $103,000 annually.
On Tuesday, Small said he was taking an unpaid leave of absence from his $93,000-a-year job as dean of athletics at Principle Academy Charter School in Egg Harbor Township to focus on the city.
Peter Caporilli, Principle Academy founding member, a former board member and current member of the school’s management company, Polymath, said the charter school’s students admire and are inspired by Small, “who has created a transformational student-athlete experience for them.”
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti Post contributed to this report.
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — It’s a good start to the week at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey when a 16-wheel tractor trailer shows up.
On Tuesday morning, a 32,000-pound delivery of donated chicken products arrived at the loading dock behind the distribution center on the Black Horse Pike.
While the automated pallet jack operators worked diligently to unload and store the 1,500 boxes containing breaded chicken tenders, the staff at the food bank knew it would only be a matter of days until the food would be distributed to thousands of local recipients.
The donation was a coordinated effort by the Professional Chefs Association of South Jersey, food bank board member Beverly DiMeglio and Tyson Foods, the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork products.
“Tyson has given this donation for the past 15 years,” said Colette Kraus, food sourcing manager for the food bank. “Our focus at the Community FoodBank is to help feed the people of South Jersey nutritious food, so the donation of chicken — a protein — is one of our main objectives to distribute to needy families in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.”
According to the food bank, more than 900,000 residents in the state are food insecure, meaning they do not have ready access to a supermarket or reasonably priced, nutritious foods.
“It’s the working class we’re helping because they can’t afford to buy nutritious food,” said Kraus. “They can afford, as we’ll call it, the junk food, but they can’t afford the protein, the vegetables, the dairy products, so we’re trying to help families and children. With the car payment, the insurance, the bills ... they need assistance, and that’s what we’re here for.”
Or as Fredric Belfus of the chefs association put it: “What can’t you do with chicken?”
“Chicken is a very versatile piece of food,” Belfus said. “Between grilling and roasting and baking, chicken soup, chicken salad, there’s hundreds of things to do with chicken.”
The chefs association, the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, hosts many fundraisers and charity events throughout the year not only to provide money to the food bank but to promote the importance of cooking and preparing nutritious meals. The group recently began its annual Souper Chefs program, in which 75,000 bowls of soup will be cooked by dozens of area chefs.
“We’re really proud to be here and to help out with the community. This is one area where the food bank really shines,” said Kenneth Trout, president of the chefs association.
Trout said South Jersey is still feeling the effects of casino closings and unemployment.
In 2018, the food bank distributed 12 million pounds of food. The Egg Harbor Township facility supplies area kitchens and pantries, such as the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army, directly and indirectly serving more than 66,000 locals.
“It gives an opportunity for Tyson to give back,” said Jeffrey Duda, regional manager of eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey for Tyson Foods. “This is part of Tyson’s initiatives of feeding families across America. We do this at area food banks across the country, not just in our hometown of Springdale, Arkansas.”
The first coastal storm of autumn will arrive Wednesday, bringing days of flooding concerns to South Jersey.
“It’s time to dust off your emergency plans and notify all of your public works. ... This event will be a little prolonged,” said Martin Pagliughi, emergency management coordinator for Cape May County.
The storm will move into an area south of Cape Cod and east of Cape May on Wednesday and stay there through Friday, as a strong high pressure to the north blocks it from escaping into the North Atlantic. Tropical Storm Melissa may morph out of the storm, aided by warm waters in the Gulf Stream.
“I reached out to the fire chief (of Margate, Daniel Adams) on Tuesday. We’re going to meet on Wednesday morning to confirm the forecast,” said Chuck LaBarre, emergency management coordinator for Margate.
The forecast calls for days of high surf, rip currents, 30-40 mph northeasterly gusts and multiple rounds of coastal flooding, which will start with the Wednesday evening high tide.
“At this time and given the projection of the tidal departures, I tell the chief (of police), ‘It’s time to roll out the barrels.’ By that, they will be placing barrels and cones, shutting down lanes that will flood,” said Jim Eberwine, emergency management coordinator for Absecon.
A coastal flood advisory was issued by the National Weather Service in Mount Holly from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday. Minor flood stage will be expected from the Wednesday p.m. high tide through the Saturday p.m. high tide. Within those seven tidal cycles, two of them, Thursday p.m. and Friday p.m., likely will reach moderate flood stage.
Local shore officials were preparing for the storm. Brigantine police will shut down the boat ramp at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
“The ramp will remain closed until the threat of flooding decreases,” the Police Department said in a statement.
Minor flood stage is the nuisance flood stage South Jersey sees frequently throughout the year. No damage to homes or businesses is expected. Susceptible spots include the Black Horse Pike in West Atlantic City, the White Horse Pike between Atlantic City and Absecon, parts of Ventnor and along the bay in Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island.
“Our public works pulled the remaining trash cans off the beach today, in the event of beach erosion. We’ll monitor the storm and use social media and Nixle to keep the public updated if any action needs to be taken,” said Robert Burnaford, chief of police for Harvey Cedars.
With moderate flood stage, every town along the shore usually sees water. The last time South Jersey reported moderate flood stage was Oct. 27 of last year. Some roads are impossible to move through, and cars may float in the water. Homes or businesses near the bay that are not raised will start to see water inundate. If not careful, lives may be at risk.
“Now, you may start seeing water cover the entire roadway in certain areas. That’s when we put out a warning (to residents). You could get over a foot of water,” said Pagliughi, who received the 2019 Public Safety Achievement Award by the National Association of Counties this week.
Local officials are preparing for road closings during the moderate tidal flooding cycles. LaBarre said Margate’s Department of Public works will move barricades closer to flood-prone areas.
Pockets of minor beach erosion also are expected.
“We don’t see it as catastrophic. ... There will be beach erosion because it’s a prolonged event,” Pagliughi said.
In Margate, LaBarre said the beaches have held up well since their replenishment in 2017.
“We want an assessment of where we are prior and where we are after,” he said.
Pagliughi, Eberwine and LaBarre all said monitoring the storm over the coming days will be the best approach.
“Our first responders are pretty much storm-savvy, so I get very few calls, just monitor,” Eberwine said.
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Children in the township’s public schools will still celebrate Halloween, but the administration will not change its decision to cancel outside parades, Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said Monday.
The Galloway Township Board of Education was presented with more than 1,100 signatures on an online petition at its meeting Monday asking to reinstate the parades but said it stood behind the administration’s decision.
“Here we’re concerned about 500 to 650 children and staff. It has just become increasingly difficult with society,” board President Suzette Carmen said. “And this is 2019, and unfortunately we have to be concerned with the safety of everybody above some other things. For this year certainly, we will not have the outside parade.”
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Despite an online petition that has garnered hundreds of signatures claiming otherwise, school officials said costumes are not being eliminated at local elementary school Halloween celebrations although there will be changes.
The K-8 Galloway Township school district decided this year not to hold outdoor Halloween parades at its four elementary schools because crowds had become too large and presented safety concerns. The parades, in which parents come to see their children dressed in costume, are common in schools in South Jersey, but not a state mandate.
Giaquinto said the administration allowed each elementary school to decide how it would celebrate Halloween inside the building, ranging from costume parties to Black and Orange Day, which is when students are encouraged to dress in those colors. The decision upset some parents in the township and led to a change.org petition, which as of Tuesday afternoon had 1,194 signatures.
Parents Kelly Billings, who started the petition, and Susan Coll-Guedes spoke during public comment asking for the parade to be reinstated.
“I grew up in North Jersey and I grew up in the ‘80s, when we had razor blades in the candy, and we didn’t cancel Halloween festivities,” Coll-Guedes said, asking that the board tap into the community to develop safer alternatives than canceling the parade. “I just need to know when to help and in what capacity.”
Billings said she has been a parent in the district for 14 years and her youngest is in third grade at the Smithville School, which is only hosting a Black and Orange Day on Halloween.
The children in that school are not allowed to dress up, she said.
Billings said she is thankful for the school and the school community, but disappointed in the district’s decision.
“Children in this day and age are forced to grow up very, very fast,” Billings said. “They’re innocent, they’re children and it’s our job as the adults in their lives to protect them and to protect the innocence of their childhood.”
STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — The concession stand at Southern Regional High School’s football field was decked in red, yellow and black last week as the school’s German teacher, Vicky Matthew, hosted her annual Oktoberfest celebration.
Giaquinto said safety is the paramount reason behind the decision. She said that such large crowds show up, there is no way to know who is in the crowd or to monitor and manage the large group.
“We check every person who comes into the building,” she said. “But at these parades, we have not anything close to that level of control of knowing who is on our property or near our children.”
She said that in the same vein, the school district this year closed school for the election to protect students.
“That is a decision that has been made over time as we looked at societal changes,” Giaquinto said.
After the meeting, Billings said she was glad she was able to express her opinion and that the board listened to her concerns. She said she would still like the board to reconsider the parade, but especially the idea of dressing up in costumes at the Smithville School.
“And I honestly have hope we can work together and change it,” she said.
Billings said she was surprised by the outpouring of community support for her petition, although only a handful of parents attended Monday’s board meeting.
“It’s nice to see so many other people support it, even if they’re not here,” Billings said.
Giaquinto said she hopes the community can understand that the decision was made in the best interest of the children, even though it may not be what the parents want.
She said she and the district administrators will reconvene after this year’s festivities to evaluate and plan for next year.