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Galloway political conflict may have had seeds planted two years ago

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Since Robert Maldonado voted to switch the leadership of the Township Council from former Mayor Anthony Coppola to current Mayor Jim Gorman, he has given several reasons for his actions.

During the Jan. 21 council meeting, Maldonado, a former Democrat who was voted onto the council as a Republican, said he wanted to do what was best for the 37,000 people living in the municipality, not just the Republicans or Democrats who voted during the last election.

In a letter Maldonado wrote to The Press that was printed Jan. 15, Maldonado said, “It seemed like favorable treatment was only given to those in the good old boys club.”

Some — not all — of the seeds of the township’s political troubles may extend back as far as two years ago, when Maldonado was told he would be selected as deputy mayor and was passed over.

Maldonado’s political flip has led to calls to have him recalled and joins a threat from former Republican Mayor Don Purdy to sue the township over alleged libelous statements made by Gorman during the fall political season.

At the start of the Jan. 21 council meeting, Maldonado gave The Press a copy of an email written two years ago by current state Sen. Chris Brown, a Republican.

Brown, who acknowledged he wrote the email, attended the township’s reorganization meeting two years ago thinking he would swear in Maldonado as deputy mayor, but it did not happen.

“When I arrived at the reorganization and learned you changed your minds and were not going to honor the commitment you used me to relay to Robert, I appeared very passionate,” said Brown in the email. “I have made an effort to build a reputation of honesty, integrity and fairness, all of which were violated when I learned you would not keep your word to select Robert.”

Councilman Tony DiPietro was on the council then and now.

He said he was never asked by Maldonado to be named deputy mayor, and Maldonado was never blindsided about not becoming deputy mayor, unlike the treatment Coppola received at the January reorganization meeting.

“It saddens me that this relationship has gone sour with Robert,” said DiPietro, who added Maldonado has called him a punk and a crybaby and has blocked him on his cellphone in the past.

Former Mayor Tom Bassford, who was on Township Council from 2000 to 2012, is one of three people leading the effort to have Maldonado recalled.

The notice of intention to circulate a recall petition was approved Wednesday by the Atlantic County Board of Elections and Township Clerk Kelli Danieli. Maldonado has five business days to file a rebuttal, if he chooses to, Danieli said.

“Basically, he (Maldonado) gave the middle finger to the voters of Galloway Township,” said Bassford. “People were up in arms. The average Galloway person, we voted for Tony Coppola.”

Maldonado said Thursday that Brown’s email to Galloway’s Republican Club two years ago speaks for itself as to what is going on. Maldonado said he doesn’t have anything else to add.

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.

“A lot of things that are said about me are very hurtful, but I completely understand what is going on,” Maldonado said.

The recall effort requires the collection of 6,500 signatures in 160 days to put it on the ballot, Bassford said. Without a recall, Maldonado will be up for re-election in fall 2021.

The political turmoil in the township includes a tort claims notice, or notice of intent to sue, that Purdy filed last month against Gorman, the township and others.

Purdy’s attorney, Edwin J. Jacobs Jr., sent a letter to the township that said the claim arises from alleged libelous statements published by Gorman in two letters sent to the Galloway community regarding the Nov. 5 election.

“Those letters falsely alleged that ex-Mayor Purdy received political payouts from the Galloway Planning Board, as well as collected tens of thousands of dollars under a ‘lucrative towing contract’ with the township,” said Jacobs in his tort claims notice.

As the township waits to see whether the recall effort starts or whether Purdy files his lawsuit, Coppola believes the township will come out on the other side of its current political disputes stronger.

Coppola was not happy some of his professional appointments, particularly those for engineer and solicitor, were not followed when he was voted out as mayor in January, but he was glad Township Manager Chris Johansen was reappointed during the Jan. 21 meeting.

“We will get through this eventually. I agreed with these guys (the three Township Council Democrats) on a lot of things in the past,” Coppola said.

Brown said he is friends with the Township Council Republicans, which is why he remains adamant that they treat each other with dignity and respect.

“I’m hopeful going forward, everyone will move beyond their personal differences and work together in the best interests of our local families because under the leadership of Tony Coppola and the Republican team, they reduced spending, cut debt and lowered property taxes five consecutive years,” Brown said.

GALLERY: Galloway Township National Night Out

John Bazemore / associated press  

Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates his touchdown pass to Damien Williams in the the second half of Sunday’s Super Bowl 54 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Chiefs defeated the 49ers 31-20.

Super Bowl a super boost for Atlantic City sportsbooks

ATLANTIC CITY — Bettors were in casino sportsbooks early Sunday putting money on the line for Super Bowl 54, and many were glued to the big screens there later that night, in heartbreak or triumph.

At Ocean Casino Resort, Frank Ciulla was betting on the Kansas City Chiefs, which were a 1½ point favorite over the San Francisco 49ers. And he bet the two teams would score more than the over/under of 54 total points.

“I think this is gonna be a great game. ... I’m favoring Kansas City. I like Pat Mahomes; he looks good,” said Ciulla, 69, of Manchester, Ocean County. “Of course he’s got to go against the San Francisco 49ers’ defense, but I think it’s gonna be a great game.”

He also bet on a few parlays and prop bets — “longshots” he called them — including that one of the team’s scores would land on 47, 48 or 49, a bet that comes with 100-1 odds.

“I’m not a big big gambler. I bet with my head, not over it,” Ciulla said. “It keeps me interested in the game. ... You gotta have something on it to make it interesting.”

Ciulla was just one of legions of sports fans and gamblers that staked a spot in the sportsbooks Sunday, a sign of the boon that legalized sports betting has been for gambling houses in Atlantic City since it became legal two years ago. Some of those wagering on the Super Bowl put down serious money.

At Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, sportsbook supervisor Tommy Leonard said he’d seen a number of bets in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. They expected a crowd for the game, as the sportsbook area had been updated with 45 TVs and a bar.

“Yesterday we had a lot of people in here, it was one of our busiest days of this early year so far,” Leonard said. “I was not here for the Super Bowl last year, but it was very busy. But we didn’t have that bar part yet, so we’re expecting it to be a lot busier this year.”

For those in South Jersey with money to spend and a hunch about Sunday’s outcome, Atlantic City is the only game in town, making Super Bowl Sunday a chance for casinos to clear serious revenue.

The gambling industry’s trade association, the American Gaming Association, estimates $6.8 billion will be bet legally and illegally on the game. It says 26 million Americans plan to make a bet, up 15% from last year. And a survey by the online bookmaker DraftKings found 78% of respondents say they’re more likely to watch the whole game if they have a bet on it.

That holds true for Phil Levonchuck, 76, of Ventnor, who was at the DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts Casino Hotel with his wife Ellen, 73. Ellen is pulling for the 49ers, but Phil didn’t think they can compete with the Chiefs’ speed. He said his $50 bet on Kansas City will keep him engaged in the game.

“I wouldn’t give a damn about the game normally. Just another game, you know,” Levonchuck said.

Others came from out-of-state to make a weekend of the game and the sportsbooks. Max Kolbrenner, 68, of Stamford, Connecticut, placed bets at Ocean with eight coworkers on a team-building trip. He bet $550 that the 49ers would win, and he bet on a prop bet, that 49ers tight end George Kittle would be the game’s MVP, a bet that came with 7-1 odds.

Kolbrenner limits his betting to the Super Bowl.

“That’s the only thing I bet,” Kolbrenner said. “I like the Super Bowl parties. We used to go to Las Vegas every year, and now we’ve been coming here the last two years.”

There may have been more bets for the Chiefs in Atlantic City, owing to the proximity to Philadelphia, where Kansas City coach Andy Reid was coach from 1999 to 2012.

“A lot of people like the Chiefs,” said Hard Rock sportsbook supervisor Leonard. “A lot of people are Andy Reid fans because they’re Eagles fans, and he’s now the Kansas City Chiefs coach, so I think that has a big part to do with it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

In Iowa, anxiety and unpredictability cloud caucus finish

DES MOINES, Iowa — On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential candidates hustled across the state Sunday trying to fire up voters and make one last appeal to those struggling to make a final decision about their choice in the crowded field.

Campaigns and voters acknowledged a palpable sense of unpredictability and anxiety as Democrats begin choosing which candidate to send on to a November face-off with President Donald Trump.

The Democratic race is unusually large and jumbled heading into Monday’s caucus, with four candidates locked in a fight for victory in Iowa and others still in position to pull off surprisingly strong finishes. Many voters say they’re still weighing which White House hopeful they’ll support.

“This is going to go right down to the last second,” said Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden campaign.

Polls show Biden in a tight race in Iowa with Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang are also competing aggressively in the state.

Democrats’ deep disdain for Trump has already put many in the party on edge about the decision before them. And a series of external forces have also heightened the sense of unpredictability in Iowa, including Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, which marooned Warren, Sanders and Klobuchar in Washington for much of the past week.

Many campaigns were looking to a final weekend poll to provide some measure of clarity. But late Saturday night, CNN and the Des Moines Register opted not to release the survey because of worries the results may have been compromised.

New caucus rules have also left the campaigns working in overdrive to set expectations. For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party will release three sets of results: who voters align with at the start of the night; who they pick after voters supporting nonviable candidates get to make a second choice; and the number of state delegate equivalents each candidate gets.

The new rules were mandated by the Democratic National Committee as part of a package of changes sought by Sanders following his loss to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries.

The revisions were designed to make the caucus system more transparent and to make sure that even the lowest-performing candidates get credit for all the votes they receive. But party officials in Iowa and at the DNC have privately expressed concerns that multiple campaigns will spin the results in their favor, potentially creating chaos on caucus night.

The Associated Press will declare a winner in Iowa based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins. The AP will also report all three results.

Despite the late-stage turbulence and confusion, the candidates spent Sunday making bold pronouncements. Speaking to several hundred supporters in Cedar Rapids, Sanders declared “we are the campaign of energy and excitement” and said “we are in a position to win tomorrow night.”

Warren, who is also rallying progressive voters, pressed her supporters to “fight back” if they ever lose hope.

Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Buttigieg talked up his newcomer status, telling a rally in Coralville that when Democrats have won the White House in the past, “we have done with it someone who is new in national politics.” But Biden, emphasizing his decades of Washington experience, told voters there’s no time for “on-the-job training.”

Biden’s campaign appeared to be trying to lower Iowa expectations, cautioning against reading too much into Monday’s results. Biden is hoping to sustain enough enthusiasm and money coming out of Iowa to make it to more diverse states where he hopes to draw strong support from black voters. His campaign is particularly focused on South Carolina, the fourth state on the primary schedule.

“We view Iowa as the beginning, not the end,” Symone Sanders said at a Bloomberg News breakfast. “It would be a gross mistake on the part of reporters, voters or anyone else to view whatever happens on Monday – we think it’s going to be close, but view whatever happens — as the end and not give credence and space for New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.”

Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar fanned out across the state, trying to make up ground after missing most of the last two weeks of campaigning due to the Senate impeachment trial.

In a conference room in Cedar Rapids, Klobuchar appealed to caucusgoers by asking them to think about the voters who won’t be caucusing — moderate Republicans, voters who swung from Barack Obama to Trump and voters who stayed home in 2016.

“They’re watching all of this right now,” Klobuchar said. “We have people who want to come with us. And we need a candidate who is going to bring them with us instead of shutting them out.”

Klobuchar retold her joke about slowly winning over former Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran, who once told Klobuchar that she was “78 percent with you.”

“We don’t have time for that!” Klobuchar said. “She got to 100 percent and so can you.”

But many voters, too, are still making last-minute moves. According to a Monmouth University poll in Iowa in late January, 45% of all likely Democratic caucus-goers named a first choice but said they were open to the possibility of supporting another candidate, and another 5% did not indicate a first choice.

Indeed, talking to Iowa Democrats can be dizzying. Many can quickly run through what they like — and what worries them — about the candidates in rapid fire, talking themselves in and out of their choices in a matter of minutes.

“There are just so many candidates,” said John Kauffman, a 38-year-old who works in marketing in Marion.

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Middle Township ordinance to ban most vehicles from Delaware Bay beaches

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Township Committee last week unanimously introduced an ordinance banning most motor vehicles from beaches along the Delaware Bay, citing damage to the environment.

Violators would face fines of up to $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each additional citation if the ordinance is approved after a public hearing and final vote, planned for Feb. 19.

The beaches include Cooks Beach, Norburys Landing, Pierces Point and Reeds Beach. The beaches remain open to pedestrians.

“The basic premise of the ordinance is to restrict nonessential vehicular traffic from our bayside beaches, which have been used and abused. There’s been a lot of damage to the dunes and dune grass,” said Mayor Tim Donohue before the ordinance came up for a vote Jan. 22. “We have vehicles going out there a lot of times and getting stuck, which means we have to go out and get them out of there, which endangers our personnel.”

The ordinance restricts cars, trucks and ATVs from the beaches, with a few exceptions. Those include emergency vehicles, representatives of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and organizations that receive written authorization from the township.

“People who already use it. The bird people, I guess you could say,” Donohue said. “There are people who need access. But we are restricting it for people riding ATVs and people joyriding on the beach and getting stuck. It’s been a problem for a while, and it’s time we finally address it.”

There were no comments from the public during the meeting, and no discussion from committee members before the vote.

While development lines the Delaware Bay beachfront through most of Lower Township, in Middle Township there are few waterfront neighborhoods beyond a wide marshy stretch to the west of Route 47, usually reached by a single road.

Much of the beach is undeveloped.

In winter, the beaches are usually quiet, aside from a few clammers, anglers and dedicated birders looking for a glimpse of snow geese or brant geese in the water. In early spring, as horseshoe crabs begin to lay eggs, the Delaware Bay beaches of Cape May County host tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds that descend on those eggs to fuel their long flight.

Those include the red knot, which makes a long trip from South America to the Arctic each year, one naturalists say depends on the birds gorging themselves on crab eggs along the bay beaches about halfway through the trip north.

Also at the Jan. 22 meeting, the committee unanimously approved the final step in the process of issuing an alcohol sales license to Teresa Hand, trading as Salty Hands Inc.

She plans to open a waterfront restaurant and bar near the Grassy Sound Marina on Old North Wildwood Boulevard, just outside North Wildwood, on a small island east of the Burleigh section of the township.

Her husband, Thomas Hand, owns and runs Fred’s Tavern in Stone Harbor, a landmark in the downtown for decades. He has said he will not be involved in the new venture.

An increase in population allowed for an additional license under New Jersey law, kicking off a long discussion about whether the township wanted an additional license and how much it could bring in. The process took more than a year before bids were opened on the new license. Hand was the highest bidder, coming in at $803,000.

Committee members said they were looking forward to the new businesses. Plans are for it to open in May.

PHOTOS Mainland defeats Middle Township 40-38