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Atlantic City Council, mayor clash over recreation, senior services

ATLANTIC CITY — At a time when city leaders are calling for unity against an effort to change the form of government and to fight what they describe as a takeover by outsiders, divisions between members of City Council and the administration are becoming more evident.

The infighting between the governing body and Mayor Marty Small Sr. over the issue of implementing a recreation youth and senior services department lasted nearly an hour during Wednesday’s council meeting at City Hall.

The mayor and council went back and forth over the details of an ordinance that would have resulted in a city division with 241 employees, many of them part-time and seasonal.

The ordinance was pulled without explanation at the council’s reorganization meeting on New Year’s Day and was voted down by a 6-3 margin Wednesday. Council President George Tibbitt, Vice President Moisse Delgado, LaToya Dunston, Jeffree Fauntleroy II, Muhammad Zia and Md Hossain Morshed voted against the ordinance, while Kaleem Shabazz, Aaron Randolph and Jesse Kurtz, the lone Republican in city government, voted yes.

The mayor and several council members admitted Thursday morning that the divisiveness on display during the meeting gave proponents of the change of government referendum — which will be voted on in a citywide special election March 31 — more ammunition to use against them.

Small and all nine members of council are opposed to the change of government.

“People don’t understand the art of war,” Small said. “We’re supposed to be together fighting against the change of government, and you have people on the (Atlantic City) Democratic Committee worrying about who is running for mayor. It’s self-serving and disingenuous.”

City Democratic Committee Chairwoman Gwen Callaway-Lewis declined to comment Thursday. Earlier this month, Callaway-Lewis declined to say whether city Democrats would support Small in a mayoral election or whether the party was satisfied with their selection of him.

The committee chose Small as one of three nominees to fill an unexpired term left by former Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr.’s resignation in October following a guilty plea to wire fraud in federal court.

“There’s clearly a division, and it’s not even hidden,” Small said Thursday. “I have a clear vision that has been articulated to everyone. ... I’m not here to play games with anyone on City Council. I don’t do what’s best for others; I do what’s best for the City of Atlantic City.”

Fauntleroy said the display Wednesday night by the city’s elected officials “absolutely plays into their hands,” referring to the change of government advocates.

The issue for some of the council members was the lack of information about the total cost, the process of selecting employees and what the recreation department would ultimately do. The mayor contended the funding was already in place, a provision to promote and hire employees from within City Hall was included at the request of council and that he, as someone with years of experience in running recreation departments for schools, was uniquely qualified to create and oversee the department.

“It’s not that we’re against Marty or his vision or his plan, but there is no plan behind (this proposal),” Fauntleroy said. “That going back and forth (in public) is nonsense. We don’t need to do that. We’re all adults. But questions need to be answered.”

But the vocal and visible frustration on both sides made clear the two branches of Atlantic City’s government were not on the same page, despite an acknowledgement from all involved that a focus on youth and senior services was sorely needed.

Dunston, who along with Delgado, was a primary inquisitor of Small’s proposal, said she wanted to see the city’s youth and senior services expanded and would be willing to work with the administration to accomplish that. Her concern was with the lack of detail included with the proposal.

“I’ve been fighting the city, myself, for the past 13 years for recreation,” Dunston said. “It’s something that we need. In order to change the dynamics and get the youth off the street, as well as to help the seniors, we need (this). But you also need a plan.”

Tibbitt, who at one point during Wednesday’s meeting cut off the mayor to restore order, said there is “absolutely” no ill will between council and the mayor, but that Small and a select few on the governing body have a “difficult working relationship.”

“I’m never going to stop heavy questioning from a council member. If you want something done and there are questions, deal with the questions,” Tibbitt said. “But I’ll be sure to make sure it’s kept professional and cut off any digs from one side to the other. I’ll make sure it stays on the professional level.”

Tibbitt said he was more concerned about what he perceived as a retaliatory action by Small after the recreation department issue had been voted down when the administration requested to pull a new business action related to a development project on Trenton Avenue.

“We have to do the business of the people and leave your personal feelings at the door,” Tibbitt said. “I hope cooler heads prevail and we remedy the damage that was done from pulling that ordinance.”

SEEN at Joe Kelly's Greater Atlantic City Chamber retirement party at Borgata

News
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Route 47 closing frustrates Middle Township officials, businesses

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — On Wednesday morning at Steve’s Cafe 47 on Delsea Drive, the coffee was hot, the eggs fresh.

Edward Kaye sat at a booth near the door, enjoying the food and the music as an acoustic trio finished “Wabash Cannonball” and began “May the Circle Be Unbroken.”

“I’m here every Wednesday. Never fail,” Kaye said. “It’s like a family in here.”

Outside, the parking lot was packed with cars, and most booths were filled at the small diner.

Every one of the customers had to edge around a “Road Closed” sign at Indian Trail Road to get there.

For a small businesses like Steve’s Cafe, margins are slim. So owner Steve Oliver is not looking forward to having the road leading past the restaurant closed until late spring.

On Monday, the New Jersey Department of Transportation shut down a stretch of Route 47, also known as Delsea Drive, to fix sinkholes around the culverts where the road crosses Dias Creek, the narrow waterway that gives this section of Middle Township its name.

The roadwork began a week before President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit neighboring Wildwood, bringing tens of thousands of people through the area.

A statement from the DOT describes the repairs as a priority, stating the sinkholes were compromising the safety of the road.

DOT officials say the work should be completed by June. Cars will be able to reach homes and local businesses throughout the project, but through traffic will be detoured at Indian Trail Road and Hand Avenue all the way out to Route 9.

The first day of the closing, business at the cafe was down $100 compared to the same day last year, Oliver said Tuesday.

“Today we had a little more of the regulars in, but we’re not getting any strangers,” he said. He posted something on the business’ Facebook page and said the township has also given notice that businesses will remain open, but he’s worried about the loss of passing traffic that helps keep his business going. He said the first day, crews placing the road closing sign and detour notification at Indian Trail Road did not leave enough room for local traffic to get around the cones. A hand-drawn cardboard signs lets drivers know the cafe is open.

“All the businesses that rely on traffic flowing by on 47 are going to take a hit from this,” said Mayor Tim Donohue. He fears the project taking longer than expected, dragging through June and possibly into July.

Tree cutting starts around Bass River fire tower

BASS RIVER TOWNSHIP — The smell of pine oil is strong in the air around the Bass River State Forest fire tower, where acres of trees are being removed to increase visibility for fire spotters.

At Wednesday’s Township Committee meeting, DOT officials expressed confidence the project would be completed on time. Vanessa Meades, a government and communications specialist handling shore towns for the DOT, told residents and officials at the meeting that the road had reached the point where it could no longer safely support traffic. She showed an image of a three-foot sinkhole and described cracks running the width of the road.

“We had significant safety issues on Route 47 where it crosses Dias Creek,” Meades said.

Gordmans stores hiring in Cape, Cumberland

A new department store in the area is hiring in four Peebles locations in New Jersey, according to a news release from discount apparel and home décor retailer Gordmans.

The culvert pipes that allow the creek to flow under the road have become separated, allowing water to erode under the road. The roadway will be removed and the culverts replaced in the coming months.

Officials said the project could be completed ahead of schedule, saying the department would rather overperform than overpromise.

“We understand how important this road is to you. We understand how important it is to the region,” Meades said. “We did not want to close this road. Unfortunately, it was our only option.”

The 75-mile road gets its name because it leads from Brooklawn in Camden County to Wildwood, connecting the Delaware River to the sea. On summer weekends, the stretch along the west side of Cape May County sees intense traffic.

Donohue has concerns about the impact of the project on traffic and businesses. Even the businesses outside the work area will be affected, he said, as drivers avoid the area and fewer stop at convenience stores or other retailers near the work zone.

“This isn’t just one piece of Middle Township. This is a ripple effect on the whole economy of Cape May County,” Donohue said.

He said there is never a good time to close a major road but questioned why the repairs were not started in the fall, saying crews have been working on the sinkholes for months, but the matter has suddenly become very urgent. He said he has concerns about the timing of the project, concerns he said he expressed in a conference call with the DOT and township department heads last week.

“They were not very flexible. They were apologetic but not very flexible,” Donohue said.

He wanted to at least delay the work until after Tuesday’s Trump rally, an event for which more than 100,000 people have requested tickets, according to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew.

“That’s a summer weekend,” Donohue said.

DOT officials responded that any delay would push the work later into the summer. Donohue added he has already heard conspiracy theories that the work is a new version of Bridgegate, in which Gov. Christie’s administration created traffic problems in Fort Lee in 2013, allegedly as political payback. In this theory, Democrats in Trenton have allegedly closed the road to suppress turnout for the Trump rally.

“I don’t really buy into that. Trenton can’t get anything done that quickly,” Donohue said.

DOT spokesman Steve Schapiro said the project was planned before the rally was announced this month.

On Wednesday, the detour for southbound traffic was at Springers Mill Road rather than Hand Avenue, closer to the bridge where the repairs were taking place. The creek passes under the road through two wide metal culverts. Donohue said DOT officials told him those culverts must be replaced, and the only effective way to do that is to cut through the road and remove them.

Donohue wanted at least one lane of the road to remain open at a time through the project, but was told that was not possible. Otherwise, he suggested posting signs well before the detour, rerouting shore traffic onto Route 83 to the north or presenting drivers with other options.

“We wanted to pour as much traffic off as we could before we get to Hand Avenue,” he said.

The DOT has agreed to additional detour signs, moving more traffic off the road before it reaches the detour.

GALLERY: Middle vs Wildwood Catholic girls basketball


Politics
Pleasantville Mayor Tweedle announces he won't seek re-election

PLEASANTVILLE — Jesse L. Tweedle Sr., who has served as mayor of the city for more than a decade, said Friday he will not seek reelection.

Tweedle said he plans to retire from politics to spend more time with his family.

“It’s time for me to turn the page and move on,” Tweedle said. “My work is not done, but I think I’ve laid down the groundwork for what needs to be done here.”

Tweedle, 72, a Democrat who first entered public service in the city in 1988, made the announcement Thursday night at the city’s Regular Democratic Club meeting, he said.

While he plans to remain a city resident, he also wants to spend more time in Florida, where his two children and three grandchildren live.

He said he will finish out his term, which is set to expire at the end of this year. He declined to comment when asked whether he’s endorsing anyone to fill the seat in the upcoming election.

City police Chief Sean Riggin said Tweedle has been an integral part of the community and will be missed.

“Mayor Tweedle has been part of the fabric of the city of Pleasantville for my entire career,” said Riggin, a 19-year veteran of the department. “On behalf of the department, we are sincerely grateful for all his efforts for public safety. We will miss him, but we hope to continue to work with him in the future.”

Decreasing crime and strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and the community has been a major focus, Tweedle said.

In 2018, the city became the first municipality in the state to put ShotSpotter, a gunshot-audio detection system used to help police investigate shootings, before a referendum, which passed. Officials went live with the system last year.

“We have completely changed the culture on Main Street,” he said. “We’ve never had such an excellent relationship between the police and the community.”

City Business Administrator Linda D. Peyton, who has worked with Tweedle for nine years, said his passions included boosting literacy in children, moving forward economically and improving the perception of the city.

“I think he put his best foot forward in trying to continue to make Pleasantville a better place to live and improve the quality of life for our community,” she said.

Tweedle reminisced about a time decades ago when he caught a kid taking a sign down from his yard promoting the sale of his city home. The boy explained that he took it because “every time someone does well, they move.”

“That touched me because it really makes a lot of sense. That kid was exactly right,” he said. “Social ills are perpetuated because everybody who does well moves.”

But the city is a family-oriented, loving and nice place, he said, and that moment inspired him to get active in city work.

“I’ve seen all the good people and the potential,” Tweedle said. “The way I am, I put other people before myself, and I saw an opportunity to make Pleasantville a better place to live. I’m really proud of my staff and this administration.”


Edward Lea/  

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. has reached the 100-day mark of his tenure.


TIBBITT


Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

TWEEDLE


Politics
top story
Fitzherbert drops out of Van Drew race, Richter may switch districts

Two Republican primary challengers to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, said Friday they are either dropping out of the race or considering running in another district.

The announcements came as Van Drew, preparing for Tuesday’s rally with President Donald Trump in Wildwood, has garnered endorsements from GOP party chairs, state legislators and local leaders throughout the district.

Republican congressional primary candidate Brian Fitzherbert, of Egg Harbor Township, ended his campaign and endorsed Van Drew for re-election.

And David Richter, of Avalon and Princeton, said he is considering switching districts to run in the Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District covering Burlington and Ocean counties. The third is currently represented by freshman Andy Kim, D-3rd.

Republican Van Drew gets higher-profile committee assignments

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, has higher-profile committee assignments now that he is a Republican, which will allow him to influence decisions on the Coast Guard and other things important to the district, his office announced Thursday.

“I am considering jumping into the CD3 race. I have had a lot of people suggest it since Van Drew switched parties and became a Republican,” Richter said Friday. “I’m thinking about the pros and cons of it ... especially at this point in the process. If I do anything, it will be soon.”

Richter said he grew up in the 3rd District, in Willingboro, Burlington County; and Cherry Hill, Camden County. That was before redistricting put Cherry Hill in the 1st District.

“I worked in Burlington County for 20 years and built a business there. I have long-term ties to CD3,” Richter said. “If anyplace in the world is my home district, it’s CD3.”

If he decides to run there, he will have a home there, but hasn’t decided in what town, he said.

There has been a daily drumbeat of new endorsements coming out of the Van Drew campaign. On Friday, Gloucester County Republican leaders and every Republican mayor in that county endorsed Van Drew.

“It seems that Fitzherbert and Richter’s fates were sealed when everybody coalesced behind Van Drew ... when Keith Davis suggested the party rescind endorsements of Richter and endorse Van Drew,” said Republican political consultant Carl Golden. “As soon as that happened, the odds of a successful primary campaign really vanished.”

Richter said he will make a decision next week.

Van Drew thanked Fitzherbert in a news release.

“Brian has earned a reputation as a tough campaigner, and I look forward to working with him in the months ahead to ensure our Republican ticket is successful from top to bottom in November,” Van Drew said.

“Seven months ago, I announced my campaign for Congress to ... use my background in the defense industry to bring much needed year-round jobs and economic development to South Jersey,” Fitzherbert said in the release.

Fitzherbert said he will follow Trump’s lead in supporting Van Drew and is calling on the two other Republican candidates still in the race, and his supporters, to do the same.

Golden said he would not recommend Richter switch to running in the 3rd District.

“He has to be careful about what he does now. He (already) seemed to be shopping around for a district,” Golden said of Richter, who moved to Avalon last fall to run in the 2nd.

While Richter has said he spent most summers in Avalon, he didn’t raise his family there or have a business there. His children went to school in Princeton, and still do.

“People do not respond well to that sort of thing — coupled with the fact he’s willing to put a fair amount of his own money into the race,” Golden said.

Golden warned that Richter’s entry into the 3rd District race at this point would generate a lot of resentment. Burlington County Republicans have already gotten behind former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs.

Richter said the key would be whether he can get the support of Ocean County Republicans.

Bob Patterson, of Ocean City and Haddonfield, is also still in the Republican primary against Van Drew.

“It is essential that we unite as a party and fight together to ensure we re-elect President Trump in 2020,” Fitzherbert said.

He thanked his supporters for giving him the opportunity to run for Congress and said he will “continue to fight for my conservative values of protecting the unborn, upholding the 2nd Amendment, promoting greater fiscal responsibility and prioritizing the needs of our Veterans. And, as I always have, I will continue to work to grow the next generation of leaders through the Young Republican Organization.

Who is running in the 2nd Congressional District race?