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VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press  

The Middle Township girls basketball team plays Manasquan High School at the War at the Shore basketball tournament, in Linwood, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)


Politics
Atlantic City's Stephenine Dixon central to 'Mayor Pete' campaign

Stephenine Dixon got her start in Atlantic City politics, and now can take credit for some of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s success in the Iowa caucuses.

The 57-year-old mother and grandmother was regional organizing director for “Mayor Pete’s” presidential campaign, responsible for managing organizers in a large part of Iowa.

Now that the caucuses are over and Buttigieg appears to have at least tied for first place — after a computer glitch caused days of delay in releasing results — she will move on to be state director for the campaign in Alabama, she said Friday.

“I have organizers underneath me to get out the vote,” Dixon said. “We do all kind of canvasses, phone banks.”

Dixon cut her teeth on Atlantic City politics, she said, running successfully for the school board, then in a tough primary against Craig Callaway for City Council in 2003. She decided she liked organizing other people’s campaigns more than running herself, she said.

So she worked for City Councilman George Tibbitt for several years, and took time off for campaign work.

“She’s like family,” said Tibbitt.

Tibbitt said he was impressed by Dixon when she ran against Callaway, losing by just two votes after a deluge of absentee votes came in for Callaway. Dixon alleged voter fraud by Callaway, but he managed to hold onto the win.

“She had this ‘no fear, no nonsense’ thing about her, going up against men and fighting for what she believed in,” Tibbitt said. “Her strength was her community participation. ... She had her finger on the pulse of the needs of everyone from children up to seniors. ... She took care of everything — if people didn’t have the money to pay bills, for food. ... A lot of times I did things I didn’t know I did.”

After about six years with Tibbitt, Dixon said she worked for the Atlantic City Registrar’s Office and in the Atlantic City police Detective Bureau, often doing campaign work during the day and her job in the evening.

Over the years, Dixon worked on local and state legislative campaigns in Atlantic City, up to those of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, both of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, and the Stacey Abrams gubernatorial campaign in Georgia in 2018.

Tibbitt said he owes Dixon a lot.

“She helped me tremendously to get elected. She brought me to communities I would never have gotten to meet,” Tibbitt said. “It was a fabulous teamwork we had.”

“She was also very, very high up on the state of New Jersey Martin Luther King Jr. Commission,” Tibbitt said. “She went on the bus back and forth to Trenton to do the job she took on.”

“I have a passion for voter registration and getting people to vote. That’s keeping the legacy of King and his dream alive,” Dixon said. “People said, ‘Why go to Iowa?’ Why wouldn’t I? That was his dream for us all to be able to work hand in hand. It didn’t bother me about the (lack of) diversity. I know the skin I’m in, and I’m proud of the skin I’m in, so I came.”

Dixon first worked for Buttigieg in 2017, she said, on his campaign for chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

He didn’t win, but Dixon was impressed with his intellectual brilliance, his family-oriented campaign and his policies.

“At that time, I knew if he ever ran for something again, I would be the first one to support him,” Dixon said. “His family was very hands-on — his mother and father were always there. He always walked with you instead of above you.”

She says she is tired of hearing that African Americans don’t support him.

“I’m saying, ‘What am I?’” she said. “Forty percent of our campaign workers are women of color. That’s why we were like, ‘Where is this coming from?’” Dixon said.

The only two black mayors in Iowa — Iowa City’s Bruce Teague and Waterloo’s Quentin Hart — have endorsed Buttiegieg, she said.

“Would you think they’d be endorsing somebody who doesn’t support them?”

Dixon was disappointed the Iowa results were so slow in being tabulated, and now are under a cloud of suspicion.

“I just feel like we’ve worked so hard seven days a week. … When we become victorious, it’s taken away. Not to have the numbers, to be able to claim our victory through a glitch, it kind of takes away the momentum.”

Dixon said the people who worked with her in Iowa were from all over the country, including New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago and Wisconsin.

“You have to really be passionate about this job,” she said. “You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I love my team. We have the best ground game team ever — I truly believe that.”


Local
featured
David Dichter wants to change Atlantic City and make the world a better place

David Dichter doesn’t want to change the entire world. Just a little bit of it.

Dichter, 88, a retired geologist from Linwood with a cache of global experience, wants Atlantic City to become the international focal point for addressing global warming and climate change.

Atlantic City is in the right place at the right time, and Dichter believes he is close to making it happen.

Casinos may be the big attraction in the resort, but Dichter believes his idea will pump new life — and bring new dollars — into the city while tackling a global threat.

And he’s making progress. So far, his idea has garnered the support of state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Atlantic City’s planning department, City Council, Meet AC (the city’s convention arm) and the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

“It will enable scientists, academicians, climate experts, governmental officials and concerned citizens from throughout the country and internationally to meet on a regular basis in order to discuss, as well as successfully act, on this global menace,” according to a resolution passed in September 2016 by City Council.

“I could not agree more that it is an ideal place for the international community to come together to work towards solutions,” Sweeney wrote about the idea.

Atlantic City has all the elements needed to become a hub to increase interest in and enact change on sustainability issues, Dichter says, including the resort’s location, hotels, dining facilities, beaches, Boardwalk and convention space.

Right now, he says, the United Nations’ specialized agency for climate change is in Nairobi, Kenya, a location that is not only isolated but lacks security for visitors.

“By focusing on Atlantic City, we’re bringing it closer to home,” he says. New York is not a good place, he adds, because it is expensive and crowded.

Dichter has spent the past three years gathering support and believes if he is successful in getting the backing of the last two hurdles — the governor and casino owners — his idea will come to fruition.

“We’re trying to offer Atlantic City another alternative other than just gambling,” he says, “which in my view is a dead-end street.”

Some of the topics that could be addressed are climate change, oceanography, water quality and sea level rise.

“I’m scared to death,” he says of global conditions. “I really am afraid. We have too many people, not enough resources and it’s adding up to total mass confusion and troubles. Global warming is simply a manifestation of all the things that are going wrong with the stewardship we have of the planet.”

Dichter has spent his life confronting issues in the United States and abroad. Born on Atlantic City’s New Jersey Avenue, where his father ran the Dichter Hotel, he has watched his hometown change from the summer-tourist town of his youth to a community powered by global casino corporations. After graduating from Atlantic City High School, he followed a yearning to travel that led him to college in northern India, graduate school in Massachusetts and studies in London for his Ph.D. in economics and political geography.

Among his many jobs, he served in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan, served as a U.S. Foreign Service officer in Thailand and Burma, headed a Geneva-based organization that led to the creation of a U.N. Volunteer Program and a service organization, Technology for the People, that matched technology related to sustainability with enterprises and was the basis for a handbook in the technology/enterprise field.

When he returned home, Dichter did a three-year stint in the Marines, serving mostly in Japan, took a solo motorcycle trip from India to Eastern Europe as a young man in 1954 and was a candidate for Congress against Charlie Sandman in 1968.

“I’ve never believed in the philosophy that a single individual can’t make a change in the world,” he said. “If I did, my whole life would have been much less meaningful and much less interesting.”

Dichter’s advice for those who have the desire but don’t believe it’s enough to enact change is to focus on what interests you, things you understand and appreciate, and things you feel you can impact.

“Focus on that, and see where it brings you,” he says.

To that end, he continues to lobby for support of his idea from various levels of government, and anyone who will listen who he believes can forward his cause.

“Dr. Dichter’s initiative to bring sustainability to the forefront for Atlantic City is a fantastic idea,” said Sandi Harvey, vice president of sales for Meet AC. Harvey says Dichter should be admired for the support he’s gained and his continuing outreach.

“It’s the little guy that can make a difference in Atlantic City,” Harvey says. “And we need more folks like Dr. Dichter.”

This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project.


Crime
top story
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP
Zion Park crimes revive thoughts of old neighborhood nickname

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — After two violent events unfolded in the township’s Zion Park neighborhood during a three-week period in January, residents are looking for answers.

A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for Thursday night at which police plan to address questions and attempt to quell residents’ fears.

Still, there remain many unknowns — including a suspect — in the Jan. 2 murder of Arty Barrera III. The 24-year-old was shot in his home in the 100 block of Vermont Avenue about 11:30 p.m.

The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office called the shooting “isolated.” Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Donna Weaver did not respond to a request for comment.

Two days after the fatal shooting, police again responded to the Barrera residence for a report of a burglary and found a back door appeared to be kicked in, records show.

Later in the month, police requested public assistance identifying the suspect in a strong-arm robbery attempt Jan. 21 in the same neighborhood.

Video doorbell footage of the attempt, released online, shows a man threatening the resident with a gun in his driveway.

Police Capt. Fred Spano said the matter is still under investigation.

It is unclear whether the incidents are related, but they have prompted the neighborhood meeting next week for the area long referred to as “Zion Zoo.”

“We grew up hearing our now neighborhood referred to as Zion Zoo. We had our reservations when looking here, but everyone said it’s gotten so much better,” said resident Krystal M. Longnecker, who moved to Zion Park in August.

But that impression did not last long for Longnecker, who said she wishes she hadn’t bought a home in the area.

“I don’t feel safe leaving my kids at home or being home without my husband. Our neighbors on both sides are wonderful and I have met a few from trick-or-treating and they are just as nice. We, the neighbors, need to keep an eye out for each other and need to rid the riffraff out of here and let those that come into this neighborhood looking to hurt one of us know you won’t get away with it,” she said.

Spano said Thursday’s meeting is intended to answer questions and calm residents’ concerns about the recent violent activity. He said the department has increased patrols in Zion Park since the murder.

“Not necessarily to deter other things, but to give residents peace of mind that there’s a police presence in the area,” he said.

Spano said Zion Park does not have a larger crime problem than any other area of the township.

“It just seems that way because of the recent incidents. Those are two shocking-type incidents, violent crime,” he said, comparing it to when there were back-to-back murders in The Shires development more than a decade ago. “It just happened to be coincidental. It’s a nice neighborhood.”

Located across the street from Atlantic Christian School on Zion Road, Zion Park is a neighborhood of about 300 modest, single-family homes located a mile from the intersection at Ocean Heights Avenue.

Many of the homes were built in the 1970s, real estate records show. Physical upgrades to the water, sewer and streets were made in the early 1990s.

“Once they started building golf courses along Ocean Heights Avenue, that really changed everything. People moved in,” former Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said. “Ballenger Woods and Harbor Pines and other housing units, that precipitated the new shopping area.”

McCullough said he hasn’t heard Zion Park referred to as “Zion Zoo” in years.

“I think it’s a bad description as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Crime data from Egg Harbor Township police show that in 2019, there were 954 reported violent and property crimes in the township.

For Zion Park in 2019, there were 24 reported crimes, including one assault, three burglaries, three for harassment, seven for disorderly conduct, one for drugs, one sexual assault, one theft, one threat and five for fraud.

Mayor Paul Hodson encouraged residents to be vigilant.

“We work hard to make sure our community is safe. As residents, if you notice something that’s not normal or peculiar, please let the Police Department know, so it can be documented and used later if, God forbid, there’s a criminal situation,” Hodson said.

He said he is not happy about the recent violent incidents but vowed the township would “get to the bottom of it.”

“And hopefully this won’t occur again,” he said.

Alexa Barrera, Arty Barrera’s aunt and a local attorney, said they cannot comment on the investigation because they don’t want to interfere with police. Instead, they are urging anyone with information to call police or Atlantic County Crime Stoppers. The family has offered a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.

“We’re just so thankful for all the work the Prosecutor’s Office is doing and the Egg Harbor Township Police Department,” Alexa Barrera said. “We’re just trying to grieve, and we’re hopeful that people will come forward.”

Anyone with information about the shooting can call the Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7800 or visit acpo.org/tips. They also can call Crime Stoppers at 609-652-1234 or 800-658-8477 or visit crimestoppers atlantic.com.