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Matt Rourke  

Philadelphia Eagles’ Jake Elliott, left, and Golden Tate celebrate after Elliott kicked the game-winning field goal during an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 32-30. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

LoBiondo leaving Congress, but plans to stay involved

President Trump signs Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 in the Oval office Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.

MAYS LANDING — U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo worked his way up in seniority during 24 years in the House of Representatives, chairing subcommittees like CIA under the House Intelligence Committee and traveling the world visiting CIA outposts.

When he leaves office Jan. 3, all that experience won’t go to waste.

“I’m not ready to retire,” said the 72-year-old who has kept fit by, among other things, playing basketball at 5:30 a.m. with members of the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C.

He decided not to run for re-election but hopes to get a job in which he can continue to work on military issues, aviation or national security, he said.

Under ethics rules, he must not start serious job negotiations until after Jan. 3, when he is officially out of office.

“It’s probably a good rule, but nerve-wracking,” LoBiondo said. “For the first time in my life, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing.”

A look back at Frank LoBiondo in photos

But if he does get a job in industry or a think tank, he will probably keep up a familiar routine of splitting his time among Washington, D.C., South Jersey and Florida.

Wife Tina Ercole-LoBiondo has real estate licenses in New Jersey and Florida, where the couple has a second home.

“I’m used to driving back and forth every week. It’s my quiet time,” said LoBiondo, who listens to audiobooks on U.S. history, especially the American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln.

His two Weimaraner dogs, Lex and Lucia, will be happier with the new schedule.

“They will see more of me,” said LoBiondo. “Tina and I will do a lot more together. And I have a lot of fishing to catch up on.”

There will be more time for family, too. Daughter Amy LoBiondo is a special education teacher in Vineland and has two children, Joseph and Francesca; and daughter Adina LoBiondo lives on the West Coast.

Lack of pressure and drama

Still, he’ll be driving a lot less.

“The district is just under 40 percent of the state geographically. I had an obligation to be as accessible as possible,” said LoBiondo. “I was in Washington four to five days a week. The only time I had direct face-to-face time with constituents was on weekends.”

That meant driving hundreds of miles around South Jersey every weekend.

“All that’s gone,” he said.

The political drama will also be a thing of the past.

“The fact that I’m a Republican, for some people that has meant I have horns and a tail,” said LoBiondo, adding he won’t miss the “caustic, abrasive nature of politics.”

The responsibility for what is happening in national politics has sometimes weighed heavily on him, he said.

“It will be like flipping a switch Jan. 3,” said LoBiondo.

U.S. Rep.-elect Jeff Van Drew moved into the same Mays Landing office after LoBiondo vacated it Friday, the date he must be out under House rules.

Van Drew said he will keep the same phone numbers, to make the transition a bit easier on constituents.

“When you run, you think you have an idea what’s involved, but you have no idea,” said LoBiondo. “You can’t comprehend the pressure.”

He thought he understood time management but found out quickly the complexities of the job were beyond theories.

“You don’t have the hours,” he said of the time needed to read everything that needs to be read and do everything that needs to be done.

That’s where a great staff comes in, he said. People like Linda Hinckley, the district director, who gave up many weekend days to help, and who ran the office efficiently for almost 20 years, he said.

“Not taking care of yourself, getting run down, is a disservice to the office you hold,” LoBiondo said. “Each individual finds a way to meet that on their own.”

Luckily he’s an early riser — up about 4 a.m. most days — so he could fit in exercise before most people start their day.

Term-limits issue

LoBiondo ran for Congress the first time in 1994 as a promoter of term limits, and promised to limit himself to 12 years in office.

“In the ninth to 10th year I called a press conference announcing with plenty of time that I had changed my mind,” he said, in part because many people had asked him to reconsider that decision.

When he first made the promise, he expected the law to change so all members of Congress would be kept to term limits, he said.

He didn’t want to disadvantage New Jersey’s 2nd District when Congress failed to hold everyone to that standard, he said.

“The longer you stay, the more you are able to do,” he said of the current system. “Each year you find ways to do things and get better results.”

He knew he would be heavily criticized, LoBiondo said.

“That’s the strongest line of attack, that I didn’t keep the term-limit pledge,” said LoBiondo. “If that’s what they’ve got on me, I feel pretty good.”

He still supports term limits, he said, as long as everyone is held to them.

“When the votes have come up, I have voted for all of them (term-limit bills),” he said.

Term limits would be a huge change in Congress, turning the seniority system upside down. But it would also bring in fresh ideas, he said, and keep members from getting entrenched for decades, “set in their ways and comfortable.”

The last few months have been full of tributes and honors, which has meant a lot to him in a bittersweet time.

Environmentalists have honored him for helping fund beach replenishment and marsh renovation efforts, and Brigantine named a beach for him.

A bill to authorize a two-year, $10 billion budget for the Coast Guard was named after him, and recently signed by President Donald Trump. LoBiondo is a senior member of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

Stockton University will house items from his 35 years in politics, and make them available to students and researchers through the Special Collections department in the Richard E. Bjork Library in Galloway Township.

He has been surprised with large gatherings and awards when he went for final visits at the Federal Aviation Administration in Egg Harbor Township and the CIA and the Coast Guard in Washington.

On Nov. 28, LoBiondo was greeted by Admiral Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who presented him with the Commandant’s Award when he visited the D.C. headquarters.

Schultz said LoBiondo “worked tirelessly to ensure our U.S. Coast Guard men and women were supported, trained and equipped with the tools they needed to safeguard our nation and people” during 22 years as a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Thanks to his efforts, Coast Guard men and women received the respect and benefits they deserve as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Sir, thank you for all that you have accomplished over your long career in public service. Fair winds!”

Atlantic County policewomen talk inspiration, being a minority in law enforcement

When Kaitlyn Reyes was in seventh grade and saw her neighbor choking, she used the Heimlich maneuver — a life-saving tool she had learned only a month earlier in the Junior Police Academy.

“I’ve always just been interested in law enforcement,” Reyes, 25, a Galloway Township Patrol Officer, said, shrugging her shoulders as if the story was no big deal.

Reyes is one of the many women who work in law enforcement in Atlantic County and nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of women in local police departments across the county has grown from 7.6 percent in 1987 to 12 percent in 2013, when the latest study was completed.

“If you can get through the academy and continue to train, you can do it,” she said.

Margate Police Department Detective Erin Borrelli, like Reyes, was a Police Explorer in the eighth grade, but then went into the Air Force after high school. The 37-year-old said the military prepared her to work in a male-dominated field.

“To me, this is like my norm,” she said. “You get a bond with these guys. It’s not like they’re protecting you, because they know that I can do my job, too.”

The Margate Police Department features a staff that is 22 percent women, according to 2016 State Police data, one of the highest percent of female officers in the county.

On the street, victims might be less intimidated by women than male officers, she said.

“The thing is, just from my opinion, everyone has their own skills and I feel sometimes that I’m good at talking to people,” she explained. “Especially when you’re dealing with a domestic or sexual assault, sometimes a woman doesn’t want to talk to a male; sometimes it’s easier to deal with the same gender.”

She said having diversity in a police department is important.

“I’m not just a police officer, I’m a mom and a wife, so there’s a couple things on the table that I bring in, too,” Borrelli said. “We bring something different to the table, but then men do, too.”

Lt. Mary Grace Cooke, 44, of the Atlantic City Police Department said she grew up on “probably” one of the worst streets in the resort — the beach block of Ocean Avenue, where shootings, stabbings, fights and drugs were so common it was dubbed “Cocaine Alley,” she said.

“We knew what we were getting into,” she said, looking at her sister, Capt. Bridget Pierce, also of the Atlantic City Police Department. “You have to have a strong personality, stick up for yourself and be a leader — that’s how you gain your respect here.”

Pierce, 45, agreed.

“As a female in general, some of the really bad guys would rather be arrested by a female because it’s sort of a softer touch,” she said, explaining that they don’t feel emasculated. “But it doesn’t matter who puts the cuffs on you.”

In Hamilton Township, where 14 percent of the officers are female, Officer Nicole Odell, 27, said that she gets noticed as a female officer, but that it’s a good thing.

“A mother at the mall with her daughter pointed and said, ‘Look! It’s a female officer!’” she said, adding that the public is beginning to notice the trend of women in policing.

Officer Christen Mandela, 32, also of the Hamilton Township Police Department, said her mother was strong and raised her without traditional gender roles around careers.

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something with significance,” she said. “Never did I feel growing up that there were specific roles for men or women.”

Both officers agreed it’s personality, not gender, that helps an officer excel.

Chief Donna Higbee, the first Police Chief in Atlantic County and Galloway Township history, said it was her father, a retired officer from the Galloway Police Department, who inspired her to go into policing.

“I was enamored by his ability to help people,” she said, explaining that she’s always been interested in bringing a resolution to an unknown when solving a crime. “Civil service is in my blood — just being able to give back to the community.”

Higbee, who has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Criminal Justice, has spent her two decades in policing between patrol and investigation, as well as supervising, starting as a Class II in Wildwood, then working in Hamilton Township before coming to Galloway.

“I have worked in three departments and never felt intimidated,” she said. “I was always treated like an equal.”

While women can be good at de-escalating a situation, she said, it really boils down to personality, not gender, and the way an officer communicates, which is 90 percent of the job.

“I think (women) are a great addition, but the most qualified people — no matter gender or even ethnic background — deserve this job,” Higbee said. “We need the best and brightest.”

However, Higbee noted it can be hard to retain women in departments for a multitude of reasons, including life-changing events like marriage and having children.

“Women should know — you can do it,” said Higbee, who has two children and is married to another township police officer. “This isn’t a Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five (job). You can do it all.”

South Jersey malls will not let online shopping take all their customers without a fight

MAYS LANDING — Indoor malls would not have to worry about their future if all shoppers were like Paige Etsell.

Etsell, 32, recently finished most of her Christmas shopping for her 11-year-old son at the Hot Topic store inside the Hamilton Mall. For her, it would not be the same to just sit at home and order his presents online.

“I like to know the quality if what I am purchasing. I like to know the size,” said Etsell, who drove from Cape May to the mall. “Having a small child, I find walking around the store as being more personal and from the heart when shopping for your children than going online.”

In 2016, consumers were buying more things online than in stores for the first time, according to an annual survey by the analytics firm Comscore and UPS. The total share of mobile spending in retail is steadying increasing each quarter, Comscore also said.

Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of public relations at the International Council of Shopping Centers, based in New York City, said the rise in online shopping does not negate in-person shopping.

“Our recent holiday studies show that the majority of shopping does in fact still happen in-store, and brands with omnichannel strategies benefit,” Cegielski said.

Omnichannel is a type of retail that integrates different methods of shopping available to consumers such as by phone, in a physical store or online.

The conversation is no longer bricks versus clicks, but how the two benefit each other, Cegielski said.

Many times, people will order merchandise online, but if the goods are sent to a store in a mall, there will be no additional shipping costs, or the store will fulfill a request that was ordered online, said Crystal Rodriguez, the Hamilton Mall’s marketing manager.

“The majority of our tenants at the mall offer some form of omnichannel,” Rodriguez said. “Some of our stores are small businesses ... so they will have an online presence where you can review what they have in their store, but you may not be able to buy.”

Stores within the Hamilton Mall and the Cumberland Mall in Vineland are using strategies to drive people who do online shopping through their doors.

Within the Cumberland Mall, American Eagle, Boscov’s, Old Navy, Dick’s Sporting Goods are a few of the stores that are using online shopping as a catalyst to drive in-store buying with such options as picking up online orders, said Lisa Milideo, marketing director for the Cumberland Mall.

“This has become an integral part of a retailer’s success,” Milideo said.

Representatives for Harbor Square at the site of the former Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township declined to comment on their plans for the property, which features Boscov’s, Golden Corral, the state De partment of Motor Vehicles and the Burlington department store, formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory.

The now closed Carrabba’s Italian restaurant may reopen by the end of January as an authentic Indian restaurant, The Nizam’s, as it moves from 6666 E. Black Horse Pike to 6725 E. Black Horse Pike and stays within the township, according to a Nizam’s employee and a sign on the building.

Even though Sears has closed inside of the Hamilton Mall, it is a long-term tenant, has control over the space and will be playing rent to the mall until 2027, Rodriguez said.

“They can either sublet it, or they can buyout their lease and relinquish the space back to us,” Rodriguez said. “They have not informed us about what they are going to do. Obviously, the goal is to fill it as soon as possible.”

Even though the Sears’ store could be chopped into smaller retail spots, that would take a lot more work, Rodriguez said.

The space was built to accommodate an anchor, she said.

In 2017, both Macy’s and JCPenney announced they would be closing stores, but Rodriguez said she has no worries about their stores in her mall.

“We look forward to Macy’s and JCPenney being a part of the Hamilton Mall for many, many years,” Rodriguez said.

Malls have always acted as a critical “third place” — a place where people can congregate and socialize that is neither home nor work, Milideo said.

“Successful shopping centers and malls will continue to provide this and respond to the needs of the community in which they reside,” Milideo said.

The Hamilton Mall is a big part of the community and will continue to be that for many years, Rodriguez said.

For locals to tourists, the mall will continue to be Atlantic and Cape May counties’ destination for shopping and a center for everyone because of all that it has to offer. Hamilton Mall has numerous events throughout the year that not only bring the community together, but that also help the community,” Rodriguez said.

As examples during the holiday season, Rodriguez mentioned the Giving Tree Robins’ Nest Santa’s Workshop by the Atlantic City Rotary Club that provides local kids in need Christmas gifts and the gift wrapping by South Jersey Gilda’s Club and RNS Cancer & Heart Fund.

Outside of the holiday season, the events hosted by the Hamilton Mall include the largest National Night Out in South Jersey and Free Comic Book Day and Halloween Comic Fest in partnership with mall tenant Level Up Entertainment.

Annual signature events in 2018 at the Cumberland Mall that are planned to be repeated include the Mad Hatter Tea Party with the arrival of the Easter Bunny and Bunny photos, Superhero Saturday, mall-wide trick or treating activities during Trunk or Treat and Santa Fest, Milideo said.

The mall also makes available a loyalty program for its regular customers.

“Retail experiences and mall offerings continue to evolve, so too, is Cumberland Mall,” Milideo said.

Tracking flooding on Absecon Island, street by street

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Nine yellow, blue and green lines wave up and down on a small coordinate grid, plot points that retell a night last September when more than a foot of water overwhelmed Longport’s roads.

Almost everyone living on an island can share stories about moving their car or canceling plans when high tide or incessant rainfall, full moon or high tide hits.

But Dr. Stewart Farrell and his fellow Stockton researchers are using sensors to pinpoint exactly where flooding occurs most frequently, how long and how severely along selected streets.

Inside the Coastal Research Center nestled between two wildlife areas in Port Republic, the four-person team is using $300 Hobo sensors to track rain events in seven coastal communities: Longport, Avalon, Brigantine, Stone Harbor, Beach Haven, Long Beach Township and Long Beach Boulevard in Ocean County.

“This is going to provide the city with a document that says here’s when it happened and here’s the level of threat that it really is,” said Farrell, director of the CRC. “Instead of using these anecdotes like ‘Well it flooded terrible.’”

The project began August 2017 with Longport and Avalon, inspired by Winter Storm Jonas the year prior. In Ocean City, the third highest crest in recorded history was seen, putting the tide gauge in major flood stage. Dozens of cars in the region were damaged, as well as homes and stores.

Soon after, the New Jersey Coastal Coalition — a group of 20 coastal municipalities in Cape May and Atlantic counties — had an idea: document flooding on a more minute level, beyond photos and stories.

That’s when Stockton stepped in.

The cigar-sized sensors, made to record air pressure inside wells, were repurposed. Aided by public works departments, the researchers installed the gadgets on the underside of 24 storm grates throughout Avalon and Longport. A GPS unit is placed on top of each sensor to track its elevation.

How long each rain event lasts, the frequency and the water’s depth is recorded by the sensors in 15-minute ntervals. There’s a port on each one, and every three months, the drains are opened for researchers to upload the data onto a laptop.

Since last August, the boroughs has seen 143 rain events combined. On Friday morning — when a flood alert was issued for all of South Jersey amid 15-25 mph winds — the sensors recorded nearly every drop of rain.

“There are a lot of events, which is why it’s called nuisance flooding,” Farrell said. “But every once in a while, the nuisance becomes more real.”

Projections by Rutgers University scientists indicate sea levels could rise by 10 feet in New Jersey by 2100 if carbon emissions remain high.

Much of the information gathered so far from the sensors back up with science what most already know — areas at lower elevations are hit hardest, typically the back bays.

The studies in Longport and Avalon won’t be complete until March, but Bruce Funk has predictions on what they will show. He rounds off the usual flooding hotspots: 31st to 35th on Ventnor Avenue, and portions of Winchester and Monmouth avenues.

“We have a lower flood elevation in the middle of the town,” said Funk, Longport’s floodplain administrator.

He expects to use Stockton’s statistics in two ways. First, he’ll be able to pinpoint exactly which homes will be impacted by storms of a certain magnitude and send out alerts to only those residents.

But perhaps more importantly, the borough can use it to help secure grant money for water pumps, dikes and drainage improvements. Charts and numbers detailing precise flooding patterns are hard to refute, and can help form a priority list for future projects.

“We’ll be able to show empirically where the problem is,” Funk said. “It’s the hard facts.”