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Brigantine mayor’s family uses billboard to save his life

BRIGANTINE — Andy Simpson needs a kidney. Rather than sit back and wait on an 8-years-long waiting list, his family became proactive.

Simpson, 61, the city’s mayor, is suffering from end-stage renal disease, a chronic disease in which the kidneys decrease in functionality until they no longer work, according to Mayoclinc.org.

Simpson’s three children, who lost their mother, Linda, in January after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, weren’t giving up hope on their dad.

To quickly find a donor, a Facebook page was made and a billboard erected in the westbound lanes of the White Horse Pike in Atlantic City. The billboard featured a photo of Simpson holding a little boy with the words, “Please Help Our Dad. Kidney Need Blood Type 0” with an email address.

“It’s been unbelievably hard,” said Meggan Advena, Simpson’s daughter. “My dad has been sick for a long time, and then my mom gets sick. It’s not like he has a cold. This is a life-threatening illness.”

Simpson has been diabetic for more than 30 years. About two years ago, he was hospitalized for an appendicitis. At that time, he was given contrast dye, a substance used for imaging, which affected his kidneys.

Contract dyes can either lead to kidney problems or cause further damage in patients with existing kidney diseases, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Advena, 31, her siblings, Katie, 23, and Andrew, 34, and Simpson decided to erect the billboard together. Simpson co-owns Bootlegger’s Liquor Outlet in Northfield and said the business has two billboards it uses for advertising. Instead of using both for the business, they decided to use one to solicit a kidney donor.

“We said, ‘What else could we do?’” Katie Simpson said. “We just needed to get it out there and get as many people as possible.”

The White Horse Pike billboard was erected in November and taken down last week, but not before at least 40 people reached out to the mayor and said they had put in applications to be potential donors.

“We’ve gotten so many responses,” he said. “I’ll walk into a restaurant and people I don’t even know say they put in applications.”

Potential donors reached out to help after seeing the billboard, the Facebook page or because they know the mayor.

And one may be a perfect match.

Simpson’s family found out Friday that city resident and family friend Dena Cabala, 49, may be the perfect donor for the mayor. Further testing will be conducted before the hospital gives Cabala and Simpson the potential green light.

“Everything looks good. They just want another opinion,” Cabala said. “It’s not a no.”

Although the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where Simpson is getting his care, does not disclose any information to him about potential donors, Cabala is keeping him informed throughout the process.

“To have someone give up their organ for me, it’s unbelievable,” Simpson said through tears. “That person has to be unbelievable, too, to allow someone to take a perfectly good organ from them.”

As soon as Cabala found out Simpson needed a kidney, she wanted to be a donor.

“My family was in a terrible car accident. We survived it, and I wanted to give back,” she said. “He’s a caring, loving father and family man.”

The wait hasn’t just taken an emotional toll on Simpson, but a physical toll as well. Each night he goes to bed while hooked up to a dialysis machine for nine hours.

“The machine puts fluid in me, takes it out and disposes of it,” he said.

But even though the wait may be tiresome, the family is not giving up.

“You have to have hope,” Katie Simpson said. “You have to have something to look forward to or you’ll wallow in the fact that you’re sick. With my mom, there was nothing we could do. But with my dad, there’s something we can do. So, we’re not giving up on that.”

“This is my life,” the mayor said, before pointing to his children. “And it’s their lives, too.”

Hotel set to replace La Costa, other properties in Sea Isle this fall

SEA ISLE CITY — The center of town is set for a major change with the approval of a four-story, 46-room hotel at JFK Boulevard and Landis Avenue.

The building, to be known as The Ludlam, will include restaurants and bars on the first floor and rooms above, said Christopher Glancey, one of the developers. The project will take up most of the block, replacing La Costa Lounge, the Coast Motel, and Casino Steak and Pizza.

On Feb. 3, members of the city Zoning Board gave site plan approval and approved variances for the project. At a special meeting Jan. 21, the board heard hours of testimony on the proposal, including from residents opposed to the project. The board adjourned that meeting at close to midnight after hours of testimony and took up the application again last week.

Construction is set to begin in the fall, Glancey said, with work continuing through summer 2021 and an expected completion by June 2022. The existing businesses will remain open this summer, he said. Glancey and business partner Bob Morris purchased the property in 2018 for a reported price of $7.3 million from Anthony and Nick Giampietro.

Glancey declined to give an estimate of how much the construction project will cost, though he said it will be in the millions of dollars.

“It’s a big project,” he said, at about an acre of property.

Some believe it to be too big.

“I think the neighborhood in general thought it was just too big for that site,” said Vincent Orlando, an engineer hired as an expert witness by neighbors in opposition to the plan. He said they did not object to plans for a new hotel, only the size.

At both meetings, residents criticized the scale of the project, but not every speaker was opposed to the planned development. Some argued Sea Isle has plenty of houses for rent but few hotel units.

“It’s something that’s severely needed in this town for the sake of the businesses,” said resident John Fee, a Realtor and member of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Business owner Stephen DeCredico said the project would be good for the future of the city.

“I find no negative to improving the business climate of the island,” he told the board. “The project, in my opinion, is a positive for me as a business owner, for me as a property owner and for the town as a whole to bring high-end clientele to this island.”

Plans call for the hotel units to range from single rooms to three-bedroom suites, and for 20 of those to have a kitchen, an element of the proposal that also required a variance.

Orlando contended the plans did not provide enough parking, especially if the multiroom suites will have room to sleep 10 and there are restaurants, banquet facilities and bars on the property. But the applicants argued the plans meet the requirements under the ordinance, with one parking space per hotel unit.

Glancey said he and his partner incorporated suggestions from neighbors into the final design and worked with board members in developing the project. He said that included three work session meetings before requesting site plan approval.

“In these processes, there are always give-and-takes,” he said.

“I think they’re trying to do something that will be a very attractive unit,” board member Patricia Urbaczewski said. “What is there now is horrendous. It’s not attractive.”

The board voted 4-1 in favor of allowing the kitchen facilities and was unanimous for the site plan.

The site is close to the beach and the city’s Promenade, and around the corner from Excursion Park, which features an amphitheater and numerous events and movie nights in the summer.

The location is one aspect that drew Glancey to the site, he said, adding it’s also difficult to find a large parcel to develop on the barrier islands.

The existing buildings date to the 1970s, he said, describing his planned project as a major improvement for one of the busiest sections of the beach town.

The project is across the street from Diamond Liquors, which Glancey owns. He and Morris also built The Dunes, a block-long condominium, restaurant and event hall near Townsends Inlet on the site of the former Busch’s Seafood.

The partners also bought the Impala Island Inn in Ocean City and are nearing completion of an expansion of that beach-block motel to be called the Impala Suites on the site of a former storage building on the north side of 10th Street, across from the existing property.

GALLERY: Look back at Sea Isle City

Cape ‘space guy’ Bakley joins NASA ambassador program

Christopher Bakley’s obsession with the night sky began with a rocket launch.

Bakley, 27, of North Wildwood, set out to photograph a rocket from Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern shore of Virginia as it passed Cape May County’s night sky. He already was working to photograph lightning. Watching the brilliant trail of the rocket inspired him to explore the night sky more deeply, he said in a recent interview.

That was 10 years ago.

“I started capturing scenes of the Milky Way. People said they wanted to see for themselves,” Bakley said. He used his camera equipment to give friends and others a new glimpse of the stars and planets.

Over the years, Bakley began to host local events around Cape May County to share his passion for astronomy and science. He’d organize sky watching events to see the full moon, planets or other astronomical phenomenon, culminating with the solar eclipse in August 2017. In New Jersey, it was a partial eclipse.

Bakley was at the Cove on the beach in Cape May, handing out protective glasses needed to safely view the rare event.

“Being able to show kids their first eclipse and to see the look on their faces when they saw their first eclipse was just awesome,” he said. The science and the public outreach was important to Bakley, but he wasn’t part of any larger organization.

“The problem was I didn’t have enough credibility. I was just a guy who loved space,” he said.

That changes this year.

Bakley has completed training to participate in the Solar System Ambassador Program through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, one of 16 in the program in New Jersey and the only one in Cape May County. The nearest other participant is in Woodbury, Gloucester County.

Starting this spring, he said, Bakley plans to offer new programs. It also will allow him to speak to students in area schools and work with civic groups and environmental education organizations.

The volunteer program provides training and educational materials, along with contact with mission scientists and updates on NASA missions. Each ambassador agrees to hold at least four public events each year, with the aim of inspiring young people to seek careers in science and technology.

“It’s incredible, the amount of resources that are now available,” he said. “As soon as it starts getting warmer, I’m going to start hosting programs.”

He said the ambassador program will allow him to present events that are not as weather dependent, such as sharing images taken form the International Space Station.

Run through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, the Solar System Ambassador program is one of NASA’s longest-running volunteer outreach projects. There are participants in all 50 states, along with Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and outside of the United States.

It began as the Galileo Ambassador program in 1997, according to Kay Ferrari, outreach program manager of the Solar System Ambassadors. In 1999, she said, it was expanded to include other missions and renamed. In now includes all NASA missions, including human space flight missions like the upcoming Artemis program, bringing together NASA, commercial spaceflight companies and international partners with a plan to return human beings to the moon by 2024.

The ambassadors bring information about NASA programs to their communities, Ferrari said, personalizing the message to best reach their neighbors. Some work with schools, others find their own ways to spread the message. Ferrari spoke of a woman in Georgia who has a column in her local newspaper. Some of those who got involved in the 1990s remain active.

Ambassadors must be U.S. citizens. There are about 1,000 volunteers around the country. The youngest is 18, the minimum age to participate, Ferrari said, while the oldest active participant recently died at 100.

“Our program is grassroots,” Ferrari said, adding a quote from a colleague. “We’re going to plant the seeds and watch them spread.”

Bakley has engaged in public outreach on the night sky for years, posting images of the Milky Way, of rocket launches and stars to social media, along with information about upcoming astronomical events.

“That’s what’s really incredible about these events, to be able to inspire an endless amount of people,” he said. Bakley said he wants to become a local resource for information about space and the stars.

His inspiration comes from photography, he said, being able to show people a new way to see the wider world around them.

“That’s my main focus, to be out there and to be able to turn education into fun,” he said.

He sees the beach resorts of the Jersey shore as an ideal place to get people engaged with the stars, with a constantly changing group of visitors. He sees it as an opportunity to reach people from throughout the region.

While bright lights can interfere with star gazing throughout New Jersey, Bakley says the beach can be a wonderful resource if you can get some distance from the street lights and the boardwalk attractions.

“Looking out over the ocean, there is no light pollution,” he said. “It’s such a cool experience doing beach stargazing.”

Bakley said he can best be reached through the Solar System Ambassador Program at solarsystem1.jpl.nasa.gov, which includes a link to the program and a directory of ambassadors around the country.

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Obstacles remain at 100th anniversary of N.J. ratifying women's vote

Sunday marked the centennial of New Jersey ratifying the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote when adopted by the nation Aug. 18, 1920.

One hundred years later, N.J. women in politics feel optimistic about their election chances, but hurdles remain.

None of South Jersey’s congressional districts has ever sent a woman to the House of Representatives, and the state has never had a female U.S. Senator, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.

In Atlantic County’s 23 municipalities, 25 women serve at the municipal level and four on the Board of Chosen Freeholders at the county level, said Republican Freeholder Amy Gatto at last week’s freeholder meeting. She introduced an amendment, which passed unanimously, to mark the ratification anniversary.

“I thought it was necessary to take a moment to step back and celebrate the long journey we are on,” Gatto said.

“After ratification, Margaret Laird and Jennie Van Ness (both of Essex County) were the first two women elected to the New Jersey Assembly in 1921,” Gatto said. “And in 1925, Rebecca Estelle Bourgeois Winston of Estell Manor was New Jersey’s first woman mayor.”

Few women, however, have been elected as state legislators from South Jersey. Currently none serve in Trenton from the 1st that covers Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties; or the 2nd, covering much of Atlantic County.

There are some bright spots. Two women — Brigid Callahan Harrison of Longport and Amy Kennedy of Brigantine — are front-runners in the Democratic race to try to unseat Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, whose district spans much of South Jersey. Of the six who have thrown their hats in the ring on the Democratic side, three are women.

“It’s important we call attention to it,” Kennedy said of the anniversary, “and that on this anniversary we are just as passionate about exercising the right to vote in this election, when we’ve seen women really targeted in so many ways by (the Trump) administration.”

Van Drew has said he soon will make a House speech marking the state’s ratification anniversary.

Kennedy, one of the candidates running to challenge Van Drew, is a former teacher and a mental health advocate who has three daughters.

“I feel like my campaign is as much for them as for myself because I’m able to show them that we can stand up for what we believe in and that we have an obligation to do so — regardless of the challenges.”

Harrison is a professor of politics and law at Montclair State University in Essex County and had been chosen as a public scholar to travel the state giving talks about the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, she said.

But when she became a congressional candidate, she gave up that role.

“I think there are still impediments, particularly to women gaining the highest offices in the land,” Harrison said. “Part is about our culture, part is about incumbency in Congress,” which favors keeping people in office a long time.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th, for example, has served in that position since 1981. The 4th is another district that has never sent a woman to Washington.

Vineland native Will Cunningham, who is also running in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary and works for the House Oversight Committee, said Friday he is calling on Congress to extend the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment and get it passed.

“One-hundred years after New Jersey suffragists were victorious in earning the right to vote, women still don’t have equal rights under our Constitution,” Cunningham said.

Virginia recently became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, but Cunningham said the Trump administration is refusing to recognize the vote, citing a 1982 statutory deadline. New Jersey has had a state ERA since 1942 and ratified the federal ERA almost 50 years ago, Cunningham said.

Cunningham’s campaign laid wreaths on the graves of suffragettes at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Siloam Cemetery in Vineland. They were the graves of Portia Gage, who organized and led the 1868 women’s suffrage protest at Union Hall, and Mary Tillotson, a Dress Reformer who led the first anti-fashion protest in Vineland.

“Jeannette Rankin Hall housed my environmental studies program at the University of Montana. Whenever I think of women’s sufferage, I think of the heroism of women like Jeannette Rankin, who, in 1916, was the first woman, a Republican, elected to Congress,” said 2nd district Democratic candidate John Francis, a West Cape May commissioner. “To honor their legacy, we need to continue standing against discriminatory voting practices and support equal rights and equal pay for all Americans.”

“Suffrage marches occurred in many communities, and Alice Paul, a native of Mount Laurel, was a key suffragist leader and co-author of the Equal Rights Amendment,” New Jersey Historical Commission Executive Director Sara Cureton said in a statement.

“In the post-2016 era, women were reminded they have to be participants in the democracy,” Harrison said of the period after President Donald Trump’s election. “They are energized and contributing, and backing up their opinions with their money.”

New Jersey led the nation in women’s suffrage long before the 19th Amendment, according to the National Park Service.

“Some New Jersey women voted as early as 1776,” the NPS says on its website. “The framers of New Jersey’s first Constitution in 1776 gave the vote to ‘all inhabitants of this colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds ... and have resided within the county ... for twelve months.’”

Married women did not have property in their own names, so couldn’t vote, but widows and single women with property could.

In 1807, the state’s legislature restricted suffrage to white male citizens who paid taxes.

“In this way, New Jersey’s 30-year experiment with female suffrage ended — not mainly because of opposition to the idea of women voting, but for reasons of party politics,” according to the NPS.

The Democratic-Republican Party wanted to keep women from voting because they tended to support the Federalist Party.

Who is running in the 2nd Congressional District race?

Kristian Gonyea 

Avanzar CEO Claudia Ratzlaff with Amy Gatto at the Atlantic City Country Club honoring the Avanzar hereos. Northfield, NJ. May 8, 2019 (Kristian Gonyea/ For the Press of Atlantic City)

mpost-pressofac / Provided by Amy Kennedy campaign  

Former teacher and current mental health advocate Amy Kennedy, of Brigantine, has announced she is running in the Democratic primary to challenge Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, after his party switch to Republican. She said the public health crisis of addiction would be among her top priorities.