Mayor Dodges A Bullet
Three locals who filed an ethics complaint against Cape May Mayor Ed Mahaney alleging conflicts of interest arising from the mayor’s negotiation of sports naming rights from Temple University while awarding it three city contracts have been notified that their complaint has been dismissed. The state’s Local Finance Board in Trenton said last week that the complaint had “no reasonable factual basis” under New Jersey’s Local Government Ethics Law.
The complaint was made following the publication of a story in this column that featured a letter Mahaney had received from Temple University, which referred to discussions the mayor and the organization had been having about the naming rights to Temple’s athletics facility… at the same time, Mahaney was busily awarding contracts to Temple, apparently without giving any other organization the chance to bid.
The three residents, Matthew Glenn, Charles Hendricks and Jim Testa, were sharply critical of the decision. In a statement, they said, “We are deeply dismayed by the superficial manner in which our complaint was handled by the Department of Community Affairs, and we fundamentally disagree with its determination. It appears our complaint was assigned to a junior staff member, a few phone calls were made, but no testimony was taken nor serious investigation pursued regarding the facts.
“We continue to maintain that no public official should be able to negotiate valuable personal naming rights for a sports complex from an entity that has appealed to that official for gifts of cash and property, while, at the same time, the official spearheads government efforts to award three valuable municipal contracts to the same entity. Anyone with common sense can see that kind of behavior is unethical. We know it is not tolerated in the private sector, and we think turning a blind eye to it in government only degrades further the already low image of New Jersey politics in the eyes of the public.”
We agree. The whole affair smells bad to our sensitive noses, and we will continue to investigate this story — and for those out there who think this is a “witch hunt”, we think you should be glad that there is a rag out there that actually holds City Hall accountable. (You’re welcome.)
The three men are considering an appeal to the Appellate Division of State Superior Court.
Tommy’s Dog Days
THE owner of HotDog Tommy’s, Tom Snyder — aka the guy who wears a stuffed wiener on his head — knows a little about a lot. At the weekend, we stopped by his Jackson Street stand (the one with the sign that reads “If we are what we eat, then I’m fast, easy, and cheap”) around 5:40pm, as he and wife Mary were closing up shop. Tom, sandwiched between a rack of aprons and shelves of industrial-strength detergent, washed the day’s bowls and steaming pots.
“Guinea worm disease is just a devastating thing,” Tom told us, water sloshing onto his pair of yellow, green, and red striped sneakers and his Relish today, ketchup tomorrow T-shirt. “Jimmy Carter has been working to eradicate it — that’s one of his main health platforms — and he’s gotten to a point where it’s been wiped nearly off the face of the earth.” Tom and Mary spend their winters in Sumter County, Georgia — “peanut, pecan, and cotton country” — where they attend the former president’s Sunday school. “The most amazing thing,” he says, “is that this Baptist church is still standing, having me in it every Sunday.”
It’s this humor that’s become as much a staple of HotDog Tommy’s, now in its tenth season, as the famous Potato Tornado. This is the guy who saw Tina Fey waiting in his line and yelled, “Sarah Palin is here, and she’s doing a really bad Tiny Fey impression!” The guy who responds to a customer (actually EZ honcho Jack Wright) who says he’s been “dreaming” about the Potato Tornado all day by saying, “You need therapy if that’s what your dreams are about.” The guy who told us, “We have a crack team working for us… luckily, none of them are really on crack.”
But you work as hard as you laugh, we figure, if you run a business that consistently generates around-the-block lines of hungry beach-goers, sometimes in near-100F heat. Tom’s lost 12 pounds from slinging dogs this summer, Mary 15. “She does all the hard work,” Tom says, “steaming the dogs, then grilling them, and coordinating that with the steaming of the buns. I’m just the pretty face.” But now, both Tom and Mary are in their 69th year (“She’s older,” he says), and they’ve wondering how much longer they can do “this.” This being seven days a week of 4:30am starts and 8pm finishes. In 10 years, Tom’s never missed a full day of work… only an afternoon or two, and then only because he was ill. “I’ve had issues with cancer and things,” he shrugged, “but doesn’t everyone deal with something like that? To be truthful, we say the same thing every year, come mid-July, that we don’t know how longer we’re going to be able to do this. I suppose one of these times, we’ll take ourselves up on it.”
Tom came to Cape May via Pennsylvania, where as a high school student, he worked alongside Mary at his father’s potato chip company. After graduation, he earned a degree from Juniata College, before becoming the school’s Associate Dean and Director of Admissions. “Mary was actually hired there first,” he said. “She worked in the athletic and public relations departments. I think they took me on just to keep her. I’ve been riding her coattails for a long time.” Around this time, Mary rolled her eyes and told Tom to be wary of the steaming pot on the counter behind him that was very hot. “Are you talking about the pot, or our marriage?” he said. And then: “I’ve known Mary since before I was born. Our mothers bumped bellies while pregnant in the supermarket. We were wombmates. People ask if it’s difficult working together, but we’ve always done it. We have personal arguments and business arguments and they intersect and overlap and we get over it. We’re happy.”
In 1984, the couple moved to Cape May, where they purchased and operated the Manor House Inn B&B — now a single family home. In 1995, they sold that in order to open the Dry Dock restaurant, which they ran for five years. Then, they bought a 36-foot motor home — that’s less square footage than the hot dog stand — that they still call home. “We hit the road,” Tom said. “We worked in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mary in a dining room and gift shop, and I was a buffalo tour guide through the buffalo herd of the Custer State Park. That was a fun gig. And then, in the winters, we sold popcorn and soda in the Magic Kingdom at Disney.”
Then, 10 years later, they found themselves back in Cape May, launching their next great adventure. “We used to sit outside on stools and talk to passersby when we opened HotDog Tommy’s,” Mary told us. “Because that was back before we had any business.”
Since then, the business has “exploded.” Now, they order 200 to 300 pounds of hot dog three times a week just to keep up. “It’s never 1,000 dogs we sell in a day,” said Tommy, “but it’s never less than 500.” And those stuffed hats? “I go through about three a season. You can’t wash them.”
But what about the days, we wondered, where you just don’t feel like wearing the constume? “This year’s been tough,” Tom said. “Equipment’s been breaking down on us. Yesterday, both our Coke machines went down, and they operate independently. But people have been coming here for 10 years. I’ve seen kids grow up, and that’s a real pleasure. Making people happy; that’s what it’s all about.”
That, and making really good dogs. “People always want to know if I’m sick of them,” Tom said. “We eat them everyday.”
Inside The Actors’ Studio
WE LEFT with a couple of secrets. Little tidbits only an insider would know. Like, an audience will be more sympathetic to a character who is positioned stage left than one who is positioned stage right. “That’s the side your heart is on,” explained Roy Steinberg, Artisitic Director for Cape May Stage.
At Cape May Stage’s first ever Coffee and Conversation held on Saturday at the intimate Robert Shackleton Playhouse, Roy was positioned dead center. (We couldn’t help but wonder what subconscious psychological impact that was having on his audience of 22.) He was joined by all four actors who star in God of Carnage, the acclaimed show that will have just wrapped by the time you read this. And they were all spilling the secrets.
That scene that elicited such a guffaw from the crowd, the one where John Viscardi is blow-drying the telephone, causing it to rock back and forth? That rocking was a happy accident, according to the actor (who you might recognize from Law and Order). Those scenes where Michele Eugene has to vomit on cue? That was the most stressful part of the play for her. “It took days before we got it to work,” she said. The moment when Jason Guy must stuff his face with kataifi pastry and a bit falls on the floor? Funny, but not scripted. “The audience would have smelled the lie had I flicked it off the plate myself,” he said. Afterward, he told us he won’t stuff his face “like a pig” before this show, as he usually likes to do, because he has to eat so much of this cake during the play. (Don’t worry; he’s actually eating the “diluted, gluten-free, vegan version” so that he doesn’t “have a coronary on stage.”) And after each performance, we also learned, Jason’s had a good time unwinding on The Virginia Hotel porch and the “very classy” Brown Room. (And, no, no matter how convincing the performance is… any realy imbibing only happens after the show. That “rum” they’re drinking on stage is water died with food-coloring. “We do actually have to remember our lines,” John said. “It is a prerequisite.”)
About a half hour in to this panel, the actors commented on how strange this phenomenon is — the one where we begin to feel as though we know, say, Brad Pitt, because we’ve seen him in so many films, although in reality, we don’t know the first thing about the heartthrob. Funnily enough, we were starting to feel connected to these actors — these strangers — as well. That was Emmy-nominated Fiona Hutchison from Guiding Light, after all, who just asked a member of the audience — likely a nobody in the entertainment world — if one of her movements on stage was working… just like a friend would do. And that was Fiona telling us details of her marriage, too, talking about what it’s like playing a couple on stage with real life-husband John. “We thought to drum up ticket sales,” she joked, “we’d have a rip-roaring fight in one of Cape May’s restaurants, and then say: ‘Wanna see more? Come to God of Carnage!’” In all seriousness, Fiona explained, she did hesitate in taking on this role, because it would mean fighting with her husband nearly every day for four weeks, the length of the run.
This intimacy is exactly the goal of such events, says Cape May Stage’s Marketing Director, Alicia Grasso. “There is so much more to experiencing live theater than just buying a ticket,” she told us. “One of the things we do is allow people to explore the world behind the curtain.” Indeed, and with complementary homemade strawberry and cream cheese cake and Wawa coffee in hand while you do it.
Coffee and Conversation was one of the events sponsored by grant money from PNC Arts, Alicia told us. The next such event, an ice cream social with the cast of Thirty-Nine Steps, will take place on August 15, at 1pm.