Exit Zero reporter Diane Stopyra interviews the team from ABC’s Nightline in the The Brown Room at Congress Hall Sunday: from left, producers Brandon Baur and Bartley Price, and award-winning correspondent and co-anchor, Terry Moran. Appropriately, the ABC boys enjoyed Dark and Stormy cocktails.
ON SUNDAY evening, as the weather began turning for the worse and the wind whipped through the mostly deserted streets of Cape May, we went for dinner at The Blue Pig Tavern at Congress Hall, which one of our photographers nervously joked might be a “last supper.” Like all other hotels on the island, Congress Hall should have been dead. But members of the press from all over the world were gathered here, and as we ate our meal in front of the fireplace, surrounded by boarded-up windows, we watched reporters, producers, and cameramen prepare for their 11pm broadcasts, downloading information on their phones from the National Weather Service and their parent stations. The hotel’s owner and managing partner of Cape Resorts Group, Curtis Bashaw, was also in the dining room, and he told us that representatives from ABC National, ABC Nightline, NBC 10, NBC National, CNBC, Fox 29, and even Walter Cronkite’s son Chip from the Associated Press, had checked in this day.
We knew that Hurricane Sandy was major news, but we weren’t expecting so many of the big guns to have hit town. We stopped by the next table over, where three guys from the ABC affiliate in Chicago had just ordered a couple of house salads. They explained that they’d been in Atlantic City, but because of logistics which included the location of a satellite truck, they’d decided to set up camp in Cape May instead, and they couldn’t be happier about it. “We’ve never covered a disaster in greater comfort,” said reporter Ben Bradley. “We came from a no-tell-motel in Atlantic City. Now, we’re shocked and slightly spoiled. I almost tweeted a picture, but then I thought people might think we were making light of the hurricane.” His producer, Ross Weidner, added that he felt underdressed. “I’m wearing a hat!” he said.
We wanted to know why a state 852 miles away would care so much about Sandy they’d send three journalists to cover it. Or why Miami-based Univision had sent seven employees, the ones chatting away in Spanish over the noise of a laptop broadcast from the Cove that they’d brought along to dinner. Or why a Belgium news station would send their reporters, who’d already had their hands full filming a documentary about the election in Manhattan. “It’s a lead story,” Ross Weidner said. “Our main and only purpose is public service. Forecasting hurricanes is an imprecise science. We’re 24 hours from landfall, and we can’t be sure exactly where it will touch down. You can’t call this hype. This storm is huge, and the impact will be as well.”
About this time, we made our way into The Brown Room, where we sat on the couch with the crew of ABC’s Nightline, including co-anchor and award-winning correspondent Terry Moran, and sipped on dark and stormy cocktails — naturally. Here, the crowd was more mixed between locals and reporters, and we could overhear all the worries of a town full of uncertainty. Curtis announced that the pressure –which correlates to a storm’s wind speed – had dropped to 950, and that the lowest recorded previously had been 962, eliciting “what’s that mean?” whispers from those nearby. Viviane Rowan told us how she’d spent the day sandbagging White, her interior design shop on Ocean Street. Someone else mentioned that the lawn of Peter Shields Inn was already flooded. From a television next to the bar, we caught words like “devastation” and “demolish.”
But for all of the worry around us, there was a sense of camaraderie, too. A feeling of being in it together. One of Congress Hall’s food and beverage managers, Jordan Rowan, told us he’d be working until 7am, because the bar and restaurant were staying open around the clock in order to support the media. Brian Lee, who’d arrived at the hotel in a snorkeling mask, picked up an acoustic guitar and began singing “Lean on Me” next to the fire. His girlfriend and fellow snorkeler Eliza Lotozo offered us the use of her shower, in case we lose water. Earlier, Debra Donahue, a neighbor on Stimpson Lane, had handed over some of her homemade black bean soup to help us keep warm. All over, neighbors were asking about the well-being of neighbors, offering food and sympathy and support.
“You know,” Terry Moran told us, when we asked what it’s like being the guy heading into the danger when everyone else is heading out, “doing this job, you tend to see the best in people and you see the worst. Storms tend to bring out the best.”
We couldn’t agree more.
A Matter Of Honesty
THERE doesn’t seem to be a Chinese proverb about why you should never trust a man who has to tell you he’s honest. But we think there should be. Especially when that man happens to be a politician who is looking for your vote.
We studied the ad that Ed Mahaney, the incumbent mayor of Cape May, ran in a local paper last week. One of the five points he made was… “Ed is honest, independent, and hard-working!” (The exclamation point is his.) We have been dealing with Ed for four years now and have butted heads on several occasions. Of all the descriptions we could apply to him, honest is not the first that springs to mind. Hard-working, yes. We hear we spends a good deal of time in City Hall, but that isn’t anything he should be commended upon, since it is not the mayor’s job to be burning the midnight oil on Washington Street.
But let’s get back to that word… honest. And let’s go back to August, 2009, when Mayor Mahaney (accompanied by a reluctant construction official) took it upon himself to trespass on a rental property on Maryland Avenue and tell a couple who were renting the house as part of their weekend wedding that the swimming pool in the yard had code violations. When the husband told the mayor he had no right to be there, he was told, “‘This isn’t over. If I hear any more complaints I will have a police car sitting here all week if I have to. I’m the mayor of Cape May and I get things done my way.”
Obviously, there are so many things wrong with this.
First of all, the mayor has no legal right to trespass on private property, just as no other ordinary citizen does. And even if there WAS a code violation, that is not the purview of the mayor. And if there WAS an issue, that’s for the appropriate city official to take up with the OWNER of the property, not the renters.
The couple were so infuriated that the police were called. An officer arrived and escorted a very irritated Mayor Mahaney off the premises. The mayor was so enraged that he responded by asking Cape May’s Chief of Police Diane Sorantino to institute an official report into the officer’s actions.
We received a very detailed account of what happened that day from the woman who was renting the house. We also spoke to several people closely involved with the proceedings. When we discussed the matter with the mayor at the time, he denied that he had trespassed, saying he had been invited on to the property by the couple. He also denied that he had made a complaint to the police, saying that the department itself had decided to make an investigation into the officer’s conduct.
We can say with a good deal of certainty that the mayor lied on both counts. And in fact we said so at the time, and received for our trouble a threatening letter from the city’s solicitor, Tony Monzo, who asked for a full retraction. We refused and told the solicitor we would be happy to take this to court, so confident were we in the sources who spoke to us. We never heard another peep.
Why did the mayor act this way? Most likely because a friend of his, a county judge, lives next to the property involved and had reportedly made several complaints in the past about the noise coming from the pool.
And why are we regurgitating an old story? Because we think that incident was an excellent illustration of the mayor’s character. An often devious and petty man with an outsized ego who gets a kick out of calling himself the mayor, even though that job title just isn’t what it used to be – not since the Faulkner Act downgraded the role to just another member of council, with the only perks being the pleasure of running council meetings, and marrying people.
In that same newspaper ad we referred to at the beginning of this story, Ed Mahaney also claims he “cares about, and addresses your concerns!” But during his four-year reign, he has dissembled a number of important committees containing some of the brightest, most creative people in town, and often times in a manner lacking grace or, dare we say it, honesty. We know of two hotel operators (it would probably be fair to say they are the two most successful businessmen in town) who were told by Ed that they would be keeping their seats on the old Tourism Commission — only to be told, in subsequent letters, that their services were no longer required.
Ed also claims, in the ad, that he is “committed to preserving the character” of Cape May — yet he has presided over a council that erected vinyl railings along Beach Avenue, even though that is a material that (quite rightly) no homeowner can use in their homes in this Historic Landmark City. And what about the big digital sign on Convention Hall? Can you imagine what would happen to a business that tried to pull off that kind of affront? Ask the owner of the Peter Shields Inn, who was almost tarred and feathered for trying to make a subtle font change to his elegant wooden sign.
And what about those vinyl monstrosities on the harbor bridge? Another pet project of Ed’s. There was such an uproar when those were erected that the mayor promised that they would be taken down. Never happened. Another example of the mayor talking out of both sides of his mouth.
At the Candidates’ Night last week, Ed said that he had been responsible for bringing the National Parks Service to town this summer to discuss the fact that the city’s National Historic Landmark designation was in jeopardy. The truth is that Cape May has been on the watch list since 2002 and that the 2012 review had been set in the National Park Service’s schedule at that time, as part of their 10-year review. Their visit had nothing to do with the mayor — his attempt to take credit for Cape May being taken off the watch list is risible.
And then there is the matter of Temple University, Ed’s alma mater. Three city contracts, worth more than $100,000, have been awarded to the school, without any apparent attempt to invite bids from universities (or companies) in this county — or even this state. Ed told a former council member a couple years ago that the city HAD asked other schools in New Jersey to bid for the work, but never produced the relevant paperwork, despite promising that he would.
Finally, there is the matter of Ed Mahaney breaching the laws of the state by doing, in effect, the work of the City Manager. Over the last few years, we have shown enough examples of this that it has turned into perhaps the most important issue in this election. It seems clear that Bruce MacLeod, who was appointed City Manager as Ed Mahaney was taking office, is in the pocket of the mayor. This is not how city business is supposed to be done.
We are skimping on the details in this column, because we don’t want to rehash all of the many stories we have published over the years, but suffice to say we believe that Ed Mahaney is unfit for office and is not deserving of your vote.
In his opposite corner is a man who we believe will be a refreshing addition to city council. Rusty Chew’s ads state that he is “ready, willing and available,” that he wants to “harness local talent to enrich the quality of life in our community”, that “our city government’s esteem is at an all-time low,” and that council has to be “working together.”
We regard Rusty, who served in the Cape May Police Department for 25 years, as a straightforward guy. He tells it like it is. Rusty doesn’t want to sneak into City Hall every night to work on his own agendas and he doesn’t want to tell the City Manager what to do, and when to do it. He wants the City Manager to be given the chance to show he CAN run the city and he wants all five council members to have an equal say in what is going on in the city.
We likely wouldn’t agree on every issue with Rusty. When we asked him if he agreed that Cape May needs more bike lanes, he said, “No, I don’t think it does. I think people need to use their common sense. Lafayette Street is not a safe place to ride your bike, so why do it?” We at Exit Zero happen to believe that Cape May COULD use more bike-friendly laws, but we appreciate that Rusty tells it like it is, and we expect this brand of honesty and candor when hopefully he wins office on November 6.
A vote for Rusty would be a vote for democracy and would allow Cape May the opportunity to once again encourage proper community participation, allowing the brightest and the best to help the city tackle the complex issues of the day, and would allow city council to proceed with its business without being compromised by hidden agendas.
Maybe it’s the fact that this column is being written as we anticipate one of the worst storms in decades, but we can’t help seeing Wizard of Oz allusions here. After the adventures and dramas of the last four years we are hoping that once the post-election dust settles in Cape May, on the morning of November 7, we, like Dorothy, can feel once again that “there’s no place like home.”
WHILE we probably should have been sandbagging EZ Global Headquarters and taking other hurricane-related precautions, we pulled on our superhero costumes and headed for the Phantom Ball at Congress Hall. The ballroom was decorated in accordance with the creepy fairytales theme — think of a rotted-flesh Rapunzel and various other members of the storybook undead. And the guests were impressively done up as well…
We ran into Art Brschettii, the vampire dubbed “sexiest man” at last year’s ball, and we asked if he was nervous about defending his title. “I think the judges had beer goggles on last year,” he said. “It’s time to pass the torch.” But his witch of a wife (ha!), Pauline, told us differently. “Don’t listen to him,” she said. “He wants to win.” But, at the awards ceremony later on, this claim to fame went to Rico Hemenway who dressed as a Mariachi Mama with especially lovely breasts, we might add.
We have to give props to Rico’s girlfriend Mary Smith for her creativity — she was a particularly putrid “Moldilocks,” a costume we think tops the year she came as Mrs Bubbles in a homemade shower.
But one of our favorite outfits was the inspiration of Rich Nowakowski, who came as artist Victor Grasso. Actually, he called himself a “fat” Victor Grasso, but we think he looked damn good. Except that Rich had four buttons on his plaid shirt undone, and the real-life Victor says he only undoes three from the top, and occasionally one on the bottom, “unless the shirt is tucked.”
We’d like to note that when we called to ask Victor about these buttoning habits, he never even questioned why.
We’d also like to note that your reporter did not win the sexiest female award… that went to the OTHER catwoman, Zoya Soloeyeva from Russia, who was wearing almost exactly the same outfit. But not to fear… no catfight ensued. At least not this time, Zoya, but we better not catch your leather jumpsuit-clad self around these parts again.
What was NOT a joke was how many Mad Hatters came out this night… four by our count. “It’s always a popular choice,” said costume judge Little Wayne, aka Cape Resorts concierge Dan Murphy. One of the hatters, Chris Runyan from York, Pennsylvania, told us he took two weeks to make his ensemble, which included a poster-board hat. “It’s a good look for me,” he told us, “because I’m a little bit crazy myself.”
We’d like to thank all of the “little bit crazy” folks who came out on Friday, especially the guy who dressed as Moses’ burning bush and the couple who sported open-back hospital gowns and fake butts. Thanks for an entertaining evening, one which we chose to end at The Ebbitt Room bar, where we enjoyed some cocktails while still in costume, because we’re just a little bit crazy, too.