Selected interviews and articles

Long Island Herald – Polar Bears take the plunge

Polar Bears take the plunge
Warm weather brings out the crowds
By Alexandra Spychalsky

Less than 24 hours before Long Island was buried once more in snow, the sun was shining and the mild weather drew thousands to the beach on Sunday for the 15th annual Long Beach Polar Bear Super Bowl Splash.

“At 11 a.m., there weren’t that many people here; we were nervous,” event co-founder Pete Meyers said. “Now I think it’s going to be the biggest ever. It’s 50 degrees and sunny out. People are dying to get out of the house.”

Thousands flocked to this year’s event to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. “It was an enormous crowd,” said Gordon Tepper, the city’s director of communications. “It was a phenomenal turnout, and they raised a ton of money for charity, which is what it’s all about.”

The event began informally in 1998, when Meyers and his friend Kevin McCarthy decided to take a dip in the ocean on the morning of the Super Bowl. As it became an annual tradition, more and more people joined in, Meyers said, and they decided to turn it into a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish in honor of their friend Mike Bradley’s son, Paulie, who had died of cancer in 1997, at age 4. Bradley’s wife, Patti, died in 2009, and the event now honors her as well. Since the event became a fundraiser, it has helped grant the wishes of more than 300 kids.

“The Polar Bear Splash, in conjunction with Make-A-Wish, is the epitome of what makes Long Beach awesome,” said City Councilman Anthony Eramo, who has been among the swimmers every year except for one since moving to Long Beach 10 years ago. “It’s not just during tragedy, like Hurricane Sandy, when our community comes together to help others.”

Last year’s Splash had a somewhat different tone; it was held just three months after Hurricane Sandy, the boardwalk had been demolished and many Long Beach residents were still displaced. But the event had record participation, organizers said, with people coming from all over the tri-state area to show their support for a community still reeling from the storm.

This year, a bit of normalcy was restored — flags lined the railings of the new boardwalk at Riverside Boulevard, from which spectators watched the massive crowds on the beach.

“Everyone showing up last year showed that we could move past it,” said Long Beach resident Josh Janov. “This is a way for people to come together and enjoy life.”

This year, the event also honored Connor Troy, a Long Beach “wish kid” who died last year after attending the Splash — and receiving his wish. Last year, Connor’s mother, Kerry Ann, told the crowd that his wish was to meet Kermit the Frog and the Muppets, so Make-A-Wish arranged a trip to Disney World for Connor and his family. She said that the trip was a life-changing experience for him.

As of Tuesday, the Polar Bears had raised $500,000 this year for the foundation. Though more donations are expected, that figure put the Polar Bears above a huge benchmark — $4 million raised in total, organizers said.

“Make-A-Wish is the best organization,” Bradley said. “All of the money goes to the children. We raise all of this money for the children, and they make sure it gets there. That’s why we choose to be with them.”

Pat Clemency, president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York, said she is amazed at how Long Beach has not only kept the event alive, but made it thrive. “The community of Long Beach has inspired everyone from all parts of the tri-state area to come,” she said. “There’s 6,000 people in the water, 20,000 people total. It’s a remarkable undertaking that starts in very few communities.”

Clemency said that last year alone, the foundation granted 85 wishes thanks to the Polar Bear Splash. “For families, it says that you are not alone in this, there is a community supporting you and making those wishes possible,” she said.

Some “wish kids” attended Sunday’s Splash. Ten-year-old Masha Benitz has had a number of heart surgeries, and her wish was to take a Disney cruise. She came on stage to present the $3,000 she and her friends have raised for Make-A-Wish.

“What we see time and again is families come together and say, ‘We’ve had the experience of a wish, and it’s our time to pay it forward,’” Clemency said. “You see generations of wish families coming down here, and that’s a pretty remarkable thing.”

“Years ago, Make-A-Wish helped my family — my son was sick. It’s an unbelievable organization,” said Tom Ryan, of Bellmore, who has been coming to the Splash for eight years. “I recruit people to come down. Every year is better than the last.”

Bradley said that it’s too emotional for him to meet the “wish kids,” but he said he loves that they come and take the plunge. “They’ve got the most courage out of anyone,” he said.

Long Island Herald – Long Beach gears up for blizzard

Long Beach gears up for blizzard

By Anthony Rifilato

City officials are preparing for the first major snowstorm of the season, and the city announced that it was declaring a snow emergency at 5 p.m. in order to allow for snow removal operations throughout the evening. As a result, some roads will be declared snow emergency routes and owners will be required to remove their vehicles.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for Thursday from 6 p.m. to Friday, 1 p.m., when light-freezing rain is expected to turn into a steady falling snow. Blowing snow is predicted, and accumulations are expected to be from 6 to 10 inches. Winds will be from the north at 10 to 30 mph with gusts of up to 35 mph. A coastal flood advisory remains in effect until noon, and a coastal flood watch remains in effect this evening.

Temperatures will fall from the mid 30s today to the 20s tonight and into the teens by Friday. Wind chills will make if feel like zero or below zero on Friday.

Even as the city recovers from Hurricane Sandy, officials said street maintenance crews are fully prepared for the latest winter storm with snow removal vehicles and salt and sand spreaders ready to go when snow starts to fall. Plowing will begin when 3 inches of snow has accumulated.

“We have established snow emergency routes that are posted on our website, and they’re cleared of vehicles and snow in the order that is listed,” said City spokesman Gordon Tepper. “We recently obtained new plows for the boardwalk and last year we got new snow emergency vehicles, which was a requirement because we lost our snow emergency vehicles in Sandy.”

Some of those vehicles are more maneuverable along some of the city’s narrow streets, Tepper said.

“We are prepared to clear the snow on every street in the city, and we are coordinating with Nassau County and New York State,” he said. “The City of Long Beach and Nassau County are coordinating closely regarding this evening’s storm. Please be assured that the Long Beach Bridge will remain open and safe this evening.”

Hofstra Magazine – Stories from the Storm

Stories from the Storm

It’s a perfect summer Friday in Long Beach, N.Y. — all big waves and blinding sun.

On days like this, it’s easy to forget the night that Superstorm Sandy ravaged this barrier-island city – which is exactly what Mary Anne Trasciatti has spent much of the last year trying to prevent.

Dr. Trasciatti, who has lived in Long Beach for more than a dozen years and is a professor of rhetoric and women’s studies at Hofstra, is compiling an oral history of Sandy’s impact on the city, collecting the personal stories of survivors on film.

She views the project, which will eventually be housed in Hofstra’s historical archives, as a vital part of the city’s recovery efforts. Besides technical support, the University is providing funding, through the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, for translators for some of the interviews.

“ … I understand how people need to frame their experiences and how important it is to historically document those experiences … ”

“I’m not a contractor, I can’t rip out insulation, and I can’t offer legal advice, but as an academic I understand how people need to frame their experiences and how important it is to historically document those experiences,” Trasciatti said. “I can take my background and my interest in historical research and use it to help my community.”

It began in December 2012 with a simple flier posted on telephone poles all over town: “Everyone has a story. What’s yours?” Every Saturday for months, Trasciatti and a graduate documentary film student at Hofstra, TIannah Bruce, set up shop at Gentle Brew Coffee Roasters on East Park Avenue and listened.

Nearly a year later, Mary Anne Trasciatti is still listening, although she now conducts many of her interviews at the main branch of the public library, where officials have offered her use of a room on the second floor.

“I think this project is really important because having a record of everyone’s personal stories from the storm will be incredibly valuable for the history of Long Beach,” said Gordon Tepper, the city’s director of communications.

The idea of preserving history through personal narratives appealed to Mike Fiore, a high school English teacher who heard about Trasciatti’s project and offered to help.

“ I went to the door and the ocean had already breached the dunes and was rushing up the block … ”

He also felt a need to tell his own story. Sitting in a folding chair one afternoon in July, Fiore stared into the camera and began.

“I went to the door and the ocean had already breached the dunes and was rushing up the block – that was the moment I realized we probably had made a grave, grave error in staying,” he said.

One afternoon in July, four women sat together to talk about Project 11561, the new grassroots community group they launched, about their own experiences with Superstorm Sandy, and about a friendship forged by a shared sense of purpose.

Jessie Farrell, who lives near the bay, evacuated for Hurricane Irene in 2011 but stayed for Sandy.

“I remember the sound of all the car alarms going off,” she said, her voice catching. “The water kept coming up and up and it stopped literally at the front door and began to recede. But then I looked to my left and the canals were on fire.” It is the first time she has talked about that night in months, and the emotion sneaked up on her. “Wow. You don’t realize how much it still gets to you.”

Jackie Wilkinson lives on the west end, about 10 homes from the ocean. She evacuated.

“Coming back the next day, I was so afraid,” she said. “There were power lines everywhere, boats everywhere, cars everywhere … I personally had a lot of survivor’s guilt about evacuating.”

Even after more than 50 interviews, Trasciatti tears up along with her subjects. With each story she hears, Trasciatti processes her own feelings about the storm, and her decision to stay.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” she said. “It’s a lot of emotional work.”

And, after stories about her work appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, people from all over the metropolitan area reached out to her with their tales of Sandy.

A man from New Jersey sent her a long letter detailing his story. A woman from Long Beach sent a poem every day for weeks.

“People,” she said, “want someone to remember for them.”

For more information about the Long Beach Oral History project, go to longbeachsandy.org.

Dream Court Dedication Film by Phil Snyder – Interview on Opening Day

Newsday – Long Beach developing central call system

Long Beach developing central call system

By Patrick Whittle

Long Beach is developing a centralized call system city officials say will be designed to better handle residents’ requests and complaints.

The system, called Long Beach Response, will include a phone number and smartphone app that residents can use to report problems with streetlights and potholes, and inquire about issues such as building permits, officials said.

The city is rolling out the first phase of the project this month with a new system that gives residents a tracking number for their requests for service, officials said. That system will begin in the building and public works departments, and later it will be used in other departments, officials said.

The full implementation of the project will include the call center and smartphone app, but an estimated completion date has not been determined, City Manager Jack Schnirman said.

Long Beach is using existing software and staff, and donated materials for the project, and the city does not expect extra expenses, he said.

“This is a game changer in terms of efficiency and accountability,” Schnirman said. “It will make the life of a resident easier.”

Resident-call service lines exist in dozens of municipalities around the country. North Hempstead and Babylon have 311 services, for instance, and other Long Island towns, including Hempstead and Brookhaven, have similar services.

Long Beach will be able to use the new system to collect data about which services are needed in different parts of the city, Schnirman said. It also will be able to track how quickly the city responds to complaints, he said.

“The goal of this is to get answers and solutions faster,” said Gordon Tepper, a city spokesman, “and have it trackable so we can measure our progress through statistics.”

With Jennifer Barrios, Aisha Al-Muslim, Deborah S. Morris and Nicholas Spangler

Long Beach Boardwalk Film by Phil Snyder – Interview on Opening Day

The New York Times – On Long Island, Billy Crystal Assists Storm-Struck Hometown

On Long Island, Billy Crystal Assists Storm-Struck Hometown

By Patrick McGeehan

When a beach haven is struggling to recover from the devastation of a hurricane, it helps to have a famous favorite son to make a pitch.

The Jersey Shore has Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi to come to its aid. For Long Beach, N.Y., the go-to native is Billy Crystal, as a new set of tourism advertisements is about to remind TV viewers.

Mr. Crystal, born and raised in Long Beach, is the star of the first commercials that Long Island city has produced to try to attract more people to visit for a day or a weekend.

In the ads unveiled on Thursday, he describes Long Beach as a “paradise” within a 50-minute train ride of Manhattan or Brooklyn.

The $700,000 campaign is intended to help Long Beach recover from the damage it suffered when Hurricane Sandy struck in late October, destroying the 2.2-mile Boardwalk that was the city’s main attraction.

The first half-mile stretch of the rebuilt walk is scheduled to open in less than two weeks.

The city’s only emergency room was at Long Beach Medical Center, which has not reopened since the storm. The medical center’s board has resisted suggestions from the state’s health commissioner that it declare bankruptcy and merge with another hospital.

For the advertising campaign, “this is the perfect time, after the storm,” said Eileen J. Goggin, a member of the Long Beach City Council.

“A lot of people’s perception is very different from what’s going on,” she continued.

It did not help that just as Long Beach officials and Mr. Crystal’s brother Joel gathered to announce the campaign, the office of the state comptroller released an audit critical of the city’s financial management. The audit concluded that the city’s financial condition had deteriorated after years of overestimating revenue and underestimating expenses.

Gordon Tepper, a spokesman for the Long Beach government, said the two events were purely coincidental. “We weren’t trying to drown that out,” he said.

Mr. Tepper said that the audit, conducted just before the hurricane, illustrated “fiscal mismanagement of prior administrations,” and that the city’s current administration had taken steps to fix many of the problems cited. “We’re on the comeback trail both physically because of the storm and fiscally because of the inherited deficits,” he said.

Long Beach attracted a record number of visitors over the July 4 holiday weekend, Mr. Tepper said. Still, he said, the ads should help draw more people throughout the summer, which is the crucial season for many of the restaurants and shops there, as well as for the city’s two hotels.

The bulk of the cost of producing and broadcasting the ads was covered by state agencies: $500,000 came through a community development grant from Albany and $100,000 came from the Empire State Development Corporation, Mr. Tepper said. Two financial institutions, Citibank and the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, provided the rest, he said.

Mr. Crystal, 65, who has often reminisced about playing ball with his brothers in the street in front of their Long Beach home, donated his time to appear in and narrate the ads, Ms. Goggin said. He also helped raise $1 million for the city’s hurricane relief fund, matching the sum Mr. Bon Jovi recently pledged to his hometown, Sayreville, N.J. Late last year, Mr. Crystal appeared on a nationally televised benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy relief that was headlined by Mr. Springsteen and Mr. Bon Jovi.

But Ms. Goggin made clear which native son she thought deserved top billing. “It’s Billy Crystal, how much better can you get?” she said. “When you see that smile at the end of the ad, it makes you smile as well.”

Milieu Magazine – Beach Patrol

Beach Patrol

By Anna Dinger

Long Island’s beaches have undergone a lot of changes since Milieu’s last Beach Patrol. Municipalities had to kick it into high gear to prepare for the busy beach season. While there is still much that needs to be done to return things to the state we were in prior to Sandy, we’re happy to report that major repairs have been completed or are underway and most beaches are open to the public.

The first section of the Long Beach Boardwalk is scheduled to be finished by July 23rd.

“The first milestone is the 100-day mark, which is the middle of July, and by that time we will have five blocks or half a mile of the boardwalk up and running, that’s 20 percent,” says Gordon Tepper, director of communications in Long Beach.

“It’s important to note that as sections become available they will become open to the public,” says Tepper. “So, we’re not waiting for the whole 2.2 miles. Every time something is completed and ready to go we’re going to open it up.”

The entire boardwalk is expected to be completed by November. Other work is being done on the beach to ensure it is in good shape to accommodate beach-goers.

“All the sand that’s been put back on the beach has been cleaned and tested and our beaches are fantastic,” he says. “Already we’ve seen thousands of people coming and enjoying it and we anticipate many, many thousands all summer long.”

And for the first time ever, there will be a local food truck market called the ‘Shoregasboard.’

“We asked our local residents what it is that they would like to see going forward with the beach, one request that just kept coming back was, they wanted more food options,” says Tepper. “And this helps provide that.” The ‘Shoregasboard’ offers a variety of food choices like burgers, kosher deli food, barbeque and more. It also helps local businesses that had to close for repairs after the storm to get up and running again.

One local restaurant, Swingbellys, which was damaged severely during Sandy, has since reopened.

“In the wake of the storm, when their restaurant was damaged they helped the city, they provided a lot of food for people when we didn’t have any food,” says Tepper. “This is sort of a way to give back to our local businesses.”

The city is planning a wide array of activities from arts & crafts festivals to its annual International Film Festival in August. The city will also host a free summer concert series on the beach three nights a week beginning July 1st.

“We’re going to have a truly wonderful summer,” says Tepper. “All of the things that everybody has come to know and love about this city are coming back, and more.”

For the most up-to-date news on various rebuilding projects in Long Beach visit LongBeachNY.gov.

Long Island Herald – Ric Mango to kick off Long Beach summer concert series

Ric Mango to kick off Long Beach summer concert series
Local music legend coming out of retirement

By Alexandra Spychalsky

The city’s summer concert series kicks off on Monday with a special performance by local rock ‘n’ roll legend Ric Mango, who is coming out of retirement to play the show.

“Our summer concert series is an incredibly popular tradition in the city,” said City Council President Scott Mandel. “We are looking forward to many spectacular nights on the beach this summer.”

The city has 30 free concerts scheduled for July and August, ranging from rock ‘n’ roll and big-band music to a Santana tribute band. The stage will rotate to a different beach for each show, and all concerts run from 8 to 10 p.m. At the July 1 concert, the Make-a-Wish Foundation will be giving out T-shirts to the first thousand people who arrive.

“In the aftermath of Sandy, it’s going to be a little unique this summer as boardwalk construction is ongoing,” said Gordon Tepper, director of communications for the city. “The July 1 concert will be a special event; it’s the first beach concert since the storm, and we’re really excited to have Ric Mango back for one-night-only.”

Mango, 67, retired from performing last June, with a final show at the Westbury Music Fair. He said he was supposed to perform one last time in Long Beach, but couldn’t because of Hurricane Sandy.

“I felt kind of cheated out of my last performance,” he said. “Long Beach is one of my favorite places in the world. The people mean a lot to me.”

Mango grew up in Valley Stream, but said that as a kid he spent a lot of time in Long Beach, and continued to bring his own family there later on. He has been performing on the beach since 1985, and said that he was able to bring many well-known musicians and comedians down to the beach to perform with him. Mango said he had a large following in Long Beach, and is glad he will be able to properly say goodbye to his Long Beach fans.

“I was flattered and honored that [the city] called,” said Mango. “It’ll be a great way for me to end my career.”

For the city, asking Mango to perform the inaugural concert was an easy decision.

“Ric Mango has been performing in Long Beach for decades, and he’s consistently our most popular act,” said Tepper. “He loves Long Beach — he has a real connection with the people here — and I couldn’t think of anybody that would be more appropriate to kick off this summer concert series.”

Mango said that he got his start singing when he was just three-years-old. His uncle would take him from bar to bar in Brooklyn, and he would sing for the patrons. He gained entrance into performing arts school by winning a singing contest, and by 14, he had inked his first record deal.

In 1962, when Mango was 15, he joined the rock ‘n’ roll group Jay and the Americans, and his career took off. The band was popular in the ‘60s, and was known for hits like “She Cried,” and “Come a Little Bit Closer.” Mango said they even opened for the Beatles when they came to the U.S. Even though he had solo projects as well, he continued to perform with the group for decades.

“There was a time when I could say, ‘you don’t know me, but you mother loved me,’” said Mango. “Now it’s, ‘you don’t know me, but your grandmother loved me.”

After 57 years, Mango said he decided to retire from performing due to health problems. But he gladly came out of retirement for Long Beach.

“It’s been a great life and a great run,” said Mango. “But everyone has to know when their time is up.”

IABC Long Island – Achievement in Communications Award


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