Mayor Joe Mancini Returns with an Update from Long Beach Township, NJ | Local Control
Mayor Mancini faces summer season #2 in the Covid era.
Host Peter Ravella checks in with Mayor Joe Mancini of Long Beach New Jersey about how his beach town is faring after more than a year of dealing with COVID-19. The town of 8,500 is set to welcome a summer population of 100,000 visitors. That's good for business but presents its own special risks even as the pandemic appears to wane. With a year of experience, Mayor Mancini seems better prepared to handle the summer onslaught. Businesses have adapted, some have thrived, and so far, no local outbreaks have occurred. Will the good fortune continue? A fascinating conversation from the front lines of the pandemic on the American shoreline. Always grounded, always in-depth, it's the Local Control Podcast on ASPN.
Peter Ravella 0:00
Hello, everybody, this is Peter Ravella. I'm host of the local control podcast on the American shoreline Podcast Network. The show that brings you first hand perspectives from local government officials around the American shoreline. And we're going back to visit our favorite Mayor on the New Jersey coast. Joe Mancini from Long Beach Township, New Jersey. Joe was on a couple of times last year talking about the preparation going into the summer season of COVID. And how that year kind of unfolded last year. So we're going to talk to Joe again and see how things are looking going into the 2021 tourism season on the Jersey Shore. So before we dive into that, a couple of messages from our sponsor,
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Peter Ravella 1:39
Well, Joe, pleasure to have you back on the the local control podcasts on the American show live Podcast Network. Thanks for taking time out of running the town. Talk to us.
Joe Mancini 1:50
Thanks, Peter for having me back. Pleasure.
Peter Ravella 1:53
Well, Joe the jersey shore, one of the most popular shorelines in in America highly visited you've been the mayor for a long time your family has a deep history in Long Beach Township. How did you do last year? How was summer 2020 with the COVID pandemic circulating around the country. How did you do last year Joe?
Joe Mancini 2:19
Well, the town in general in Long Beach island was we were really overcrowded. So we had everybody out of the you know, there's a New York City, Philadelphia, vacationing on Long Beach Island. Because as you know, when you cross the bridge onto an island, the virus ceases to exist in the line. So we were mopped it, it all worked out. Well. We had pre planned for restaurants, how to open. We gave him a two month Head Start. And they all opened on June 1 with outside seating and tense and it worked out great. Actually. We created a nightmare. Nobody wants to eat inside anymore. So moving on to this summer. We're just going to continue the same format that we had last summer. So the outside seating was a real winner. And we didn't lose any businesses per se. During the pandemic it was it was a very strong down here business wise.
Peter Ravella 3:30
Well, you know, if you looked at your local sales taxes or or other indicators of spending in the town, did the town budget take a hit last year? Or did it look like you guys maintained your tourism economy level? historic wait.
Joe Mancini 3:46
Yeah, we we maintained? We were fine. Actually our beach badge sales were up about 15%. We don't have a local sales tax. So I can't monitor that. But okay, I know, rentals. Home rentals were very strong. The hotels were a little hit and miss because people were still very wary about you know, how do we get into a motel who was there before? Whereas if you rent a house, you know, it's it's really clean? Well, in your you're pretty much with the same, you know, with your family or friends in that house for a week or two. So, yeah, hotels are a little spotty, but everybody else was great.
Peter Ravella 4:32
I know that the last year when you were talking about outdoor dining, there was a decision made by the town I think to close some streets and to allow the restaurants to spill out a little bit. Did that actually take place in? I assume it worked out?
Joe Mancini 4:47
Yeah, everything worked fine. We didn't actually have to close any streets. But what we did was we allowed them to put the seating out in their parking lots and on the public sidewalk. And it really worked out. Well, everybody. Like I said, we created a monster this year. Nobody wants to eat inside.
Peter Ravella 5:07
Well, it's nice. I got to tell you when the weather's pretty and the air is nice and the seabreeze is great, and you know, you get a little sunshine. It's a great way to. Yeah, it's a great, it's a great way it puts people on the street, little more interaction a little more pedestrian.
Joe Mancini 5:23
Yeah, it was good. It was good. It was excellent. And we didn't have any true outbreaks. And there were all kinds of isolated situations. So we were, we were everybody was social distancing. Everybody was behaving. Except for at nights at nights. We had some problems with our younger visitors, the 14 to 18 year olds, we had a curfew when because all of a sudden they they would do a flash mob somewhere at 10 o'clock, and it'd be 250. Wow, young people. Nobody's social distancing. And, and just giving, you know, they're just raising hell.
Peter Ravella 6:11
Yeah. 15 to 18 year olds at the beach, at the beach, the recipe for you know, I don't know about to acting out. But certainly, you know, not paying attention to the rules is sort of what it's like when you're in that point in your life.
Joe Mancini 6:24
Yeah. And the neighbors, you know, get a little shocked when they see that amount of people walking down the street at 910 o'clock at night. So we work through it. Everybody behaved by the time Labor Day came. So we were good. Everything worked.
Peter Ravella 6:40
That sounds great. And I think you mentioned that, that the short term rentals. I know going into summer of last year, the town was considering restrictions on short term rentals, and trying to maybe reduce the amount of people coming into the community. How did your short term rental policy work last year? And what are you planning to do in 2021?
Joe Mancini 7:05
Well, last year, we had a problem with Airbnb, where people were coming down for three days. And we didn't know where they were coming from. We had you know, everybody was supposed to shelter in place, and all of a sudden, our neighborhoods were just loaded. Like I said, people, you know, always believe you're at the shore, there are no problems or no virus, anything of that nature. So it was a it was a real problem. It was very tough to enforce. It actually was almost impossible to enforce. Because there's 18,000 ohms on the island. And, you know, the to have our police officers drive around and check tags. It was just absolutely impossible, right. But it was there. And we did enforce it when when a particular home became problematic. So we had some teeth and enforcement. So it worked out that way. This year, we're not changing. Anything. Short term rentals really have not been an issue since last spring. So the summer rentals are as normal that are one week rentals. And they're don't I mean, this place is going to be full again this summer.
Peter Ravella 8:22
Well, when you say it's full, I think if I remember right, the population of the town somewhere in the neighborhood of 6000. But in the summertime, your population is in the 10s of 1000s. tell our audience a little bit about what's the normal population and what you get when when it's fully blowing and going in the summertime. Yeah,
Joe Mancini 8:42
we're about we're up to about 8500 year round. Okay. And by June 15, The island has, we're pushing 70 to 80,000 people, you know, on a nightly but you know, daily basis. With with the day traffic coming over to us to beach, we have another 15 to 20,000 people. So we push up to 100,000 days. Now what happened during the pandemic was our 8500 grew to about 30,000 on a full time basis in that right? Yeah, quite frankly, we did not have the personnel as a municipality and a police force to gear up that quick. And our local businesses like the biggest store on the island is an Acme food market. In a winter time they have 35 employees and a summer they have over 200 so we couldn't nobody could find help with nobody. I mean, we just couldn't gear up quick enough. For example, our township in a wintertime we have about 125 employees. In a summer we have over 500 so it's Wow. And we gear up for June 15. But, you know, in the last spring, going into the summer, he just can't like flip on a switch and hire 400 people.
Peter Ravella 10:12
They came early the town to towns, employment quadruples in order to handle that huge summer surge. But with with COVID, you're saying that people escaped the city came down and started living permanently in the town from 8500, maybe to 30,000 people resident before the summer season. That's a big change. And a big challenge, I would think for the mayor and the Council and the police and everybody else, he's got to get a run the services for the city.
Joe Mancini 10:44
Yeah, Peter. They are not arbitrary numbers, either. The month of I think it was April, March, or April of last year. We had 20,000 cars. That more that came on each island then left. So Wow. You know, you figure one and a half to two people on a car. You know, the 30,000 might be really conservative number days. Yeah, I mean, looking at the food markets. There shelves roll bear. And TP was worth more than bitcoins back then.
Peter Ravella 11:23
We should have all been investors, we could have just gotten an 18 Wheeler hauled it over there and made a big buck.
in absolutely, Scott. Absolutely. But well, Mayor after after a year of running a beach town in in the COVID. Era, are you are you are you still standing? Are you happy to be the mayor or are you? How are you? How you doing personally? How's the council and everybody getting along? Are you guys did to come through it? Okay.
Joe Mancini 11:54
Yo, yeah, yeah, we have. We have a three person commission form of government. And the three of us. I've been married for 13 years now. And we've never had anything but a unanimous vote on anything. Great. You know, yeah, we've really worked together great. And, you know, we negotiate our differences before we go out into the public. And so, you know, we're professional. One of my commissioners, or our commissioners is a radiation oncologist. So he is a, you know, he would do our local podcasts on how, you know, give us the real down and dirty on the virus how to act. Answer questions. So our our residents were Wetteland very well informed. That's
Peter Ravella 12:46
Joe Mancini 12:47
Oh, yeah. Yeah. So we, you know, we're a part time group here. But last year was, I spent more time here than I did in my business. So, but it was fine. It worked out well, and as well as can be expected, and I can't we kind of surprised ourselves, we we got thrown.
Peter Ravella 13:09
away we go. Congratulations. I know that when we talked last May, when you were on the local control podcast, there was some concern that you know that it's an older resident population, I think the median age is 60. Plus, there was concern about the health of the resident population, whether the virus would spread within the town through the visitors, obviously, that did not occur doesn't sound like that problem arose for you guys.
Joe Mancini 13:36
And now we were, we were fine. We have a local health department that you know, we, our average age is the highest that Long Beach township and highest of all municipalities in the state were 66 years old. Wow. The average resident if you went down to beach in the summertime, it'd be 22 years old, but the actual year round. Like I said, we kept everybody informed. Our phones were always available. We always took calls. And you know, we did food delivery service free. We had a lot of volunteers doing different things. And just in general, just everybody was being a good neighbor. So it, you know, it worked out it was you know, it was difficult. It was challenging. But I'm going to see 99.5% of us survived and Yeah, well, looking forward. Everybody's getting vaccinated, and hopefully that works. And we hit herd immunity and let's get back to normal.
Peter Ravella 14:43
Yeah, we're on the way. I've had my first one and next week, I'll get the second dose. I'm doing the Pfizer routine and really looking forward to, to getting that and having the ability to travel. I'm looking forward to getting down to the Texas coast when I get that vaccine. So Yeah, absolutely seems to be working out.
Joe Mancini 15:03
Yeah, New Jersey. We don't. We don't really know what's happening yet as far as like a vaccine card. But I think that's going to going to be very important for travel and everything. What are they doing in Texas? Are they?
Peter Ravella 15:19
At this point, I think at this point, not much interest in the state and having sort of vaccination documentation as part of travel. It does seem to make sense when you're pulling people together in big crowds. The peace of mind you would get from knowing that everyone at this event is vaccinated just lets everybody relax a little bit. It would seem to me and maybe have a better time.
Joe Mancini 15:44
Yeah, absolutely. And that's what we're finding. You know, everybody that I know that has been fully vaccinated are finally going out to dinner again and life's you can tell who's had the vaccination. They're smiling again. Great. Yeah, it's good. As my wife says, you know, she finally she doesn't have to wash the dishes a couple nights a week, we're out finally getting out again. And yeah, it's refreshing. You forget how much you miss it.
Peter Ravella 16:16
It absolutely. As I my wife and I, we've, this is our third Wednesday last night with three Wednesdays in row tried to get out. And I have to say, I've missed it. It is very nice not to have to cook and do the dishes every night. You know, when we get the second one? I think it'll be we'll be back back to normal. Mayor when you're looking up and down the Jersey Shore, and are you in communication with other local leaders and and how have the How have you guys fared compared to the other jersey shore? beach towns? Do you have a feel for how the rest of the the, the local governments are doing these days?
Unknown Speaker 16:59
Joe Mancini 17:01
We are in touch. And I feel that that the majority, majority of the beach towns survived very well. The ones that had boardwalks and amusement rides, which we don't have. They were a little bit challenged because of the you know, the density and the occupancy of you know, how many people on a ride and all that. Yep. But then we had other problems, too, where in the towns I've had to boardwalks, a lot of allow you to grab a drink and walk on a boards together and are too many people congregating and, you know, sometimes the local police can be a little overzealous. And then, you know, when drinking is involved, yeah, you have some problems, you're gonna get some heated arguments. We didn't have that. We don't have boardwalks. It's just, you know, the tallest building in our islands, three storeys high. So it's really a residential area. But when you get down in Atlantic City, or Wildwood or even Ocean City, there's a denser population. And those towns are known for their partying or gambling. Yeah, you know, you go there to kind of just hang out and and kind of lose it. You want to go party, and that's where they go, let that was very challenging. But in all, What amazed me the most is, how few businesses were lost. People survived.
Peter Ravella 18:43
Yeah, that's, that's a great news and a great testament to the communities and the business owners and the patrons really who responsibly, you know, kept these businesses going. It's really important to these, these beach towns are built on small business, especially a town like long beach where you've got a lot of locally owned establishments and to see them come through this has got to be gratifying for everybody in town.
Joe Mancini 19:12
Yeah, the, like I said, the, the methodology that we proposed in the spring of 2020, was talking to different individual restaurant owners. And I said, Look, if you have 12, waiters, waitresses, this year you're going, you'll have four, and the rest of them, have them deliver. And that's what it's all going to be about. And instead of waiting on a table for an hour and a half and getting a tip every time you drop off a food package, you're going to get a tip and everybody's going to make more money. And that's exactly what happened. Well, that makes people smile. Yeah, absolutely. Nothing better than having a nice meal delivered to your front steps. And yeah,
Peter Ravella 19:57
I've gotten used to that.
you know, mayor has that what's the how's your beach luck? What's the condition of your shoreline these days,
Joe Mancini 20:06
the beach right now is, is about a little bit below average we had a couple northeasterners that really scoured the beach. And where we are due for a beach replenishment in 2022. Which is, I doubt very much if that's going to happen. I don't believe the Washington is going to have any money left after you know all these bailout packages or whatever you want to call them. So we're just, we're just, we have dozers on a beach every day, at low tide pushing sand back up where it belongs and won't be ready by summer. You know, we're going to be in real good shape, but we can't count on any federal or state assistance. This year, everybody, it appears the government's are all
Peter Ravella 20:55
broke, is that right? And so, you know, the Jersey Shore is one of the most intensely managed State Beach shorelines out there. In terms of the number of shoreline restoration projects that are undertaken. When was your last one that
Joe Mancini 21:13
the last one was four and a half, five years ago and in one section in our southern section, okay. And unfortunately, they really didn't have the opportunity to finish it. Because when March 1 comes, we have a a wildlife sanctuary on the southern tip and the piping plovers come back. They're endangered. So right, therefore, we can't have any work within 1000 meters of that area. So they had to stop it. Like two weeks, two weeks shorter, completed completing. And we never kind of caught up in that section of our town. But it's Yeah. We'll get through it.
Peter Ravella 22:01
Are you? Are you in communicate? And these are US Army Corps of Engineers led projects, aren't they?
Joe Mancini 22:07
Peter Ravella 22:09
And are you still are you guys in communication with the Corps of Engineers about what's coming down the pike for you? or?
Joe Mancini 22:17
Yeah, actually, the the head guys in our air that they're out of the Philadelphia district office, okay. They're my friends. I mean, after all these years, we're friends. Yep, we communicate by cell phone, you know, so everybody is on the same page. They quite frankly, really don't know. Everybody's kind of in limbo here with the change of administration. Right. You know, with the COVID. With all the bailout projects, Washington is heading in a different direction. So we don't know what funding is going to be left, if any?
Peter Ravella 22:53
Yeah, I think it's it doesn't seem clear to us whether the Corps of Engineers short protection budget is going to be expanded are not the last word of Bill and the appropriations were, were pretty solid and consistent with past practice. But yeah, change of administration new priorities, a little hard to know. Yeah. And your friends at the Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia district haven't haven't lined the project up for you at the moment. It doesn't sound like
Joe Mancini 23:25
No, they haven't. They're doing a lot of backbase studies. We said about three miles out in the ocean, on an average in our back bays are becoming problematic. We have, you know, sea sea level rise, and so they protected the ocean front with the dune infrastructure. Right. So on the base side, now, we were starting to raise our bulkheads. And a lot of our sewage islands are starting to disappear. Wow. And so you know, it's their priorities have shifted also.
Peter Ravella 24:03
Yeah, that Back Bay flooding issue is a real one area islands around the American shoreline, but certainly in the New Jersey area, we we've read and heard a lot about it. And you can't just contend with the sea level rise on the beach front, you have to concern yourself with the backside of the island as well.
Joe Mancini 24:22
Yeah, exactly. And we are everybody is addressing it. We're raising all the bulkhead levels on our street ends. You know, that's that sort of thing and we're gearing up instead of going out to bid on a lot of projects, ball cutting and whatnot. I hired we hired people that are ball cutters, so they're full time on our, you know, on our salaries and stuff. So we're creating different divisions to address these because of where we are. The state of New Jersey you have to pay prevailing wage. It's a very union oriented state. Yep. And when you put a bulkhead out to bid the pitcher coming in at $1,000 A lineal foot, yeah. Yeah, we can do it in house for about 350 400. Wow. Yeah. So I mean, it's, we just can't afford going out to bid all the time. So good
Peter Ravella 25:24
fiscal management for the town in housing that it can because it's it's fairly straightforward construction something a City Public Works team can handle.
Joe Mancini 25:34
Yeah, and I'm a developer Shama good supervisor.
Peter Ravella 25:40
So it sounds like your beach is in reasonably good shape. Your businesses survived the first year of COVID. The town kind of got its policy house in order. And it sounds like you're set for a good simmer season. Are you are, are you geared up? Are you ready to go? Do you have your lifeguard yet? Are we still a ways away from fully staffing up your lifeguard team?
Joe Mancini 26:05
Well, that yeah, that that is probably our our only problem. We hire 185 lifeguards. We've got the one of the biggest in on eastern seaboard. And the problem is we have a lot of them that come from Australia, Eastern Europe. Really, they're not coming this year because of the shelter in place and mountain movement. You know, it's two weeks in and two weeks out, right? It's, it was so tough to get. lifeguards and we bought last year, we closed on a 22 unit motel to housel.
Peter Ravella 26:49
Joe Mancini 26:50
Yeah. Because the only way you can keep and and to, you know, to get them and get them to come in is you have to have affordable housing for okay. So we put two people in a room and everything worked out last year was our first year. This year. We were expecting a group from Australia, but they can't get out.
Peter Ravella 27:12
Now. Mayor I got asked what's going on with American young people that they're not taking these jobs on? I mean, spending the summer on the jersey short and you provide are you providing this housing to them for free? these hotels mean they're doubled up? But they got to pay a little bit? Yeah. To live?
Joe Mancini 27:30
Yeah, we make them pay $100 a week. Okay. Yeah. So it's nothing, you know, it's it's really nothing. And everybody. I mean, we had a waiting list last year, everybody wanted to come in. I mean, I mean, who wouldn't want to live with for 40 other lifeguards? I mean, you want to talk about a continuous party.
Peter Ravella 27:52
Now is I? Okay. I want to know more about it. How much? How much? Because it seems I mean, come on. This is a great summer job. You're at the beach place to stay where people come from Australia and Eastern Europe to lifeguard on American beaches. It's better than the college summer jobs I had when I worked in the oil fields on oil rigs, which is nasty and terrible. And there were no girls in bikinis. Let me tell you that. You know, I just think it's a better gig. So what does it pay? What is your lifeguards make?
Joe Mancini 28:26
Well, they start at 150 a day. 150 bucks a day. And you know, the ones that have been with us a while you know they're in the 12 to 15 $100 a week range. Oh, come on. Yeah, it's great money. The biggest problem The reason we have 185 lat lifeguards show up the biggest problem in in America today is on August 15. I lose I'm down about 60 lifeguards back to college. Yeah, whatever. Yeah, yeah. So yeah, he's a labor guy. And now it's August 15. Yeah. You know, our tourists are still here. So I have 50 we have 53 guarded beaches. And you know we get down to the end of August I've got one person watching a beach while shooting a beach and it's Yeah,
Peter Ravella 29:17
don't you think when they when they started school early that rec summer when we were kids right? I mean yeah. Having summer last till Labor Day was that's what you started after Labor Day.
Joe Mancini 29:29
That was the norm that was nor nor
Peter Ravella 29:32
who got ahold of that situation and wrecked our summers for us. But
Joe Mancini 29:37
yeah, I mean, even you know now now the football teams and stuff. Start August 15. We never had that. We showed up first day class got our gear and played football right.
Peter Ravella 29:48
The good old days when American made more sad. So are you Yeah, what what do you have for reelection?
Joe Mancini 29:58
Well, I was just reelected Last year digits. Yeah. So I'm in my fourth term.
Peter Ravella 30:04
How'd you How'd you do? What was your?
Joe Mancini 30:06
We were on a post. So I would tell you when
Peter Ravella 30:09
handling the town is so well run, there's just isn't any reason for anybody to run against you. That's a good sign.
Joe Mancini 30:18
Well, why would anybody want to run for public office during a pandemic?
Peter Ravella 30:23
It's it's, you know, local government. Officials are on the front lines. And it is a tough job. anybody thinks, you know, it's all gravy and fun when you're in public office? Hasn't been around it, because it's a difficult and challenging job all the time. I assume when you walk into the grocery store, if anybody's got a complaint, they're going to tell you about it. You're on every day.
Joe Mancini 30:52
You got it. You have everybody. I'm not sure. Which is, which is good. It is good. I prefer I prefer they might tell everybody, I prefer you to call me or come in and see me, as opposed to getting up at a public meeting. And yeah, you know, airing your laundry.
Peter Ravella 31:08
Joe Mancini 31:09
And that's what we do. We have an open door policy and our meetings, our public meetings last about 15 minutes, because everybody's informed and you have a problem we just come in.
Peter Ravella 31:19
That's kind of remarkable. I don't think I've ever talked to any local government official who's told me that they've been in office for I think, multiple years and said they've never had anything but a unanimous decision in a in your on your commission or your counsel, that that means you're doing a lot of communicating and a lot of work, as you said, understanding the issues. Before you before you put it to a vote and doing the groundwork.
Joe Mancini 31:46
Absolutely. If you have we all have differences and we negotiate a lot, you know, during our you know, close caucus meetings, and you know, we come to an agreement, sometimes, you know, I have to give sometimes they have to give and sometimes we only have to give in, but you come out on a united front. And that's what people want to see. They don't see pink green.
Peter Ravella 32:09
Yeah, keep it running.
Joe Mancini 32:11
Yeah. If they want to see bekkering they can talk to their teenagers right.
Peter Ravella 32:16
Or turn on cable news. I don't watch cable news.
Joe Mancini 32:22
I've watched so much Netflix. I can't even watch the news anywhere.
Peter Ravella 32:27
Well, Mayor, it's a pleasure to get an update from you. And you're always welcome back. I'd love to check in again later in the summer and see how it's all unfolding. But it seems like the house is in good shape. And you're ready to go for the summer. And I wish you all the very best up there on the Jersey Shore in the 2021 tourism season.
Joe Mancini 32:46
Yeah, thanks, Peter. And anytime give us a call. Appreciate it. You guys just be safe and have a good summer coming up.
Peter Ravella 32:53
We share Well ladies and gentlemen. It's Mary Jo man seanie from the great township of Long Beach, New Jersey, and one of the one of the great mayors on the American shoreline and pleasure to have you on the local control podcast.