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Philadelphia Union soccer player Kai Wagner, left, and New York City FC soccer player Heber Araujo compete for the ball during the MLS is Back tournament at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

AP top story
Ready to return, 4,000 Atlantic City casino workers told no

ATLANTIC CITY — After 3½ months of being out of work amid the coronavirus outbreak, thousands of Atlantic City casino workers got the call they had been waiting for: It was time to go back to work.

But less than three days before they were set to return, another call came: New Jersey’s governor decided indoor dining was still too risky to allow, and casinos could not reopen their restaurants and bars. Nor could they serve drinks or food indoors.

And just like that, about 4,000 people who thought they had jobs again did not.

“I wanted this nightmare to go away,” said Mineli Polanco, a costumed beverage server at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. “That first call was such a relief: Things were going back to normal. Then the second call came, and it was a new nightmare.”

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, ordered Atlantic City’s nine casinos shut March 16. He set July 2 as the reopening date. But on June 29, he said the virus risk was still too high to allow indoor dining.

The casinos scrambled to make new plans, including what Ron Baumann, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, called the “excruciatingly difficult” task of laying off people for a second time.

“It was devastating,” said Jeffery Payne, a server in the VIP lounge at Caesars Atlantic City. “There was enough anxiety already in life without this back-and-forth. You’re ready to go back, and then you don’t go. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you get the rug pulled out from under you.”

Many workers expressed concern about safety and health conditions once they return to work, but all said they need to get back on the job as soon as possible.

Mario Guzman, a restaurant server at Borgata, was among a group of workers that rejoiced when they got to call to come back to work.

“Everyone was cheering and texting each other,” he said. “Then we found out Borgata wasn’t going to open.”

Borgata is the only one of Atlantic City’s nine casinos that chose not to reopen under the restrictions imposed by the state, saying it couldn’t serve its guests the way it wanted to under those limitations. No reopening date has been set.

“It’s like you’re disposable,” Guzman said. “You feel like a straw: Sip on it, and when you don’t need it anymore, throw it away.”

There were 26,450 people working full or part time in Atlantic City casinos in March just before the shutdown. As few as a third of those were recalled to work last week as the casinos were restricted to 25% of capacity.

Many workers do not blame the casinos for their continued unemployment, realizing the gambling halls are responding to state-imposed health restrictions beyond their control. But they do worry about health benefits running out eventually, even as some companies have extended benefits temporarily.

“Borgata is eager to welcome our employees and guests back as soon as possible,” casino President Melonie Johnson said in a statement. “We have new health and safety protocols in place and have been working hard to make sure that we can provide our guests with the world-class experience that they expect from Borgata, consistent with the governor‘s directives.”

Caesars Entertainment declined to comment other than to note it has extended health insurance for laid-off workers enrolled in company plans through the end of the month. Borgata’s coverage extends through Aug. 31.

Payne relies heavily on the $600 supplemental federal unemployment that expires at the end of this month.

“When that runs out, this community is going to be devastated,” he said.

The still-unemployed workers have had to sacrifice for months. Movie nights are a distant memory. So are shopping trips and favorite meals.

“Every other week, we would take a trip to Trenton to this place that makes this special kind of fried chicken that is so delicious,” Guzman said. “No more. We can’t afford chicken right now. We eat a lot of rice and beans.”

“I don’t want to cry,” he said. “I want to be strong around my kids, and I don’t want to look like a victim. But we need to get back to work.”

GALLERY: Atlantic City casinos reopen after COVID-19 shutdown


top story
COVID-19 mask mandate: 'No-brainer' or 'very divisive'?

Walking on the Atlantic City Boardwalk last week, Valeria Marcus said she saw only a mother and her daughter wearing masks. The majority of people were barefaced.

“I personally find it very offensive, walking in the store or down the street, people fishing, people in a crowd not wearing their masks,” said Marcus, a city resident. “I think that’s wrong. I think you should respect other people.”

Not everyone shares Marcus’ view.

Ventnor resident Beverly Burns said she had panic attacks from a face covering blocking her breathing during a recent grocery shopping trip.

“I’m not worried about the virus, because I stay away from people,” Burns said, recalling a woman sneezing on the beach recently. “Let me tell you the heads that snapped around. It was almost comical.”

Disputes over mask mandates have raged throughout the country as more officials require them, following the lead of experts who argue face coverings mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The disagreements have turned a public health issue political as people divide into two groups: those who wear masks and those who have been dubbed “antimaskers.”

Supporters of the mandates say it’s a common-sense move to control the spread of a deadly disease, while those who oppose it call it an infringement on personal rights that can divide a community, arguing the severity of the new coronavirus is closer to that of the flu.

But health officials have been clear — masks are one of the only defenses against a disease for which there is no vaccine, proven therapeutics or cure, and has so far claimed the lives of more than 13,000 New Jerseyans, with more than 400 of those fatalities coming from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

New Jersey has mandated masks outside where social distancing is not possible. Was this the right move?

Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed an executive order requiring face coverings outside when social distancing isn’t possible — with limited exceptions — to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, joining California, Connecticut, New York and several other states. Murphy cited a “backslide in compliance” in the state and around the country as a reason for the mandate.

Violations of the order are considered disorderly persons offenses, which carry up to six months in jail, a maximum $1,000 fine or both.

Murphy said not wearing a mask is “an act of selfishness.”

“Trust me, this virus doesn’t care what political party you belong to,” Murphy said during a briefing Wednesday announcing the details of the order. “It doesn’t care what you may or may not think about masking up. It doesn’t care about you or your family. It frankly just wants to kill you and move on to the next victim. It does care, however, if you wear a mask.”

During that same briefing, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said face coverings, social distancing, staying home when sick, good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette are “all we have” in the fight against the disease.

“Wearing a face covering or mask has been shown to dramatically decrease the release of droplets from people’s mouths, which can carry infectious particles,” she said. “Studies have demonstrated that masks are an important barrier to the transmission of respiratory viruses.”

Jessica Formento, of North Cape May in Lower Township, said the mandate “seems like common sense” and “a no-brainer.”

“I do think it’s just common decency,” said Formento, who suffers from asthma and has been strict about her own mask-wearing for months. “It doesn’t make any sense that people are up in arms about it.”

Why wouldn’t people want to protect themselves and their community, or a community they’re visiting, Formento asked, citing the crowds on Cape May’s Washington Street Mall.

“If you’re outside and can’t distance yourself, wear a mask,” she said.

But Murphy has been inconsistent with his stance on masks, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said, citing the multiple police brutality protests that have drawn hundreds together all over the state in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.

“Social distancing and masks are either required or they’re not,” Levinson said. “There’re mixed signals there. I do believe that’s why he’s been having difficulty with enforcement. I think that message should be made clear.”

Most people he’s seen have been wearing masks, he said, noting that enforcement with be tough.

“If you leave people to their devices, they’re going to speed, they’re going to jaywalk,” he said, adding that people react because of consequences.

“I do know one thing: I wear a mask,” Levinson said, and his family does as well. “It’s something that we choose to do and it’s the right thing, but I also go the speed limit.”

But Burns said the mandate was “stepping on our rights a little too much” and could lead to community members trying to police each other.

“It’s very divisive,” she said. “This country is divided enough without making it more so.”

Marcus said Murphy’s mandate is coming too late.

“I think the governor should have done this in the very beginning. I think he waited too late,” she said, adding the state should be giving free masks to residents who can’t afford them. “This is July. It should have happened around April.”

Quick, strange summer storm leaves devastation for Upper farmer

UPPER TOWNSHIP — Tony Castagna grew up farming a small plot of land between Dennisville-Petersburg Road and Cedar Swamp Creek in the Petersburg section of the township, the same land his grandfather started farming a little over a century ago.

But he had never seen anything like this.

While a powerful storm tore toward the coast on the afternoon of July 1, clearing beaches and flooding streets, Castagna and his neighbors were pelted with the largest hailstones he ever saw.

The falling ice ripped through his plants and gathered in drifts on porches.

“It lasted about 20 minutes,” he said. “In that time, it just about destroyed everything I’d been working on for the past seven months.”

Castagna operates Tony’s Farm Market on Route 610, also known as Dennisville-Petersburg Road, connecting Tuckahoe Road to the historic village of Dennisville. Along the way, the road is lined with woods, farms, sand mining operations and a few neighborhoods.

Castagna said his father started the roadside market, which offers Jersey produce from his farm and others in the region. He hopes his beans will recover from the storm damage, and he may be able to salvage some of the corn, but his tomatoes and peppers took a beating.

“I had the prettiest pepper patch you’ve ever seen,” he said. He’s been growing peppers on the property since he was a child, he said, suggesting you can take his word for it that it was starting out as a good year.

Now, it looks more like a neat line of green twigs with a few leaves. The falling ice broke stems and stripped the leaves and young peppers from the plants, as it did with the tomato plants nearby. It’s too late to replant for this year.

“It’s too late in the season,” he said. Castagna makes his living off the tiny outside market. This year, he will have to rely on fruits and vegetables purchased from other farms.

“I don’t have a side job,” he said.

The storm also tore apart a shade he used at the stand and did other damage.

A neighbor on Tuckahoe Road, Bill Eisele, said he saw hail the size of golf balls falling.

“Our garden is really chewed up,” he said. His grandson, Luke Eisele, put in about $300 worth of plants this year, and lost them all. But a short way down the road at Petersburg United Methodist Church, there was plenty of rain but little or no hail or damage.

“If you went a quarter-mile away, it was a lot different,” said Bill Simmerman, owner of Misty Meadow sheep dairy, less than 1,000 feet from Tony’s Farm Market. “We were devastated, too.”

The hail damaged buildings, dented steel roofs and demolished crops. He said he was relieved no animals were injured. He has sheep and goats on the farm. In one instance, the wind picked up a goat shelter with a goat inside, but the animal walked out when it landed again.

“It looked like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Simmerman said.

It’s already been a tough year, he said, because camps and events planned at the farm needed to be canceled because of the pandemic. Other neighbors described damage to vehicles and downed branches.

“My truck looked like somebody dropped a load of gravel on it,” Simmerman said. He and Castagna described huge, jagged pieces of hail, and Castagna showed photos of what appeared to be a planter full of ice, which he described as looking ready for a keg. The plants inside were destroyed.

Hail is more common in the spring and fall, said Nick Carr, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, but large hail like what slammed Petersburg is actually more common in summer.

The process is complex, he said, but in simple terms, hail forms as ice in the high atmosphere. Sometimes, water accumulates on the pieces as it falls, and they too can freeze if the updraft is strong enough to push the pieces where the air is cold enough.

In spring and fall, Carr said, it is rare for storms to have enough strength to repeatedly push the ice pieces back to the higher elevations before they fall.

In a video Castagna posted to Facebook, large balls of hail can be seen splashing in his icy, flooded driveway. Filming from the safety of his garage, he said the falling ice tore everything to shreds as ice accumulated on the nearby roof.

The service had reports of hail the size of nickels and dimes near Ocean City that day, he said. Castagna said some of the pieces were the size of baseballs. Carr said that would be extremely unusual in New Jersey. Viewing the video, some were clearly larger than quarters.

It seems like the storm was much more intense in the small area of Upper Township.

“That’s not super uncommon,” Carr said. Sometimes the effects of a storm can be extremely localized.

Castagna described intense wind from one direction, then a pause followed by strong wind from the opposite direction. The rain was also intense, he said, rapidly turning his fields into mud.

Other neighbors said the air temperature dropped about 20 minutes in a short time. Friends and supporters of Castagna have taken to social media to call on people to visit his stand in the coming weeks, while one neighbor has set up a GoFundMe page to help Castagna recover some of his costs.

On July 9th, the Wildwood High School Commencement was held at the Maxwell Athletic field on Park Blvd in Wildwood.

No peeking, voters: Court keeps Trump taxes private for now

WASHINGTON — Rejecting President Donald Trump’s complaints that he’s being harassed, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of a New York prosecutor’s demands for the billionaire president’s tax records. But in good political news for Trump, his taxes and other financial records almost certainly will be kept out of the public eye at least until after the November election.

In a separate case, the justices kept a hold on banking and other documents about Trump, family members and his businesses that Congress has been seeking for more than a year. The court said that while Congress has significant power to demand the president’s personal information, it is not limitless.

The court turned away the broadest arguments by Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the tax records. But it is unclear when a lower court judge might order the Manhattan district attorney’s subpoena to be enforced.

Trump is the only president in modern times who has refused to make his tax returns public, and before he was elected he promised to release them. He didn’t embrace Thursday’s outcome as a victory even though it is likely to prevent his opponents in Congress from obtaining potentially embarrassing personal and business records ahead of Election Day.

In fact, the increasing likelihood that a grand jury will eventually get to examine the documents drove the president into a public rage. He lashed out declaring that “It’s a pure witch hunt, it’s a hoax” and calling New York, where he has lived most of his life, “a hellhole.”

The documents have the potential to reveal details on everything from possible misdeeds to the true nature of the president’s vaunted wealth — not to mention uncomfortable disclosures about how he’s spent his money and how much he’s given to charity.

The rejection of Trump’s claims of presidential immunity marked the latest instance where his broad assertion of executive power has been rejected.

Trump’s two high court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the majority in both cases along with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices. Roberts wrote both opinions.

“Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers. The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns,” Roberts wrote in the congressional case.

But Roberts also wrote that Trump was asking for too much. “The standards proposed by the President and the Solicitor General—if applied outside the context of privileged information—would risk seriously impeding Congress in carrying out its responsibilities,” the chief justice wrote.

The ruling returns the congressional case to lower courts, with no clear prospect for when it might ultimately be resolved.

Promising to keep pressing the case in the lower courts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday’s decision “is not good news for President Trump.”

“The Court has reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement.

The tax returns case also is headed back to a lower court. Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, holds the tax returns and has indicated it would comply with a court order. Because the grand jury process is confidential, Trump’s taxes normally would not be made public.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said his investigation, on hold while the court fight played out, will now resume.

“This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one — not even a president — is above the law, “ Vance said said.

Even with his broadest arguments rejected, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer, said he was pleased that the “Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President’s financial records. We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who dissented with Justice Clarence Thomas in both cases, warned that future presidents would suffer because of the decision about Trump’s taxes.

“While the decision will of course have a direct effect on President Trump, what the Court holds today will also affect all future Presidents—which is to say, it will affect the Presidency, and that is a matter of great and lasting importance to the Nation,” Alito wrote.

The case was argued by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fight over the congressional subpoenas has significant implications regarding a president’s power to refuse a formal request from Congress. In a separate fight at the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., over a congressional demand for the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn, the administration is making broad arguments that the president’s close advisers are “absolutely immune” from having to appear.

In two earlier cases over presidential power, the Supreme Court acted unanimously in requiring Richard Nixon to turn over White House tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor and in allowing a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton to go forward.

In those cases, three Nixon appointees and two Clinton appointees, respectively, voted against the president who chose them for the high court. A fourth Nixon appointee, William Rehnquist, sat out the tapes case because he had worked closely as a Justice Department official with some of the Watergate conspirators whose upcoming trial spurred the subpoena for the Oval Office recordings.

The subpoenas are not directed at Trump himself. Instead, House committees want records from Deutsche Bank, Capital One and Mazars.

Appellate courts in Washington, D.C., and New York brushed aside Trump’s arguments in decisions that focused on the fact that the subpoenas were addressed to third parties asking for records of his business and financial dealings as a private citizen, not as president.

Two congressional committees subpoenaed the bank documents as part of their investigations into Trump and his businesses. Deutsche Bank has been one of the few banks willing to lend to Trump after a series of corporate bankruptcies and defaults starting in the early 1990s.

Vance and the House Oversight and Reform Committee sought records from Mazars concerning Trump and his businesses based on payments that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to keep two women from airing their claims of decade-old extramarital affairs with Trump during the 2016 presidential race.

Saint Augustine 2020 graduation was able to happen to the delight of the graduates and family members though a little late due to the Covid pandemic. Richland, NJ. July 9, 2020 (Kristian Gonyea/For the Press of Atlantic City)