Cape May Needs a Do Over

One of my most beloved Bruce Springsteen lyrics is from my favorite song, “Rosalita”: “Some day we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” This is my wish, given the recent weeks in Cape May politics, both in and out of council chambers. Lately, though, Bruce’s lyric “My City of Ruin” has been taunting me.

I have always been one to look out for and boast about Cape May’s reputation, alerting locals attention to news reports concerning drug use or fisherman shooting at whales. If a story had legs I wanted to be aware of it and keep Cape May in the best possible light. Where did we go wrong?
How did we get so far out of control on an internal issue that should have been handled a year ago, internally and quietly? There has been nothing but outrage about the demotion of Police Chief Robert Sheehan.

This is the time of year we should be focusing on the impending season. We should be actively promoting this week’s Singer Songwriter Festival. We should be planning for and publicizing the upcoming Cape May Coast Guard Community designation celebration. Cape May in May will host its 5th Exit 0 International Jazz Festival, we should be buzzing about that. The City should be actively promoting its lineup of summer concerts at Convention Hall.

Instead we’re almost “My City of Ruin.” Like many of you, I am heartbroken watching this mess play out in the media. But like Springsteen says we will “Rise Up.”

It makes me wonder how long till Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert show up in Cape May looking for an exclusive on Chief Gate. Cape May is not immune to controversy. Before Chief Gate, we had Magazine Gate and before that we had Speedo Gate.

In Magazine Gate the Daily Show rolled into town to investigate just how many magazines South Jersey needed to have. You can view the whole episode here below. This would be a preferable controversy for me.


When Cape May City Council rescinded ( a popular term of late) the ban on men wearing skimpy bathing suits, again the national media outlet of The Daily Show rolled into town to discover what all the fuss was about. As you can see in the video below they did exhaustive investigational reporting. It took balls to do this kind of reporting.


Cape May is a small town. It’s the kind of town where the locals know each other’s name. For some we know each other’s business too and treat it with the utmost respect and dignity. For locals it is hard to fathom how a community could become so shell-shocked by recent decisions and events. The difficult angle is being acquainted with all the parties embroiled in the controversy and trying to make heads and tails out of it.

If an accepted policy  (comp time) within the police department existed, Cape May is the kind of town where surely everyone would have known about it. Instead we find ourselves having media advisories, where hand-picked press members are left to disseminate to the rest of us the surrounding facts.

My purpose in writing this blog post is not to be critical or make judgments about those involved or the whistle blower who brought it all to light. Cape May in my mind just needs a do-over. What if Council had tabled the motion to demote the Chief? What if Councilwoman Pesagno had abstained until further discovery could be presented?

I don’t think I am the only citizen feeling frustrated today. I know I am not. Not only are we frustrated, we are polarized. Not necessarily on opposite sides of the decision, but on speaking publicly about it.

My rise up wish is that Cape May gets back to promoting upcoming events and concerts. That we as a community come together looking forward to the upcoming season. And together we may look back on this and it will all seem funny. For now it’s not funny at all.


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  1. suzanne
    March 22, 2015 / 11:45 am

    Agree with you John,the speed of the decision is what leaves me “shell-shocked” along with every “tom dick and harry opinion on it.I’ve learned in my years here is to keep any problems among ourselves and keep a sunny smile toward our guests.Because we are very small and making a living is difficult,I do have great respect for all my fellow citizens.I also show up at council meetings when I can. Maybe I’m a bit aged for all this social media but I HATE this vitriol against the current mayor and council from folks who don’t live here.Let us work it out,we are capable.

  2. Hugh Murray
    March 22, 2015 / 7:22 pm

    Politics at its worse. The mayor and council should be ashamed. But since they’re politicians they aren’t. Chief Sheehan deserves a public apology.