By JOHN T. WARD
Right off the bat, the above photo hints at what new Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long is up against.
Long is far from the first of the town’s top elected officials to confront flooding issues. Pinched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River, the three-mile-long spit of sand can always count on seeing water slosh onto residential streets abutting the downtown business district during storms.
But a fix is finally in the works, says Long, who hopes to check off flood control, beachfront redevelopment, cellular service quality and one or two other longstanding projects from her to-do list in her term.
“I refuse to see things as problems,” Long told redbankgreen in a recent interview over coffee at Steve’s Breakfast & Lunch on Ocean Avenue. “Otherwise, you’re just stuck all the time.”
Long says Sea Bright has kind of been “poised at the edge of progress” for a years, and that it’s her job as mayor to “make the numbers work” to enable it to happen.
Her vision for the beachfront redevelopment, she says, is the same as the council’s: to transform a town of 1,800 that serves mainly as a summer destination for visitors into one with year-round draws. And the first stage of that plan is “finally about to happen,” she says.
Likewise for a flood mitigation plan that calls for taller bulkheads along the river and a pumping station to keep the streets drier, if not immune to nature’s worst.
Long, 42 years old, grew up in Neptune, where her parents still live. After graduating from Rutgers, where she studied journalism a subject she teaches as a full-time faculty member at Brookdale Community College Long worked as a paid campaign staffer for governors Jim Florio and Jim McGreevey, presidential candidate Bill Bradley and then-Senator Jon Corzine.
She met her husband, Rob Long, on the Florio campaign, for which he was treasurer. They moved to Sea Bright in 2002, when he became pastor of Sea Bright United Methodist Church. Rob now works for a law firm and serves part-time as associate pastor at Christ Church in Fair Haven. The couple have an 8-year-old son.
“Is Sea Bright like any other place you’ve ever seen?” Long says brightly, just minutes after helping some of her neighbors remove their cars from flooded New Street.
From early on in her decade in Sea Bright, Long says she has been enamored of a town that’s a little bit of Mayberry by the Sea, and was inspired to serve it. She had one year left in her third three-year term on council when she was elected mayor over former Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka Adams in November.
Councilman Read Murphy, who clashed loudly and often with one of Long’s political mentors, former Mayor Maria Fernandes, says Long is “trying to get rid of the politics here” to make things happen.
Despite her party pedigree, Long calls herself a “disaffected Democrat,” one who is “extraordinarily conservative” fiscally, a fan of Governor Chris Christie and says she’s “holding a grudge against” President Obama over bank bailouts, carbon tax credits and other issues she declines to detail.
She says Murphy is right that she wants to maintain and build consensus across party lines. But no one should mistake her for a pushover, she suggests.
“If you refuse to play politics, and everybody else is playing politics, then they’re going to politic you,” she says, adding, “I don’t allow myself to be trampled.”
More particularly, Long expresses resentment for party bosses “and other people who are not elected attempting to make decisions that should be in the hands of elected officials. I really object to that.” Though she says that, in all her time in politics, “at least on my side, that has never happened.
“There have been times when I’ve marched away from my party, away from the party chairman, because I’m independent,” she said. “I’m out for what’s best for Sea Bright.”
She declines to give examples of it happening on the other side, however, instead turning the conversation toward her “collegial” relationship with the borough council, all of whose members she’s worked with productively for at least two terms.
“She’s a real asset,” said Murphy, a Republican whose brash, often crass manner could hardly be more different from Long’s careful choosing of words. “I think she’s going to be a great mayor.”