Still without electric power, hard-nosed Belmar rights itself in the aftermath

BELMAR – They call it the Irish Riviera, and with good reason.

In the best of circumstances, you’d never confuse it with Monte Carlo, but to look at the faces in the stained-glass glow of Sunday Mass you can tell unbridled luxury was never the priority.

Epitomized by a doughboy statue honoring the war dead, the shorefront toughness here paid off in the face of Hurricane Sandy.

On Monday, rescue workers led by Lake Como Councilman Brian Wilton rowed and swam as many as 150 people to safety.

No deaths. No serious casualties.

All day Sunday, amid the hum of generators, volunteers coordinated by Jennifer Nicolay delivered dry goods, clothes and other relief items to the gym of Borough Hall, as camouflaged personnel with the Department of Defense roamed the blockaded streets.

Pumps blew the water back into the ocean.

By noon, the streets around the lake were dotted with pedestrians who yesterday would have been wearing flippers.

At Mass this morning, Mayor Matt Doherty and his wife, Maggie Moran, arrived to the packed St. Rose of Lima Church and went to the front of the nave. Widely praised for his response to the most devastating storm in New Jersey’s history, Doherty looked like he had been in a fight.

“Still no power,” a man told PolitickerNJ.com in one of the crammed pews. “A neighbor lent us a generator and so we’re running it in the day to keep the food we got in the refrigerator. We’re good.”

“It’s all relative,” said a guy on the sidewalk in front of the church, unshaven and with the dazed lack of sleep look in his eyes. “I’m not dead.”

In a local bar over the bridge up the street in Bradley Beach, Pagano’s, politicos started to show up, and with the power coming on in the neighboring town, naturally talk turned to politics.

“The mayor over there is a good guy,” said a face at the bar, jerking a thumb toward Belmar.

“Who are you voting for in Tuesday’s election?” someone asked.

“Obama,” said the man, who had at least two newspapers open on the bar under his elbows.

“What’s wrong with Romney?”

“Plastic,” was the reply, uttered without a smile amid laughter.

“Look,” the man added, “I worked in finance for 20 years. With a disaster like what we faced, you need at least five or six years to come out of it. There’s nothing more this guy Obama could have done. I lived in Massachusetts and everyone up there knows Romney ran away from running for re-election because he couldn’t get re-elected.”

A stool away sat a teacher, flushed out of work by Gov. Chris Christie’s education cuts.

She gritted her teeth. She just got her power back on this morning.

“What’s wrong?” PolitickerNJ.com asked her in so many words.

“I hate to admit he’s doing a good job,” said the woman, tossing down a drink.

“This storm seals his re-election,” said her partner with a shrug.

“I agree,” she said. “He threw Romney under the bus because he knows it’s more important to get re-elected than to put his re-election at risk by helping Romney get elected at this point. Good move.”

“Romney’s not getting elected,” said the man who said he worked in finance.

“I know,” said the teacher. “And Christie knows that, too. He made a calculation to throw in with Obama now because Romney’s a stiff, and I don’t like Christie either, but he’s doing a good job, you have to give the guy credit.”

Someone else at the bar said Christie’s repeated declaration of Obama’s excellent response to the storm amounted to little more than pragmatic politics based on the governor’s immediate needs. He needs money for storm recovery efforts, and just as Joe D. in Essex County or Brian Stack pepper their requests for state cash with flattery, so too must the governor pay homage to power.

They batted the subject around.

A short time later, a political insider sat in a corner of the room crunched under a baseball cap and listened to the question. “What about governor? Who’s going to run against Christie for governor?”

The insider, a Democrat, looked back in a daze. The question was too hard, the immediacy of the storm and Christie’s place in it too strong. All he would say was all the contenders are in a bad way.

The insider instead happily considered the political future of Doherty.

“Redistricting put him in a bad spot,” said the insider. “It’s going to be difficult for him to make a move to Trenton. But there’s always freeholder. He’ll have to start at freeholder.”

No one objected to the conversation.

In Bradley Beach, it was okay to talk about politics again.

"I’m an undertaker by trade, so when I bury somebody, they don’t come back."
—Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato