Karen Heller: The Wildwood crack-down

A wide variety of sartorial styles is on display on the boardwalk in Wildwood. A proposed ordinance would ban sagging pants and going shirtless after sunset, or shoeless anytime. Violators could pay $25; repeat offenders, possibly more. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
A wide variety of sartorial styles is on display on the boardwalk in Wildwood. A proposed ordinance would ban sagging pants and going shirtless after sunset, or shoeless anytime. Violators could pay $25; repeat offenders, possibly more. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 03, 2013

Is there a more appropriately named summer resort than Wildwood?

Few beachcombers visit this Cape May County boardwalk haven, which last summer celebrated its centennial, for the peace and quiet. But enough is enough.

Now, Mayor Ernie Troiano wants to make Wildwood a little less wild.

In two weeks, he is confident that he and his two fellow commissioners will pass a boardwalk ordinance banning sagging pants and going shirtless after sunset, or shoeless anytime. Violators could pay $25; repeat offenders, possibly more.

Troiano wants to make the Jersey Shore a little less Jersey Shore. Let us pause and consider this.

The whole baggy-pants business blew up six years ago when places like Natchitoches, La.; Pine Bluff, Ark.; and Opa-locka, Fla. - a town I wish I had made up but did not - tried to prohibit them, with only the last succeeding. Other municipalities tried as well, but plenty failed.

Turns out people sort of have a constitutional right to dress dumb.

That resort leaders want to ban low-riding pants now suggests that Wildwood is somewhat, if you'll pardon the expression, behind the curve while being notably more tolerant - among the many reasons folks love the place.

Change is incremental there, while rules tend to be few. In a cluster of Shore towns that tend toward no - requiring tags while prohibiting many fun activities from the beach and boardwalk - Wildwood says yes.

"Some people think anything goes in Wildwood," Troiano said. "Well, it doesn't."

Hizzoner may be something of a genius. To patch Philadelphia's budget holes, Mayor Nutter proposes sin taxes on cocktails, cigarettes, sodas - adopting the view that basically anything that is bad for citizens might be good for revenue. In contrast, Mayor Troiano has targeted stuff that makes folks look ridiculous.

Potentially, it's a tax on stupid.

Maybe Wildwood needs to advance this policy further, creating a powerful revenue stream and the kind of cash flow the Revel casino can only dream of. Why not write tickets for women in too-short shorts with junk advertised on their rears, or sporting lewd language on any part of the body - front, back, permanently inked?

"It's not like we're going to have a task force on the boardwalk," the mayor told me. "We're going to politely stop people and ask them to pull up their pants or put on a shirt. I hope we write few citations. This is a decency ordinance."

In my conversation with the straight-talking mayor, it became clear that Wildwood has more serious problems than exposed rears and abs. Late May and early June mark the severe season for chaos. Post-prom, senior week, and graduation celebrations go wild and worse with little or no adult supervision while, the mayor noted, "the parents are buying the booze for them."

During one recent shift, Troiano said, emergency workers responded to 28 calls for drunk and disorderly conduct. A 16-year-old almost died from alcohol poisoning.

The mayor spoke about properties trashed by revelers, 80 teenagers in a three-bedroom unit, a knife fight last year between students at two rival Philadelphia high schools.

All this, and the police force is 20 percent smaller due to budget issues and the loss of officers to Camden and elsewhere. The town's winter population is tiny, 5,300.

In the summer, Wildwood's half-mile-wide, tag-free beach and famed boardwalk can attract a quarter million visitors, not all of them in possession of exquisite manners.

"I've had enough. Everybody is so quick to bash us," said the mayor, 62, the third of five generations of Troianos in Wildwood.

"I'm no prude," said the mayor, who is in the construction business. "But I don't understand the mentality of disrespecting everyone else around you."

The new ordinances should pass June 12, the mayor said, and be enforced right before Independence Day. It may not seem like much, but, for Wildwood, it's a start.


Contact Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, Follow her at @kheller on Twitter. Read the metro columnists blog, "Blinq," at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

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