ASBURY PARK — The flap over a long-neglected city ordinance regulating boardwalk attire has left those strolling along the city’s beachfront wondering what all the fuss is about.
Among them is former city councilwoman, Louise Murray, who is at the center of the issue. Murray, the current city Republican Committee chairwoman, appeared at the June 20 council meeting seeking enforcement of a longstanding ordinance prohibiting the wearing of bathing suits on the boardwalk.
“People can do what they want until it infringes on someone’s person or they feel uncomfortable,” Murray said in a phone interview Thursday, June 28. That’s when government has the responsibility to act, she insisted.
Murray served on the city council from 1997-2001, according to Stephen Kay, the city’s municipal clerk.
The ordinance in question is one sentence long and states: “No person clad in bathing attire shall be on the boardwalks or public walks adjacent there to,” according to Kay and city attorney Frederick Raffetto.
“It was just one of those old ordinances that was on the books and, quite frankly, hasn’t been enforced for a very, very long time,” said Tom Gilmour, the city’s director of commerce and tourism.
The ordinance, Kay said, dates back to 1958.
“The woman was saying she just wants you to put your shirt on,” was the way Kay interpreted Murray’s comments to the council.
What Murray wasn’t prepared for, she said, is how much attention her comments attracted, with a number of media outlets running stories about her request.
Murray said she has heard from other city residents who feel things have gone a little too far. “We have a law on the books. Enforce it,” she said.
She believes enforcement wouldn’t require police giving out tickets but could be accomplished simply by having beach badge checkers tell beachgoers to cover up as they step on the boardwalk.
Kay seems to think it’s all a little silly.
“So, if a guy was walking down the boardwalk with his underwear on, is that bathing attire? No,” so that wouldn’t be in violation of the ordinance, Kay contended.
Some who were on the boardwalk Thursday considered the ordinance and any enforcement of it pretty silly, too.
“I think it’s stupid because we’re at the beach,” Rachel Resnick said.
Resnick, 21, of Ocean was wearing a bikini, as was her friend Amanda Dilger, 23, also of Ocean. They were working as beach badge checkers.
“It’s nothing crazy. People aren’t naked,” Resnick said, offering an eye roll. “What do they want, people putting on clothes when they’re sandy and wet, just to get something to eat or drink?”
Ed and Pat Higgins are down for the summer from Bronxville, N.Y., and shared much of the same view.
“I’m a libertarian,” Ed Higgins said. “As long as you don’t hurt anybody else, I don’t have a problem with it.”
“They wear even less in Europe on their beaches and nobody seems to care,” Pat Higgins said.
“If you’re on the beach, why not (wear bathing suits on) the boardwalk?” wondered Cathy Davis, who’s here on vacation from her home in Battle Creek, Mich.
“Yes, if you’re going into a store, put something on,” added Davis’ friend, Stacy Locker of Pemberton, N.J., “but I don’t think it’s a big deal. They’re not naked.”
“The average person who comes up to you off the beach, they cover up,” observed Bud Hassard, a Asbury Park resident who is retired and has been checking beach badges for the past six summers. “But you know, it’s the shore. It’s not the ’50s anymore.”
There were those who shared Murray’s argument.
“I think people should be covering up a little bit,” said Diana Harnett of Linden. “I have little kids. What are we trying to teach them?”
Two women, who said they live in Neptune and walk the boardwalk daily, but declined to give their names, said the ordinance should be enforced. “It’s about putting other people before yourself,” one woman said. “Consideration for other people should be thought about.”
“Have a little respect for yourself,” agreed her friend.
Growing up in the city, Murray said people knew to put something over the bathing suit as they left the beach, especially if they were going into one of the bars, restaurants or stores. “It comes down to being a little civil and dressing properly,” she said. “What’s the big deal?”
Murray said the council seemed to be divided about the enforcement issue.
“I’m not quite sure what the city is planning on doing with that,” agreed Gilmour said.
Mayor Ed Johnson was unavailable for comment, and City Manager Terence J. Reidy did not immediately respond to phone messages on Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment.
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