Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small thought that he had the final word about the “Fish Heads” controversy.

Small was wrong. New Jersey Senator Vince Polistina is going to get the last word by demonstrating in rare, specificity each and every effort that he made during the entire process.

In a wide-ranging interview with Senator Polistina, we were able to compile one of the most extensive chronologies detailing the day-by-day efforts taken by a sitting New Jersey Senator, in pursuit of relief on behalf of a constituent that you will ever read.

Small called Senator Polistina a “racist” and among other things, he also challenged Polistina’s motives regarding Fish Heads seafood restaurant, formerly located in Gardner’s Basin.

In our one-on-one interview, Polistina methodically reviewed each communication that he had with the state of New Jersey, in a supreme effort to try and save Atlantic City’s last African-American-owned business in Gardner’s Basin.

Here is the never-before-seen chronology of each and every effort that Polistina took to help Gregory “Dredgie” Wood keep his business in Gardner’s Basin.

This exercise will also give you insight as to how District 2, Atlantic County Senator Polistina does his job.

The Polistina timeline is an extensive one as follows:

April 24th: The Ducktown Tavern tagged Polistina on a social media post, which first made him aware of the impending shut down of Fish Heads and trying to rally the community to support efforts to allow them to continue to operate.

April 27th: Polistina had his regularly scheduled zoom meeting with the Department of Community Affairs regarding the administration’s continued efforts to stabilize the Atlantic City government and finances.

Polistina raised the Fish Heads issue with an acknowledgment that government could either find a way to allow them to remain or find reasons why they had to vacate. The DCA indicated to Polistina that they weren’t really familiar with the situation and referred him to the Department of Environmental Protection since it was a Green Acres issue.  

April 28th: ​Polistina contacted the Department of Environmental Protection and discussed the issue with them since Atlantic City was saying that the Green Acres requirements would force Fish Heads to leave Gardner’s Basin.

April 29th:​ At approximately midday, Polistina was verbally informed that the DEP would be putting out a statement regarding Fish Heads. They acknowledged that there were Green Acres issues, but verbally indicated to Polistina that there was some wiggle room to try to allow Fish Heads to stay in the location for another season. Polistina expected the initial statement from the DEP would be sent out by the end of the day.

April 30th:Polistina asked the DEP about the status of the public statement and he still believed that something from the DEP would be going out over the weekend.

May 2nd: Polistina appeared on-air with us on WPG Talk Radio 95.5. Polistina advised that, at this point in time, no one from the state had provided any written documentation as to why Fish Heads would have to move.

This logic prompted Polistina to publicly state on-air, “that if I were the proprietor of Fish Heads, I would wait until the state provides written documentation since the state ultimately runs the City of Atlantic City."

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May 3rd:​ The DEP statement is released. It’s similar to all of the verbal communications that Polistina had with the DEP.

The statement speaks to the 2018 decision from the DEP that only 2 restaurants were permitted on-site along with the statement that “food trucks could be brought in for specific events, but could not become permanent food establishment sites at Gardner’s Basin.”  

This clearly indicated to Polistina that from the DEP’s perspective, there was a way for the Fish Heads food truck to be at Gardner’s Basin, albeit on a more limited basis then in the past, according to Polistina, referring to the state’s communication on the subject.

The City released its own statement the same day with a sentence that said, “The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is taking the same position as the City of Atlantic City.” Published reports by the Philadelphia Inquirer and WPG Talk Radio 95.5 confirmed that the DEP and Atlantic City’s positions were not in lockstep.

With the release of the DEP statement, Polistina began regular communications with the state administration to try to find a path that would allow Fish Heads to remain in Gardner’s Basin for the summer season.

May 4th:​ Polistina had a very good discussion with representatives from the administration that there was some agreement that the DEP statement provided enough wiggle room to find a way for the Fishheads to remain for the 2022 summer season.  Polistina acknowledged that of course, the administration is always juggling multiple issues but they indicated that the Fish Heads would be one of their top priorities since preserving businesses in the State of New Jersey is something they are focused on.

May 5th: Polistina acknowledges that the communication with the administration is not as positive as the day before but, they indicate that they were still exploring options for a path for Fish Heads to remain.

During the afternoon, Polistina continued communication with the administration, alerting them that the Atlantic City NAACP was trying to compile a directory of black-owned restaurants/eateries in Atlantic City for the upcoming NAACP national convention that will be held in Atlantic City from July 16-20, 2022. Polistina lobbied that saving Fish Heads would be a highlight for this mega, national caliber special event. 

May 6th: Polistina is informed that it was highly unlikely that the administration would step in and overrule the City of Atlantic City, despite the administration’s efforts on the issue.  Although disappointing, Polistina acknowledged the state’s sincere efforts to work with his team.

At this point, Polistina had done everything within his power to try and save Fish Heads. In good faith, Polistina believed that Wood/Fish Heads would be notified of the decision and be given ample time to relocate since the final decision was not communicated by the state until midday on Friday, May 6th. 

May 7thPolistina said, “In an utterly stunning and terrible decision, the City of Atlantic City ordered the impoundment of the Fish Heads food truck on a Saturday in the middle of a nor’easter, leading everyone to conclude that there was more to this situation then just regular City business.

No independent look at what occurred with Fish Heads would result in a conclusion that there wasn’t something personal or political about the removal,” said Polistina.

Don P. Hurley photo.
Don P. Hurley photo.

May 9th:​ The DEP is forced to take the unprecedented step of making it known that they did not order the removal of Fish Heads. They made it crystal clear that the impoundment and eviction were all of the City of Atlantic City’s doing.

May 10th:​ The Atlantic City administration officials held a press conference which began with some of the history of the Fish Heads matter and the reasons why it got to this point.

The administrator and City’s solicitors presented a lot of factual information and rationale as to why the City believed that Fish Heads was given ample notice of having to leave the Gardner’s Basin.

​Polistina remarked that “the end of the press conference went completely off the rails when the personal attacks were levied against anyone who has ever lifted a finger to advocate for Fish Heads. For whatever, the reasons are, some view any effort to support Fishheads as a personal attack against the mayor or City administration. It is not."

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Polistina wants to “thank the dedicated employees of the Governor’s office and DEP who spent a considerable amount of time and energy working with our office to try to figure something out on this topic.”

“Although it still makes no sense to me why the City administration was so hell-bent on closing Fish Heads down despite them knowing that we were actively working on it, they had their reasons.

There is no doubt in my mind that had the City not been such an obstacle to navigating a successful path for Fish Heads, the food truck would be sitting at Gardner’s Basin today.”

“Those of us of good will, trying to find a way, could have – and probably still could – find a way that Fish Heads operates at Gardner’s Basin for the summer season of 2022,” concluded Polistina. 

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