It's the old nanny-state question, dragged onto the beach this time.
How far should government go in protecting us from ourselves?
The official in the hot seat this time is Charles Theofan of Long Beach, a city manager with a thorny decision to make: Should people be allowed to swim in the ocean when the lifeguards aren't in their chairs?
A local ordinance says no. But it's been ignored for years. Local people and visitors have been swimming and taking their chances. And most of them - most - have gotten safely back to the shore.
But terrible stories have a way of focusing minds, sometimes even changing them.
On Tuesday, a 12-year-old girl from Harlem drowned at Long Beach, nearly a week before the weekday lifeguard season began. Immediately the pressure mounted and soon was crashing down on Theofan's head. Soon enough, he ordered the old law be enforced. But by Thursday, it was laissez-faire swimming again.
And wouldn't you know it: On Friday, three people had to be rescued from the surf. Luckily, none drowned.
How much of a nanny is Long Beach? The city manager's explanations flailed like a drowning man.
"Here you had perfectly calm waters, like glass," he said. And when police tried to stop people from going into the water, he said, swimmers became "belligerent."
"What about the residents of the city who very responsibly have known how and when to go in the water - at their own risk?" he wanted to know. And the argument was rolling again.
BAD GRAD ADVICE
1. You can slack off now – forever.
2. Tell the principal what you really think.
3. Caps and gowns are for losers.
4. Keep bringing your laundry back home.
5. Really, College isn’t for everyone.
Did anyone ever mention that sad fact of life to East Hampton Supervisor William McGintee, "Overdue bills rarely pay themselves"? . . . Come on, didn't you feel just a little sentimental reading about Caitlin Warshauer's big night? The Sachem North High School senior - and Newsday's Project Prom girl - is on her way to train as an Army cook at Fort Lee, Va., just as soon as she takes the prom-night nail polish off . . . Was that a tornado that swept through Great Neck - or a just a giant whoop of enthusiasm from the graduating seniors at Great Neck North? . . . When disgraced former Suffolk Legis. Elie Mystal says he's living now in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., how do we know that's true? He used to live in Huntington Station while representing Copiague . . . When David Cone said at the "Extreme Makeover" house in East Setauket that he's "more of an interior-design guy," was the former Mets and Yankees pitcher (a) ducking sweaty carpentry assignments or (b) recalling infield alignments? . . . You weren't planning to take the bus, were you? With Nassau bus cuts, you could wait awhile for the N3, N17, N28, N53, N65, N66, N67, N87, N93, N94 and N95 - a while as in forever . . . If mortgage rates go any lower, will the banks start paying interest to US?
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ELLIS' LONG ISLANDERS OF THE WEEK
Most of Long Island's lifeguards were in their chairs Saturday, and not a minute too soon. Isn't that the real take-away of the uproar over the drowning and the near-drownings in Long Beach? Long Island has some of the most experienced and most professional lifeguard crews anywhere, men and women who have patrolled the same beaches for decades, rescuing the children of children they've rescued in summers past. Let the politicians debate what should happen in the time that lifeguards aren't on duty. We'll be grateful for the times they are.