By her own reckoning, Dina Long, the mayor of Sea Bright, New Jersey, is “alternatively nice, aggressive, obnoxious, and emotional.” But only out of necessity.

Ever since Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, Long SCILS’96 has “had to figure out how to act in any given situation,” she says, in order to get the devastated shore town up and running. Chameleon-like behavior has become a personal strategy: it’s efficiency by way of malleability.

Sea Bright is known among residents as Mayberry by the Sea, according to Long, speaking from the sunlit porch of her rental home in town, a MacBook laptop open to a slideshow of the local destruction and the glittering Shrewsbury River in the distance. “It’s this idyllic little place,” she says.

Dina Long, the mayor of Sea Bright, New Jersey


Dina Long is the mayor of Sea Bright, which, two years after the community was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, has returned to a sense of normalcy, thanks in large part to her leadership.

John Emerson

It was, anyway, before the storm. Hurricane Sandy ravaged the three-mile peninsula, home to 1,400 full-time residents and 1,000 part-timers. Ten-foot storm surges broke the seawall in three places, invading the quaint downtown. Homes took in five to 10 feet of water. Boats were in entangled in downed power lines. A car went through the back of the library. Gas leaks, and their attendant threat of explosions, added to the maelstrom. Roughly 100 families, including Long and her husband and their 11-year-old son, are still displaced.

But the town has come a long way since Long got her first post-Sandy update while evacuated at her mother’s house in nearby Neptune: “It was at dawn the morning after the storm hit,” she remembers. “Sea Bright’s gone,” the town’s emergency management coordinator told her.  

Her heart plummeted. But as mayor, she became energized. “It was pure adrenaline,” she says.

Long was elected mayor in 2011 after an introduction to New Jersey politics that dates to the early 1990s, when she was a journalism student at Rutgers.

In 1991, through her association with the late Thomas Hartmann, who was a professor of journalism at the School of Communication and Information, she landed a part-time job as an assistant to then-New Jersey governor James Florio’s CLAW’67 public affairs director. The next year, she took time off from school to become a full-time staff member on the governor’s unsuccessful reelection campaign. Before returning to Rutgers to complete her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1996 and an M.F.A. from the New School in Manhattan a year later, she worked as a fundraising assistant to former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. She also served on the fundraising staff of former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey and became director of his inaugural committee.

When she moved to Sea Bright with her husband, Robert, in 2002, it wasn’t to resume any long-held political ambitions. But a retiring city councilwoman tapped her to take over a vacated seat in 2003. From there she ran for reelection three times successfully before her mayoral bid. Ten months into her term as mayor, “which, P.S., is a volunteer job,” she says—Long teaches English full time at nearby Brookdale Community College—the word “Frankenstorm” entered her vocabulary.

Long has been tireless in her efforts to rebuild and essentially normalize Sea Bright. She won’t accept credit for initiatives such as Sea Bright Rising, a local organization that has raised more than $1 million for hard-hit residents and businesses, although she’s an avid promoter. But she does acknowledge her resourcefulness: “Ask me anything about disaster preparedness, the mitigation of future risk, drainage, bulkhead rebuilding, and especially disaster recovery … I know it all,” she says, having spent many a sleepless night “studying everything I could find on the computer.”

She’ll accept credit for getting the town’s plight wider media consideration. “In the beginning, we kept hearing about other beach towns and seeing images of that Seaside Heights roller coaster in the ocean. I thought, ‘Wait a minute,’” she says. Now, “Google Sea Bright and you see all this stuff about Sandy. My training at Rutgers was really good prep for putting together a media strategy.” 

No training, of course, could fully prepare someone for dealing with the fallout from a natural disaster, or for “carrying the burden of a whole town, the way it rips your heart out,” she says.

Now that fall has arrived, Long looks forward to returning to her rebuilt Sea Bright home, which should be ready by Christmas. She also looks forward to making it through another hurricane season without so much as an overly gusty wind or a flickering light.

“It’s all I think about,” she says. •