When the Township of Nutley realized it couldn’t pull of fireworks on or around July 4, 2021, the leaders decided to postpone them. They say because COVID-19 restrictions were lifted late by Gov. Philip D. Murphy, there was no way to pull off the logistics in time for a summertime celebration.
So, they picked a new date. And announced it online, almost proudly.
“This decision was difficult but we all agree it was the correct decision for our township,” Mayor Mauro Tucci wrote in a statement posted on the township website. “We have postponed this exciting event until Sept. 10, at which time we will be closing off Franklin Avenue for a spectacular celebration. …The Nutley Board of Commissioners look forward to continuing to offer our community enhanced special events and programs with sensible safety measures. We look forward to seeing the display return even bigger and better in September.”
If you think you just read a misprint, think again. You read that all correctly — the new date for this so-called “exciting event” is Sept. 10, 2021.
That’ll be one day before the world pauses to remember the 20th anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on the United States ever.
One day before the world once again mourns the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
Twenty years to the day when nearly 3,000 people spent their last full day on this earth.
For Brian Branco, a resident of Lyndhurst who was inside the South Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north side of the north tower on that fateful day, the move to host fireworks on what should otherwise be a somber day, is outright unacceptable and he wants to see them canceled completely that day — or rescheduled for a more appropriate date.
“It’s just mind-blowing,” he said of the decision to have loud fireworks on Sept. 10. “They say it was all about the logistics. It doesn’t matter. For many survivors, there are days of buildup to the date Sept. 11.”
On that day nearly 20 years ago, Branco knew he had to get out of the South Tower after the first plane hit the other tower. So he and a few others began their descent from nearly 80 floors above ground to get to the street level and flee the area.
One of the guys he was in the office with, just before they all were leaving, realized he’d forgotten something important that he needed. He decided to go back to the office to retrieve the item. If he only knew what was just about to come.
That fateful decision cost the man, called Stephen, his life.
“I never saw him again or heard from him again,” Branco recalled. “Before I left, I said, ‘OK, I’ll meet you outside.’”
Branco, himself, had escaped the horrible scene and was about a block away from the Towers, despite the now-obscene reality that security was ordering evacuees to return to their offices and ascend back up the South Tower.
Branco, fortunately, paid no mind to this and continued on his way.
Then, as he continued to walk, finally out of the South Tower, but still immensely close to the buildings, United Airlines Flight 175 tore through the South Tower and hit the building very near to where Branco had been just minutes earlier. Stephen was gone. Horrifically, Branco would later learn, with 100% certainty, that Stephen was on the phone with his wife at the time the second plane hit.
So for a man who survived this terrible day, perhaps by pure luck — and whom The Observer profiled back in 2006 at the fifth anniversary of the attacks along with his daughter, Angelica, 12 at the time, for a balloon launch they’d put on to mark the sobering day — any community, near or far, that uses the time around Sept. 11, for loud fireworks, to celebrate, well, anything, is doing the absolute wrong thing.
“It’s just disrespectful,” he said. “Lyndhurst is doing fireworks Sept. 6 — that’s far enough away. You just don’t throw a party on Sept. 10.”
Last week, we tried, to no avail, to contact Nutley Mayor Mauro Tucci. We had planned to ask him how, of all dates, he and the other commissioners, decided on Sept. 10 to shoot off fireworks. We had also planned to ask the mayor whether the uproar the decision has caused will lead the township to perhaps either change the date or cancel the fireworks altogether.
We never got to get those answers.
So, instead, we contacted Steven L. Rogers, the retired Nutley Police Department detective-lieutenant who, after he left the police force, went on to spend two terms on the elected Nutley Board of Commissioners. We reached Rogers whilst he was in Florida, where he was engaged in a speaking tour, something he’s done a lot of since retiring from the PD and since he lived up to his pledge not to become a career politician in Nutley by only serving two terms. (Nutley does not have term limits, so his decision to only serve for just two terms was self-imposed.)
Rogers, who has remained friendly with Tucci and the commissioners with whom he served and who are still elected officials, says that while he does not want to “ruffle the feathers” of any of his former colleagues, he still can’t understand the decision to shoot off fireworks on Sept. 10, the penultimate day before the anniversary of the attacks.
“Sept. 11, 2001, was the most tragic day in our nation’s history,” the 2017 New Jersey GOP gubernatorial candidate Rogers said. “The time around Sept. 11 is supposed to be for remembering and mourning all those who died, the first responders who took part in the rescue and recovery. There is no reason to be celebrating anything on Sept. 10. Nothing.”
So we asked Rogers what he believes the commission should do in this situation.
“Cancel the fireworks completely,” he said. “Don’t reschedule them. Cancel them. Wait for July 4, 2022. You don’t celebrate America’s independence in September, let alone a day before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I hope that’s what they do.”
Rogers, meanwhile, also noted the inappropriateness of the date, considering how everything happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Many folks, he noted, suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by the sounds and sights of that day nearly two decades ago. Branco concurred.
“The sounds of fireworks are not what people need around the attack’s anniversary,” Rogers said. “Canceling the fireworks is the only option.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.