Barnett attempts to resolve concerns
Only a block or two away, he said, some of his neighbors had electricity. Conditions reached a point where he struggled to breathe. At that point, frustrated, he wrote an email to Mayor Bill Barnett of Naples, seeking help:
“Two disabled police officers … also live on my street,” wrote Rementeria, 60. “We desperately need power in our homes. Two of us have asthma from the dust clouds during the collapse. Please help us!”
Early Friday, in his office, Barnett read the email and tried to find a resolution. He has become a point man for these kinds of concerns after the storm, a civic leader with a powerful Western New York connection.
In a Gulf Coast region beloved to many Niagara Frontier retirees and travelers, he is married to Chris Franczyk Barnett, a cousin to Buffalo Common Council Member David Franczyk and Erie County Judge Thomas Franczyk.
Barnett keeps a Buffalo Bills piggy bank on the shelf in his office. The mayor and first lady of a legendary American vacation spot have a favorite vacation spot themselves. They rent a cottage for a few weeks, every summer, in Angola.
“It’s beautiful,” Barnett said. “I know every step of Evangola State Park.”
In his office Friday, he began working on Rementeria’s request. The retired firefighter does not live within the borders of the city itself, but in an unincorporated suburb. Barnett reached out to officials in Collier County, and to friends in local fire departments, and to officials with Florida Power and Light, the regional utility.
An FPL employee responded, promising in an email to make sure the retired firefighter’s plight is “escalated on my mind.”
Yet Rementeria’s house remained dark Saturday, indicative of the larger struggle in Naples. President Trump shook hands with Barnett on Thursday at the Naples Municipal Airport, amid a presidential tour of disaster sites in Florida. Local officials made sure Trump knew the extent of the damage.
At last count, 49 percent of city residents were without power. The storm ripped down power lines, tore apart rooftops and ripped out beautiful trees by the roots. Traffic signals at major intersections didn’t work. With many gas stations shut down, uniformed police maintained generally good-natured order in a long line of cars at a downtown service station.
The shoreline mansions of the wealthy, usually hidden by walls of trees, were suddenly visible from the road. The municipal pier, restored only a few years ago, suffered such damage that it may need to be rebuilt.
And in unincorporated Naples, beyond the city, the most vulnerable of residents received the hardest hit.
“There is a mobile home park that is no more,” Barnett said.
But he offered quiet thanks that no deaths in his city had been attributed to Irma.
All told, Barnett said, rebuilding Naples probably will cost far more than $100 million. He predicted the city will be operating in a relatively normal way by the time “snowbirds” begin arriving from the North. But he added this proviso:
“You’ll certainly know there was a hurricane.”
Barnett is from White Plains. He built his Buffalo connection through his wife, a native of Kaisertown who left Western New York for Florida in 1973 with her first husband, “a plumber who saw the future.”
After that marriage ended, Chris Franczyk met Barnett, former owner of a Toyota dealership and now her husband of 35 years. Naples has a system of government in which a city manager calls the shots on day-to-day operations, while the mayor serves as a kind of elected chairman of the City Council.
Barnett, 77, who started off with a seat on the Council, has been elected four times as mayor. A Republican, he has served in the city’s top elected office for so long that many residents simply call him “Mayor Bill.”
Nothing in that tenure – no standard issues of planning or zoning or growth – comes anywhere close to what Naples faces after the hurricane. While the city ordered an evacuation just before the storm, with the timing of that order triggering some debate, Barnett and his wife – joined by their cats and their bulldog, Zsa Zsa – rode out Irma with other civic officials at a
A Naples, Fla., resident drags a fallen tree branch away from a home. Naples suffered serious damage from Hurricane Irma, with damaged trees and wides
Left top, retired New York City Firefighter Lt. John Rementeria, who has chronic asthma from his work at ground zero after 9/11, waits for power to be retu to use at his church rectory. Center, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett pets Bully while his wife, Chris, looks on. Top right, plywood covers the windows of a Naples