Bar­nett at­tempts to re­solve con­cerns

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

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

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