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Why I can’t support Fenty for a 2nd term

From hate crimes to marriage equality, mayor’s actions don’t match candidate’s promises

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I got involved in District of Columbia politics in 1978. I served as coordinator of local government for the mayor’s office in New York and always understood that government at the local level — closest to the people — is crucial. I have worked on national campaigns but my passion is for local government and how it impacts our lives each day.

I volunteered and chaired or co-chaired the issue campaigns for mayoral candidates Charlene Drew Jarvis, Carol Schwartz, Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty but have never held a paid D.C. job and don’t have any clients who benefit from the city. That is what makes it difficult for some candidates that I support. I say what I believe and don’t hesitate to tell them when I think they are doing something wrong.

Although I admire much of what Mayor Fenty has accomplished in his first term, what follows are my reasons for not supporting him for a second term.

This decision wasn’t made lightly. Having known Adrian Fenty and his family for a number of years and having worked with him when he was a Council member to bring together experts on issues to help him develop position papers made it a difficult decision. I have gotten to know his wife Michelle, his children and his parents and have spent holidays with them at the home of mutual friends and have the deepest respect for them. This decision isn’t made with any personal animosity but rather for political reasons.

Either Fenty changed when he became mayor or many of us badly misread him when he was a candidate. He now appears to be someone who doesn’t really care about people — an autocrat, unwilling to deal with any criticism or discussion of differences of opinion. Staff who disagree with him are fired, while others outside the administration who don’t agree don’t get their calls returned. The mayor continues to speak in campaign sound bites when he should be confronting complicated issues in depth. He deals with the lives of city workers in what appears to be a cavalier manner and won’t deal with constituents in a real give and take. Watching him govern the city it seems that his mantra is often act first and think later.

Since this piece is appearing in the Blade first, it highlights some concerns I have with the mayor on LGBT issues. But for those taking the time to continue reading online they will see my reasons cover a much broader palate of issues. We in the LGBT community get involved in and care about many issues. They include education, crime, the economy, everyone’s civil and human rights and the basic quality of life for those living in the District. We are an integral part of the total community and part of the diversity that makes our city so great.

I helped to craft Fenty’s platform. I had the assistance of many people across the District who passionately felt that we needed change. I think we got change and in some areas it was really great. But in others, candidate Fenty appears to have uttered the words people wanted to hear but didn’t really take them to heart. Candidate Fenty promised to keep the full core of the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit intact, Mayor Fenty didn’t. While there are some good things about Chief Cathy Lanier’s desire to expand the unit across the District, it was done, as are so many things in the Fenty administration, without real consultation with the community.

Candidate Fenty promised support for marriage equality but Mayor Fenty never spoke up for it. He didn’t testify for it or allow his director of the Office of GLBT Affairs to do so. Compare that to the advocacy of mayors like Gavin Newsom and now even Michael Bloomberg and it really comes up short. He did sign a veto-proof bill and held a signing ceremony to be in on the celebration.

Candidate Fenty promised to fight against hate crimes. Mayor Fenty never even managed to get the words hate crimes out of his mouth. He refused to meet with the community at-large even though these crimes have been increasing. Candidate Fenty promised to hold a GLBT Economic Summit. Mayor Fenty refused to make this an event of the mayor’s office and has never found time to attend one. Candidate Fenty promised to take the message of fighting HIV/AIDS to the community, including the faith community. Mayor Fenty has never spoken to a faith-based group about HIV/AIDS. Candidate Fenty came to numerous LGBT community events. Mayor Fenty never does. He walks in the Pride parade and shakes hands at the High Heel Race. But he won’t ever face the community and discuss our issues with us. Candidate Fenty said he would fight bias. Mayor Fenty’s administration issued a certificate of appreciation to the executive director of PFOX, an anti-gay group. He did later apologize and blamed it on a low level staffer but has refused to withdraw it.

Fenty is clearly not the mayor the LGBT community thought they would get. But then if you listen to the heartbeat of the city, he is not the mayor many other communities thought he would be either. When was the last time a mayor of the District of Columbia got booed at a high school graduation? But that is exactly what happened when he was the speaker at the Dunbar graduation. Candidate Fenty was hailed as a savior of the community, Mayor Fenty is viewed very differently.

In both my public and private conversations over the past three and a half years I have given Adrian Fenty kudos for the things he has accomplished. There is no regret for having chaired his issues committee in 2006 and the hours spent volunteering, or the vote cast for him for his first term. There has been progress and some agencies are working better, schools have been upgraded and student test scores are beginning to improve.

Yet it seems that for each good thing that the mayor does, we find something just a little off balance or skewed with how it was accomplished. Many District residents, like me, are coming to the conclusion that there is a better way to move forward and that the time has come for us to thank Mayor Fenty for what he has accomplished but accept that we need to move forward with a more inclusive voice in the mayor’s office. We need someone who can rally the people and work to bring our city together.

I have looked at how the mayor has responded to a number of issues and my unhappiness with his response went into my reasoning and the decision that I will not vote for Adrian Fenty for a second term. It is a conclusion reached after much soul searching and looking closely at where this city I love has come from, and knowing the potential that exists for it to move forward with the right leadership. I have no second thoughts when I say that I believe Adrian Fenty has not earned a second term and that another four years of this administration would not be best for the people of the District of Columbia.

Finance & budgets

Mayor Fenty has continued the work started by Anthony Williams to modernize District government. His first city administrator, Dan Tangherlini, worked in the Williams administration as did his first Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Neil Albert. Albert is now city administrator. What is unclear is how this mayor and the administration have adjusted to the change in the District’s finances. Until this year, the finances of the District seemed to be holding up better than those in surrounding jurisdictions but that is now changing.

The Fenty administration appears to be on a track that will bring the District back to the era of overspending. Budgets are being put together with gimmicks and we are borrowing from the future. The mayor has gone back on his no-new-tax pledge and has called for a raft of new taxes and fees including a $3 an hour parking meter fee. In the budget he proposed for this year he raided the rainy day fund to pay for programs knowing that it would leave the city open to potentially lower bond ratings. The economy has caught up with the District and the mayor is playing politics with the budget to put off dealing with reality until after the election. He clearly is not prepared to make the tough decisions needed to keep us from going back to the situation that brought us the Control Board.

Recent events make me seriously question the mayor’s budgeting skills. How could he have announced a new teacher contract and not know from where the money would come to pay for it? How could he seriously present a budget to the City Council that didn’t have money for additional workforce development when the unemployment rate in some areas east of the river is nearly 30 percent? How could he suggest taking money from the new bag tax, the one the public was told was specifically for the cleanup of the Anacostia River, and use it for basic street cleaning? How could the mayor, who is a health fanatic, suggest that we tax every program from gyms to yoga instruction that people use to get healthy? This is also the mayor who overspent the budget on summer jobs programs for youth by nearly $20 million partly because his budget director forgot to include the planned increase in the minimum wage in the budgeting process.

Open government & transparency

One of the reasons I supported candidate Fenty was his willingness to go door-to-door, talking to people about their issues. Many of us took this as an indication that he cared about and respected people. His openness and skill at working with the press and the public were seen as positive indications that he would run an open and transparent government. But either Adrian Fenty changed or many of us were misled.

Recently Tom Sherwood, the venerable Channel 4 reporter who has covered City Hall for decades, reminded me that Mayor Fenty has not held one news conference since he became Mayor. NOT ONE! Rather the mayor walks around the city from one ribbon cutting to the next, many for projects that were actually begun before he became mayor. He holds numerous photo opportunities, but refuses to answer any tough questions. Questions about how his cronies get the contracts for the facilities, whether there is money in the budget to keep them up and staff them; questions about school reform both on policy and practice, or any questions on the myriad of issues that a mayor is responsible for. Sherwood has suggested that Fenty doesn’t hold news conferences because he isn’t smart enough to answer the questions he would be asked. His recent actions at a public forum of reading the answer to a question off a Blackberry handed to him by an aide wasn’t encouraging. I don’t know about how smart the mayor is, but I do know that he has not answered the tough questions and is unwilling to work with anyone who has a real difference of opinion with him.

I have tried often to figure out what changed when candidate Fenty became Mayor Fenty. One conclusion I have reached is that the worst thing that happened to Adrian Fenty was having Michael Bloomberg praise him publicly and become somewhat of a mentor. While I am an admirer of Mayor Bloomberg and his accomplishments, and I am sure that anyone would find it very flattering to be praised by the billionaire mayor of New York, it appears that Mayor Fenty began to see himself as another Bloomberg. What is missing from this equation is that contrary to Bloomberg, who built a career and a billion dollar empire before becoming mayor, Fenty hadn’t really built or done much of anything. We voted for him because of his youth, vigor and the promise he showed for the future, not because of any great accomplishments.

One discussion I remember having with the mayor-elect just before he took office should have prepared me for what was coming. Fenty told me he was going to copy Bloomberg and have a bullpen built in the Wilson Building. I asked him if he was going to do what Bloomberg did and have bagels and juice for the staff in the morning and lunch brought in. He looked at me like I was living on Mars because of course he didn’t have the personal wealth to do that. His campaign staff also didn’t get the kind of bonuses that Bloomberg gave to his campaign staff. Today we know how that has worked out. There has been a large turnover in the mayor’s personal staff and the only food or drink in the bullpen today is the cooler with Vitamin water next to the mayor’s desk.

Mayor Fenty also adopted Bloomberg’s attitude about not telling people where he was going on weekends or for vacations. But while Bloomberg has his own jet, homes around the world and has personally paid the hotel and airfare of his security team when he takes them along, our mayor took money from foreign governments, borrowed homes from friends and supporters for vacations, and the city has paid for the travel of any security team that went with him.

Education

Education is the mayor’s signature accomplishment, and the one he has always said he will base his re-election campaign on. The mayor has focused much of his three and a half years in office and much of the budget on education reform. The mayor deserves credit for moving forward on reform and there has been progress. Schools that needed to be closed have been closed and others have been rebuilt or refurbished. Children’s test scores are beginning to improve. But I believe, as do others, that if we are to continue to move forward on reform we need to look closer at the internals of school reform and whether we can continue to move forward in the same often high-handed way without consultation with parents, teachers or administrators.

I am not calling for the removal of Chancellor Michelle Rhee. I think some of the way the chancellor has worked is a direct reflection of how the mayor works. She deals with teachers, parents and others in the same way the mayor deals with the Council and constituents. The mayor sets the tone and the chancellor has followed. I think continuity is crucial and that Rhee can be successful on a continuing basis. But if we elect a mayor with a different style of governing I think Rhee will follow suit. I think in the long run that she will find that moving education reform forward from here will be easier for her if she does. Education reform is based on policy, not personality, and continuing it requires bringing parents, teachers and the community along for the ride. I think Chancellor Rhee can still do that and do it successfully.

I think we need to look closely at the details within the overall test scores and see what progress we have actually made in closing the achievement gap. Though it took three years to negotiate a union contract we now have one and we need to move beyond the animosity that was created. We can do that and we need to do that for the sake of our children. I don’t think that Fenty can do that.

We also need to begin to recognize and give credit to all those who have participated in moving our education system forward. It was the City Council that approved education reform even though it was a very difficult vote. It was former Superintendent Clifford Janey who instituted the curriculum and standards our children are now making progress under.

It was apparent that for the first two years of reform most people held their tongues and didn’t criticize because there was a recognition that we needed some drastic measures to move our schools forward. But now we must heed the call for transparency in both school budgets and policies because it has become a drumbeat. The next mayor will need to be responsive to that, as will the chancellor, and not just continue to disregard it as the current mayor is doing.

The next mayor must also look at education in a broader perspective than Mayor Fenty has. As President Obama has said we cannot just focus on one thing when so many need fixing. A mayor may want to make one thing his signature issue but he can’t neglect everything else. In the area of education Mayor Fenty has done just that. He has neglected the University of the District of Columbia and it is despite him, not because of him, that they have made tremendous progress. They have begun a community college and put the university back on the path to success. The mayor tried to pack the Board of Trustees with unqualified candidates and then tried to stop the hiring of a new president forgetting that the university, under the rules of its accrediting body, must have independence.

The District must also look closely at early childhood education and even education and health programs for those from birth to three. Too often our children come to school at age five so far behind that just catching them up is a massive undertaking. We can do better than that.

We need to look at the special education programs of the District. Candidate Fenty promised change and money to bring programs into DCPS that would eventually cut the costs of special education. He hasn’t focused on those programs and as of today we still spend nearly $275 million a year on special education programs, some on sending our children to private institutions around the nation.

The LGBT community

There is more to being a mayor than attending ribbon cuttings and making glib statements. The mayor of a big city like Washington, D.C., the capital of the free world, has a bully pulpit that few others have. The mayor has the ability to rally people to a cause by working to change hearts and minds. This is an area in which I believe Adrian Fenty has been a total failure. I am not sure whether this is a lack of ability, a lack of interest or simply not something he agrees with.

Candidate Fenty was great on LGBT issues. I know that because I drafted his platform and positions on these issues. He spoke up on them when he campaigned. But the reality is that when he became mayor he was nowhere to be seen. The only time he showed up and spoke out was for the effort to secure the Gay Games for D.C. Maybe this piqued the interest of the athlete in him.

But the litany of issues on which the mayor was missing in action is long. In the fight for marriage equality the mayor was nowhere to be found. He didn’t testify at the Council in favor of it, didn’t allow his appointed director of the Office of GLBT Affairs to do so, and never spoke in favor of it while the fight for it raged on. The mayor merely repeated that he would sign the bill if it came to his desk, which he did. But by that time it was a veto-proof bill. The mayor then held a signing ceremony and did a photo opportunity at the first weddings but didn’t even take the 30 minutes to attend any of them.

The mayor emasculated the mayor’s advisory committee on GLBT Affairs by appointing only those who he thought wouldn’t speak out. He even appointed a chair for the committee who was the partner of a city employee who couldn’t challenge him without putting his partner’s job in jeopardy.

There are many other issues that call into question the sincerity of the mayor’s support for the LGBT community. They include his refusal to enter into discussions on appropriate health education for students, not finding time once in three years to attend the GLBT economic summits, his refusal to meet with the community on hate crimes or to even admit that this was a serious issue for the community. He even reneged on a campaign promise to keep the core of the GLLU at full complement.

In another instance when the Council Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act of 2008, which clearly established the relationship of a child to both of its parents in a domestic partnership and strengthened families and increased the legal protection of children, his administration worked against it. Shortly before the hearing on the bill Tonya A. Sapp, his director of Legislative Affairs for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), sent a letter to the committee stating that the bill’s language changing ”mother” and ”father” to the gender-neutral ”parents” might ”place the District out of compliance with federal law.” In the memo Sapp treated parentage as exclusively biological, which is not even the law for heterosexual couples.

In another instance, the Fenty administration issued a notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was published in the District of Columbia Register on July 11, 2008 concerning intent by the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) and the D.C. Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to amend Chapter 8 of Title 4 of DCMR governing the “Gender Identity or Expression” provision of the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 (DCHRA). Two of the proposed new subsections essentially exempted the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) from having to obey the Human Rights Act as it applies to transgender detainees and prisoners. This rulemaking was sent to the Commission on Human Rights on which the Mayor’s Director of the Office of GLBT Affairs sits. He had to recuse himself from voting on the issue. This event showed clearly how inappropriate his appointment to that commission was, but also that the mayor wouldn’t chance having a representative on the commission that would speak up for the community.

While the mayor of the District of Columbia may not have a direct impact on how Congress acts on issues like repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the LGBT community in the District surely can expect that the mayor who asked for our votes will stand up and be counted and speak out on a consistent basis in support of the rights of his constituents.

The most recent incident that would lead to questioning how serious the mayor is when it comes to supporting the community was when it was found that the mayor’s office had issued a certificate of appreciation to the executive director of the virulently anti-gay group PFOX. The mayor did apologize for that by blaming it on low-level staff. There was outrage in much of the community over this and six Council members told the mayor that his statement wasn’t enough. They said that issuance of the certificate was an embarrassment to the District and it needed to be recalled. The mayor has refused to do that.

The question many in the LGBT community have a right to ask is whether the mayor believes showing up and walking in a Pride parade and attending the High Heel Race each year is really support.

HIV/AIDS

The District has one of, if not the highest, incidence of HIV/AIDS in the nation and yet the mayor refuses to take a personal role in fighting this epidemic. Candidate Fenty promised to hold an HIV/AIDS summit because he recognized we have an epidemic in the District that had reached crisis proportions. The summit was held, but now three and a half years later there has never been a follow-up and the community at large has not been invited back to work on this issue. In fact the mayor seemed surprised at the numbers released by Appleseed on how prevalent HIV/AIDS was in the District even though he ran on a platform that called it an epidemic.

The mayor has yet to keep his campaign promise to talk to every community group and every faith-based group about what they can do to help stem this epidemic. Again it is the bully pulpit the mayor refuses to use in a constructive way.

These are just some of my reasons for not voting to give Adrian Fenty a second term. There are others. Harry Jaffe of the Examiner and Mike DeBonis, formerly of the Washington City Paper and now at the Washington Post have both publicly called Fenty a “jerk.” Others have used less flattering terms. I see him as arrogant and aloof. He no longer appears to care about people, or even make the pretense of doing so. He appears more concerned with the perks of office, running triathlons, going to Georgetown dinner parties, and taking vacations in homes he borrows from donors than he does in doing the nitty-gritty work required of a big city mayor. He makes a big deal about driving a smart car and uses it in parades; remember this car was purchased for him by the city — as a second vehicle. He still has the SUV and uses that when it’s convenient.

I worked hard to elect Adrian Fenty and as I indicated, I think that there are positive things that have happened during his time in office. I did have my arguments with him during the campaign. They were issue-oriented, and campaign debates. He even stormed out of a restaurant after one argument. I have seen this attitude rear its head again in his dealing with staff. He has threatened staff with firing publicly and has fired any staff member who had the temerity to venture an opinion that contradicts his.

There are so many other small issues that taken together seem to show a man who is not willing to compromise or work with others in any way. The baseball ticket fiasco; standing up the late Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou when they asked for a meeting over the mayor’s trying to throw the Wish List out of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center; refusing to attend major conferences that come to D.C. because it interferes with his athletic schedule; refusing to let administration agencies join with the Council on public events; firing the chair of the D.C. Housing Authority Board when he questioned the terms of contracts destined for a Fenty crony; and trying to stop the UDC Board of Trustees from appointing a president so he could try to install his own candidate even after having his unqualified candidates to the Board of Trustees turned down by the Council.

Now in his campaign for a second term, Mayor Fenty talks about leadership when he participates in forums. He calls anyone who questions him a critic as if that were something bad.

Leadership in the long run requires bringing people together. It often requires some compromise and seeing an issue though to a positive end. It requires that you convince people to come around to your side on an issue and to even make them feel good about it. Those are things this mayor hasn’t been able to do. Can he buy this election with the fundraising he has done? Maybe, but that isn’t leadership.

The mayor considers building new libraries at the same time we are laying off library staff and cutting the hours of use in existing ones leadership. I see it more as poor judgment and possible pandering to a constituency. The mayor sees building new recreation centers while not knowing where the money will come from to keep the facility in working order, or staffing it appropriately, as leadership. I consider it poor management and budgeting.

The mayor apparently sees spending money as a way to buy votes when in actuality we are facing a budget that is unbalanced without gimmicks. Leadership is not hiding from the community the true seriousness of our economic condition. Leadership is not taking the money from the bag tax meant to cleanup the Anacostia River and using it for basic street cleaning. Leadership isn’t hiding from the reality of the future because it is an election year.

What Mayor Fenty knows but apparently conveniently likes to forget is that contrary to the federal budget, the District must balance its budget. As the Washington Post recently editorialized, and I paraphrase, “If we continue down this path, balance our budget with slight of hand and gimmicks, and borrow from our future, we will end up where we were in 1996 with a nearly bankrupt city.” I don’t see that as leadership, but rather a lack of leadership.

I have often questioned whether this is the same man I thought would be a great mayor — the man that I believed would bring real change to the District of Columbia, end cronyism and begin to bring our city together. After three and a half years it appears that cronyism is alive and flourishing only with a different set of cronies. Tom Sherwood joked at the last GLBT Economic Summit that if you want a job or contract with the Fenty administration you had better join the right fraternity.

Our city is further apart both economically and racially. We are the two cities that Anthony Williams spoke about and wanted to try to bring together. We have an overall unemployment over 11 percent and unemployment in some parts east of the river at nearly 30 percent.

We are a city that too often still sees issues from a racial perspective and we have a mayor who refuses to even talk about the racial divide. One thing I have learned over my lifetime is that if you don’t, or can’t, talk about an issue, you can’t begin to solve it.

For these reasons I will not vote to give Mayor Adrian Fenty a second term. I have not yet formally endorsed another candidate but will shortly and those who know me know that when I support someone I will do so wholeheartedly just as I did when I supported Adrian Fenty for a first term.

After being involved in politics for too many years to mention I have come to accept that there are no perfect candidates. But I do believe that there is someone who will be better able to lead us through the next four years.

Peter Rosenstein is a D.C.-based LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.

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Shawna Hachey of Celebrity APEX on what makes a good cruise director

A love of people is a must

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Shawna Hachey (Photo courtesy Hachey)

The position of cruise director on any ship is one of the most important, especially on a transatlantic voyage, like the recent one I took on the Celebrity APEX. So much of what people remember is the entertainment. Shawna Hachey is a great Cruise Director and I had the opportunity to sit and chat with her during the cruise. The job keeps her jumping and she is one of the busiest people on the ship. Shawna has a great bubbly personality. She likes people, which is a requirement for that position. 

Shawna shared she is from New Brunswick, Canada, and has come a long way from there. She has now been with Celebrity for nearly thirteen years. I kidded her that meant she must have begun when she was ten. She is actually a very young looking thirty-five. She graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a degree in fashion design, a passion of hers. Shawna told me when she graduated, she had the options of a job in the fashion industry, or working on a cruise ship.  Her dad was the one who suggested she go see the world and she ended up falling in love with cruise ships.

It is not an easy job. Her schedule is four months on and four off. The recent pandemic had her off the ship for a year and a half, during which time she worked in a government job back in Canada until Celebrity called her back. Her first contract after the pandemic, because of staff shortages, was eight months on and two off. But she loves the job. 

Shawna did the usual for someone in her position and worked her way up the ranks from activity host, to activity manager, to cruise director.  At one point she did something different and had a stint as a school teacher in London for a year, teaching kindergarten, but came back to cruising. I can just see her with those kids and am sure she was great. 

As Cruise Director she is responsible for organizing all the entertainment on the ship. That includes lectures, Zumba, game shows, silent disco’s, evening parties, resort deck parties and other games, as well as the back of house and theater tours. She works to ensure every traveler has something to keep them busy and having fun. As Shawna told me, that is always a little harder on a transatlantic cruise with so many sea days. But judging by the comments on the ship by so many of the people I met, she was doing a great job. 

The Cruise Director doesn’t get to choose all the talent, as Celebrity does the booking, but Shawna can and did request some approved acts. She loves working with those like the incredibly talented, Andrew Derbyshire. Many of us were excited he was going to be on our cruise. I first met Andrew, and wrote about him, last year when I was on APEX. He is an amazing entertainer. Shawna explained to me with the big shows like Crystalize and Tree of Life, Celebrity now produces those themselves and interviews talent for them around the world. One of the cast members in those shows, Nate Promkul, I predict will end up a star on Broadway. With the individual artists, their agents submit them to Celebrity, who then hires them for all their different ships. 

Before working on APEX Shawna has worked on a number of other Celebrity ships including Solstice, Reflection, Equinox and Silhouette. Shawna shared a story with me about Celebrity. They have always had a lot of crew from the Ukraine. Apparently, after the war began any crew members from Ukraine still working, were able to bring their families who could get out of Ukraine on board to live with them. This is a wonderful humanitarian thing to do. 

I enjoyed talking to Shawna and urge any cruiser on the APEX to say hello when you are onboard. She will always have a big smile for you. 

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Meet Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis of the Celebrity APEX

Reflecting on life aboard a ship during COVID

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Peter Rosenstein and Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis (Photo courtesy of Rosenstein)

It really was a pleasure to chat with Celebrity APEX Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis who invited me to the bridge for a conversation. I learned he is quite an amazing man.  

Captain Christodoulakis told me Celebrity is the only cruise company he has ever been with and joined them twenty-eight years ago in 1994. While still a young man of 47 he has already been a captain for 12 years. In one of the many interesting lectures during the cruise, we were given a talk on how one can become a captain. How one moves up the ranks at Celebrity. We were told about all the education and testing required. The speaker, who was not yet a captain, kidded he would reach that goal by 2080. He then told us jokingly about the exception for those of Greek extraction. He said they received their captain’s certificate along with their birth certificate. When I mentioned this to the captain during our conversation he laughed and assured me he did have all the needed education and tests.  

Captain Christodoulakis told me proudly he is from the Island of Crete, and still lives there with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. A captain with Celebrity is on a schedule of three months on, and three months off. He said he loves those three months off when he can be with his wife and daughter, and the rest of his family, back on Crete. I told him I had been to Crete many years ago and thought it was beautiful and asked him if he had ever walked down the famous Samariá Gorge and he said he hadn’t.

Over his years with Celebrity, he worked on many ships, including Horizon and Century among others. His most recent ship was the Reflection, which he captained during the COVID pandemic. That was not an easy time for the cruise line. He was with Reflection for three years and during the pandemic spent part of the time with the ship sitting in the Bahamas, with a crew of less than 100. Just enough to keep the ship ready to sail again when he could welcome passengers back. I told him I was on the APEX last year on a transatlantic cruise out of Barcelona with only had 1250 passengers and a crew of about 1,000. He told me on this cruise there were 2340 passengers and a crew of close to 1200. The APEX can accommodate up to 3,400 passengers with a crew of 1,250. The captain agreed staffing back up has been difficult and complimented the Celebrity HR department who he said has been working overtime recruiting crew. 

I asked him about protections for the crew during the pandemic and continuing today. He said Celebrity has been really good about that and all crew on the APEX have been vaccinated and boosted against Covid and during this transatlantic cruise they were all getting flu shots. On this trip the crew was required to wear masks for their safety. During the sea days they were allowed to take them off when outdoors, so we could see their smiles.

I then asked him what he wants to do next after he stops being a Captain. He told me he loves being a Captain and really can’t see another career. He did tell me once he retires, years from now, maybe when his daughter is in college, he wants to get an RV, and drive across Europe with his wife, seeing all the sites at a slow and leisurely pace. Then would like to do the same going across the United States stopping at all the national parks. Sounds like a great retirement.  I asked if he often leaves the ship in the ports where it stops. He says he does if his wife and daughter are on board visiting, and anticipates them joining him for the upcoming holidays. When they aren’t with him, he gets off if he can get to a beach, or a place to swim and dive, which he loves.

I then mentioned there was a party that afternoon my friends and travel agents, Scott and Dustin, with My Lux Cruise, were hosting in the Iconic suite. He said he would enjoy coming to that. I thanked him for taking the time to chat, said I hope to see him at the party, and left the bridge.

I didn’t say anything to Scott or Dustin about inviting him. Not only did he come but brought the Hotel Director, Christophe, with him. They were incredibly open and gracious, taking selfies. Christophe told us he would be on the BEYOND when we do our next transatlantic cruise in October 2023. 

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On the high seas: Rome and transatlantic cruise

Parts three, four, and five of my journey

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Woke up with a phone call telling me my coffee, juice and bagel were being delivered to the room on day 3 of my trip. My shore excursions begin today.  I was scheduled to leave the ship at 10:00am for five hours in Valencia for a tour of the city and a taste of some Spanish food. We had a knowledgeable guide who regaled us with the history of the city. The food stops were a little messed up as there were other tour groups stopping before us at the same places and the timing was off. But that didn’t stop us appreciating the city. My first time in Valencia had been nearly 50 years ago during a three-month sojourn in Spain. It was a lot more crowded today and it has been urbanized like so many cities. But I think they have done a great job in keeping the wonderful feeling of the city. What was beautiful to see was the new science center with the beautiful architecture by Santiago Calatrava. After a two-hour walk-in town, we met the bus and headed back to the ship. I decided it was time to head to the gym for a little time on the lifecycle and some weights. My trainers at FIT, Naldo and Juan, would have been proud.

Then it was off to a Halloween Party hosted by Scott and Dustin in the Iconic suite. The costumes were great. I was lazy and not being a big costume person just wore a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses and went as an old tourist. It was a fun party, then dinner at Luminae, the restaurant in the Retreat. Then the highlight of the evening the incredible show in the APEX theater with Andrew Derbyshire. I will talk more about Andrew in a later blog. I interviewed him during my cruise last year and he is just a fun person, aside from being a brilliant talent. 

Day four dawned bright and sunny and we headed into the Port of Malaga. Since we weren’t scheduled to leave the ship until 1:00pm I headed to the gym early and then sat on the retreat terrace and sipped a cappuccino. A really tough life, but then someone has to lead it, so why not me?

Malaga is a beautiful city on the Costa del Sol. We toured the Alhambra and cathedral. I realized I had forgotten my phone on our bus and had to wait until after the tour to retrieve it. It was weird not having it in my hand but in a way kind of liberating. Any pictures I wanted friends were taking and would share. We didn’t have to be back on the ship until 9:30pm so after the official tour we stayed in Malaga and had great drinks and tapas, enough for dinner, at a restaurant owned by Antonio Banderas called Bodega El Pimpi

Then back to the APEX for two great shows that evening. The entertainment onboard is really great. One show in the theater with dueling guitarists and then to the CLUB for Caravan, a carnival extravaganza with singers, dancers and acrobats of Cirque du Soleil caliber. Then off to bed to prepare for tomorrow’s visit to Gibraltar. 

Part IV

Day five of my cruise again dawned bright and sunny. Today was exciting for me as it was the first stop on my trip to a place I hadn’t been before, Gibraltar. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried to go once before. In 1972 while on the Costa del Sol, I traveled down to Algeciras only to find that Franco, who was still ruling Spain, had dug up the road to Gibraltar over a fight with the British. So, it has taken me this long to go see the Rock and the wild Barbary Macaques. They didn’t disappoint.

It was a great day traveling the Rock and seeing the siege tunnels and the monkeys. A ride on the cable car to the top of the Rock was also great and the view spectacular. Then back to the ship for another evening of food and entertainment. The daily schedule given out each evening in every cabin lists an LGBTQ+ get together at 6 pm in Eden; one of the better bars and lounges on the ship. Each evening I meet more and more members of the community, those traveling in my group and so many others.

There is now another sea day to look forward to before our final stop in the Azores. Then we head to sea for seven days. Sea days are lazy days for me. Writing, reading, the gym and just sitting with friends drinking and eating. I enjoyed the retreat bar and headed there with a group for a burger for lunch. That evening we saw Andrew Derbyshire’s second show, and then headed to Le Petite Chef for dinner. It is a fun meal with a story playing out on video on your plate, and on the table in front of you. I hear they will open a place in DC and it is worth a visit for the fun of it. Then it was an early night for me and we turned our clocks back an hour, so I was actually in bed by 11.

Friday, day seven of the cruise, dawned bright but we understood the weather would begin to change as we headed to the Azores. We docked late in San Miguel, it was 3:00pm, and the fog was rolling in and it would be dark by 6:00pm. So while we had hoped to see the lakes, one green and one blue, from the top of the crater, all we saw was fog. A reminder one doesn’t control the weather. We did have a nice stop to taste Azorean wines and cheeses at a beautiful hotel in Ponta Delgada. Then back to the ship to begin our long sea voyage across the Atlantic. It was a little disconcerting to arrive back on the ship and find ‘barf’ bags all over as they were anticipating rough seas for a couple of days. All the balcony furniture had been moved into the room. The Captain explained how he would try to avoid the worst of the storm. As it turned out the night wasn’t bad at all and the morning brought clearing skies.

Part V

The past six sea days are really the most fun of my transatlantic voyage. Days of just looking out at the beautiful ocean. I would start each day with a room service breakfast. I would put my breakfast order on the order form, out on the door handle before I went to bed and my butler, Simon, would deliver it at the time in the morning I requested. For me that was 7:00am. I would have a bagel, juice, fruit and coffee each morning. I will miss Simon’s knock on the door my first day home, which won’t come.

And before you ask, yes everyone in the Retreat is assigned a butler to help with any little issue you may have. After breakfast I would write for two hours. These blogs, my columns for the Blade which I had a hard time sending because of the terrible internet, and a final edit of my book before it is due at the editor on Nov. 15.

Now there is plenty to do on sea days on the Celebrity APEX if you want to be active. You can attend lectures on various topics, play bingo, run on the track or head to the fully equipped gym for a workout on your own, or go to exercise classes of various kinds. I actually have gone to the gym every day for about an hour split between the lifecycle and weights. Then there is the casino if you are so inclined. One of the group I am traveling with told us he won nearly $1,000. He didn’t mention if he lost much before he won, but then that doesn’t count.

Each day after the gym I would spend an hour at the Retreat lounge with a cappuccino and some good conversation.

One day I went to an interesting session “behind the scenes of the APEX theater.” It was there I met Nate Promkul, an incredible singer and actor who told me his dream is to be on Broadway. I predict his dream will come true. The APEX theater is the most advanced of any ship with a multi-million-dollar screen that provides amazing backgrounds for all their shows.

Most afternoons I would head to the Retreat sun deck to read but would end up in some interesting conversations, often about politics. Remember, we were in the middle of the Atlantic during the election and yes, everyone had voted before they left home. Then I had the opportunity to do an interview with the Captain on the bridge, and another with the cruise director, both of which will be in future columns.

One can’t forget all the food and drink consumed. The food onboard is generally good and there is a great variety to choose from. Anything from bar-b-que at the Rooftop Garden Grill to sushi at Raw On 5. There are four regular restaurants where you can eat your meals and they are included in your cruise fare. There are specialty restaurants for which you pay a little more for a meal. There is one restaurant reserved for guests in the Retreat, Luminae and I ate there a number of times. One of the specialty restaurants I really enjoyed last year on the APEX was Eden. We ate there a number of times this year but I give it mixed reviews.

Last year’s chef was no longer there. Then there is the Oceanview Café, the huge buffet, open all day. If you can’t find food you like there, everything under the sun including pizza, you are hopeless.

Sea days have gone by quickly with great entertainment every night in multiple venues. Last night there was ‘silent disco’ in the Martini Bar. This morning I woke to calm seas as we approached our last stop, Nassau. I will stay on the ship and enjoy it for a final day. Tomorrow morning when I wake up, we will be docked in Ft. Lauderdale and my transatlantic cruise will be over. I will definitely miss the Celebrity APEX and its wonderful crew, and all the friends, new and old, who traveled with me. But I can look forward to seeing them all again next October when we embark on the Celebrity BEYOND for our 2023 transatlantic voyage.

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