Hot and bothered Town’s legal action forces trade show to move

By Monday it will all be over.

The blow up dolls will be deflated. The battery operated “devices” will be packed away. And the porn pros will have blown out of the state.

But for one week the tiff between the Town of Secaucus and Victory Tradeshow Management, organizers of the Exxxotica NY convention, dominated local headlines and made for amusing conversation at water coolers throughout Hudson County.

The dispute, however, has some residents and political observers asking why Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell was opposed to Exxxotica NY, yet has seemed more tolerant of adult entertainment in other contexts.

Trade show announced in June

Victory Tradeshow Management first announced that it would bring its Exxxotica NY convention – a gathering of people who work in the adult entertainment profession – to the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus on June 1.

Elwell said he only became aware of the convention after a retired Secaucus police officer saw fliers for the show over the Labor Day weekend and asked Police Chief Dennis Corcoran if the town had any laws on the books to prevent the show from going on.

It did. According to Mayor Elwell, Secaucus passed an ordinance in 1996 that prohibits the serving of alcohol at any venue where there is nudity or where “sex acts” are being performed. Although the Meadowlands Exposition Center holds a liquor license, representatives for the trade show did not respond to questions about whether they planned to sell liquor at the show or not.

“We had no knowledge that this show would be happening until very recently,” Elwell said. “These people really should have approached us first to see if we had any laws in place that might prevent them holding the convention here…They didn’t do that.”

Last Monday, just four days before Exxxotica was scheduled to begin, Secaucus filed a suit in Hudson County Superior Court to block the convention from taking place, using the local ordinance as the basis of its legal argument.

J. Handy, director of Victory Tradeshow Management, said he was stunned.

“At this point I’m not certain what we’re going to do. We’re exploring several options and I hope to have a more formal response tomorrow,” Handy said last Monday afternoon after the Secaucus suit was filed. “We held a similar show down in Miami and we had no problems there.”

Handy and the folks at Victory recovered quickly, however. Within 24-hours they had secured a new location for the convention – the Raritan Center in Edison – and were trying to milk the showdown with Secaucus to generate more interest in the convention. Marketing materials drafted after the move was announced read: “Too Hot for Secaucus, The Show Your Mayor Warned You About.”

“I know the organizers are out there laughing and making fun and so forth,” Elwell said. “But I think this incident should serve as a message to other businesses out there that they should always approach the governing body first to see if we have any laws regulating whatever it is they are trying to do.”

What about AJ’s and Charlie’s Corner?

While some residents in town applauded the mayor’s decision to go after the Victory event, some questioned – off the record, of course – why Charlie’s Corner and AJ’s Go-Go Nite Club – two home-grown adult entertainment bars in Secaucus – don’t get the same scrutiny.

Last week as Mayor Elwell railed against Exxxotica NY, AJ’s advertised its “Class with Ass” back to school event, scheduled for Sept. 11. This Thursday (Sept. 18) the club will host a “slumber party.” “Let’s put these sexy girls to bed,” a man’s voice said on the club’s answering machine last week. The club’s home page on features photos of scantily-clad women, but no nudity.

In an interview with the Reporter Mayor Elwell said the town ordinance doesn’t apply to AJ’s and Charlie’s Corner because they are old establishments that were already in business before the law went into effect. As such, they were essentially “grandfathered” under an older law that allows drinking at clubs that have nudity.

“If the liquor licenses were to change hands, or if the businesses were to be sold, AJ’s and Charlie’s Corner would also be subject to the same law that we applied to Exxxotica NY,” Elwell said.

…And what about Déjà Vu?

Elwell’s aggressive stance toward Exxxotica NY raised some eyebrows, too, because of his patronage of an Atlantic City club some Hudson County politicians and lobbyists claim is an upscale version of AJ’s. The club in question is called Déjà Vu Nightclub.

Each November the New Jersey League of Municipalities holds a conference in Atlantic City. It’s common for mayors and other elected officials from across the state to host parties in local restaurants and clubs during the four-day gathering. In the past Mayor Elwell has hosted parties at a club called Déjà Vu Nightclub, located on New York Ave. in Atlantic City.

The club, part of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, is alternately described as a “strip joint” and a “regular nightclub,” depending on who’s doing the describing.

“Oh yeah, it’s definitely a strip club,” said one elected leader who admits he has never been to one of Elwell’s parties.

Two others familiar with Déjà Vu also described the entertainment there as “erotic.”

The club’s own marketing notes that it “specializes in bachelor, bachelorette, and birthday parties.”

But last week Mayor Elwell said any suggestion that Déjà Vu is anything other than an ordinary nightclub is inaccurate.

“It’s a dance club. Normally the club features different types of music on different days of the week. My party usually begins at 11 p.m. And we have one or two hours of cocktails. After that it becomes a normal dance party. Every politician hosts some sort of a party down there during the League of Municipalities conference. Some of them are dessert parties, some are bar parties. Some of them are dance parties. [Team Elwell] honored George Heflich when he became president of the State Firemen’s Assoc., and we’ve honored elected officials over the years. But I have never, ever seen a go-go girl in there.”

An August 2003 Between the Lines column in the Reporter included an item about one of Elwell’s Atlantic City soirees. The column described Déjà Vu as “one of Atlantic City’s hottest nightclubs,” but made no mention of strippers, pole dancers, or any other type of adult entertainment.

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