Hurricane Sandy Aftermath: Should ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Help Rebuild Atlantic City?

As Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast this weekend, residents of Atlantic City quickly became aware that their famous resort town would suffer the brunt of its wrath. The storm made landfall near the historic New Jersey city on Monday evening, leaving in its wake a mess of flooded hotels, damaged casinos and several blocks’ worth of ravaged boardwalk. 

A day later, as daunted authorities and heartbroken business owners stood back to assess the horrific damage, one activist is asking for help from some of Atlantic City’s most famous fictional residents. Hannah Sassaman, a legislative media-reform organizer from Philadelphia, has launched an online petition calling on HBO and the producers of “Boardwalk Empire” to wield their media influence and help rebuild the city in which their hit series is set.     

“HBO has won huge acclaim and made millions with its captivating story about how Prohibition changed countless lives,” Sassaman writes in the petition. “With the horrible damage that Frankenstorm Sandy wreaked on the city's businesses and homes, HBO can use its powerful media platform to raise money and support local, state, and federal relief efforts.”

Sassaman, a fan of the series, writes that she was watching “Boardwalk Empire” on Monday night, just as the hurricane was destroying homes and business and uprooting thousands of Atlantic City families. She added that now is the time for HBO to step up and help raise the funds those families need. “After 9/11, I remember many television platforms breaking the fourth wall to raise money for or stand with survivors of the attacks,” she added.

The petition was launched Tuesday on the website Change.org and has attracted 88 supporters as of Wednesday afternoon. Judging from the user comments on the page, many of the supporters are residents or former residents of the city in question.  

“My family has been in Atlantic City for a hundred years,” wrote Nicole Aro, a petition signatory from Washington, D.C. “The storm devastated the community. Please help us rebuild.”

Sassaman is asking for 100 signatures before the petition is sent to Jeff Cusson and Quentin Schaffer, two vice presidents from HBO’s corporate communications department. Cusson and Schaffer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Although set in Atlantic City, much of “Boardwalk Empire” is filmed at Steiner Studios, a waterfront production complex in Brooklyn where producers constructed a $5 million, 300-foot-long boardwalk to recreate Prohibition-era Atlantic City. The Brooklyn waterfront was also damaged by Sandy’s floodwaters, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has suspended film permits for outside shooting until at least Friday. There is no word on whether Steiner Studios itself incurred damage.

[Update: Nov. 1. 10 a.m.] On Wednesday, Douglas C. Steiner issued the following statement saying that all is well at Steiner Studios and that the complex would be back up and running on Thursday, Nov. 1: “We made it through the hurricane unscathed. We have all power, were not flooded and will be re-opened for our productions tomorrow.” 

Sassaman wrote that a fund backed by the team behind “Boardwalk Empire” could go a long way toward bringing valuable relief -- and perhaps even a much-needed warning -- from the devastation that Sandy left behind. 

“Maybe we should think about how climate change might mean that the Boardwalk that Nucky Thompson stands by in the opening credits just got washed away,” she added. 

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