Jerry Kremer

RIP Paul Jackson, renowned South Shore historian


The towns, cities and villages of Long Island have their own recorded and unrecorded histories. Their stories are told by local historians, librarians and historical societies. In many cases, lacking those resources, the history of those communities disappears year by year with the passing of the people who were blessed with those long-term memories.
Long Beach, one of South Shore residents’ most popular coastal escapes, is one of those places whose colorful history has filled numerous books, and is lucky enough to have residents who make it their mission to keep its history enshrined in books and fading photographs. One of the keepers of Long Beach history, Paul Jackson, died recently, leaving behind a number of hard-to-find books and other cherished notes that will fade in time.
Jackson was a prolific writer, and published a number of books that gained the attention of history critics across the country. His first, “Our Town, Our Time: Long Beach, L.I. in the 1930s and WWII,” was a nostalgic look at the seaside city, with recollections of the schools, stores, movie theaters, the boardwalk and hotels. Orphan’s Day, the big bank robbery of 1939 and the murder of the mayor by a cop were its highlights. Jackson chronicled the experiences of 250 returning GI’s and wrote about the 30 Long Beach men who were killed in the war.
His second book “Scoundrels by the Sea: The Sullied Past of Long Beach Politicians, Swindlers, Bootleggers — and Worse,” wasn’t published until 2013, long after Jackson left his chosen profession. In that book he took on dozens of deceased politicians, such as District Attorney William Cahn, State Assembly Speaker Joe Carlino, Democratic Leader Phil Kohut and Tammany Hall Leader Jimmy Hines, and described at length the lesser-known events and personalities that made Long Beach unique, compared with its many neighboring communities.
While not a colorful celebrity, Jackson’s primary job was as editor and publisher of the weekly Long Beach Independent, which dated back to the late 1930s but ceased publishing in 1976. I got to know him when I was 12 years old, and had the temerity to walk into the paper’s office on Park Place and offer my services as a writer. I didn’t ask for money, but just the opportunity to write for free, which had become a childhood passion.

Jackson was impressed with my nerve, and I was assigned to read the dozens of press releases that came in each week and try to boil each one down to a simple paragraph. In my early days at the Independent, I didn’t understand much about Long Beach politics, but I learned in a short time that it was brutal. There was no real Republican Party, but the city boasted the presence of the Assembly speaker, Carlino. The two factions were the group headed by the Democratic Party leader, Kohut, and his adversary, former Mayor Theodore Ornstein.
Working for a weekly newspaper while at the same time trying to launch my own political career was a great challenge. Jackson didn’t believe in political correctness, and one by one, he challenged the people in power with blistering commentary. During those tumultuous years, I tried to walk a straight line between the factions, but sooner or later I would be forced to choose a side to survive.
In those years, the most valuable asset that any weekly could have was the designation as the city’s official newspaper. That meant that all of the city’s legal notices were published in that paper. Survival depended on whether the political bosses favored your paper over its local rival. Eventually Jackson’s political commentary got under Kohut’s skin, and the Independent lost that coveted designation.
Jackson’s career as an editor and publisher lasted only a few years, and without that valuable patronage, the Independent ceased publication. I continued to work part-time for weekly papers until I graduated from law school, worked as a city prosecutor and was elected to the Assembly. I had a brief encounter with Jackson when my book “Winning Albany” was published. Jackson was upset with my friendly relationship with “Boss Kohut.”
The people who work hard to preserve Long Beach history owe a special debt of gratitude to Jackson for his dedicated work in chronicling so many key moments of local history. A side note: “Scoundrels by the Sea” lists for $122 on Amazon.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?