Anger over 9/11 statue use for ‘Princesses’

By Bill San Antonio The Island Now

Jonathan L. Ielpi Firefighters Park

Jonathan L. Ielpi Firefighters Park

Great Neck Park District officials are fuming over a recent episode of the Bravo reality series Princesses: Long Island in which a cast member used a September 11 memorial statue in Great Neck Plaza as a prop in a racy photo shoot.

In the episode, which aired June 30, cast member Amanda Bertoncini and a photographer call out provocative poses for their model to make in the Jonathan L. Ielpi Firefighters Park, including one in which the model feeds alcohol to the statue of Jonathan Ielpi, a 29-year-old firefighter from Great Neck who died during the September 11 attacks.

Bertoncini also calls for the model to kiss the statue while showcasing Bertoncini’s product line of designer drink holders, the Drink Hanky.

In a July 17 letter that was submitted to Blank Slate Media as a letter to the editor, park officials slammed Bravo for the scene, writing that the network and its cast members “acted dishonorably and are not trustworthy.”

The park district also alleges that the network, which is owned by NBC Universal, did not obtain the necessary permit required to film in the park and that the show is not welcome to use its facilities in the future.

“Not only have you caused pain for the family of Jonathan Ielpi, but you have offended the Great Neck community, its fire departments, and firefighters everywhere,” the letter said.

When the episode first aired, Ielpi’s sister, Melissa Ielpi Brengal [sic], told Pix 11 incident “opens up the wounds and it just makes you want to cry all over again.”

“Pretending I’m drinking with this man who was killed, it may not be against the law to do it but it is the most disrespectful and disgusting thing that I think you can do,” Ielpi Brengel said.

Bertoncini, a resident of Great Neck, issued an apology to the Ielpi family Monday on her Facebook page, writing “I would like to take this time to apologize to the community of Great Neck and fellow Long Islanders, as well as anyone who was affected by 9/11. I would especially like to extend my sincere apologies to the family of Jonathan Ielpi. I never meant to hurt or offend anyone when I was doing my photo shoot for The Drink Hanky. I hope you all can find it in your hearts to forgive me and understand that it was a spontaneous photo shoot without being aware that that [sic] statue was a memorial of sentimental value.”

Ielpi Brengal told Pix 11 she did not accept the apology, saying it was another opportunity to advertise her product.

“How do you not know it has something to do with the fire department?” Ielpi Brengel said. “You grew up in Great Neck, you’re a 30-year-old woman living off your parents, who grew up in Great Neck. How do you not know?”

Ielpi’s father Lee, the president of the September 11th Families’ Association, told the New York Daily News the segment of the show should not have made it past the editing room and into the final cut of the episode.

“This was not a live piece. This was taped,” Ielpi’s father Lee told the Daily News. “The producers of the show knew what they were doing when they aired it, and they’re the ones that should be held accountable.”

After the incident, News 12 posted a poll on its Web site asking users whether Princesses: Long Island should be taken off the air. At press time, 84 percent of participants – 911 of 1,089 total votes – voted “Yes.”

Efforts to reach Bravo for a response to the park district’s letter were unavailing.

A Bravo spokesman said in a statement following the initial airing that the network would remove the offending footage of the photo shoot from future reruns of the episode, though the scene reportedly wasn’t edited out of the On Demand version until days after the statement was issued.

The show has also drawn the ire of Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), who criticized the show in a June 19 Huffington Post editorial that was submitted to Blank Slate Media as a letter to the editor.

In the piece, Israel chastises the show for its “gross generalizations about the living and dating habits of unmarried Jewish women,” and wrote that the show’s stars promote anti-Semitic stereotypes and “portray Jews and Long Islanders in the most unflattering light possible.”

“Therefore, I will not silently tolerate a show that paints Jewish women on Long Island with all-too-familiar and painful stereotypes – money-hungry, superficial, Jewish-American Princesses,” Israel wrote. “The characters on the show are welcome to live their lives however they may choose, but I don’t want viewers of the show to think that they are, in any way, representative of Jews or Long Islanders.”

The show drew backlash immediately following its June 2 premiere, during which cast member Ashlee White of Roslyn made disparaging remarks about Freeport over the phone to her father as she drove to meet another cast member, Joey Lauren Brodish, a Freeport resident.

Freeport residents were reportedly furious over the remarks and a Facebook page boycotting the show was created the next day, with the South Shore town listed as its founding location.

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