Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Questions and Answers

It's been just a week since some of us celebrated Passover, the holiday known for the Four Questions asked at the central ceremony known as the Seder. In the spirit of the season, I am going to post both questions and answers about the state of things here in Highland Park.

First, The Questions:

Our Tax Collector was indicted for "misapplication of funds" by a Grand Jury over tax deposits of nearly $400,000 including $4,100 in checks that she was supposed to deposit at night back in November but never did. This whole issue raises many questions. First, why did the borough wait three weeks to report the missing money to the police? Why is the Tax Collector, after being indicted, suspended with pay and benefits? What did the Borough Administrator know, and when did he know it? Did the Tax Collector, newly hired by the borough, have a past history involving questionable incidents like this? She was not charged with theft or embezzlement. So what happened to the money, none of which has been recovered?

The borough has NO developers interested in its redevelopment plan. The Redevelopment Agency has all but admitted this. The borough is sending letters to many other towns in Middlesex County begging them to send developers to us. Why are no developers flocking to Highland Park, as the mayor would want us to believe? The reason could be that the properties are too small or that the mayor has a reputation with developers as inflexible and nearly impossible to deal with. The fact that the redevelopment plan requires the site of the old Senior Center to be an arts center and only that doesn't help. Who wants to deal with this degree of control and restriction?

Subpoenas were issued to the mayor and various borough officials as part of the FBI's investigation of John Lynch's corruption. The mayor responded saying she and the borough have had no dealings with John Lynch. Yet it is common knowledge that she met with him several times in the spring of 2000 and the summer of 2001. Why isn't she owning up to this? If she has nothing to hide, she shouldn't be afraid to provide the FBI with full disclosure.

The mayor stated on many occasions that it is extremely difficult for New Jersey municipalities to get approval for redevelopment agencies. Yet research into applications before the Department of Community Affairs Local Finance Board shows that NO applications for redevelopment agencies were turned down between 2001 and 2005. The mayor's answer is that very few towns applied. Sorry, but that answers completely different question. Her statements clearly indicated that few towns are given approval, not that few towns applied. Those statements were nothing short of misleading.

Why is Main Street Highland Park on a privatization spree? First it was the Street Fair, contracted out to a private firm,, after the Chamber successfully organized it for 15 years. Now it is the September Arts Festival, last year organized by volunteers but this year contracted to a private vendor for a whopping total of $22,500, all for a one-day activity. That money comes from the Business Improvement District assessment paid by property owners in the district, meaning we're talking about public funds. And why, when it is nearly May, has Main Street not yet submitted its 2006 budget to the borough for review?

Finally, why has Main Street chosen to privatize its newsletter, written successfully by volunteers for three years? Main Street is supposed to be a community-building program, so how does it make sense to exclude the community and have everything done by a paid private vendor? As if this is not bad enough, now the new policy is that the only writers who can get a byline in the Main Street newsletter are Main Street officials and board members and borough elected officials. Why borough elected officials? They are not part of the Main Street organization. I want to continue writing for the newsletter, but I certainly don't need it for name recognition. However, I feel this policy is discriminatory and bestows unfair favoritism on people in office for no clear reason.

The Answers--but not necessarily to the above questions:

All of the above cry for further investigation. Unfortunately, I don't have the answers to any of them right now other than the speculation I provided. What I do have an answer to is the question about why I decided not to run in this year's Borough Council primary.

As I wrote last August, I had every intention of running again in 2006, as did my running mate. We specifically targeted this year because Councilman Steve Nolan, "Mr. Redevelopment," was up for re-election. However, he resigned in September, and his replacement does not share his views on eminent domain. We have no interest in running against someone who shares our belief that it is wrong to take people's homes and businesses and turn them over to a private developer.

With 2007 only a year away, the group of us who worked so hard on the 2005 race made a very tough decision. Our goal is clear--to change the leadership at the top, namely the mayor, and the local Democratic party organization. With the mayor's seat, two council seats, and the entire Democratic Committee up next year, it became obvious that that is where our focus should be.

So to answer some of the wild rumors circulating in town: No, I am not discouraged and have not quit politics. I love my hometown and will never give up on the quest for better leadership and new direction in our government. I will never give up and "move on" to something else. I am not afraid that if I run I wouldn't win, just that I would win against the wrong person and at the wrong time. And I am not trying to avoid taking a position on the Y issue, namely the Y's request to the Council to rezone part of its property so it can enact a deal with a developer in which the developer will build a 12-story high rise on that portion in exchange for building an $8 million new Y in the front of the property. As many know, I have never been one to shy away from taking a public stand on tough issues.

To those who say they "feel bad" for me: Please stop. I have a wonderful life, including many passions besides Highland Park politics-- acting and singing, a great family, wonderful friends, and amazing hobbies--the furthest thing from having "no life." Yes, it's hard to sit out an election for someone who loves campaigning as much as I do, but I believe it is the right decision for me and for Highland Park. And I won't be completely out of the political scene, as I plan to continue to help build the New Jersey Coalition Against Eminent Domain Abuse and work to elect a progressive Congress this fall.

So, to conclude, the only thing that has changed about our running--I say our because it is not just me but a team involved here--is the date. We're coming in 2007. And meantime, the watchdog is definitely IN.