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."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Next Steps

First, I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who worked hard for our Team for Smart Change in this year's Democratic primary, giving their precious time, money, and moral support. And I want to thank the 1200 plus people who came out and voted for smart change in Highland Park.

Special congratulations to Nancy Wolf, George Valenta, and Sal Raspa, who very importantly won seats on the Democratic Municipal Committee.

At this point, it is common knowledge that we did not achieve our far-reaching goal of regime change in Highland Park. However, the operative word is YET. What this campaign did do is plant seeds of change by raising issues no one had previously discussed, holding the current administration accountable for its actions, and providing a real, viable alternative for Highland Park citizens who think differently than the mayor about local issues but desire to play an active role in local politics and government.

Change, especially smart change, is a process rather than an instantaneous event. This year's primary has set that process in motion here in Highland Park in a way that cannot be denied or undone. I believe wholeheartedly that 2007 will go down in our borough's history not as a heyday for Frank but as a watershed year that began a long term tide against elitism, exclusion, corruption, and the excesses of Frank and her clique, a tide that is yet to peak and that will last far into the 21st century.

To keep our momentum going toward a more inclusive, fiscally responsible, accountable, and open government here in town, those of us who made up the Team for Smart Change will be creating several vehicles to provide opportunities for like-minded citizens to stay involved. Some of these vehicles being considered include the possible establishment of a Democratic Club open to all who seek to participate; use of the web site to disseminate information about local government, mobilize people for action, and present an alternative for local Democrats; encouragement of those who share our views to attend council meetings and ask tough questions; media outreach to make sure our concerns are heard; recruitment and training of candidates to contest for office in every local election; fundraising; and involvement in other Democratic campaigns for candidates who share our values.

This very month, we also have a tremendous victory to celebrate. In a bold, unprecedented move, the State Supreme Court has ruled that "underutilization" or "not being fully productive" may not be used a sole criterion to declare a property blighted and therefore potentially subject to eminent domain.

According to the State Supreme Court ruling, "Because the New Jersey Constitution authorizes government redevelopment of only “blighted” areas, the Legislature did not intend N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(e) to apply in circumstances where the sole basis for redevelopment is that the property is “not fully productive.” Rather, subsection 5(e) applies only to areas that, as a whole, are stagnant and unproductive because of issues of title, diversity of ownership, or other similar conditions. Therefore, the Borough of Paulsboro’s redevelopment classification in respect of the Gallenthin property is invalidated."

While the full implications of this decision are yet to be determined, there is no doubt it is a victory for businesses in Highland Park that have been targeted for redevelopment due to their being deemed "underutilized" or "not fully productive." Mayor Frank, the Borough Council, the Planning Board and the Redevelopment Agency have very likely lost their power to force thriving local businesses to move because those in power feel they "don't belong there." The plans for four story buildings on the various sites between First and Second Avenue are likely to end up where they belong, on a shelf gathering dust with previous redevelopment plans such as those of former Mayor Harold Berman.

No one is objecting to property owners deciding to redevelop their own properties or consensually agreeing to sell to a developer or another owner with a vision for new low density buildings that will fit well into Highland Park's business district and attract new ratables into our town. That form of redevelopment is welcome because it is motivated by a desire for positive change rather than fear of the heavy hand of eminent domain.

Mayor Frank may claim that people redeveloping their own properties was her vision all along, but the truth is that her vision went way beyond that. In 2001, a council member specifically stated at a meeting of the council's Economic Development Committee that if property owners did not want to sell for redevelopment, the borough would simply take their properties. We, who organized and alerted the public to the spectre of eminent domain over the past two and a half years, had made it virtually impossible for the administration to use eminent domain against local businesses even before the State Supreme Court decision. We raised this concern so early in the process that the use of eminent domain became tantamount to political suicide by those in power.

The point here is that even though we may not have won the mayoral and council primary, we scored a major victory where it counts, in protecting local business and property owners from having their properties unjustly taken and given over to politically connected developers.

There is no time better than now to get involved in fighting eminent domain abuse statewide. This Friday, June 22, at 7 PM, the New Jersey Coalition to Stop Eminent Domain Abuse will commemorate the second anniversary of the US Supreme Court's Kelo decision in Ocean Grove with a screening of the film "Greetings from Asbury Park." Titled "A Celebration of Cinema and Citizen Action," the film screening and subsequent panel discussion will commemo­rate Kelo Day, the landmark U.S Supreme Court decision that greatly expanded the use of eminent domain for private development.

“Greetings from Asbury Park” is a feature film that reflects on the one-time postcard paradise of the Jersey Shore, the consolation of memories, and the price of progress. It documents the filmmaker’s aunt’s experience facing the loss of her home as well as the community’s loss of its sense of place. A panel discussion featuring Dana Berliner, litigator for the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm and co-counsel on the Kelo vs. New London case, will be held immediately following the film. The Stop Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition of New Jersey (Stop EDA) will recognize key leadership throughout the state. A reception will follow. The Jersey Shore Arts Center is easily accessible by train, bus and private transportation. A limited number of tickets are available. Event organizers are seeking a suggested donation of $20 to cover costs of the event. To reserve seats, call 732-380-1592.

This event is co-sponsored by the following groups and individuals: The Castle Coalition, The Institute for Justice, The Social Action Ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, The Stop Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition of New Jersey (, Carlin & Ward, P.C., Childhope International, Commerce Bank, The Institute for Public Affairs at Temple University, John C. Conover Agency, Monmouth County Arts Council, Neighbors United, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Shop-Rite Supermarkets, Michelle and Howard Bobrow, Johna and Rich Karpinski, and Lori Ann Vendetti.

After this event, the next meeting of the New Jersey Coalition to Stop Eminent Domain Abuse will take place on Sunday, July 15 at 2 PM in Redeemer Lutheran Church, 3531 State Route 33 at Jumping Brook Rd, Neptune, NJ 07753-3003. The Church is located at 3531 State Route 33, at the corner of Jumping Brook Rd in Neptune, about 1/2 mile east of GSP Exit 100 (Rt 33 east, Ocean Grove) and about 2.5 miles west of the interchange for Rt 18 and Rt 33.

Finally, look to this blog over the next few months for additional information about how you can make your voice heard in Highland Park.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It's Time

"One day more. Another day, another destiny..." So begins the song sung by brave revolutionaries in the musical "Les Miserables" who put their all on the line to fight tyranny and inequality, to give their all for a better world.

One day more. For Highland Park, it's time. It's time to take back our town for the people, for the businesses, for the seniors, for the children, for the disenfranchised, for everyone who has been unfairly excluded or targeted because he or she does not worship Mayor Frank or share her urbanization vision for our borough.

It's time to take back our town from elitists who think that having more money and/or more degrees makes them better qualified to be leaders and better people than the average working man and woman.

It's time to take back our town from hypocrites who can dish out negativity so full of vitriole that it makes long time hard working public servants retreat permanently from community involvement yet cannot take it themselves when their own misdeeds are brought out into full public view.

It's time to take back our town from a sham of "good government," "ethics reform," and "openness" that in reality is as Orwellian as Big Brother's statement, "war is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength," an administration that treats the public with contempt, refuses to accept responsibility and answer legitimate questions about how our money is being spent.

It's time to take back our business district from a leadership that overburdens it with excessive assessments only to funnel those assessments to expensive politically connected public relations consultants, event planners, and private firms all connected one way or another with those in power.

It's time to enact an ordinance that reassures all our businesses and residents once and for all that their properties will not be taken by eminent domain, even as a "last resort."

It's time to elect a mayor and council who will make full funding and support of our police, Fire Department, and First Aid Squad a top priority.

It's time to elect a mayor who will support environmental initiatives for their own sake, not as a gimmick for self promotion or lining the pockets of a firm she and her husband own. It's time for a green initiative that leaves no one behind, recognizing that this town and this planet belong to us all, are the heritage of us all, and both need and require the efforts of us all, no matter what our political persuasions or views of the people in power.

It's time to expand our programs for seniors, children, and all residents in a way that does not jack up the price for those services, as has been done with the school/borough summer camps.

It's time to say no to the imposing of a blanket "smart growth" dogma promoting higher density development when that is wrong for our town.

Have you ever tried to comment at public meetings only to be treated in a heavy handed, contemptful, and disrespectful manner? It's time now to talk back to those who looked and spoke with contempt at you. It's time to speak to them and say, in a democracy, ultimate power rests with the people, and government operates only with the consent of the governed. We can withdraw that consent at any time. Tomorrow, I urge all in this town who have ever felt wrongly excluded or targeted, who have felt afraid to publicly express their views, who have been looked down upon by those with a classist, elitist mentality worthy of the Dark Ages to take back your power and bring regime change to Highland Park.

The team for Smart Change, running on Line C, lead by mayoral candidate Nancy Wolf and council candidates George Valenta and Michael Kornfeld, does not seek to blanket
target everyone in local office now for ouster, as the current administration did. Instead, the team for Smart Change seeks to change the way government in this town does business by welcoming people of all political persuasions and beliefs if they have a genuine desire to serve our community.

If you believe in this genuinely inclusive vision instead of the sham that has been perpetrated in its name, please join us in bringing smart change to Highland Park by voting Line C so that on June 6, 2007, our community can truly face a new day.

It's June 5, 2007. It's time.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Citizen Action Endorsement Inappropriate

New Jersey Citizen Action is an advocacy group that does wonderful work on behalf of consumers and our most vulnerable people. They advocate for national health care, affordable utility rates, campaign finance reform, and other very needed policy changes. However, they have made a very serious mistake in involving themselves in Highland Park's mayoral primary by endorsing Meryl Frank.

Citizen Action has on numerous occasions been approached by candidates for endorsements and each time staff members articulated the policy that the organization does not endorse candidates in elections. The group did endorse Frank in 1999 but one year later changed its official policy to prohibit endorsements of any kind.

There are many issues at stake in this election in Highland Park, including the refusal by Mayor Frank to rule out the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment. The Sierra Club and the New Jersey Environmental Federation have both taken a formal stand opposing such use of eminent domain, which almost always benefits wealthy, politically connected developers at the expense of low and middle income homeowners and small business owners. Unlike Frank, candidate Nancy Wolf is committed to taking formal action restricting any use of eminent domain for private redevelopment in Highland Park. It is disappointing that Citizen Action would choose to side with a politician who in her own words wants to maintain the "tool" of eminent domain over one who is committed to statutory action to prohibit its use against vulnerable home and business owners.

If open government is the issue, Highland Park is hardly a model. The borough has two outstanding complaints before the Government Records Council for violations of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). OPRA requires local officials to respond to requests for public records within seven days. If obtaining the records will take longer than seven days, local officials must contact the person requesting them within that time and explain the status of the request and when it is expected to be fulfilled. Here in Highland Park, on two separate occasions, the administration blatantly violated this law. A request for copies of correspondence between the Department of Transportation and the borough on Centennial Park took a whopping two and a half months to fulfill while a second request for a copy of a videotape of a council meeting took two months to obtain.

Highland Park is one of the only municipalities in the area that postpones the public comment section at Borough Council meetings to the meetings' very end, after all reports are given and ordinances and resolutions passed. Meeting agendas call for two public comment sessions, one early in the meeting and one at the end, but Mayor Frank almost always eliminates the early session, forcing residents who seek to comment to wait until the end of sometimes long meetings to have their say. An inevitable consequence of this is that senior citizens and/or those who have to get up early the next day for work end up leaving without having a chance to speak.

Frank's work on family leave a decade and a half ago is both exaggerated and not pertinent to local issues facing the town today. It is exaggerated in that Frank misleads the public to believe she alone worked on this legislation when the reality is she was one of thousands of activists across the state and country who did so. Family leave legislation is to be commended, but it is a state and federal issue, not a local one.

It is unacceptable for New Jersey Citizen Action to operate under a double standard where in some cases a policy of not endorsing candidates is invoked while in other cases that policy is tossed aside. There must be a uniform policy that applies to all candidates and campaigns across the board. If Citizen Action does make endorsements, then it is only fair that they establish a procedure of sitting down and meeting with all candidates, allowing all to make their cases before any endorsement is issued.

Please contact Citizen Action and urge the organization to uphold its tradition of fairness by creating a uniform policy and sticking with it and, if the group does decide to do endorsements, create a procedure that gives all candidates a chance to seek it. You can reach the directors and staff of Citizen Action at the following web site: