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."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Wonderful Gift

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am going to depart from the usual Highland Park political commentary to share what I believe would make a beautiful holiday gift for your friends and family members.

About one month ago, I had the good fortune to receive an email from an amazing woman in Streator, Illinois, named Siobhan Elias. We've all had the experience of meeting someone who shares so many of our values, beliefs, and interests that the person can be considered a kindred spirit. When that happens, it truly feels like a blessing from above.

Siobhan served on the municipal council in Streator, Illinois, for four years. There, she acted as a watchdog and advocate for the citizens of her town. The "powers that be" and their wealthy supporters had no use for her service and bitterly opposed her efforts at every turn. On the day she filed to run, Siobhan was fired from her job simply for exercising her right to seek public office.

Streator, Illinois, is the birthplace of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet Pluto in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1930. Tombaugh had only a high school diploma when he was hired by the Lowell Observatory to search for a suspected ninth planet and spent many long, cold nights observing and viewing endless photographic plates before making his discovery.

This past May, in spite of all the political obstacles she faced, Siobhan spearheaded a two-day Planet Pluto Festival in Streator. That festival featured Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, who spoke as part of an event that featured equal amounts of entertainment and education.

What is fascinating is that both Siobhan and I share two of the same passions: we are both idealists who seek to serve in public office, and we both are big time fans of the planet Pluto.

Siobhan's husband, Kevin Elias, is a singer/songwriter, who along with Richard Fey, make up a team of musicians who have written and performed many wonderful songs. The group is facing the uphill battle of trying to make it in the music business independently of the major record labels.

This year, Elias Fey wrote a beautiful tribute to Clyde Tombaugh titled "New Horizons: A Tribute to Clyde Tombaugh and the New Horizons Mission." The song is an uplifting, inspiring tribute with beautifully written lyrics set to an upbeat tune. No mention is made of the wrongful demotion of Pluto by the IAU last year; instead, the song recalls Tombaugh's discovery of Pluto on a winter night in 1930 and celebrates the launch of New Horizons in 2006, carrying some of the ashes of Pluto's discoverer, who died in 1997.

Anyone can listen to their demo catalogue by visiting their web site at

Not only is this CD a more meaningful gift than most of what is available in crowded shopping malls; it also carries a message of faith in dreams and infinite possibilities, a theme in tune with the season of light and hope that culminates with the birth of a New Year. To quote the song, "You gotta believe, 'cause that's what keeps us moving on. An American dream to where no one's ever gone."

Visit and keep believing and dreaming--and buy somebody a wonderful gift this season.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Vote of No Confidence

The embarrassingly low number of votes received by Mayor Frank in the November 6 election, both in comparison with the total voter turnout in town and in comparison with the total number of registered voters cannot be read as anything other than a clear vote of no confidence in this mayor.

A total of 2,468 Highland Park residents out of about 8,000 registered in town went to the polls two weeks ago. Yet out of that total, Frank received only 1,622 votes, or 846 less than the total turnout. That amounts to a lot of people who took the time to vote but wouldn't press the button for her. Her numbers were lower than those of her council running mates, Jon Erickson, who received 1,670 votes and Fern Goodhart, who received 1,654 votes.

Interestingly, all three local candidates received lower numbers than they did in the June primary, something practically unheard of, even in heavily Democratic Highland Park. In contrast, local Democratic candidates in general elections typically receive 2,700 to 2,900 votes. In 2003, Frank received 1,961 compared with Jeff Orbach's 791.

Also, in stark contrast, the four ballot questions and the county and state races all generated about 2,100 or 2,200 votes. It appears more people came out for the questions than they did for the local candidates.

Highland Park also set a record for the unusually large number of write-in votes for mayor and council: 145 for mayor and 94 for council. The list of vote getters is downright amusing. I campaigned for A. Ficus, not for myself, but received eight write-ins for mayor and one for council, easily beating Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson, Donald Duck, Darth Vader, Santa Claus, the Devil, and a host of other names, coming in second only to Nancy Wolf and A. Ficus. A very special thanks to the nine people who wrote my name in even though I did not ask for it.

In the council race, the top write-ins were Michael Kornfeld, George Valenta, and A. Ficus plus a host of many other names.

All joking aside, 2007 is not good news for Frank. Sometimes, things appear one way on the surface but turn out exactly the opposite once one looks deeper. George W. Bush might have won both the 2000 and 2004 presidential races, but has been unsuccessful in implementing major pieces of his vision including Social Security privatization, oil drilling in the Arctic national wildlife reserve, or bringing about desired results in Iraq. In contrast, Al Gore, viewed as the "loser" in 2000, has had tremendous success in implementing his vision of raising public consciousness about global warming and initiating a paradigm change in how we view our interaction with the environment.

Highland Park's voters have shown a stunning lack of confidence in Frank and a deep desire for different leadership. That is the legacy of 2007. Those of us who seek new leadership have spent this year successfully planting the seeds of change. Like all the natural world at this time of year, those seeds will for a while be unseen and dormant, but like all seeds, in only a matter of time, they will germinate and emerge into a new cycle of life.

Victory delayed is NOT victory denied.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Write In Protest for Mayor

An election that offers the choice of only one candidate is never representative of true democracy. Unfortunately, that is the "choice" Highland Park voters face in this year's mayoral race on Tuesday, November 6.

Instead of staying home out of apathy, many in town are choosing to voice their unhappiness with the lack of choice, and in some cases,with the policies of the current administration, by casting a write in vote for mayor as a protest. While this will not change the outcome, a large number of write in votes can and will send a message that people in town want a more open government where they can have a genuine voice in decision making.

I am asking everyone who shares this view to support a grassroots movement to write in A. Ficus for mayor. The Ficus is a plant that was "run" several years ago in a Congressional race where the incumbent Republican had no Democratic opponent. Writing in A. Ficus is a statement on behalf of genuine green principles, not simply the vanity projects on which this administration has spent our hard earned taxpayer dollars. You can find out more about A. Ficus and the grassroots movement behind it at

For those who do not feel comfortable writing in a plant, I urge you to go to the polls and write in the name of the person you would like to see serve as mayor. This is coming from me alone and not from the official Ficus campaign effort. If you don't want to write in A. Ficus, write in Sal Raspa, Nancy Wolf, yourself, or anyone you believe would be a better choice for mayor of Highland Park. The polls will be open from 6 AM-8 PM on Tuesday, November 6.

There are also two uncontested Borough Council seats up in this election. Many Ficus advocates are continuing the green theme and writing in Rose Bush and Prairie Fyre. Again, if you're not comfortable writing in these names, please come to the polls anyway and write in candidates of your choice.

I ask voters to remember that during this year's primary, the mayor and council members up for re-election made a promise to place all agendas and minutes of Borough Council meetings on the borough's web site. Five months have passed, and this has not been done, in spite of the fact that more and more municipalities are adopting this practice. Once again, we see promises made and promises broken.

Directions for Doing A Write In Vote:

Look for the office of Mayor near the bottom of the left hand column of the ballot listing all candidates.

Go to "Personal Choice" in the right hand column of that row and press the button next to "Write In."

THEN go to the alphabetical keyboard at the bottom right of the voting machine. Note: It is not a typewriter keyboard. Using this keyboard, enter the name of your choice one letter at a time. To make a space between the first and last names, use the arrow pointing right on the keyboard. To make a correction, use the arrow pointing left on the keyboard. The name you enter will appear on the display to the left of the keyboard.

IMPORTANT: When you have finished entering the name, press the "Enter" button on the keyboard. If you don't press enter, your vote will not register. This button is separate from the red "Cast Vote" button one must press before completing all voting.

Repeat the same process for both Borough Council seats. These will be listed in the left hand column of candidates underneath the mayor column.

Please pass this message along to anyone who you think might be interested in this option.

Finally, I would like to address a personal comment on the write in effort by one of the mayor's supporters. He emailed me with this statement: "Think about it Laurel, refusing to get out of the rain doesn't make you right, it simply makes you wet."

Sometimes getting wet is the better option than going inside to a place that is toxic on many levels. The night before my 2005 council primary, I distributed literature door to door in a raging thunderstorm. I've gotten rained on many times as a candidate and likely will again. Contrary to the opinions of some people in this town, I don't melt on contact with water.