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, March 22, 2007

The Fruit of A Poisoned Tree

Tonight, the Democratic Municipal Committee held its interviews of mayoral and council candidates, commonly known as screening, for endorsement in the June Democratic primary. As usual, there was no actual contest. No one bothered to come out and express interest in the positions--except the incumbents.

The party leadership will tell you that the dearth of candidates is due to public satisfaction with the incumbents. That is a convenient excuse, and more accurately, a pile of gunk.

Screenings are supposed to be an open process in which interested residents, the more the better, come to seek the party's formal support for elected office. Unfortunately, in the local Democratic Committee, they have become a farce, a mockery and poor excuse for the real democratic process.

Think of it this way. Why would anyone take the time to screen when the Committee has already mailed out invitations to a fundraiser for the re-election of Mayor Frank and the incumbent council members, complete with a campaign fund bearing their name? Would you enter a contest where the victor was already chosen and honored before the actual event? How could the Committee have presumed in advance of the process what the results would be? If the Committee had already determined in advance who would get their support, why hold a screening at all? Do they really think anyone in town is being fooled by a dog and pony show that is being passed off as a fair and democratic process?

In past years, because I genuinely believe in the ideals of the Democratic Party on a national and philosophical level, I attended Committee screenings for Borough Council. Each time, I attempted to recruit several other people to screen as well even though that meant they would be competing with me for the party's support. In a real open, democratic process, the more interested candidates the better. That is because what is sacred is the process, not the outcome. Unfortunately, my efforts at getting other people to screen were abysmal failures. Even people genuinely interested in the positions understood the interviews were a show and were hardly willing to give up their precious time just for the sake of making the screening a "real" contest.

Frank's supporters and municipal party leaders will likely gleefully jump all over this entry shouting "sour grapes," claiming I am just bitter because I screened for several years and never received the party's support. But that is a cheap shot, a hollow ad hominem attack. Ad hominem attacks are a form of logical fallacy--if someone cannot respond to an issue, in this case the phony appearance of a democratic screening process, he or she instead attacks the messenger who raised the issue in the first place. I am in no way bitter about not being chosen. In fact, I take great pride in having performed far better percentage wise in going to the public by running on my own, receiving 42 percent of the vote as compared with single digit percentages in Committee screenings. So much for the Committee being an accurate representation of Democrats in town.

However, as the child of parents who spent their early years living under dictatorships, as someone who still believes in the sanctity of people's right to choose their leaders and government that operates by the consent of the governed, I am outraged over the fact that party leaders treat the democratic process with such utter contempt.

There is absolutely no dishonor in losing a fair contest knowing one has done one's best. However, when the contest is a sham, when the process is subverted and substituted with a mockery of the genuine article, then endorsing that mockery by taking part in it at all is dishonorable and disingenuous. The results of such a phony contest are tantamount to the fruit of a poisoned tree.

I and other like-minded citizens who want an alternative to Frank will instead go to the real decision makers, the people of this town, make the case for change and let you--the ultimate custodians of democracy--decide. The election process, governed by state and federal laws and by Constitutional protections, is the only place where a real contest, a real referendum, real democracy, can take place. No candidate needs to go before a committee selected by a small group in power that has already made up its mind in a closed, backroom process. That is not what this country is about.

Whatever decision the people of this town make in both June and November deserves to be respected. But first, the voters need to decide. Don't let a small group with its own agenda decide for our whole town. If you're not registered to vote, register now. Then get out and vote. The real power, the real decision, the real "screening" is in our hands.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

NOT Part of the Solution

A favorite and timeless quote from the sixties states, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Unfortunately, a compromise bill crafted by State Senator Ronald Rice on eminent domain reform, which attempts to combine A-3257 and S-1975, the respective Assembly and Senate bills on this issue, contains so many changes in favor of developers that it is clearly part of the problem as opposed to even the beginning of a solution.

With the bill scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee this past Thursday, Rice surreptitiously added 63 pages of amendments to the bill after 5 PM Wednesday, changes that substantially weaken the bill and were rightly criticized by Public Advocate Ronald Chen, a strong opponent of eminent domain abuse.

Chen identified the following last minute changes to the bill as especially troublesome:

1. The new version does not limit the definition of blight and keeps language that would allow condemnation for properties that have "a lack of proper utilization."

2. The bill abandons a proposal to require government to prove eminent domain is necessary by a "preponderance" of evidence and reverts back to requiring only "substantial" evidence.

3. The bill removes a proposal to offer displaced families "replacement value" for taken homes.

Other developer-friendly changes in the bill include a provision making adoption of strict notice requirements for redevelopment areas contingent upon the passage of an amendment to Article VIII, Section 1, Paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow property tax-exemptions and abatements for periods longer than 5 years up and to 15 years. This latter provision means taxpayers paying their full share of taxes will effectively be subsidizing developers during the abatement period.

Additionally, the provisions of the amended bill would not take effect until four months after its passage. This provides a window of opportunity for developers and municipalities to rush through studies declaring areas in need of redevelopment, enactment of redevelopment plans, designation of redevelopers, approval of redevelopment agreements, and actual eminent domain proceedings.

The full text of the bill can be found at
Chen's testimony on the original S-1975 bill can be found at

It is only due to the bipartisan efforts of Democratic Senator Fred Madden, Jr. and Republican Senator Nicholas Asselta, who objected to a vote before legislators had had time to read the many changes in the bill, that the vote was postponed to a later date.

This provides more time for us to make a difference. Please contact Senator Rice's office directly at 1044 South Orange Avenue - Newark, NJ 07106 or call 973-371-5665 to express your concerns about this bill and make the recommendations that will restore it to being part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Join the movement to end eminent domain abuse in New Jersey. The next meeting of Stop Eminent Domain Abuse will take place on Sunday, April 15th at 2pm in Redeemer Lutheran Church, 3351 State Route 33, at the corner of Jumping Brook Road, Neptune, NJ 07753-3003. Elections for officers are scheduled to be held at this meeting.

For more information, contact Michelle Bobrow at , or Lori Ann Vendetti at

Directions: 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. The group will also have T-shirts and bumper stickers for sale at the meeting, so please be prepared to buy a few if you can afford to. STOP EMINENT DOMAIN ABUSE COALITION of NJ is on the rise !!!Spread the word. Visit