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, December 27, 2007

John Edwards for President

With the New Jersey presidential primary little more than a month away, I want to urge readers not just in Highland Park but across the state and beyond to give their support and votes to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

Why Edwards? The answer is actually quite simple. Edwards provides the Democratic Party with an opportunity to return to its populist roots as an advocate for fighting poverty and standing up for a strong middle class.

Beginning in the 1930s, the New Deal and then the Great Society led to generations of prosperity, economic growth, and increasing opportunities for a burgeoning middle class. This was the heyday of the Democratic Party, when being a Democrat meant being an advocate for the average person as well as for our most vulnerable citizens.

But as Stephen Crockett, co-host of Democratic Talk Radio, states, when Ronald Reagan came to power, Democrats began selling out to the corporate agenda and corporate campaign dollars. Their support for initiatives such as income tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations amounted to "Republican lite" policies that reversed a long term period of prosperity and began a decades long trend of the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class being heavily weakened.

Acceptance of "supply side economics," in spite of its being proven a failure again and again, led to Democratic complicity in support of tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens and corporations, a resulting shortage of revenue to fund services, and cuts in everything from college financial aid to anti-poverty programs. "Trickle down economics," which Democrats could have stopped but instead embraced in a "lighter" form, led to excessive corporate executive pay, downsizing, outsourcing, corporate consolidation and monopolies, undermining of labor unions, and increased corporate control of the media and politics, shutting out the voices of average people.

Bill and Hillary Clinton supported the series of free trade agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, etc., all of which facilitated more downsizing and outsourcing, just as predicted by independent presidential candidate Ross Perot.

Meanwhile, no Democrat has truly made a priority out of ending poverty as we know it, something that can be done but for the lack of political will. The US is the only industrialized democracy in the world not to have national health care. Our infant mortality and average lifespan rates are an embarrassment in that they are behind those of most other industrialized countries. We spend 17 percent of our economy on health care but still have 47 million people without coverage. Other industrialized nations spend about 8 percent on health care and cover everyone.

John Edwards is running as an economic populist, wholeheartedly committed to restoring the soul of the Democratic Party. He is the only candidate talking about fighting poverty in America. Because the poor don't give big bucks to campaigns, their voices are almost always ignored. That is not the case with Edwards, who first told the truth about "a tale of two Americas," one wealthy and one increasingly struggling and who has made the commitment to restoring "one America" where "a rising tide lifts all boats."

Edwards is committed to universal health care, combatting both urban and rural poverty, strengthening the right of workers to form unions, and fighting outsourcing of jobs from our country by ending trade agreements that encourage companies to move overseas.

Even in presidential elections, this country rarely sees a turnout beyond 55 percent of those eligible. We need to ask ourselves why so many citizens opt to not participate. Maybe the answer is because no one is addressing the concerns and needs of those who struggle from paycheck to paycheck, the increasing lack of affordability of higher education, the lack of manufacturing jobs with benefits that used to secure average citizens a decent standard of living, the fear of catastrophic illness or the need for nursing home care alongside the inability to afford these.

Economic populism was the soul of the Democratic Party for decades. When the party abandoned this central tenet, it lost the allegiance of countless voters. Unfortunately, people like Bill and Hillary Clinton along with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), who advocated the policy of "triangulation" or "Republican lite," opting, for example, to focus on ending welfare as we know it instead of ending poverty as we know it, played a central role in leading the party in this wrong direction.

Barack Obama is far more the economic populist than Hillary Clinton, but he could use additional political experience. He might find that experience as a running mate for vice president alongside John Edwards.

In 2004, I took part in a loose organization known as "the Group," which focused on raising money for Democratic candidates. At this point, with "the Group" having endorsed Hillary Clinton, I respectfully dissent with their decision. I urged its members to consider endorsing Edwards, but unfortunately, that did not happen.

It is time for the Democratic Party to reclaim its soul from those who sold out and continue to sell out to the highest bidders. Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis once said, "the more you have, the more you're responsible for giving back." If you want to see a move away from today's economic inequality, the worst since the Great Depression, if you want the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, if you want universal health coverage for all Americans, if you want the interests of the poor and middle class to once again take front and center stage, I urge you to actively support the campaign of John Edwards and to vote for him in our primary on February 5.

To volunteer for Edwards' campaign, visit

Friday, December 07, 2007

So Much for Openness and Transparency

Does this sound legal? Main Street Highland Park, which is funded through a tax on commercial property and business owners as well as $35,000 from the Borough of Highland Park, claims it is not subject to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). Below, in a quote from The Highland Park Mirror, Borough Attorney Diane Dabulas and Main Street Director Graham Copeland claim Main Street is not subject to the Open Public Records Act or to the Open Public Meetings Act:

"Acting on advice from borough attorney Diane Nabulas (sic, the real name is Dabulas), Main Street Highland Park now asserts that their meetings are private affairs, to be announced only at the board's discretion. The open meetings law 'applies specifically to public bodies,' director Graham Copeland wrote to The Mirror. 'It does not apply to private nonprofit corporations (such as) Main Street Highland Park.'

Main Street's budget of $225,000 is approved yearly by the borough council, in a municipal action that includes a 30-day comment period. The money is raised in part from residents' property taxes, and mostly from a 'business improvement assessment' on Raritan and Woodbridge Avenue commercial buildings. Main Street staff report its actual spending back to its board and borough council once a year, during the next budget submission.

MSHP went unchallenged in 2005 when it declared its invoices and purchasing policies as private information, exempt from the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). While reserving the right to operate in secret, the downtown improvement group has generally welcomed public attendance and provided board minutes on request."

For several months in 2002, Main Street's board refused to make their meeting dates public and criticized me for printing those dates anyway in my non-partisan, unofficial Highland Park email newsletter. Eventually, they relented and even posted meeting dates on their web site.

This year, when I asked for a copy of the Main Street budget in time for their hearing before the Borough Council, I was given the wrong sheet, which Main Street representatives claimed was a worksheet that should never have been publicly distributed. Meanwhile, the actual budget document was never made public before the public hearing. I pointed out that under these conditions, the council should have postponed approval of the Main Street budget until it was made available to the public in advance of the meeting as required by law. The council ignored this request, emphasizing the need to approve the budget as soon as possible so Main Street can get on with its work.

For a mayor and council that claim to be paragons of open government and transparency, this type of action is reprehensible. Main Street is funded by taxpayer dollars, both through the borough budget and through an average assessment of $1,000-$2,000 a year paid by property and business owners. This makes Main Street a public body, subject to the same laws as mayors and councils, including OPMA and OPRA. It is interesting to consider what the Government Records Council or the state Office of the Public Advocate might have to say on this matter.

Operating in secret for the sake of efficiency is the way dictatorships work. It has no place in a democracy and no place in Highland Park. If borough officials condone this policy by Main Street, then all their repetitions of words like "open government" and "transparency" are nothing more than shallow, empty rhetoric.