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."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wally's Whoppers: A Heads Up to All 2008 Candidates

Anyone who ran for any office here in New Jersey during this past year is hereby forewarned: you and/or your campaign might very well be spun, distorted, or portrayed in outright lies in the annual New Year's wrap up of state, county, and local political campaigns by the online web site, also known as "The Politicker."

Founded in 2000, purports to be an online version of a statewide political newspaper. Yet it falls far short in that its writers, led by editor Wally Edge, who writes only under a pseudonym, have no journalistic ethics to speak of and are content to run their site in the spirit of tabloids such as The National Enquirer.

I know this from personal experience because of the hatchet job did on the Highland Park mayoral campaign on which I worked. In compiling his "best and worst campaigns of 2007," Wally Edge never bothered to check the facts, wrote statements that could be considered borderline libelous, and refused to print any correction when confronted with his error.

Here is, verbatim, the trash journalism seeks to pass off as “news.”

Under “Worst Campaigns of 2007,” Wally Edge opines:

7. Nancy Wolf for Mayor
(Democrat, Highland Park)
“The Laurel Kornfeld-led primary challenge to Mayor Meryl Frank was more like a scene out of ‘Fatal Attraction’ than a real campaign.”

As a journalist myself, I can easily say I’ve almost never read a single sentence that contained so many factual errors and outright lies.

To start with, the Wolf campaign should not have been in the “Worst Campaigns” list. A campaign that receives a respectable 45 percent of the vote and is not tainted with scandal or corruption does not deserve this designation. There were plenty of campaigns during 2007 with far worse showings and questionable tactics to boot. This designation only confirms an eight-year pro-Frank bias on the part of, a bias that has surfaced over and over again in its coverage of Highland Park politics.

Then we come to the libelous part. First, I did not “lead” the campaign. I worked as a writer and researcher and did public outreach, but I was not a decision maker. Wally Edge could have easily verified this by taking the time to look at the campaign’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) report, but he never bothered to do so. If he had, he would have seen the name of the real campaign manager and found my name only under the list of donors. Checking one's facts is an integral part of being a responsible journalist.

Even worse is the “Fatal Attraction” reference. Here Wally is referencing a March 2007 police report filed by Frank claiming I was copying her hairstyle and grooming and making other, more serious false accusations against me. I was the one who went to The Star Ledger with the story because it was so outrageous. In a March 27, 2007 Star Ledger article, I made clear that none of the hideous accusations Frank made against me were true. Yes, the story became a laughingstock on News 12, WINS in New York and even NPR’s “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” but it was Frank who was the butt of the jokes.

In typical tabloid style, Wally Edge conveniently forgets that everyone is innocent until proven guilty of a crime in a court of law. Even though I was the victim of a false police report intended solely to intimidate me out of challenging Frank in the mayoral race, Wally Edge instead chose to use a highly defamatory reference to make me sound like a stalker instead of a political opponent.

Libel standards are much harder to prove for public figures, and having been a candidate for public office, I am considered a public figure. However, Wally Edge’s single sentence meets all three criteria for libel even against a public figure—it is false; it is defamatory, and it shows reckless disregard for the truth.

Long ago having stopped being a regular reader of, I was unaware of any of this until sometime in March. As soon as I read it, I emailed Wally and told him that his statement about me leading the campaign was not true. He insisted that he “stands by the story” and refused to print any retraction or correction even though I, a first hand source, told him he was wrong.

He then went on to make a big deal about the fact that three months had passed, so the issue was moot and no longer relevant. In back and forth emails, his main defense was repeating the question, “why do you care after three months?” as if it’s okay to stick with a lie just because some time has passed.

It doesn’t matter if three months, three years, or three decades had gone by. A lie is still a lie, and any journalist worth his salt would acknowledge the error or at least check the documentation in the ELEC reports to find out if a mistake was made. Why do people seek exoneration of those wrongly convicted of crimes even after decades have passed, sometimes even after the accused is no longer living? The truth does not change with the passage of time, unless you’re writing to the standards of The National Enquirer, The Weekly World News or Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984.

Interestingly, while started as a grassroots effort, about two years ago, it was purchased by Jared Kushner, the son of Charles Kushner, the McGreevey financier and developer who went to jail on charges of tax violations and witness tampering. For those who may not remember, Kushner is the one who financially supported the hiring of Golan Cipel by McGreevey. Cipel allegedly had a personal relationship with McGreevey and allegedly used it to blackmail him, resulting in McGreevey’s resignation. Kushner’s witness tampering involved the hiring of a prostitute in another blackmail scheme.

Jared is not responsible for the actions of his father; however, the significance here is that is owned by a real estate developer. Jared has stayed in the real estate business and is engaged to Ivanka Trump, the daughter of developer Donald Trump.

In this state, where most of the political establishment is tied to big developers and their politically connected network of contractors, law firms, planners, engineers, etc., where the majority of elected officials have received campaign dollars from developers, it is not surprising that a developer like Jared Kushner would want to control an online “newspaper,” which he could easily use to spin all coverage toward developer friendly political candidates.

Both Wolf in 2007 and I in my 2005 council race opposed high density development in town, any use of eminent domain, and the philosophy of “new urbanism.” It is natural, then, that a developer-owned medium like would put its clout behind our opponents, who publicly expressed their support for higher density commercial and residential development numerous times. It makes sense that a Kushner-owned site with connections to Donald Trump would want to discredit genuinely green candidates who want to preserve the small town feel of our community and cannot be bought at any price.

On this anniversary of’s yellow journalism, I as someone who has been “burned,” hope to warn any candidates of the past year, especially those who ran against the developer-backed political machine, to be prepared to find your efforts distorted, even portrayed with outright lies, in’s New Year’s edition set to be published on December 30.

But here is another message to potential victims of this junk that passes for journalism: even if you see your campaign illustrated in a whopper bigger than anything Burger King has to offer, don’t let it stop you from continuing to participate in the democratic process in the year to come. It’s past time for the developer-run political machine to be exposed as the corrupt system it is and replaced with a true democracy of, by, and for the people of this state.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The "December Dilemma": A Non-Issue

This article, with a few minor revisions, is a reprint of a column I originally published in the New Brunswick-based Business and Entertainment Journal in December 2000.

During the waning days of autumn and of the calendar year, an emotionally charged debate has for years become as much of an annual ritual as watching football games or counting down the seconds to the new year. Popularly known as the “December Dilemma,” this debate centers on public displays of religious holiday symbols and the coping of minority religious groups with the predominance of Christian symbols and themes in stores, the media, and even public schools.

As the days grow shorter and the weather colder, this issue inevitably emerges in numerous letters to the editor and on radio and television shows. Every year, at least a few lawsuits are filed, and courts hear cases for months afterward and often end up overturning previous precedents. Yet in spite of all this sound and fury, the “December Dilemma” is really a non-issue, and it is high time we finally put it to rest.

The historical reality is that almost all December holiday celebrations have their roots in the seasonal commemoration of the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. Down through the centuries, the waning daylight and increasing darkness and cold of late autumn have filled people with trepidation.

Facing winter was an issue of life and death in which people never knew if there would be enough food for the lean months or if they and their families would survive the brutality of the elements and of possible illness.

When the hours of sunlight grew fewer, and the natural world appeared to be overrun with death, the subconscious fear often arose within people that the sun would wane to the point of non-existence, and the world would be plunged into darkness and cold. This fear has even been linked to the modern phenomenon of depression and fatigue at this time of year known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Ancient peoples were usually competent astronomical observers, and it did not take them long to recognize the reversal of the increasing darkness at December’s end. Going back thousands of years, people have recognized December 21 as the day of greatest darkness, the day after which the tide begins to turn; the sun grows stronger, and the days grow longer. This day, and the weeks immediately before and after it, became recognized not only as the nadir of the sun’s strength, but also as a time of rebirth, and from this came the great seasonal celebrations.

The legend that grew around the Winter Solstice was of the sun that dies and is reborn on the same night. It invoked profound joy, the type of joy that accompanies a reprieve from execution, a feeling of light and life having been spared. While many cultures and religions developed their own unique celebrations at this time, most seasonal symbols to this day hearken back to Winter Solstice imagery. The many stories of a lone light that shines in the darkness, of small candelabra that illuminate the night, have their roots in humanity’s perception of the reborn sun.

Today, Western civilization has largely dissociated people from our natural environment. Winter is merely an inconvenience for most people, and the seasons are barely noticeable from climate-controlled and artificially lit offices where many people spend a large portion of their waking hours. And because we have lost touch with the natural world around us, it has become easier to feel superior to it or see it as irrelevant. One hundred and fifty years of this view have allowed abuse and degradation of our natural environment to the point that we have altered the earth’s climate and threatened the future of our own existence.

The answer to the “December Dilemma” is to go back to the original celebration at this time of year. No matter what our ethnic, cultural, or religious background, we all experience the seasonal cycles; we all feel the loss of life and light in late autumn, and we all instinctively sense the hope of spring and rebirth as the sun grows stronger after December 21. This could and should be the focus of our public celebrations.

We could take advantage of this time of year to encourage people to plant potted evergreens and other trees as part of a natural effort at reforestation. Schools could emphasize ecology, the astronomical reason why we have seasons (notably, a question that many college graduates, in a recent survey, were unable to answer), and the cycle of life as well as how history and culture have been influenced by climate and natural conditions. Religious celebrations should be confined to homes and houses of worship and kept away from municipal buildings and government programs.

However, even churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship of all denominations could take this opportunity to focus on uniting humanity in preserving God’s gift of the earth and the natural world. Public squares could focus on displaying solely seasonal symbols such as winter landscapes, snowmen, suns, animals associated with winter (polar bears, stags, etc.) or non-religious winter traditions representing that particular region’s many ethnic populations.

For the first time in human history, we face the very real possibility of human extinction at our own hands. The latest climate studies now show that global climate change is rapidly accelerating, to the point that if we do not change our ways, the earth could face a catastrophic 11 degree Fahrenheit global surface temperature increase within only 100 years. And this is only one of many instances of environmental degradation that are coming frighteningly close to the point of no return.

This time, it is up to us to turn the tide, to reverse the course of darkness and death and provide ourselves and all life on earth with a reprieve, a chance for a new birth and a new spring. All humanity, regardless of ethnicity or religion, shares this very real dilemma. By focusing on the Winter Solstice and its profound meaning and significance for our time, we can invoke a universal inspiration and hope that resonate within all people and provide the impetus for us to confront and overcome the life and death challenges facing our world.