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, April 29, 2008

A Letter to American Jewish Congress--Meryl Frank is Unfit to Lead Women's Division

Talk about hearing only one side of an issue. Although Meryl Frank has consistently acted as one of the most divisive forces in the Highland Park Jewish community, the American Jewish Congress apparently is unaware of her shenanigans and has appointed her as President of its Women's Division. Below is a letter I sent the AJC explaining the other side of Meryl Frank's regime in Highland Park and asking them to rescind the appointment.

Dear Mr. Gordon and Ms. Kurlander,

I am writing to express my strong objection to the appointment of Highland Park, NJ Mayor Meryl Frank as AJC Women's Division President.

I am a writer and a child of Holocaust survivors, and my family and I have lived in Highland Park, NJ since 1969. We are actively involved in the community through both synagogues and service organizations, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that Ms. Frank has been one of the most divisive political forces in this town over the last decade.

Far from being a respected activist on behalf of social justice, women’s rights, and human rights, Ms. Frank is a bully, a tyrant, and a self-centered politician connected with corrupt officials in the highest echelons of New Jersey state government, including Board of Public Utilities president Jeanne Fox, currently under investigation by the FBI.

During her eight years as mayor, Frank has used strongarm tactics in an attempt to force her redevelopment vision, one that urbanizes our small town, onto the borough. She has targeted various businesses, including a used car dealership co-owned by my brother, his father-in-law, and his two brothers-in-law, all of whom are Orthodox. She has made statements saying their business, which is heavily patronized by the Orthodox community, does not belong in the downtown. When confronted by one of the owners regarding a proposed development plan that totally excluded his business and placed a four-story building on the site instead, she justified her plan by yelling, "you didn't vote for me."

My family and I proceeded to lead a movement against the potential use of eminent domain in her redevelopment plan. She had put my brother's business in the redevelopment zone against their will after lying about how much taxes the property owner pays and forcing that owner along with several other business owners to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers. In one conversation, she described my family as "a family of despicable liars."

I ran for Borough Council twice against her candidates in a Democratic primary and ended up with a respectable 42 percent. She proceeded to drag my name and reputation through the mud all over town. She publicly distorted my election results, saying they were two to one; she made up stories attempting to portray me as a racist (including one she conveyed to another local rabbi); and she filed two false police reports against me claiming I threatened her and her family, which I never did. My so-called threats were of defeating her politically. I had to spend $1,500 on a lawyer to defend myself against a phony charge of disorderly conduct. In 2001, she asked my employer to fire me, and in 2005, she asked the employer of my running mate to fire him. Thankfully, neither complied. At her urging, the rabbi of a prominent temple violated his temple's 501 C3 status by telling his congregants at a public event two days before my primary not to vote for me.

Because I politically oppose her "vision" for the downtown and support a different Democratic faction, which she ousted in 2000 through lies and false accusations of corruption, Ms. Frank has spread "lashon hara" about me all over town, referring to me as "mentally unbalanced," and "in need of help." In one newspaper column after another, she and her supporters made false accusations against me, including accusing me of trying to overturn an election and of being "filled with hate like the plague." She has attempted to defame me and destroy my reputation among Democratic Party leaders at all levels with what cannot be described as anything other than the politics of personal destruction.

I am not the only victim of Ms. Frank's dictatorial tactics. When she first took office, Frank filed false charges of theft against the former Democratic Party treasurer, an Orthodox Jew who had been fighting cancer for 20 years. In 2004, she forced Councilwoman Carolyn Timmons to resign and got her fired from her Middlesex County position as Director of Children's Services because Timmons publicly opposed her redevelopment plan. Last year, she asked New Jersey Democratic leaders to fire a leader of a local Democratic group because he supported her opponent in the 2007 Democratic primary. Over and over, she has shown her hostility to our large Orthodox community, in one case saying another Orthodox synagogue would come into town "over my dead body."

Ms. Frank's regime has been one of closed government and backroom deals, the complete opposite of the open government in which she presumes to believe. An energy consultant who worked for her husband's firm as well as her husband are under investigation by US Attorney Chris Christie in connection with New Jersey's $100 million no oversight Clean Energy Fund, which disbursed money to both through no bid contracts.

If you take the time to speak with many representatives of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Highland Park, you will find out that Ms. Frank is a divider, not a uniter, a ruthless, vindictive politician who has spread "sinat chinam"--senseless hatred--within our town for almost a decade.

I admit I am a biased source, but I experienced all these things firsthand, and I seriously ask you to reconsider the appointment of Ms.Frank to this position. I would be happy to speak with you personally and provide media sources for many of these incidents. You can find out more about the opposition to Frank from my two-and-a-half-year-old blog at

Thank you for your consideration and for taking the time to read my concerns.

Laurel Kornfeld
Highland Park resident since 1969, Borough Council Candidate in 2002 and 2005

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Budget Calls from Mayor's Firm Inappropriate

Municipalities such as Highland Park that have elected rather than appointed Boards of Education do so for a reason. That reason is to maintain a healthy separation between the political establishment in the town and the running of the town's school system. This separation allows a balance of power between the Governing Body and the Board of Education in which each is autonomous, and schools are not held hostage by politics through having to depend on the good graces of municipal elected officials.

Unlike our neighbors in New Brunswick, we here in Highland Park are fortunate enough to have an elected rather than an appointed school board.

This Tuesday, April 15, voters across the state will go to the polls to vote on proposed school budgets for the 2008-2009 academic year.

Here in Highland Park, a troubling development has occurred over the past several years in regard to school board elections. Specifically, that trend is the use of facilities in the mayor's energy consulting firm, Gabel Associates, as a call center from which volunteers have conducted phone canvassing on behalf of the school budget.

I emphasize here that this is not a statement against the school budget. It is a statement that use of facilities owned by the mayor to make phone calls regarding the budget constitutes a conflict of interest.

When residents overburdened by our high property tax rates have complained to the mayor about their inability to afford living here anymore, the mayor's most frequent response has been to blame our high taxes on the schools rather than on the municipal budget. This response conveys the notion that, as should be, the school budget is operated independently of the mayor and council.

The donation of the mayor's business facility for calls supporting the budget make her above response highly disingenuous. She is not the neutral party she wants people to believe. Giving use of a facility to a campaign as a call center constitutes an in-kind donation that must be reported to the state Election Law Enforcement Committee (ELEC). It is the equivalent of the mayor donating money to canvass voters on behalf of the budget.

None of this is against the law unless the donation is not reported to ELEC as required. However, it can legitimately be viewed as inappropriate political involvement by the mayor in the business of the schools, which is supposed to be independent of the Governing Body. It is also an insult to those taxpayers because she assigns blame for our high taxes to the schools while at the same time donating her own property to actively support those taxes.

Our children deserve the best education possible, and all voters should support our school system. At the same time, the mayor should respect the system designed to deliberately create a healthy distance between the Governing Body and the Board of Education and should at least publicly maintain a healthy neutrality on this issue.

By all means, go out and vote on April 15. But if you receive a canvassing call from Gabel Associates, take the chance to inform the person on the other end about the concept of conflict of interest.