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, June 06, 2008

We Never Walked Alone

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high,
and don’t be afraid of the dark…”

Three years ago on this day, June 6, 2005, a lot of campaign workers in this town and this state walked through a wild storm doing last minute literature drops in anticipation of the next day’s primary.

Here in Highland Park, there was a lot of walking. The incumbent council members up for re-election had paid Democratic Party machine operatives and college students walking door to door to distribute their pro-redevelopment literature—literature that accused us challengers of spreading “ugly scare tactics” because we dared tell the truth about the potential use of eminent domain against local businesses.

Our campaign had a lot of walkers too, but we were grassroots volunteers—friends and family members of the candidates and supporters who believed in our mission. We were far fewer in number than our opponents, so each person had to cover a lot more territory. It was way too late for any mailings by either side.

A hot, humid day gave way to on and off thunderstorms. Each time the weather cleared, we went out only to have it start raining on us again. Ever the optimist, I chose not take an umbrella, believing the wild weather could only go on for a limited time. Naturally, it went on for hours. The thunder, lightning, and downpour were an apt metaphor for what the political scene had become in town. And I was reminded of this song from “Carousel,” a play in which I had performed back in 1992.

“At the end of the storm is a golden sky, and the sweet, silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind; walk on through the rain though your dreams be tossed and blown…”

Even at the last minute, on the last night, we were determined to cover as much of the town with our flyers as our opponents did with theirs because we believed the public had the right to know the whole truth, not just one part.

Under normal circumstances, almost no one does any canvassing work during a downpour. But these were not normal circumstances. We were out of time. We had been outspent four to one. But no one balked when the need came to go out one last night even if it meant getting soaked to the skin and looking to anyone watching from their windows like something the cat dragged in.

Somehow, the feeling was, this is what a real campaign should be—not the glitzy, image-centered sound-byte circus into which the media has turned elections, but the ideal imagined by the Founding Fathers—members of the community going out to the community in person with their message braving the elements because we believed so completely in what we stood for that getting wet and windblown didn’t matter.

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.”

Over and over, the mayor and her supporters tried to portray the opposition as fringe, as extremists, as a tiny, insignificant minority. Three years earlier, in my first council race, two days before the primary, the mayor saw me handing out literature in front of Dunkin’ Donuts and sarcastically asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”

It turns out she was wrong in 2002 and even more wrong in 2005. Idealists filled with hope for a more democratic, inclusive vision for our hometown, we were vindicated by the election numbers as anything but alone. When all was said and done, 861 of us stood together in 2005, proud and unafraid and eager to make our voices heard in future policymaking and elections. And three years later, that is still something to celebrate because we are still here, and we are still speaking.

The political arena is full of storms. For all who believe in what they are doing, quitting should never be an option, no matter how many setbacks, no matter how long the odds.

In Highland Park, we never walked alone. And we never will.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

More Meryl Lies

The infamous Highland Park rumor mill continues to circulate lies that almost certainly originate with Meryl Frank. While I prefer this blog focus on our town and not on myself, the latest untruth demands a response.

That lie, apparently circulating around town for several months, is that I have been officially banned from attending Borough Council meetings after having supposedly made "threats" against Frank and her family.

Yes, it is true, I have taken a much needed vacation from attending Borough Council meetings. There are many reasons for this, but the above is most certainly not one of them. I am not now and never have been banned or prohibited from attending any meetings of the Borough Council.

Most importantly, I never made any threats against the mayor or her family except for the "threat" of dealing her political defeat and fighting on for as many years as it takes to bring regime change to Highland Park and resist the part of her 2020 plan that calls for higher density development in town.

Politically, I have taken issue with Frank's touting of motherhood as a qualification for being mayor and her insular recruitment of PTO parents to fill Borough Council and Democratic Party positions. The center of her support has always been a demographically homogeneous sector of the PTO parents who use children as pawns and politicize their being school parents to portray themselves as more qualified or more representative of this borough as a whole.

I am a strong supporter of education and have personally contributed to the Highland Park Education Foundation. Yet Frank and her supporters have consistently used the fact that I am not a parent against me, to the point that in 2002, they conducted a phone chain the night before my council primary telling people that I was "anti-children" because I opposed the building of 24 four-bedroom homes in environmentally sensitive Buck Woods as proposed by developer Jack Morris.

And Frank and her supporters have for nine years acted as though Highland Park's other, non-public school parent populations either don't exist or are at best second class citizens who should sublimate their needs to those of her group of supporters.

What I object to is the politicizing of children, education, and the PTOs. The mayor's repeated attempts to twist my statements into something sinister--and utter fiction--are downright despicable.

In a previous post, I mentioned having to spend $1,500 on a lawyer to defend myself against these false charges. Thankfully, the court in Milltown (the case was moved there due to conflict of interest) rightfully saw through this sham, and on January 10, 2008, cleared me of any charges other than violation of a noise ordinance during a shouting match.

I believe Mayor Frank has known all along that I am not a threat to anyone except in the political arena. These tactics are the sort of dirty politics happening all over New Jersey, where politicians use the police to intimidate opponents from challenging them, whether in elections or at public meetings. Such was done to the Halper family at the direction of the mayor of Piscataway.

However, I emphasize that I never was and never will be intimidated from political participation and seeking of public office. Mayor Frank, your efforts are a resounding failure.

My involvement with the 2007 mayoral campaign led to several amazing opportunities for me as a writer, including an invitation to write a play, on which I spent most of the past year working. These writing projects have been my personal priorities since the election. My absence from council meetings has been solely my own choice and not due to any legal edicts. Anyone who doubts this is free to investigate the issue with the Highland Park Police Department, whose members will confirm that there never has been any prohibition against my attending Borough Council meetings.

As a "political animal," I fight my battles with words and words alone. I have not stopped fighting this administration, and I never will. At this point, I believe the opposition has already won its most important victory, in that we blocked the implementation of any use of eminent domain to force business or home owners to sell their properties to private developers.

At some point, hopefully this summer, I intend to once more attend Borough Council meetings and ask the tough questions.

Meanwhile, I reiterate again in the strongest possible terms that any attempt to criminalize or demonize me with false accusations of threatening any human being with harm other than political defeat are nothing but lies and, in Shakespeare's words, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."