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."

Monday, May 25, 2009

NJ Democrats: Vote Carl Bergmanson for Governor and End "Octo-Dipping"

How many New Jersey Democrats realize we have a choice for governor in the June 2 primary? The mainstream media certainly has not conveyed this vital piece of information. That is hardly surprising since Carl Bergmanson, the Democrat challenging Governor Jon Corzine for the gubernatorial nomination, is a reform-minded independent thinker whose campaign is struggling financially, the same way many of us are during this recession, and not a walking human ATM like his opponent.

A former mayor of Glen Ridge, NJ, Bergmanson has been "permitted" to take part in the race only because he has absolutely no ties to the New Jersey Democratic machine, which looks after its special interest friends like developers far more than after the averge working people. Anyone reliant on this party machine for a political career, such as the Perth Amboy councilman who had wanted to challenge Corzine, need only state such intention before the party bigwigs descend on them to talk them out of running for the sake of "party unity." Let's not forget that former Governor Richard Codey wanted to challenge Corzine for the nomination four years ago but was bullied financially out of the race.

This is not democracy.

Bergmanson could not be talked out of running because he owes nothing to this party machine.

It's time to assess Governor Corzine's record in office. In the corporate world, those who do not perform their jobs up to standard are fired. Corzine has failed to deliver on multiple promises, which is why it is time for him to go.

In his 2005 campaign, Corzine promised property tax relief. He pledged to increase property tax rebates 40 percent in four years. He advocated a constitutional convention to address the property tax crisis and unfairness in how we fund public schools.

The "40 in 4" plan evaporated almost immediately. Corzine actually eliminated property tax rebates completely for many, and seriously reduced them for many more.

The constitutional convention was never held. It seems the governor has experienced selective amnesia about his promises, as he did about driving the speed limit and wearing a seatbelt two years ago.

Ninety-eight proposals on property tax reform and countless meetings led to zero change. Now, the governor is using the old trick of providing homeowners with a rebate in 2009, conveniently in September or October, right before the election, while already having eliminated them from the 2010 budget.

Even worse, Corzine has proposed eliminating the property tax deduction on the state income tax, effectively forcing New Jersey homeowners to pay income taxes on their property taxes, which are already the highest in the nation!

And just like a certain mayor in Highland Park, Corzine promised "the most open and transparent government in New Jersey history" only to prove these more empty words, as the administration will not even release budget data to the state Assembly without having to be taken to court.

The governor did fulfill one promise--restoration of the Department of the Public Advocate. However, he ignored the recommendations of his own appointee, Public Advocate Ronald Chen, who pushed for new laws eliminating the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment.

So what will Carl Bergmanson do differently? For one, he plans to actually pursue the constitutional convention to address property taxes. When it comes to state mandates on municipalities, he will either fully fund them, in accordance with the "state mandate, state pay" law, or eliminate them entirely.

Bergmanson favors Initiative and Referendum, a procedure in which citizens vote directly on major issues, such as eminent domain reform. As for much-needed campaign finance reform, since the US Supreme Court has ruled against attempts to limit campaign contributions, Bergmanson proposes to tax these contributions on a graduated basis. If we can tax luxury items, why not tax campaign contributions?

One of Corzine's biggest failures is his promise to end "the old way of doing things in Trenton," namely corruption. Not only has he retained countless McGreevey political appointees; he has kept intact the government structure that rewards big campaign contributors with high-paid jobs for which they are not qualified.

In 2003, while completing the Main Street New Jersey Downtown Revitalization program, I had the chance to converse with employees of the Department of Community Services. Natually, being me, I tried to stir up a revolt by recommending these employees apply for top department positions such as Deputy Commissioner. That position had just been given to a former Highland Park councilwoman who had not completed a single term and had never worked for the Department of Community Affairs.

"Those are political appointments," several employees responded, laughing at even the idea that they should go for these jobs in spite of their being more qualified than the political appointee who was getting an $80,000 salary subsidized by our tax dollars.

This is where Bergmanson can and will offer real change. He is committed to ending "double dipping," which allows members of the state legislature, who are considered "part time" workers, to hold another full time government job, which in itself creates multiple conflicts of interest.

Even more importantly, Bergmanson will push each state department to reduce its budget by up to 20 percent to bring state spending under control. However, and this is the crucial point, he will begin the cuts at the top rather than the bottom of each department, eliminating thousands of high-paid patronage positions rather than the regular employees, like those I spoke with in 2003, who do the real work of serving the public, many of whom fall on the lowest ends of the pay scale.

Before voting, every New Jersey Democrat should take a look at this site: . What you find out may very well leave you outraged. Over 3,000 people in New Jersey currently hold multiple state jobs. Many, as can be seen in the list on this page, hold seven, eight and nine state jobs all at one time, with total incomes of $300,000. They are getting pensions for every one of these jobs. I tried to count the number of people with eight or more jobs and soon realized it would take hours.

But I did come up with an appropriate name for the phenomenon of people holding eight government jobs subsidized by taxpayer dollars: "octo-dipping."

Every single one of these salaries comes from our tax dollars. Yet Corzine and other machine politicians, when making cuts, choose to "spread the pain" through targeting Medicare, property tax rebates, and toll increases. New Jersey is bankrupt not because we spend too much on social programs, but because of the depth of political corruption at all levels. As one bumper sticker says, "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

New Jersey Democrats, it's time to pay attention. Research these facts for yourselves. We need to admit that the fox is not the best choice to mind the henhouse.

To volunteer or donate to Carl Bergmanson's campaign, visit . Then, on Tuesday, June 2, say no more to party machines and vote Carl Bergmanson for governor in the Democratic primary. The polls are open 6 AM-8 PM. Voters who never voted in a primary are considered undeclared and may vote in the Democratic primary.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Election? What Election?: The Star Ledger's Path to Mediocre Journalism

In today's article, "Highland Park's Path to A New Mayor," Star Ledger reporter Ryan Hutchins continues his once-excellent newspaper's downhill slide to mediocrity, sacrificing the traditional watchdog role and instead choosing to be little more than a venue for politicians' self promotion.

Today's article reaches a new low. Hutchins seems to have forgotten that in Highland Park, we hire our mayor through a general election. For a reporter, forgetting an election is not by any means a minor oversight!

The article can be found at

Hutchins also reiterates at face value Mayor Frank's deceptive claim that she alone authored the state and federal family leave acts. He describes her smiling and saying at a council meeting that her administration accomplished a lot. Details? None given.

This administration has been controversial from day one. Did Hutchins even attempt to get a perspective from the opposition? It's not hard; there are plenty among the business owners on Raritan Avenue. How about the owner of Ubry's, a successful mechanic shop that for four-and-a-half years has posted a large sign in its front window reading, "Mayor Frank, please don't take our business" in response to his property being declared "in need of redevelopment" and therefore vulnerable to eminent domain?

Below is an email I sent to Hutchins expressing my dismay at his lackluster and biased reporting:

"Dear Mr. Hutchins,

I am writing to point out several inaccuracies in your article today regarding the current mayor of Highland Park and process of selecting a replacement.

Frank is not the author of the New Jersey Family Leave Act of 1989 and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. She is one of several hundred volunteers who worked on this bill. For ten years, she has deceptively portrayed herself as the single author of these bills to inflate her political experience and mislead the public of Highland Park. It is disappointing that you would print her words at face value and not check into the veracity of her statements or those of any politician before printing them as facts.

Second, in discussing Frank's term as mayor, you quote her citing her own accomplishments while failing to acknowledge the controversial nature of her term or the fact that there has been significant opposition to her controversial redevelopment policies for many years. Good journalism requires presenting both sides of an issue, and to do this, the responsible thing would be to seek an alternative opinion from her many active, vocal opponents.

Third, the choice of a new mayor is not solely partisan and up to the Municipal Democratic Committee. You failed to mention that whoever the party chooses will face an election in November. That means an independent or Republican could challenge the party's choice. The public of Highland Park deserve to know that they will have this choice, and you failed to provide this important information.

I have been one of many leading opponents of Frank for the past ten years, and I would be happy to speak with you to present the other side and/or to refer you to others, including business owners, who can present you with this very different perspective as well. Please feel free to check out my Blog for Highland Park, representing the voice of the opposition, at .
Thank you,

Laurel Kornfeld
2005 Democratic candidate for Highland Park Borough Council

When it comes to newspapers, the public also gets a vote--with our dollars. I encourage anyone disgusted with this sham that passes for reporting to write letters to the editor, call the Star Ledger's Middlesex County bureau, and consider cancelling their subscriptions to this newspaper. In this recession, why pay for a shabby product?