Author Archive: Bill Orr

About Bill Orr

University of Virginia Masters in English. Have lived in Argentina, Panama, Delaware, Virginia, California, NYC, and New Jersey for the last 25 years. Former editor and manager at McGraw-Hill, former President of Gay Activist Alliance of NJ, founder of NJ ActUp, and North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) in Newark.

Meadowlands: To Post Or Not To Post

Wenditions won in the 4th at the Meadowlands Friday night and the winners were happy.  Others were not so fortunate, but it was a clear, comfortable, cool evening. Even for those who did not wager, just admiring the horses, sensing the excitement of each race, enjoying the beauty of the track, and socializing over a meal with friends made for a pleasant time – and all of this with no parking fee and an admission price of $1.00. Attendance was about 4,000, but it’s a large facility which can accommodate over 30,000 for major race days. Channel 12 was there providing added coverage. Periodically the loudspeaker blared forth the request for people to support this endangered racetrack. Alas, its days and those of its industry may be numbered in NJ.

Christie’s Advisory Commission focused attention on our $1.1 billion-a-year horse racing industry, increasing the split in the legislature between different NJ areas, those who favor more gambling and those who do not, and those who argue we can not afford to subsidize horse racing vs. those who say this is no time to subtract jobs from our economy. The commission’s recommendations included a short boutique summer meet at Monmouth Racetrack, but an end to most racing subsidies. It recommended leasing the Meadowlands Racetrack for $1 a year for three years with the tenant assuming all expenses, and with no conviction that success would follow.

The Democratic legislators’ Gaming Summit in Atlantic City on August 6 opened with a bugler sounding the traditional “call to post” in support of NJ horse racing. Nonetheless, there was little unanimity. Christie’s commission report had supported a major effort to resuscitate Atlantic City gaming. However, it concluded that the racing industry model in NJ was economically unsustainable and it argued against placing VLT’s in the Meadowlands. Sen. Paul Sarlo (36th) said the report “puts us in the position of playing favorites, one region at the expense of another.” He got into a heated debate with a casino CEO who felt that authorizing slot machines, VLTs or table games elsewhere in the state would be a disaster for the Atlantic City casino industry.

I personally feel that the state should not foster increased gambling activities (a self-cannabalizing business with significant adverse effects on frequent wagerers), and I recognize that the subsidized racing industry is financially troubled. Nonetheless, I hope a broader review of the options will open a way to keep the track operating. Now is no time to contemplate more job reductions. A vibrant racetrack can add to the appeal of the larger Meadowlands/Xandu complex. It helps sustain farmers, businesses, hunting clubs and others who enjoy the open space and the farms which the horse-related business create.  Christie likes to stick to his guns, and the legislators are in conflict, but there should be a way to balance the varying interests. I would wager that support for helping Atlantic City will require support for helping the Meadowlands, but I have no idea what the odds should be or the likely outcome.

What do you think will or should happen?

Recent Developments in Consolidation and Shared Services

Interest in municipal consolidation and shared services continues to grow with small shoots sprouting throughout NJ. It has been forty years since the last merger of two municipalities in this State (Vineland Borough and Landis Township in 1954). The first consolidation might involve Teterboro, but discussions have also begun between Cherry Hill and Merchantville. A small shared service agreement was recently signed between Hoboken and Weehawken, and there are similar discussions between Ewing and Lawrence as well as Millville and Commercial. Below are some recent embryonic developments.


June 23 – “The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Wednesday approved a bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon that would pave the way for the New Jersey’s first municipal merger plan in 15 years.” Under this complex plan, if approved,  Teterboro would be absorbed by South Hackensack, Little Ferry, Moonachie and Hasbrouck Heights.

August 12 – “One citizen’s group from the tiny borough of Merchantville has taken it upon itself to merge its municipal operations with Cherry Hill – using a little-known state law that doesn’t require the permission or blessing of a town’s political leaders… It requires 10 percent of town voters.” Cherry Hill is studying the matter.


July 23 – “Hoboken And Weehawken enter shared services agreement for certain public works operations.” This arrangement for a DPW facility if successful might later involve other neighboring municipalities.

Aug 2 – “Spurred by rising municipal costs,members of the Ewing’s governing body are considering a different way to cut costs… Councilman Donald Cox said he has met with officials from Lawrence, who seemed to be interested in the idea.”

Aug 7 – “Commercial’s township committee will hold a meeting on Monday to discuss the concept of shared services with Millville.”

Shared services are nothing new in NJ. The NJ Shared Services Association lists many state-wide successes on its website. This approach appears to be attracting more interest. However, as pointed out by Gina Genovese, Executive Director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, to achieve significant economies of scale we need consolidations between 5 to 10 towns. We are not beyond the embryonic stage yet, but the pressure to maintain good quality municipal services with reduced revenue makes shared services and consolidation grow in appeal.  

Needed: A venue Worthy of its Two Names

Our state government has adopted an unwise short-term strategy for Xanadu, also now called Meadowlands. Development for this shopping and entertainment center started in 2004 as a project of Mills Corp., and was sold to a Colony-led group in 2006. Now after about $2 billion in investment and up to another $ 1 billion needed to complete it, this center is in the hands of a group of its debtors.  It was an ill-conceived project in 2004 and remains so today.

The new group will have to deal with the state which understandably is trying to resuscitate the project, but with little forersight.  Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Christie, on Tuesday said, “It really doesn’t matter to us who the title holder of the property is. What’s most important is that it’s an entity ultimately that can handle the project and complete it.” For a large property in one of the northeast’s most desirable locations, setting their sights on an entity that “can handle the project and complete it” displays a lack of imagination.

This white (but garish) elephant deserves better.  If investors thought that this retread concept of another huge mall with a few added entertainment venues was such a great idea, Colony would have found the funds to complete the project. Instead Colony surrendered it to lenders.

The state should carefully explore its options and not rush into a deal which only offers more of the same stale vision. In a wonderful book written in 1999, The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures on the Edge of a City, the intrepid author Robert Sullivan takes many bus trips from his apartment in NYC to tramp through muck and by canoe to explore the rivers, marshes, birds, and fish in this richly diverse land. Why not, among other attractions, have Xanadu be the starting point for similar adventures. After much restoration this area is more wondrous now.

Most everyone agrees the current facade could not be uglier. It reminds me of many large, tacky warehouses along our highways. The Star Ledger in a video accompanying its article has solicited some creative and fun suggestions.

The Star Ledger says the state is now in conversation with two potential developers and is considering providing tax exemptions. Such might entice completion, but is of no benefit in the long run if the center fails to attract sufficient vendors or customers. Others argue for additional gambling there. Such might offer a short term advantage but will quickly be caught up in a competitive, self-cannibalizing industry with diminishing financial gains for the venue and the undesirable side effects of gambling. A state commission recently recommended that if the project doesn’t move ahead the state should move quickly and aggressively toward foreclosure and seeking damages. Such might ultimately prove necessary, but I hope the state will continue to pursue a wide range of options – ones that do not just add lipstick to the pig but will give us a venue worthy of its two names.

What do you think?

Puff The Malignant Dragon

In yesterday’s N Y Times column Paul Krugman argues, “In the short run, these state and local cutbacks are a major drag on the economy, perpetuating devastatingly high unemployment.” But what does our governor care about our economy or our high unemployment? The Democratic legislators who spent Friday at Atlantic City talked about jobs, jobs, jobs. Even the Virginia Republican governor on CNN this weekend boasted about creating 60,000 jobs in his state. Our governor’s philosophy: malignant neglect.

Congress is about to enact the Education Jobs bill which would provide about $268 million to NJ, saving us some 3,900 teacher positions, as estimated by Sen. Lautenberg. As the Star Ledger pointed out, “A survey released today said 80 percent of New Jersey districts will likely have fewer teachers returning in September.” Does the governor’s spokesman respond with enthusiasm over the opportunity to rehire teachers? According to the Star Ledger, “The Christie administration may not apply for $268 million in federal education aid up for a vote in Washington Tuesday, the governor’s spokesman said.”  “We must wait until the ink dries,” he adds.  

Where does Governor Puff the Malignant Dragon live? Cubachi, a conservative blog, answers the question by quoting the Honeywell CEO who thanks Gov. Christie, saying “the governor recognizes jobs come from companies and not government.” Well, last I heard they come from both places. Inflicting harm simultaneously on both job creation and our education is one sick plan.

Even if you accept the crazy proposition that jobs should come only from companies, is our governor just going to leave companies to their own devices and hope they create jobs? He says they will if we free them from the reins of regulation. We have recently witnessed with banks, BP and our oyster industry what happens when we lack smart, enforced regulations.  It not only hurts consumers and the economy, but also the businesses themselves.

Months ago Christie announced that he and his LG were calling five companies a week and wooing them to open or expand business in NJ.  Companies react favorably when there is a growing economy and expanding demand. Puff is helping neither. Companies also like to operate where there are good schools.  

The final irony for Puff, who likes total control, is that if he does not apply for the education funds the federal government can still send NJ the monies but use its own basis to decide what NJ districts are funded.

What is this dragon smoking?

Newark: Play Nice Boys and Girl

This is Bill Orr’s first post as a new Blue Jersey frontpager. Welcome to Blue Jersey, Bill. – Rosi

The biggest problem in Newark now is the dysfunctional relationship between Mayor Booker and the eight men and one woman on the City Council. It’s time to play nice boys and girl. Newark, in the midst of its worst financial crisis in memory (and its had plenty of them) needs you to work together.

Booker did not help matters by his long delay in detailing the city’s budget crisis. His comments about withdrawing toilet paper from City Hall only trivialized the problem. His more recent hiring of a staffer with a salary of $103,000 in the midst of city employee furloughs and budget cuts was poor judgment. His support of Christie’s original tax cap proposal also proved to be a boomerang.  Although he has reduced gun violence and fundraised large sums for the city, the perception of his competency and ongoing status as an “outsider” are hurting him. He’s got to do more than kick his game up a notch. He has to both lead and collaborate.

His colleagues on the council, most of whom were elected on his ticket, proved all-too willing to bend to public opinion over Booker’s Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) proposal. In fact, they delivered a “smack-down” 8-0 vote against creating the authority. The MUA which could issue bonds to replenish the city’s budget and improve the city’s water system infrastructure still makes sense, but people are concerned over the city’s loss of control, rising water rates, and potential for fraud, abuse and waste.

Many of the players are bright and competent.  Booker combines guts, smarts, charisma. Council President Donald Payne is a respected, long-time South Ward politician and son of NJ’s most progressive Representative.  Ron Rice, Jr. holds a Seton Hall law degree and is an articulate progressive. Augusto Amador, more cautious and moderate, represents well his Ironbound ward. Anibal Ramos, a Phi Beta Kappa Rutgers graduate, brings management experience from the non-profit sector.

Nonetheless, as detailed in a Star Ledger article, they are not behaving well together.  Booker can not just complain as he did after the vote that the council “has offered no viable plan at all for how to move our city forward.” Likewise, Payne can not hide behind his comment, “It is the mayor’s responsibility to come up with a balanced budget.”

So boys and girl play nice, work together, and balance your budget lest the state take over and Christie determines your fate. It’s all going to be difficult and painful but necessary.

Loving the 14th Amendment

promoted by Rosi

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside…Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 14th Amendment – Citizen Rights

You might think Republican strict-constructionists support this amendment to the fullest. Right? Of course, what we are hearing from members of congress, social conservatives and others is that they do not. Nonetheless, NJ Democrats and yes Republicans should not be shy in showing their love for this great amendment.

As reported by Politico, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced in late July that he is considering introducing a constitutional amendment that would no longer grant citizenship to children of immigrants born in the United States. He crudely refers to this as “anchor babies” or “Drop and leave,” but Politifact does an excellent job of countering his claims. 92 House members had already signed on to a similar 2009 bill (HR1868) including one from NJ, Scott Garrett. What Graham did not seem to note is that over hundreds of years countless children of immigrants have gone on to become essential to the fabric of our country, including colleagues of Sen. Graham currently in congress. Granting citizenship by birth location is a practice followed by many countries. It has worked well for America.

A few days later San Francisco Federal Judge Vaughn Walker said his state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment’s rights to equal protection and due process of law. To justify the proposition’s inherent discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, he wrote, there would have to be a compelling state interest in banning same-sex marriage. Although the defendants focused on “tradition,” the importance of procreation, and the supposed value of child rearing via both a male and female parent, they provided no compelling basis for justifying discrimination.

The arguments and results of this case help us in NJ where a similar same-sex marriage case will be presented to a Superior Court. “Equal protection” will be a key argument.  Following our experience with failed civil unions, our significant caveat will be that separate is not equal.

NJ ratified the amendment in 1866, but our legislature tried to rescind its ratification in 1868. Although no such counteraction seems likely now, as we approach midterm elections Republicans will use these wedge issues to energize their fringe base. However, Democrats, even those in moderate or conservative districts, should also be proud to stand up for “equal protection,” “due process”  and citizenship for people born here. Too frequently Democrats have been hesitant to speak out when confronted by conservative TV/radio hosts, tea party activists, and others of that ilk. I am not aware of any NJ congressman who contradicted Glenn Beck when he said, as reported by Politifact, that “we’re the only country in the world” that offers birthright citizenship.  “Celebrate this incredible victory by defending it,” read one Democratic e-mail that went out just after the San Francisco decision was released. Let’s show our love in NJ for the 14th.    

Our Long, Hot Summer

promoted by Rosi

                                     “We’re having a heat wave,

                                     A tropical heat wave,

                                     The temperature’s rising,

                                     It isn’t surprising.”

                                                       (Irving Berlin)

NJ’s long, hot summer has been made all the more unpleasant by a governor, bursting with self-aggrandizement, who refuses to budge (for “financial reasons” he says) on family planning clinics, continues to flog his divisive “Tool Kit,” meddles with medical marijuana, vetoes a homebuyer tax credit, hints he won’t make a pension plan payment next year, amazes us with his non-transparent Reform Jersey Now affairs, issues half-baked commission reports, and disputes the OLS projection of another $10.5 billion deficit next year.

One has to hold a certain admiration for his abilities. He is able to maintain party discipline with Republican legislators toeing the line. He is a media darling in national circles. He is flexible enough to “find” the money when it’s absolutely necessary for him. For better or generally for worse, he has cut the budget and tax rebates, decreased monies to municipalities, mistreated an un-tenured Supreme Court member, stood firm against a higher millionaire’s tax, capped property tax hikes and school superintendent pay, and unrelentingly taken on teachers. So far he retains about the same level of popularity among voters.

I wish him a long and happy out-of-state vacation.  We all deserve a rest.  Maybe even the heat wave will subside.      

Gang Activity – Right and Wrong Way

promoted by Rosi

It is great that Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone are introducing federal legislation to deter gang activity. It is a serious problem in NJ and nation-wide.  Part of their plan is worthwhile and the other part is atrocious.

The bill will fund billions of dollars to create programs for at-risk youth through community service initiatives and will help offenders transition out of prison. These types of programs have been demonstrated to deter gang activity.

The second part of the plan as explained in the Star-Ledger is not all beneficial; it’s barbaric and counterproductive: sentencing someone to prison for up to 30 years for committing two or more gang-related crimes or placing a 20-year penalty on recruiting minors into gangs. In some neighborhoods youth have little choice but to join gangs and doing so might be the best way of protecting themselves. Just being present at the commission of a crime can lead to a first offense. For some joining a gang is a badge of honor, and an even bigger badge when they recruit others. Spending time in jail becomes viewed as a routine rite of passage. The biggest Badge of Honor was to be incarcerated in the Gang Unit at Northern State Prison where the baddest of the bad were sent. These are not attitudes we want to encourage. Incarceration and ever-increasing sentences do not deter gang activity.

I am surprised and disappointed to see Menendez and Pallone take such an antiquated and discredited approach. It might help them get some Republican votes but it won’t help youth. Neither will it burnish their reputation for sound, progressive legislation. Rather, the focus should be on prevention programs that provide alternative activities (basketball, GED education, self-esteem training,) that engage youth, serve as empowerment, and steer them toward a more productive life.

We need more Officer Krupke’s and the social worker who wanted the West Side Story gang members to stop blocking the street and attend a dance, as opposed to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who just wants to lock them up.  

What do you think?  

Water Woes: “Bring the Money to Newark”

Promoted by Rosi

The great film noir Chinatown deals with intrigue, fatalism, and murder in the pursuit over control of water, with themes of politics, power and money. A tycoon in the movie says, “Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.” The situation is not too different from Newark today where the city lacks the revenue to pay its bills, and its mayor is desperately looking to a Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) to be its savior. Newark already owns and operates its water system, so the question is “whether you bring the money to Newark” via the authority’s ability to issue bonds. Resolution of the matter will significantly impact the mayor, councilmembers, and residents.

Under Mayor Booker’s plan out of $223 million to be raised in two years, $100 million would go into the city’s coffers to help close the current and next year’s budget shortfall. It would be a huge help to the city’s finances during the initial two years. The mayor points to such potential benefits as infrastructure improvement, the need to meet EPA standards, the possibility of increased revenue from other municipalities purchasing the water, and new jobs.

Its longer term effect is likely to pile additional interest debt on an already overburdened city, generate sharp water price increases, and reduce city control of its water management – issues which the council must consider and/or modify carefully. Unintended consequences, suggested by the Sierra Club which vehemently opposes the deal, include wasteful spending practices, loss of transparency, decrease in water quality, and pay-to-play problems. Indeed, only about $28 million is proposed for actual improvements to the water system. The reality is that while there are benefits that can accrue from creating an MUA, Booker’s main need is to reduce his severe budget problems.

Faced with unattractive options, three key councilmen – Payne, Rice, and Sharif – are now on the fence, three are currently opposed, and three are in favor. This issue has been discussed for months, indeed even for years as former Mayor Sharpe James once advocated a similar plan. In the meantime there is growing opposition from residents.  With the threat of a state take-over looming in the future, it is necessary for the council to come up soon with either its own proposal to cope with the budget crisis, or accept Booker’s plan with some modifications. Without a solution the potential for punishingly higher tax rates and further reduction in city services seems real. Also, the likelihood of the council “finding” acceptable cuts of $70 million in this year’s budget seems remote. Therefore, since we can not bring “Newark to the money,” as bondholders would be skeptical, we must bring “the money to Newark” via the MUA. Perhaps learning from recent experience with such problem-plagued groups as the Passaic Valley Sewage Authority and insisting on more transparency, the Newark story will have a happier ending than Chinatown.

A New Jerseyan’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Promoted by Rosi

“A sweet-face man, a proper man, as one shall see in a summer’s day.” I dreamt of him this midsummer Jersey night and of the many wondrous promises he had made to our state.

Ah, I worried, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” But remembering the treasures he assured us, I boasted, “My heart is true as steel.”

Thus I determined, “I must go go seek some dewdrops here and hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.” Alas, I found no dewdrops nor the cowslips, and I was shocked.

Indeed, I thought I heard him mutter, “Lord what fools these mortals be.”

Partly awakened, I exclaimed, “What visions have I seen! Methought I was enamored of an ass.” All was not as promised, nor was the man as proper as I had thought.

Sadly I realized, “Quick bright things come to confusion.” My dream had turned into a nightmare.

(Thanks to the Bard)