Author Archive: Juan Melli

Separate is still not equal

Promoted from the Diaries by Jason Springer:  An Interesting take from Juan.
Cross-posted from PolitickerNJ.com

It’s actually come to this: A panel convened by the legislature of the State of New Jersey has concluded that discrimination is not good. Maybe someday we can look back and laugh, but for now, it’s a sad and necessary step toward progress.

The 13-member Civil Union Review Commission tasked with “evaluating the implementation, operation and effectiveness” of the civil union law passed nearly two years ago released its final report today unanimously recommending that “The Legislature and Governor amend the law to allow same-sex couples to marry” and that it be “enacted expeditiously because any delay in marriage equality will harm all the people of New Jersey.”

The examples of injustice in the 80-page report are damning, but they shouldn’t surprise those who remember our dark, segregated past. For nearly a century, blacks were entitled to the same access to public services such as water fountains and schools, but under “separate but equal” facilities that were ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The colored fountain has the same water as the white one, was the argument, so what’s the problem?

In her dissenting opinion in New Jersey’s Supreme Court case brought by gay couples challenging for the right to marry, then-Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz wrote: “What we name things matters, language matters…Labels set people apart surely as physical separation on a bus or in school facilities…By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, the State declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. Ultimately the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as ‘real’ marriage, that such lesser relationships cannot have the name of marriage.”

Likewise, the report describes civil union couples as having “second-class status,” and one written statement to the commission referred to civil unions as “the back of the legal relationship bus.” So will the report change any minds? If it does, probably only at the margins. Anyone who needs a written report to understand fundamental American values like justice and equality probably won’t be swayed anyway.

And then there are politicians, whose actions are often only loosely correlated with logic or even their own set of values.

In the short term, this report might provide enough cover to get a few more sponsors on the “Civil Marriage and Religious Protection Act,” which calls for full marriage equality. It might also serve as supporting evidence in a hypothetical court case challenging the current law; say, if a married couple from Massachusetts moved to New Jersey and found that their marriage was magically transformed into a civil union. It could also push those who are teetering on the edge of the issue, like Jon Corzine, who supported marriage equality while running for governor in 2005, later said he only supported civil unions, and most recently said he has “significant concerns” about civil unions actually providing equal rights.

Regardless, the legislation is unlikely to be considered at least until the next lame duck session, and conventional wisdom among head-counters is that there are enough votes to pass the bill in the Assembly, but not yet in the Senate.

Changes

I have some news to share.

The Observer Media Group has announced that Juan Melli will join Politicker.com next week as the Associate Editor. Melli founded the New Jersey-based political blog BlueJersey.com in 2005 and has since served as publisher and managing editor.  He is completing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Princeton University. Melli will no longer write for BlueJersey.com.

That means there will be some changes. Most visibly, Rosi Efthim will take over as Editorial Director and Scott Shields as Technical Director. They’ve both been around since day one and without their work and that of all the writers, Blue Jersey wouldn’t be what it is today. I’m confident they will keep the boat rocking and rolling.

If my thesis committee has mercy on me, I should be finished with school very soon. Besides looking for a distraction from the grad school grind, one of the main reasons I started Blue Jersey almost three years ago was because I didn’t know anything at all about New Jersey politics. Some might say I still don’t, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this community — especially when it’s challenged me to think critically and reevaluate my views. I’m very grateful to have had this fun and educational experience.

I won’t be posting here any more, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be hearing from me in the future. My Blue Jersey email address won’t be valid for much longer so for those who would like to keep in touch or try to sell me fake Rolex watches or mortgage products my email address is my first initial + last name + @gmail.com.

So thank you to everyone who has joined along in this experiment to make New Jersey politics and government more open and responsive. There’s still a very long way to go, but I know the people here will continue to play an important role in that process. Thank you.

Think Equal nominated for advertising award

One of the four Think Equal ads produced by Blue Jersey and used as part of an ad campaign for Garden State Equality has been nominated for the 4th Annual Images In Advertising Awards in the category of “Outstanding Nonprofit Campaign”.

Think Equal has made it past the first two stages of a three-step process – nomination and selection by committee. The winners will be announced at the award ceremony which is scheduled for July 28th.

Vandervalk: School construction funding = pork

Joe Donahue/Star Ledger:

Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk (R-Bergen) added that even as Democrats boast that they have ended so-called “Christmas Tree” spending in their legislative districts, they are using the multi-billion-dollar school construction bill to try to buy legislative votes for the new budget.”

The pork has gone from several hundred million to $3.9 billion,” she said.

Ferriero’s slush fund

Charles Stile sheds some light on Joe Ferriero’s fundraising operation. It highlights another example of legalized corruption:

Joe Ferriero dipped into a private, unregulated campaign stash to pay for automated robo-calls, slick fliers and other expenses in his lopsided June 10 reelection victory as Bergen County Democratic Organization chairman.

The Ferriero for County Chair account is a little-known arm of the Ferriero fund-raising machine. It is stocked, in part, by contributions from companies that have lucrative contracts with the Democratic-controlled county government and agencies, state records show.

Donors include Maser Consulting of Red Bank, which earned more than $450,000 on a variety of public works and services for Bergen County from 2005 to 2006, according to records filed with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. Maser contributed $2,500 to the Ferriero fund in May 2006, records show.

The Secaucus-based law firm Waters McPherson McNeill PC, which earned more than $1.2 million as general counsel to the Bergen County Utilities Authority during the past two years, contributed $5,100 in 2006 and 2007. […]

Donors are free to cut Ferriero a check for any amount they want – contribution limits imposed on other candidates do not apply. In theory, Ferriero can spend the money on anything, including personal expenses. The account is just as exempt from public scrutiny as the new crop of legal defense funds for legislators facing federal corruption charges. These funds allow legislators to raise and spend without any regulatory oversight.

It seems to me that whatever values Ferriero once held have since been replaced by a single-minded quest for money and power. This slush fund is only the latest example. Recall this incident reported by The Record on November 6, 2004:

A county police officer racked up more than $1,000 in overtime while chauffeuring Bergen County Democratic boss Joseph Ferriero to Yankees games and to an Atlantic City casino, Police Department records show.

On the one hand, Ferriero enjoys the fundraising loophole that doesn’t apply to public elected officials. On the other, he abuses a privilege reserved for elected officials. And even then, “only under extreme circumstances should elected officials get this,” said [Valerie] Huttle, who said she has been driven by county police to official functions twice in her four years on the [freeholder] board.”

Only after he got caught by The Record did Ferriero say he was “sorry” for abusing the taxpayers and promised to return the money. The Record is doing their job by shedding light on the situation. Are Bergen County voters paying attention?

Rothman’s “Dick Cheney moment”

Alfred Doblin writes:

REP. STEVE ROTHMAN, D-Fair Lawn, found his rainbow connection. This month, he joined the newly formed LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) Equality Caucus in the House, along with 51 other representatives. The goal of the caucus formed by openly gay Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Barney Frank, D-Mass., is to raise awareness in Congress about gay and lesbian issues.

Rothman did that this week by announcing he now supports legalizing same-sex marriage. This change in position is not because Rothman had a Jim McGreevey moment; Rothman had a Dick Cheney one. One of Rothman’s stepdaughters is lesbian.

As a former mayor of Englewood, Rothman performed many marriage ceremonies. In a phone interview Wednesday, he said the “issue of gay marriage has been on my mind” ever since those days. Yet despite his two biological children often telling him that “of course, gay people should be able to be married,” he still would respond, “I’m not there yet.”

What got him there was a new marriage, and with it, the addition of three stepchildren to his family. His evolution on same-sex marriage is not unusual. When someone knows an openly gay or lesbian person, his or her views on equality broaden. Rothman is embracing a brave, new lavender world because like any parent, he wants his children to live happy, productive lives.

“Life can be short and hurtful for some,” he said. “Anytime anyone in the community speaks out against discrimination, it advances the cause of ending discrimination.”

Holt rails against FISA bill

Rush Holt: “Unfortunately the negotiators who brought this bill to the floor bought into the flawed assumptions of the Bush administration that because we live in a dangerous world, we must redefine the Fourth Amendment.”

Quote of the Day

December 4, 2007. Assemblyman Neil Cohen works to save Congo:

“This dog was in the hallway playing with his Hanukkah toy,” Cohen said. “It’s obvious this dog does not need to be put to sleep. The law needs to be changed.”

Some might say that one came back to “bite him in the ass”.

Congo

Remember Congo, the dog that was sentenced to death last year for attacking a landscaper? The single most important issue for New Jerseyans?

Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said the governor’s office has received 10,000 telephone calls, e-mails, letters and faxes about Congo, more than any other issue since the governor took office. Corzine hasn’t got involved, except to say that he’s going to leave the matter to the courts.

They succeeded. Sure, the state was still unaffordable, thousands of children lacked health care and reports of corruption continued to elicit a collective shrug, but at least Congo was spared. Congratulations, New Jersey.

Congo the German shepherd attacked again — this time a member of his owners’ family.

As a result, the local couple who fought a successful high-profile campaign to spare their beloved Congo from a death sentence after he mauled a landscaper on their property last year had Congo and three of their other dogs euthanized Wednesday morning after the dogs attacked a relative visiting their home Tuesday, authorities said.

In the latest incident, Congo was one of four dogs that attacked 75-year-old Constance Ladd, the mother of one of the dogs’ owners, Elizabeth James, police detective Sgt. Ernie Silagyi said Wednesday.

Ladd had puncture wounds and lacerations to the top of her head, chest and right forearm and injured her hip when she fell to the ground as the dogs pounced on her, Silagyi said.

This isn’t really about Congo, nor is the purpose to point fingers or assign blame. There’s nothing wrong with people lobbying their government for perceived justice. But how do we explain a state whose people will write letters and make phone calls for one dog, but ignore what are arguably much more pressing issues?