Author Archive: Rosi Efthim

A Victory Garden in Flemington

Let us know if community gardens are popping up by you too- – Rosi

Today, next to her kids’ shiny new swingset, Michelle Obama will begin digging for a little vegetable garden, the first food-producing garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt planted her Victory Garden.

Cilantro, tomatilloes, hot peppers. Lettuces. Spinach, chard, collards, kale. Berries. Herbs and heirloom tomatoes. That’s what the Obamas will plant, alongside school children and a local-foods expert the family brought to Washington.

On Monday night, some people in Hunterdon will ask Flemington Borough Council for permission to plant on a grassy plot by one of its water towers. Iff they say yes, we’ll plant an organic garden we’ll call The Victory Garden.

It will be a community garden, meaning many will participate, growing things together on one blessed, slightly sloping piece of land.

How is this political? This idea emerged from a group I’ve worked with for five years, Hunterdon’s Democracy for America (DFA). These folks have become a permanent progressive community where – believe me – nobody expected one.

The group’s met in the same hip little coffeehouse since 2004 in Flemington, a red town in a red county. We’ve made that town a kind of workshop for grassroots action. A tipping point came one frigid February day in 2007. That same heady night, the first candidate to emerge wholly from Hunterdon DFA, announced she’d run next. And with that win, this town’s direction shifted. Democrats now drive the agenda.

None of them owe us anything; they owe their voters more. But we hope that this new Council will see The Victory Garden as an opportunity to strengthen community bonds, improve nutrition and environmental awareness, and provide for our neighbors in need, some of whom will tend garden and some simply receive good food.

This feels like a very American, progressive and patriotic thing to do right now, and we’re encouraged by how many people show up ready to work and advise. We have a new President who speaks of self-reliance, community-building, and responsibility for the people around us. The economy is dark, and the times are challenging. But we remember our elders and the resourcefulness, how 20 million Americans on the homefront produced up to 40% of the vegetables consumed nationally.

Community gardens are popping up all over, in nearby Readington, East Amwell, maybe in High Bridge. The Victory Garden, if we get the land, will have a built-in mission of addressing some of the needs of people living paycheck-to-paycheck, or worse. If you’re a local, join us Monday.

Does this get you thinking about NJ’s incumbents?

Blue Jersey Radio’s excellent interview with Jeff Hauser is here.  

When Accountability Now – a new national PAC – rolled out a couple of weeks ago, there were some dustups about what its purpose was. Were founders like Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos and Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake and the high-octane groups aligning with them really going flat out after moderate electeds of their own party? That’s the kind of thing some of the headlines suggested.

But Accountability Now’s new Executive Director Jeff Hauser, who ran Dennis Shulman’s interesting but ultimately unsuccessful challenge to Rep. Scott Garrett last year, has it clear:

He talks about watching Democrats, the new power, being showered with lobbyist attention, and the risk that incumbents of his own party might begin to toe K Street’s line or succumb to D.C. groupthink, just like Republicans did. The rationale makes sense. Incumbency is a cushy advantage; reelection almost a reflexive privilege. That leaves incumbents vulnerable to losing touch with their own districts, and caving to the demands of corporate interests. The organizational support AN hopes to provide – to challengers – is designed to making it more likely that if incumbents get out of touch they’ll have a serious primary challenge.  It’s designed to get them looking over their shoulder and not too comfortably. Incumbents doing right by their districts, he says, have little to fear from AN.

How will AN zero in on their targets? Watershed votes on issues like economic recovery, the budget, healthcare, Employee Free Choice, energy/climate change and immigration reform will be watched. And polling will study the districts.

Hauser sat down for an on line chat with Blue Jersey yesterday. He calls the current system dysfunctional:

[snip] Unlike you or I, who are reviewed in our work constantly, members of Congress too often get a free pass.

AN wants to connect prospective candidates – viable candidates with fundraising mojo or the clear ability to attract resources – with national, people-powered movements, like MoveOn, SEIU, DailyKos,, 21st Century Democrats and BlogPAC. And Democracy for America (DFA).

DFA Chair Jim Dean called in on Blue Jersey Radio last night, to underscore DFA’s enthusiasm for the way vigorous primaries empower voters. Dean:

If this party embraces that, we’re going to be around end prosper for a long time. But if it reverts to the power of incumbency we saw during the Clinton administration we’re going to be out on our ass.

Jersey City Independent launches

What with shrinking news holes, drastic staff cuts, struggling news bureaus, looming financial crisis, brethren in the online world facing uphill struggles and poignant efforts to rescue the traditional newspapers we all grew up with, it’s been a demoralizing year for New Jerseyans who depend on newspapers to help them comprehend and analyze the world – and the state – we live in.

Today, in one corner of the Garden State – Jersey City – a handful of journalists officially flipped the light switch on in a new venture, a non-profit website covering that city’s news, politics and culture: The Jersey City Independent. Some of you may remember City Belt, the progressive independent news site, also based in Jersey City. This is largely the same team, and their background is wide-ranging, including alt-weeklies, community newspapers, online news outlets, media research, video production and grassroots service organizations in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Beirut and Bogotá, Colombia.

Sometimes there’s a little ham-handedness when news organizations endeavor to slip tentative, figurative toes into internet waters. But by contrast, the JCI founders are accustomed to presenting information on the interwebs and – bonus – have background in the rich tradition of alternative weeklies, a sometimes saving grace for intelligent readers in the cities lucky enough to have them.

With the Jersey Journal in apparent trouble, here’s hoping JCI adds some vitality to the news scene in the state’s second largest city.  

Update on Blue Jersey’s own Jeff Gardner

Many of you have been emailing and calling asking for an update on Jeff Gardner’s surgery today, to donate a kidney to his ailing brother.

Well, his partner just called, with a great status update. The surgery went well, both brothers are doing well, and Jeff is now in the Recovery Room.

Go ahead and use this space if you want to express appreciation, admiration, dumb-struck awe, or warm fuzzies to Jeff and to his brother, who we hope feels much, much better soon.

Sifting through Out with Trout

Raids on the county sheriff’s office, and the homes of her staff. Computers seized, records seized. Sheriff’s officers stripped of their license to carry a weapon and banned for life from holding a law enforcement position anywhere in the state.  Armed law enforcement officers lying on job applications. Resignations. Grand jury cases. Attempts to quash subpoenas. Sheriff’s investigators hired without background checks, later found ineligible to attend the police academy, a requirement of their job. First Amendment violations and intimidation of citizens. Loyalty oaths required of staff. Taxpayer sticker-shock with one part of county government battling another part.

These are the kinds of things – and allegations – popping up in Hunterdon County against Sheriff Deborah Trout, who took office in January 2008, and has been in hot water ever since. A petition to recall the Sheriff has been approved and the clocks counting down 160 days to gather the signatures necessary to put the question on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The case against Sheriff Deborah Trout is complicated, dense with detail. And – depending on who you talk to – is either a slam-dunk or politically-motivated bull. It isn’t easy to sort out what may be actionable from what is merely disagreement with the way the Sheriff does things.

Eagleton Institute of NJ Politics says this may be the first official effort to recall a county elected official in state history. If they succeed, it’s definitely history. But the bar to take a sheriff’s job is set high: 25% of all registered voters in the last general election and that’s 21,866 signatures, which started with the first public meeting a few days ago of Out with Trout (which is officially non-partisan). I was surprised to see Marcia Karrow not only show up, but speak.  Karrow (R-Raritan Twp.) will be sworn in in five days as State Senator, replacing Congressman Leonard Lance. Assemblyman Mike Doherty, who promises a he’ll take that seat from her, skipped it.

Begin with the fact that Trout is a Republican. A dramatic primary left the first-ever Hunterdon woman to hold the job the surprise winner in 2007. The voters chose Trout over Democrat Bruce Cocuzza, arguably a better-qualified choice. But you find a lot of the same Republican names from the ’07 primary pop up in this case, including George Muller, who gave up a Freeholder seat to run for Sheriff, perhaps motivated to add to his state pension years for a cushier retirement. Muller ended up in Trout’s administration in a position, Freeholder George Melick alleges, for which there was “no funding” (Melick is calling on Trout to resign). And it appears that some of Trout’s former primary rivals are involved in the recall effort, though how closely I don’t know. Trout may feel the vultures circling.  

Today is National Buy a Newspaper Day

Did you buy a newspaper today? And if you didn’t, what would get you to buy one?

A 24-year-old reporter for the print daily Fairbanks News Daily-Miner in Alaska started a massive, national facebook event: National Buy a Newspaper Day. And it’s today. It’s a hopeful effort, which now has its own website and thousands of people signed on to hit the news stands.

These days, facebook cuts across all demographic and age groups. But it’s clear that reporter Chris Freiberg was targeting mainly people his own age, given that the social networking site was started by college students to connect first Harvard students, then Ivy Leaguers, then the rest of us, to each other.

But Huffington Post today has a great piece today in which Freiberg nails newspapers for doing almost nothing to engage people his age:

“It makes no sense, but newspapers aren’t targeting Generation Y,” Chris Freiberg told Huffington Post. “They aren’t really trying to understand the lifestyle of young people today, or how integral websites like Facebook and MySpace are to their daily lives. I believe the younger generation would learn to love newspapers, if newspapers would talk directly to them.”

Today, my Star-Ledger landed with a very minor thud on my front steps, just as it does every day. And a quick look at its ever-shrinking news hole showed no coverage of Freiberg’s day celebrating print journalism. They missed an opportunity.

Here are some other things facebook users said about all this, quoted by HuffPo’s Diane Tucker:

Can I engage with a newspaper? Can I filter it to send me only what I find useful? Can I easily add my reviews and discuss articles with fellow readers? Times are a changing. Newspapers should change, too. — Nick Wolf

With everyone trying to “go green” these days, why should we encourage newspapers? Besides, my local paper posts their news stories online — free, environmentally friendly, and convenient.

— Rosemarie Hudak

Buy a newspaper every day. Buy a couple! Get some different perspectives, and maybe we’ll all be better informed.

— Mark Rosen

I worked as a graphic artist for a newspaper for 13 years. Then they sent my job (and 90 others) to India. Maybe newspapers should reach out to India for new subscribers.

— Lana Hornyak

Did National Buy a Newspaper Day get covered in any of New Jersey’s newspapers? Anybody see any coverage? I’m not in Freiberg’s demographic anymore, but for those of you who are, a question:

What can NJ’s newspapers do to get you to buy them and to read them? Drop your thoughts in Comments … good or bad.  

DCCC Targets Lance for the first time


Radio ads targeting 28 Republican congressmen – including freshman Leonard Lance – hit the airwaves tomorrow morning, courtesy of Rep. Chris Van Hollen and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The ads call out some of vulnerable representatives who voted against President Obama’s economic recovery plan, which got zero votes from House Republicans but passed anyway – 244 to 188. Credit the House’s Democratic majority for that.

Lance’s vote – siding with his party in a big, splashy show of unity against more responsible efforts to solve the country’s problems – could absolutely have been predicted. And it’s a damned shame that the same DCCC didn’t see that coming and help Linda Stender drive the point home that Lance was likely to vote with the GOP against forward movement, which he now has. But I digress…

The published text of the ads is rough stuff, calling out the congressmen by name on stations that serve their Districts, and accusing each of prioritizing things DCCC thinks will resonate with voters, over needed components in the economic recovery plan.  Choosing to bail out banks but opposing tax breaks for the bulk of American voters. Backing expenditures for new schools in Iraq, but failing to support the plan’s spending on schools at home. Benefitting themselves from healthcare at taxpayers’ expense, while children go uninsured. The ad targetting Lance and 9 of his colleagues is about job creation:

Did you know Congressman [Leonard Lance] voted against economic recovery to immediately create and save over [insert number here] [New Jersey] jobs? Times are tough, tell [Leonard Lance] to put families before politics.

Karrow wins the NJ-23 Senate Slugfest

Moderate Republican Marcia Karrow (R-Raritan Twp.) will inherit the NJ Senate seat left by newly sworn-in Rep. Leonard Lance in NJ’s 23rd District. The vote, moments ago, was Karrow 195, Doherty 143.

Voting took place at Clinton Twp. Middle School as Republican County Committee members from Warren and Hunterdon counties, which together make up NJ23, cast their votes after both candidates made their presentations at the podium.

Doherty (R-Washington Twp.), who describes himself as a Reagan conservative, backed Ron Paul in ’08 and  is disturbingly far-right, with a 100% rating from NJ Right to Life, actively protesting Roe v. Wade, 100% rating from the NRA. Doherty’s an anti-science zealot who has trouble with stuff like global warming and evolution.

Karrow, far less splashy, may have earned the loyalty of the voting committee members by announcing that she would not challenge Doherty if she lost the party vote today. Doherty has said he would challenge the party’s vote if he did not win the endorsement.

Karrow’s win may also be a matter of the pure numbers. There are more filled county committee seats in Hunterdon than in Warren. Each candidate came with their own loyal home constituencies, augmented by county committee members gained by the weeks of ferocious campaigning both have been doing in each other’s territory, Karrow presenting endorsements from 8 Warren County mayors and Doherty’s website bearing an effective graph showing he gets more votes than Karrow in each election they’ve both taken part in.

Unlike Doherty, Karrow grew up in the 23rd, and has spent years quietly developing good will among Republicans. Karrow, 49, is a former committeewoman and mayor in Raritan Twp. She is the daughter of the late, and well-liked Flemington businessman Sol Karrow, who was well-known to Republicans, campaigning for years alongside his daughter.

Both candidates campaigned hard today, but so did Bogota’s Steve Lonegan and Delaware Township’s Dick Zimmer, working opposite sides of the room. And Hunterdon Freeholder Erik Peterson, Hunterdon Freeholder Matt Holt,and Warren County Freeholder John Dimaio, each of whom is vying to grab the vacant Assembly seat the winner leaves empty, were also on hand, pressing the flesh.