Author Archive: Rosi Efthim

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

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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.  

Flemington: How Not to Introduce Shared Services

Last night, the Flemington Borough Council voted unanimously to keep their Police Department – 15 F/T and 2 P/T officers – as it is, and forgo discussions with neighboring Raritan Township for shared services.  It was probably the right decision, but it probably shouldn’t have been made last night. The Council was forced into calling a vote on the matter by almost 300 citizens after more than two hours of complaint in a crowded church gymnasium in front of more reporters than attend Flemington Council meetings in any six months.

The story of how they got there is one of remarkable bobbling on the part of Flemington Mayor Bob Hauck, a well-organized Fraternal Order of Police union local, and a widely-recognized lack of transparency about the Mayor’s actions that created the sense in both police ranks and citizenry that there were things they deserved to know that were being kept from them.  Not so smart.

Full disclosure: I live in Flemington, and at the microphone thanked police for showing up at my house many times to help my mother, who died this week, get to the ER. I also live with the man who ran against Hauck for mayor, who also attended, and has not been shy in nailing the mayor for shortcomings. So be it.

For most of the people in the room, the story began at the last Council meeting, on Dec. 15, 2008. For the police, their union and Police Chief George Becker, it’s been ramping up for a little longer.

Just a few days heads-up that shared services were on the December agenda was enough time to fill most of the seats in the tiny borough meeting room in the Hunterdon County seat.

But that 12/15 meeting turned ugly when Mayor Bob Hauck tried to eliminate the meeting’s Public Comment section. It took a member of the Flemington Planning Board, sitting in one of about three dozen seats the room holds, to read to the Mayor the standard line printed on every Council agenda:

This meeting is held in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act.

The Mayor can’t shut down public comments, whether he likes what the public’s likely to say or not. You’d think a Mayor, particularly one who served for years as the same borough’s Clerk, would know that.  

Fort Dix “Terrorists” Convicted of Conspiracy

How are we ever really going to know if and when we face actual danger if our own government gets itself involved in forwarding the plot and leading the plotters so effectively that the plotters try to turn in the informant for the very crime the informant’s trying to nail them for?

You wonder if questions like that were in the minds of jurors in the Fort Dix terrorism trial this week, after they returned a mixed verdict today that convicts all five Muslim South Jersey men of conspiracy to harm soldiers at Fort Dix, but finds them innocent of the crime of attempted murder.

From the beginning this trial smelled funny. This is what you get when you mix the ambitious (former) U.S. Attorney Chris Christie with a federal government determined to scare the pants off its citzenry to divert attention from White House screwups and/or convince us all that the whopping costs of the Iraq War and the vulnerable position that leaves us in here at home is a just a ducky idea.

Yeah, this was a sophisticated plot, all right. The men – who liked to play paintball in the woods and macho-talk amongst each other – were presented as organized criminals we should all be terrified of. Yet we’re supposed to believe that sophisticated, trained  terrorists – who the government never showed as connected to al-Qaeda or any other known terrorist group – would drop off tape of themselves shooting off rifles and shouting battle cries in the woods, if they were really planning to do anything serious. The government also asked us to believe that these guys weren’t plotting a suicide mission (a comparative breeze as plots go) but planned to infiltrate Fort Dix – one of the most effectively-guarded places in the United States  with trained and armed soldiers everywhere – kill a few Americans, then drive off-base safely and go home.

It makes no sense. And honestly, I don’t know whether we ever had anything real to fear from these men or not, because this trial – and the way our own government went about accumulating “evidence” – has muddied the truth, at best. And yet, they are convicted of conspiracy to kill American soldiers, and four of the five are also convicted of related weapons charges.  Each of them faces up to life in prison. And under terrorism laws, prosecutors  may also seek an enhanced sentence of life without parole. Sentencing is set for April 22-23.

Pizza delivery conspiracies. Circuit City clerks. Informants who know how to blow up stuff better than the “terrorists” they’re after – as well as where you can find the local illegal arms dealer and how to get rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, and how to do recon on the place you want to blow up. This would all be comedy if it wasn’t so damned real, and so damned awful.  

Why Marriage Equality Matters to Me

Blue Jersey Radio recorded LIVE from the Garden State Equality Town Hall here. South Jersey Town Hall tomorrow. DFA-NJ Opening Night of Milk Friday night.

I am now going to out myself. Yes, as a person who came very late to support marriage equality.

This is not news for anybody who knows me. And I’ve said the same, uncomfortably and shuffling my feet, in front of a microphone at Town Halls with Garden State Equality, which has had the good sense to welcome straight people like me into this movement for change.

But here’s the thing. When you invite the straights in, you never know what you’re going to get. And one day, they got me. If you haven’t been to one, GSE Town Hall meetings are a combination old-fashioned tent meeting, precision-drilled presentation (founder Steven Goldstein used to produce Oprah), occasional display of gay fabulousness, and lots of children running around – always welcomed – their grownups with the look of full-out determination.

Frequently, there are balloons. But GSE Town Halls are very serious business. You’re welcomed if you are still thinking about the question of whether New Jersey should change its laws to allow same-sex marriage. But the reasons you’ll hear are so compelling, that you’ll probably leave convinced. And maybe even, recruited.

I was recruited. Gay marriage, which is how most straight people think of what gay people call marriage equality didn’t hit me right at the beginning of this movement. Oh, I was all for equality, who isn’t? So, I was solid behind domestic partnership, or civil unions, or anything else that brought parity to gay couples in love.

But marriage? Marriage to me, a few years ago, was something else  entirely, by definition the union of woman to man. Clearly understood, everybody knew what it was. And gay people were doing something …. else.

I don’t like admitting my wrongness. I’m a progressive activist, and I’m often the person in the front of a room helping organize things. But I can be slow. And I had to listen to some people to figure it out. Teenagers whose schoolmates didn’t recognize their civil unioned families as real, workers whose employers wouldn’t extend the rights afforded under civil unions, loving couples who felt like their families were accorded second-class status. And, maybe worst of all, is the uncertainty civil unioned couples felt in a hospital, in a health care crisis.  

Unity March, today, follows Warren County cross-burning incident

Nothing following the election Nov. 4 of Barack Obama was more of a downer than this, an old-fashioned cross-burning outside the home of jubilant supporters of the President-elect. Now, today, Hardwick Township residents and others are staging a Unity March, which also involves the township’s mayor, Kevin Duffy.

The march begins at 3pm today, at the municipal offices at 40 Spring Valley Road and winds up at the home of Alina and Gary Grewal, the victims of the crime. The Grewal family volunteered for Obama both in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania.

After the election, the Grewals’ 8-year-old daughter handmade a victory banner which hung outside their home. That banner was stolen, and returned days later, in the middle of the night and  wrapped in a burning cross.

It’s good to see Hardwick’s Republican mayor, Duffy, involved in the community’s response to this terrible incident.