Tag Archive: media coverage

Blue Blogging Blues (South Jersey Magazine)

(Copied from South Jersey Magazine website. Original article appears behind registration firewall.)

Blue Blogging Blues

…From the pages of South Jersey Magazine…

This is the tale of Washington Township’s Juan Melli, a man lost in his own personal blue period-and loving every second of it.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up the phone to call Juan Melli, Princeton graduate and founder of BlueJersey.com, a political Web site born out of a single blog that has become a prominent resource for local Democrats. We had corresponded a few times via e-mail and IM, but it’s tough to gauge personality and tone online-even with a plethora of emoticons at our disposal.

Gotta love the technology age.

Makes me wonder what would have happened if the telephone was invented after e-mail. I can almost hear the excited conversations between friends now… “Wow, you pick up this contraption and you can actually hear the person’s voice on the other end!”

“No way! That’s incredible.”

So, I picked up the device I usually reserve for text-messaging and downloading ringtones and dialed Juan’s telephone number. “Hi Jenna,” came the surprisingly youthful and easygoing voice on the other end. With the need for introductions out of the way thanks to Juan’s adept use of caller ID, I put my interviewer’s cap on and we got right down to business.

I began with the obligatory questions about why he started the blog, assuming that, like most people who dabble in politics, he had some high profile political aspirations he was hoping to pursue. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A well-spoken, mild-mannered man with a boyish charm that would certainly befit an aspiring politician, Melli admitted he is more of a “behind-the-scenes” guy who essentially started BlueJersey.com by accident-at least as it exists now. “I never had a vision to create such a vast Web site,” he began. “I like politics and had something to say, so rather than just getting frustrated and upset and ranting about the situation, I decided to start writing about it. I basically wanted a constructive venue for venting.” He chuckled and continued. “Isn’t that why most people start blogging in the first place?”

As his posts started getting attention, however, and as other locals who also had “something to say” began contacting Melli to share their own views, BlueJersey.com was born. “So, it sort of created itself,” he mused. “All I did was essentially provide a forum where other like-minded individuals could post their opinions on this topic too.

“But the opinions of all the bloggers are not always in line with mine,” he stressed. “And I support that 100 percent. I do not censor the site at all. In fact, people post things I disagree with all the time, and I actually like that. If people are disagreeing with you, it forces you to come up with better arguments, and that’s healthy for a good debate.” Well, that certainly makes sense, I thought. Articulate, level-headed, likable. Melli certainly had all the makings of a politician. Except one. Near as I could tell, Juan was entirely spin-free, lacking whatever chromosome it is that allows political candidates to weave a magical web of circular logic around you to avoid actually talking about the issues. In fact, Juan takes the exact opposite approach. Full disclosure and complete candor is his mode of choice. And rather than running for the hills (or some summer hideaway in Maine) when the “big issue” comes up, Juan actually takes it head on, steps up to the podium, and makes his opinion known, coupled with a balanced and fact-based rationale for his stance. Imagine that.

Take marriage and civil unions, for example-a topic on which Melli went head-to-head with Peter Sprugg, vice president of the Family Research Council, in a televised debate on the Regional News Network (RNN). Juan makes no secret of his strong support of gay marriage, and it’s ruffled more than a few feathers since September 2005 when BlueJersey.com made its debut on the World Wide Web.

“I’ve definitely gotten my share of hate mail about this,” Melli noted. “It’s a topic that can get very heated, but I don’t let it bother me.” Not letting it bother him is an understatement. Melli admitted to actually stirring the pot a bit when nasty e-mails hit his inbox. “Sometimes I’ll send a response that just says ‘muah’,” he laughed jokingly. But he wasn’t joking.

“You mean, you don’t respond with the same balanced answers that you give in a debate?” I inquired.

“Not at all.” He laughed again. “They usually aren’t interested in engaging in a productive discussion on the topic. They just want to tell me how wrong and immoral I am for thinking the way I do. So I show them that it doesn’t phase me with a pithy, unexpected response.”

How very unpolitician of him, like the way he seeks out-and seems to relish in-controversy. Last year, for example, during the Bob Menendez/Tom Cain senate campaign, Melli got wind that Jill Hazelbaker from Cain’s office had opened three separate BlueJersey.com accounts for the sole purpose of slamming Menendez. That’s when Melli publicly exposed her. And by “got wind,” I mean Melli employed his Internet sleuthing skills to find the IP and e-mail addresses Hazelbaker used to register, which he traced directly back to her office.

And by “publicly exposed her,” I mean he outed her right on the site with a notation next to all of her “anonymous” posts that read, “This is from Jill Hazelbaker from Tom Cain’s office.” If ever the term “kibosh” were applicable, it would be in this instance. Juan Melli most certainly put the kibosh on Jill Hazelbaker and her slanderous campaign tactics.

As one might expect, Hazelbaker’s office skirted the issue with a quick sound byte of, “It’s a blog; you can’t believe what’s posted on blogs.” Typical. Bureaucracy 101 at its best.

That was a pretty sensational story for what Melli still regards as a “small time” site. But with 2,176 registered users and between 1,000 and 1,500 unique visitors per day, BlueJersey.com is anything but small time. And when campaign representatives use the site to try and sway votes, that’s a pretty strong testament to the perception in the market of how significant BlueJersey.com has become for reaching the Democratic party in New Jersey. Influencing voters is CNN territory.

But when I asked what big plans Juan has in store for BlueJersey as a result of its impressive growth to date, he responded in his friendly, unassuming way with a “who knows.”

“The possibilities are endless, and I’m just kind of going with the flow,” he said. “If you had told me two years ago that I’d be on a list ahead of Donald Trump, I never would have imagined it-or believed it.” But that’s exactly what happened when PoliticsNJ.com published their “2007 Power List” of the most powerful political influencers in New Jersey (not including elected officials), on which Juan was number 17, beating Mr. Trump by three slots.

And the year before, Juan was also named “Politician of the Year” by Politics NJ. Now that’s impressive.

But despite the positive press and fame that Juan’s received with features in publications like The Philadelphia Inquirer, Courier Post, and a recent appearance on Fox-29, he remains the same person he was in 2005 when his blogging began. A passionate, down-to-earth citizen just trying to share his views and raise awareness of state politics. “At the end of the day,” Juan remarked, “I simply want to offer a forum for other people’s voices. That’s really what’s most important to me-even more so than getting my own views heard.”

And it seems Juan Melli is a bit of philanthropist as well.

“Too many people put the blinders on when it comes to state politics because they don’t think it’s as sexy as national politics,” he went on, the first hints of excitement bellowing from his low key demeanor. “But much of what’s happening on the federal level begins at the state, and I feel like federal is falling down on civil rights, climate change and stem cell research,” he stated emphatically. “And Jersey is leading the way in these areas.

“If BlueJersey.com can help local New Jersey residents realize how interesting and important it is to understand-and be part of-your state’s politics, I’ll consider this endeavor a huge success.”

That’s the kind of passion that can inspire a nation. So I prodded a bit more about whether he’d be open to at least the possibility of running for office at any point down the road. But once again, he firmly held his ground. “I wouldn’t want to go through the process that politicians go through,” he explained. “You’ll get smeared for anything in your history, and I wouldn’t want to drag my family through that.”

That’s certainly respectable, but what skeletons could possibly be lurking in this seemingly squeaky-clean citizen’s closet?

“Well, in college I had this blog,” Melli offered openly as visions of juicy details flitted through the transom of my overactive writer’s mind, “and my friends and I would pull innocent pranks and post photos of them. I’m sure that would be dredged up if I were to ever run!” He let out a hearty laugh.

I admit his response was a lot tamer than what I had concocted in my imagination, but certainly fitting of the amiable, mellow guy with whom I’d spent the past hour chatting. He was actually starting to feel like more of a buddy than an interviewee. And one thing’s for certain, whether he runs for office or not, Juan Melli and BlueJersey.com have definitely got my vote. And I’m a Republican!

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 4 Issue 10 (January, 2008). ???Author: Jenna Snowden; Photo by Mattie Studios, Inc. ?

Evesham School District Under Attack for Teaching Diversity

The Evesham school district in Marlton has a curriculum on diversity that includes a film about children and their families. Some vocal parents are incensed that the film – “That’s a Family!” – includes children and their same-sex parents. The film, which was designed for K-8 students, has one particularly horrifying part showing a child saying “They adopted us and they love us.”

Can you imagine our children being exposed to THAT?

Garden State Equality has posted a video of a news segment that ran yesterday morning on NBC 10 Philadelphia:

The coverage of the story is pretty irresponsible and shoddy. The NBC 10 anchor ends with an unsubstantiated assumption: “Apparently we assume that the kids came home with even more questions.”

It’s possible. I suppose it’s possible they went home and asked why their parents are bigots. Or maybe they wanted their parents to explain how it’s possible to have one black and one white parent. If I had to guess, they just gained a better appreciation for the diversity of their classmates, but NBC 10 would rather scare parents with thoughts of kids going home and asking about sex because otherwise, would this even be a story?

Some parents seem to be projecting their own predjudices onto their children, confident that like them, their children will also find the concept of same-sex couples outrageous. I tend to think we give children too little credit. They already have friends who live in married, divorced, and single parent families, interracial and mixed-religion familes, adoptive parents, grandparents as guardians, and yes, same-sex families. Teaching them that all their classmates are loved by their parents is not difficult for them to understand, though the same can’t be said for some of their parents.

Take Action

The school board is under attack for teaching children about diversity. There are two things you can do to help.

1. Send Evesham School District officials the e-mail prepared by Garden State Equality to express your support.

2. Join Garden State Equality at the next school board meeting of the Evesham School District on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 8:00 pm, 25 South Maple Avenue, Marlton.

3 Minutes of Fame

When I got on the set, I was confused because the teleprompter on the camera I was using had stuff about “girls gone wild”. I didn’t realize Blue Jersey had branched out so far beyond politics.

The end of this clip explains why.

The Sockpuppet Has No Sock

Jonathan Miller at the New York Times:

The Kean campaign’s technical adviser said that the Internet protocol, or I.P., address that linked the posts to the Kean headquarters was an old one, “from over a month ago.” But an e-mail message Ms. Hazelbaker sent to a reporter on Wednesday shares the same I.P. address.

Deborah Howlett at the Star Ledger:

Hazelbaker argued that the address Melli published — 70.90.20.85 — is not the campaign’s IP address. It is, however, the same IP address that appears on numerous official campaign e-mails sent by Hazelbaker to The Star-Ledger through the course of the campaign.

Hazelbaker said last night that she could not explain why that IP address shows up on her e-mail, but that the campaign’s technical staff assured her Melli had it wrong. She declined to say what the campaign’s IP address is.

I’m sure this was just another one of their many “coincidences“.

Blue Jersey Gets Some “Mainstream” Coverage

In a local paper, anyway. The Parsippany Monthly has a piece on local podcasts, and has a nice overview of Blue Jersey and our podcast:

Blue Jersey is a political blog that also features a monthly podcast. Over one dozen bloggers, who consider themselves progressive in their political views, contribute to the site which is updated several times each day.

Each episode of the podcast is hosted by a different Blue Jersey contributor and features an interview with a prominent New Jersey politician. Past guests on the show have included Congressman Rush Holt, Senator Bob Menendez, Congressman Frank Pallone, and Congressman Steve Rothman.

The discussions that take place during a Blue Jersey podcast cover national, state, and local politics, but the emphasis is always on issues that affect our state. Morris County residents will also find a few particular issues mentioned on the show that they are all too familiar with, such as airplane noise over our area. In show #5, Congressman Steve Rothman discusses his successful campaign to alter air traffic and plane size restrictions at Teterboro Airport to reduce the noise that locals were forced to endure. Airplane noise has become a hot topic in our area, as some 40,000 residents in Morris and surrounding counties face the possibility of having the skies over their homes become increasingly louder as a result of upcoming flight path changes.

The Blue Jersey website also features a wealth of information and links to political diaries, blogs, and organizations, as well as links to various news outlets, political events, and contact information for your elected officials.

Visit bluejersey.net to learn more about the Blue Jersey blog and podcast.

Gannett, PoliticsNJ.com to 13th CD race: yawn

In the weeks preceding a relatively quiet primary election day, arguably the only Congressional race that excited anyone was the mudfest between Perth Amboy Mayor Joe Vas and West New York Assemblyman Albio Sires.

In the end, Sires thumped Vas, 3-1.  The story was big news in Hudson County, garnering the lead story in today’s Jersey Journal plus some election night coverage from Vas HQ by Journal reporter Jarrett Renshaw.

How about Vas’s hometown paper, the Gannett-owned Bob Ingle penned a generic “staff and wire report” (read: we were too cheap to send a reporter to Hudson County so we tried to do it by telephone) story that doesn’t even include a comment from the local candidate.

PoliticsNJ.com once again failed to link to any of today’s Jersey Journal coverage of the race (wow, there really is a paper in this state called Today’s Sunbeam). 

Maybe the site has an anti-Hudson bias.  Despite my constant nagging dating back a few years, PoliticsNJ.com has consistently ignored my e-mails asking when it will start linking to Al Sullivan’s fantastic ‘Between the Lines’ political column in the Hudson Reporter weekly newspaper.  Sullivan has been covering Hudson politics since the late 1990s and has inherited the esteemed mantle as the county’s best political writer since the 2003 passing of longtime Jersey Journal columnist Peter Weiss.

Blue Jersey in the News

More coverage of Rush Holt’s blogging campaign announcement. This time in the Beacon:

  Instead of merely taking questions from the participants at Rider, Rep. Holt turned to the Internet and fielded questions from people at three different wireless Internet hot spots around central New Jersey — Panera Bread in Freehold, the Lambertville Public Library and the Plainsboro Public Library.
  “I am using the Web to show that this job depends on soliciting input from all over,” Rep. Holt said after the event. “This is the way politics and governing should be done, with more outreach.”
  Using the weblog, or blog, www.bluejersey.net, participants asked Rep. Holt about adding a paper backup trail to electronic voting machines and bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq. Those joining him at Rider University could see the questions and the congressman’s responses projected on a screen at the front of the room while he sat a computer typing out replies.
  One woman at the Plainsboro Public Library asked whether it would be possible for Congress to pass legislation requiring legal immigrant workers be paid the minimum wage.
  “There has been some discussion of setting a minimum, but I suspect that in any proposal that might find its way to the floor for a vote, there will not be good wage protection,” Rep. Holt responded in the blog. “More generally about immigration — we need a practical and humane path to earned citizenship. We need a more reliable system for keeping track of those who want to come and those who enter the U.S. We need to have laws that are enforceable, and then we must enforce them.”

A Blue Jersey First?

As far as I can tell, a Trenton Times article this morning may be the first time that Blue Jersey has been mentioned in a newspaper article:

LAWRENCE — U.S. Rep. Rush Holt announced yesterday he will seek a fifth term in Congress.

The Hopewell Township Democrat launched his re-election campaign on the Internet with a live announcement on his Web site followed by an online question and answer session at www.bluejersey.com.