Tag Archive: Perth Amboy

Women’s Equality Day Highlights

As I reported yesterday, a group of elected officials, activists, and ordinary citizens converged on Trenton to heighten awareness of the plight of minimum wage workers and urge passage of a state-wide referendum in November to raise that wage from $7.25 to $8.25. There were about 25 speakers over the course of the hour and a quarter news conference. Here’s the highlight reel, with comments from most of the speakers, edited for time.

The “Other” Race In Perth Amboy

Michael Aron speculates that the Perth Amboy mayoral race may be one of the few contests in the state that will generate real interest:

Maybe the real excitement on election night is the Perth Amboy mayor’s race. Wilda Diaz, the woman who succeeded Joe Vas, against Billy Delgado, a former Vas rival whose consultant sent Diaz an e-mail calling her “stupid.” The school board in Perth Amboy is fighting furiously with the schools superintendent. The mayor and Delgado are in a war. So forget about the presidency, the Senate, the House. The place to be this election night is at the foot of the Outerbridge Crossing in the fair little city of Perth Amboy.

I think Aron makes a good point – but not just because of the mayor’s race. The school board race itself has turned into a bell-weather contest: a slate of candidates has pulled in an astonishing amount of campaign money from out-of-state sources. And these wealthy outsiders have a history of backing a pro-charter school, anti-union agenda.

The details of the story can be found at my blog:

According to New Jersey election records, the slate of candidates calling themselves “Better Schools Now!” has collected $64,700, mostly from sources outside of Perth Amboy. In contrast, an opposing slate, “New Vision, New Voice” has collected $7,005, with all of its donations over $300 coming from within the city.

This may be a new phenomenon in New Jersey, but it’s part of a larger national trend:

There is a nation-wide movement brewing: wealthy business interests are pouring large sums of money into local school board races. We hadn’t yet seen this in New Jersey until now, mostly because the big city school districts with large minority populations are already under state control (or will be soon).

Perth Amboy is the first indication I’ve seen that the reformy types want to move into New Jersey. Thanks to the war between Caffrey and her board, a slate of candidates is poised to take over the city’s schools in a campaign fueled by wealthy outsiders. Perth Amboy could be their toehold: the place where the radical transformation of New Jersey’s public schools begins.

Tuesday night, we’ll find out if they got away with it.

Big Education Stories Brewing in NJ

Looks like the Garden State is taking center stage in the education world. Two of the biggest stories in the nation around schools are happening right here.

Start with this astonishing story in Cherry Hill:

After receiving reports that his son had become prone to violent outbursts, Stuart Chaifetz sent autistic 10-year-old Aikan to Horace Mann Elementary School with a recording device.

Akian came back with 6.5 hours of tape filled with verbal and emotional abuse from his classroom aide and teacher. Stuart Chaifetz documented the tape and published it in a YouTube video.

According to Collingswood Patch, Chaifetz replays portions of audio with his son’s special education teacher Kelly Altenburg and aide Jodi Sgouros. In the recording, voices tell Akian that he is “such a bastard,” order him to “shut his mouth,” and tell the child “no” when he asks for reassurances that he will see his father soon.

Stuart Chaifetz has started a website, a Facebook page, and placed a petition on Change.org asking New Jersey legislators to enact a zero tolerance policy for bullying by teachers or educational staff. “I’ve gotten dozens of emails from parents in smiliar situations,” he said, according to babble.com. “Special needs adults are contacting me about teachers bullying them in school.”

Cherry Hill Public School District spokesperson Susan Bastnagel said that the incident is a “personnel matter that the district took seriously and handled appropriately,” according to the Huffington Post. The aide was reportedly fired, but Altenburg was moved to another class.  

According to Fox 8, Chaifetz has no plans to sue, but he would like to see the teachers in the video make a public apology and resign. Recent early research suggests that more than 60 percent of American children with autism spectrum disorders have been bullied, and 47 percent of students from fifth-grade have faced bullying.

Akian Chaifetz has been transferred to another school and is doing quite well, according to reports.

I listened to the audio on Chaifetz’s YouTube post, and it is disturbing. It’s hard to see how any of what’s posted could be justified. But the Cherry Hill school district has given what I consider a measured and reasonable response:

Good News for LNG Opponents

Last week, partly due to the Gulf oil spill, one of the 3 companies’ proposing Liquefied Natural Gas ports off the Jersey Shore, withdrew their application, Star Ledger coverage here

In June, Perth Amboy passed a resolution opposing a proposal from Liberty Natural Gas to run 36″ pipelines, buried 3 feed deep, by 2 schools, commuter rail lines, residential developments and oil tank farms!  The Home News got a couple of good quotes:

“It’s right through the heart of the city,” said Michael Keller, the city’s director of economic and community development. “Someday something will happen”…  

The majority of the line would parallel existing transportation and pipeline corridors and also would connect with existing natural gas infrastructure. Keller said the new pipeline off Asbury Park would go around Sandy Hook through the Raritan Bay before coming ashore in Perth Amboy, along railroad tracks at an old junkyard adjacent to the Robert N. Wilentz Elementary School on Second Street. He said the natural gas would travel through a 36-inch pipeline buried 3 feet below ground past the city’s train station, Hidden Village housing development, Edward J. Patten Elementary School and Harbortown housing development, under the Outerbridge Crossing, past the Kinder Morgan industrial property, and past Chevron, Hess and the northeast redevelopment area.

“Three feet down is ridiculous,” said Keller, who also questions if there would be any surveillance of the pipeline. In March 1994, a leak in a 36-inch Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline next to the Durham Wood apartment complex in nearby Edison sent flames shooting into the night sky that were visible from Pennsylvania to New York. Eight apartment buildings were destroyed and many people left homeless. One woman died from a heart attack… [S]aid Perth Amboy Fire Chief David Volk, whose department responded to the Durham Woods explosion. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.” Volk said with the pipeline only three feet underground the possibility of someone, or even a train derailment, splitting it open is real.

In 2003, a natural-gas leak leveled a three-story building on New Brunswick Avenue in Perth Amboy, Volk said… a gas pipeline through Perth Amboy is a “grave concern,” especially since there are many residences near the railroad right-of-way.”It’s an extreme danger. Why throw gasoline onto a fire? It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.

Woodbridge responded by staying on the fence.

John Hagerty, Woodbridge spokesman, said the proposed pipeline would follow the New Jersey Turnpike through parts of Sewaren and Woodbridge proper, but would not have an major impact on the township. “Our Township Council is aware of it. We have yet to take a position,” Hagerty said.

Political Insurance

That most-common of all Jersey wildlife, the common political boss, is rearing its head in Perth Amboy.  This one answers to the name Joe Vas.

Joe Vas lost his bid at re-election to upstart activist Wilda Diaz.  Well, he lost one of his jobs – the one where he’s mayor.  He’s still holding onto his State Assembly seat.  And, by all indications, he intends to keep it for a good long time.

The first clue was the speed with which he suddenly decided to fill up the jobs in his local patronage mill.  Of course, from his perspective, he’s just trying to do his job.  But anyone with enough brain cells left to play tag understand that the chief reason for giving away jobs on bloated municipal payrolls is to ensure that whole families vote “the right way” come election day.

Why Joe Vas Lost

Earlier this week, Jeff Gardner spoke briefly about The Jersey Comeback.  It’s great that politicians can get a second chance – everyone deserves that much.  But here’s something to think about before launching a comeback – you have to first go away.  

When I first heard of Joe Vas, he was running for the seat just vacated by now-Senator Bob Menendez.  A lot of my friends who were so involved in battling the myriad mini-machines of Hudson County flocked to his side – convinced that his sweet words were sincere and that he would break the back of the Hudson County machine.

Like most fairy tales, this one didn’t translate into reality so well.  Machines are machines because they are not easily broken.  And the fairy god-father, in this case, had more than just feet made of clay.

First Mexican-American cop in Perth Amboy gets $1.9 million after suffering ethnic slurs from Chief

Guadalupe Munoz is awarded a whopping $1.9 million for harrassment he endured on the force.  From the Home News

A jury has awarded a Perth Amboy police officer $1.9 million for pain and suffering in connection with anti-Mexican slurs he endured in the department. The patrolman, Guadalupe Munoz, 40, the first Mexican-born officer on the force, told the jury during the trial that the slurs and ethnic jokes began when he first joined the department in 2000. Officials took no actions despite his complaints, he said. Munoz testified that the pain he experienced peaked with comments made by Police Director and Chief Michael Kohut at a homeland-security training session in March 2005.

The jury of one man and five women accepted the arguments of Munoz’s attorney, Mark Mulick of Montclair, and expert witnesses that the remarks caused Munoz panic attacks and impaired his family life because of the anti-anxiety medication he was taking as a result of the harassment…

During closing arguments, about 20 Perth Amboy police officers turned out to support Kohut. Mulick said he believes the jury reacted against that. “They were there to intimidate,” he said.

Mayor Vas defended his police chief:

Mayor Joseph Vas called the award “totally excessive.” “I don’t believe anyone in Perth Amboy who knows Chief Michael Kohut agrees with the jury’s verdict,” said Vas, adding Kohut has his full faith and confidence. “There is no justifiable reason for the verdict or the financial decision.”  Vas said the city will continue to defend Kohut…

While on the stand, Kohut acknowledged his words were inappropriate but said the reference to Mexicans he made was taken out of context…

“No one disputes that the statement made by Michael Kohut was inappropriate,” said Vas, adding that Kohut uttered the comment during a time when he was watching his wife die after a long illness. Vas said Kohut apologized to Munoz as well as to the Mexican community. “Everyone believed he was genuine in his apology,” Vas said…

But Munoz on the stand said he … found Kohut’s apology insincere…

What is Vas saying?  That it’s understandable that someone can’t keep their racism under wraps when they are under the intense stress of a spouse dying?

The demographics of Perth Amboy is that it has a large Hispanic population, historically Puerto Rican and Dominican.

where to point the camera at council meetings

From today’s Home News

People should be in the picture

As president of the Perth Amboy City Council, Peter Jimenez wants the television camera used to broadcast council meetings on public access cable television focused on the people speaking not just the administration and council members. Jimenez, who has served on the council for 20 years, said the administration refuses to comply… “The administration doesn’t have the right to focus on who they want to,” Jimenez said. “This is a council public meeting. If we have a camera, out of respect, it should be focused on the people speaking.”

With only one camera used to televise meetings, Mayor Joseph Vas said he’s looking to avoid the “Ping-Pong effect” of the camera bouncing back and forth between citizens and the council which occurs at council meetings every time a resident gets up to address an issue.

Now they’re talking about letting people speak for 10 min at the beginning of the meeting and focusing on them during that time only.

Bolanowski’s proposed the changes to bring more decorum to meetings which have become unruly at times.  The change would also include a hearing of citizens at the end of the meeting when the camera would also remain on residents…

Jimenez said the practice had been to focus on the speaker during the meeting, but two months ago when he was on vacation, a decision was made to change where the camera focuses. He said the camera shows the speaker when they introduce themselves and then switches and remains focused on the council or the administration. “As council president I want the camera to be focused on the people,” Jimenez said. “It’s a council public meeting. It’s not the administrations public meeting.”

Vas said there was never a policy about operation of the camera. He added the council, as a legislative body, does not direct the camera operator, a city employee.

The issue will be discussed at Wed’s council meeting. 

Mountain out of a mole hill? Sometimes at council meetings I’ve watched (not this particular council) both council members and the public are vying for the camera’s attention.  I’m wondering if there’s anything in this that can lead to better governance.

The Vas Incompetency Train Keeps Chugging Along

The Home News Tribune has an editorial today criticizing Mayor/Assemblyman/Congressional Candidate Joe Vas’ mismanagement of the Perth Amboy budget this year:

Perth Amboy property owners have every reason to feel squeamish about their city’s yet-to-be-finalized budget and the bite it will take out of their hides. For starters, the spending plan is months behind schedule for presentation to the state, a sure sign of trouble. Add to that the fact that the Department of Community Affairs has ordered City Hall to slice $8 million in anticipated revenues from the tab and the outlook is even more grim. While Mayor Joseph Vas has told residents to expect an increase in their property taxes of about $126 for a home assessed at the city’s average, the real figure could climb as high as $700, according to other estimates, made worse by the knowledge the city has been so lax in prepping for this year’s financial plan.

“It’s not good,” Councilman David Szilagyi said last week. “I think the best-case scenario is we’re looking at a $3 (million) to $4 million gap.”

I’m no economist, but $3-4 million seems like a lot of money to me.

And why are they lacking these funds?  Turns out to be laziness on the part of Vas and his administration:

Perth Amboy failed to document to the state how certain revenues would be generated, according to the Department of Community Affairs. That means the city might not be able to claim certain income for budget purposes. Two items have already been dropped: $3 million from an extention of its water/wastewater utility lease and $1 million in emergency medical service billing reimbursements. Still up in the air are $2 million in revenue from the Middlesex County Recreation Grant Pool and $2 million from the YMCA Public Safety Complex Recreation Pool.

City officials have pledged to properly document these revenue streams in the future, but what of now? Vas has yet to explain these oversights to any degree of satisfaction, let alone move forcefully to rectify them. The sloppy planning could cost city residents dearly.

Isn’t this the sort of sort of weak, sloppy budgeting and fiscal policy that we’re trying to get rid of in Washington?  This is not the type of record I expect to see on a Republican candidate for Congress, not a Democrat.

But let’s hope this is simply incompetence and not a political maneuver to avoid releasing an ugly budget before the primary:

More sinister, it is legitimate to wonder whether the tardy unveiling of Perth Amboy’s budget wasn’t planned. Vas is a candidate in the June 6 Democratic Party primary for New Jersey’s 13th District seat in Congress. To delay bad budget news suits the mayor’s political aspirations.

After all of the scandals and missteps revealed about Vas in this primary – the support of drug dealers and sex offenders, the poor attendence at Committee meetings, and this budget mess – you have to wonder if he’ll face a stiff challenge for his Assembly seat next June.  I’ve already heard of people beginning to get their ducks in a row to give it a shot.