What you REALLY need to know about the mayoral candidates
Details on the six people who are vying for top spot on Nov. 7
by Marilyn Baer
Reporter Staff Writer
Sep 24, 2017 | 332 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Six people filed their petitions on Sept. 5 to run for mayor in Hoboken’s Nov. 7 municipal election. In alphabetical order, they are: activist Ronald Bautista, Councilman at-Large Ravi Bhalla, Councilman Michael DeFusco, Council President Jen Giattino, businesswoman Karen Nason, and Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano. Mayor Dawn Zimmer endorsed Bhalla in a surprise press conference in June, which upset some of her closest supporters who were not in the loop, including two council people who decided to support Councilwoman Giattino to run against him. This would appear to split the pro-Zimmer vote between the two candidates, while DeFusco and Romano may split the base of those who criticize Zimmer. DeFusco, who is a former Zimmer ally, may also draw from other bases. Below are some details of the candidates’ accomplishments as well as a few of their controversial points. Issues in the election include how much and what type of development should come to the city, traffic and parking challenges, and the city’s aging water mains.
_____________ “I make sure we bring in extra salt.” – Anthony Romano
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Who are they? Bhalla has served as a councilman for eight years. During his term he has been council president and council vice president. He is a private attorney, practicing in areas from employment law to criminal defense. He said his biggest accomplishments include helping to ensure that residents received tax relief when he was first elected to council, as well as saving the local hospital from closing due to financial difficulties. He said he believes he is the best candidate for the position because of his experience on the council and his positive campaign. He also said he has good ideas on education and how to support the public schools. Bhalla will have to face questions about several instances in which he appeared to quash dissent. During a council meeting in October of 2015, he forced two residents to leave when they began addressing the council about an article published earlier in the day by PolitickerNJ regarding Zimmer’s husband, Stan Grossbard. Grossbard had been among several people participating in email conversations about Hoboken Housing Authority personnel, a situation that had come to light in the press that week. Both residents sued the city because of their ejection from the meeting. The city has already settled one of those suits from a resident, costing the taxpayers more than $50,000. The other suit is still in litigation. Of the meeting, Bhalla said, “The City Council rules are pretty clear that when any member of the public engages in disorderly conduct, the presiding officer, which at the council is the council president, has not only the right but the obligation, meaning he or she is required to preserve an orderly meeting so business can be conducted.” Bhalla also threatened, in an October, 2013 email to his supporters, to sue then-councilwoman Beth Mason for defamation because she had asked questions during a council meeting about a law firm doing business with the city, a firm that later hired Bhalla. During Bhalla’s re-electin campaign, he responded by saying he’d sue Mason after his election was over. But in the end, he never sued. So how can a voter be assured that – in a town in which people have feared speaking out against reigning administrations – he won’t make a legal threat or remove them from a meeting if they criticize him or ask questions? “Nothing is more important to me than my reputation,” Bhalla said. “When candidates manufacture controversies, when they outright lie, I have rights too.” He added, “I welcome good faith disagreements and opinions and debates, but I won’t tolerate a political circus. I think dissent is essential to a strong democracy and strong community. I think what makes me a better public servant is listening to opinions different then my own.” Bhalla was also accused of a state ethics law violation after he voted, in 2010, to award a city contract to the lawyer with whom he shared an office lease. A judge initially ruled against Bhalla, but after another ruling and counter-ruling, the appellate division ruled in Bhalla’s favor in 2016. Bhalla’s campaign literature has attempted to give a well-rounded picture of the candidate outside of politics, showing him playing soccer as a youth, and working alongside Zimmer. He has been criticized by some who believe he’ll maintain the status quo. “Mayor Zimmer and I are not the same people,” said Bhalla. “Mayor Zimmer has done a great job in many ways, but I think Hoboken’s best days are yet to come.” He added that she has “set the foundation for Hoboken to flourish” and “what you’ll see in a Bhalla administration is not more of the same. You’ll see a substantial focus on some of the basics such as in terms of our streets and roads and infrastructure needs as well as basic city services. Those are areas I am sharply focused on.” Bhalla may split a voting base with Giattino, who, like Bhalla, has worked closely with Zimmer. In recent weeks, Giattino – who supported Zimmer for six years -- has criticized Zimmer’s actions in a deal with the water company serving the city. Giattino has lived in Hoboken for 18 years and she is currently in her second term as a 6th Ward councilperson and her third term as council president. Before joining the council in 2011, she was a trader at Goldman Sachs and is currently a local real estate agent as well as cofounder of the Church Square Park farmer’s market. When asked for her biggest accomplishment, she said it has been the relationships she has established with her constituents. “They know they can count on me if they have any concerns or ideas,” said Giattino. She said she believes she is the most qualified candidate due to her three terms as council president, two terms as vice president, and her ability to listen and understand residents’ needs. “I think my biggest difference with both Councilman Bhalla and Mayor Zimmer is that I have been a ward councilman for the past six years,” said Giattino. “Being a ward councilman as opposed to an at-large councilman makes you aware of the wants and needs of residents. I think daily quality-of-life issues are really overlooked and the best way to understand them is to experience them.” Giattino has had to defend herself in the non-partisan race from concerned citizens worried about her Republican affiliation, in a time in which many (including Zimmer) believe Donald Trump’s policies will hurt local residents. Months ago, when asked about this issue, she would not reveal who she voted for in the presidential election, which concerned some. Last week, she said she voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. “I am running to be mayor of Hoboken,” she said. “I’m not running as a Republican. When I knock on people’s doors, the things they ask me for and are concerned about are quality of life and affordability issues.” Her supporters have complained that Bhalla is trying to make party politics an election issue when it shouldn’t be. In Bhalla’s literature, he specifically says he will stand up to Trump. Giattino said she will have no problem standing up to the Trump administration if needed. “If anyone is doing something that will negatively impact Hoboken or its residents, regardless of what party they belong to, I would have no problem standing up to that person,” she said. Some have asked why she failed to publicly criticize any of Zimmer’s moves for six years, and is suddenly critical two months before an election, especially in a town in which people are often labeled if they criticize an administration. Will she stand up for those who speak out? Giattino said that in the past, her disagreements have happened behind the scenes, not in public. “I am the kind of person who prefers working with people to come to a consensus rather than being confrontational,” said Giattino. “The mayor, myself, and councilman Bhalla has had disagreement on many things…By the time things appeared on the agenda they have been vetted and a general consensus has often been reached.” Bhalla and Giattino are only two of the council people who supported Zimmer in the past who are now running for mayor. Michael DeFusco was supported by Zimmer when he was first elected in 2015, but he has been more outspoken about some of the mayor’s stances over the years than her other allies. Among those issues is the Zimmer administration’s perceived heavy-handedness on issues involving businesses and zoning. DeFusco is a full-time marketing professional in a private company in Manhattan. In 2011, he was appointed as a full voting member to the Zoning Board, where he served for five years before being elected to City Council. DeFusco said his biggest accomplishment is the work he did on the Zoning Board and City Council. He cited approving the building where Trader Joe’s is located, working to include affordable housing in new buildings, and the fight to improve traffic in the southwest of the city. He also mentioned obtaining a commitment from the train terminal operators for an outdoor French market. DeFusco said he should be elected mayor for a number of reasons. “To me it’s about ideas. It’s about making sure that ideas are at the forefront of the discussions and that we are not hindering progress because of political gain,” said DeFusco. “In the two years that I have been on the City Council I feel I have done more in terms of getting things done then many of my opponents have done in a significantly longer time. Hoboken remains a town that needs infrastructure improvements, businesses are hurting, and where we need to be investing is in the schools and in our future.” But while DeFusco has been independent on the council, some wonder if he will be dependent of other political machines. Some say he’s backed by the longtime local Hudson County political machine, the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). His campaign spokesman, Phil Swibinski, also happens to be a paid spokesman for state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, a key HCDO player. DeFusco said, “Well, it is news to me that the HCDO is backing me. I am an independent candidate…Any notion that I am backed by a larger force is incorrect and misguided or for political gain.” If there is a candidate most supported by Hoboken’s longtime residents, it may be Freeholder Anthony Romano, who grew up in town. On the county freeholder board, Romano represents Hoboken and portions of Jersey City Heights. He’s been freeholder for nine years. He’s also a retired Hoboken police captain and he served on the police force from 1978 to 2011. He also owns the local bar Louise & Jerry’s. Of his accomplishments over his career, he said he is most proud of “bringing more county services” such as maintaining and paving county roads. “In the winter we help plow Washington Street and other city streets,” he said. “I make sure we bring in extra salt. We have a county park in Hoboken that’s had improvements done, Columbus Park, and the county sheriff’s officers transport prisoners.” Romano said there are several reasons why residents should vote for him. “I have proven leadership, a proven ability to work with different levels of government through my different relationships, starting back when I was a night commander for the Hoboken Police Department,” he said. But is Romano ready to focus just on Hoboken? Two weeks ago, he held one of the only press conferences he has ever held about Hoboken issues – which he billed as an “emergency press conference.” Held at 4:30 p.m. on a Monday, it was about a bedbug infestation in one of the senior citizen buildings. When asked at the time if he had notified any county or local health officials before holding the conference, he said he had not. Romano said last week that he didn’t reach out to any officials to ask about the issue because “according to the seniors, they were already reached out to.” If Romano wins both re-election to freeholder in November and election as mayor, he said he’ll choose to be mayor. “I represent Hoboken and Hoboken issues at the county and have done so for years. I was here with the county helping the city and the mayor during [Hurricane] Sandy and I attend numerous community events. People know I am always available to them and their concerns.”
_____________ “I’ve had people, developers, say that I don’t dress cool enough to be the next mayor.” – Karen Nason
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The two non-officials in the race Bautista and Nason have less name recognition than the four elected officials running for the top spot, but they cited involvement in a number of issues. Bautista is a local activist who has lived in Hoboken for the past 18 years and has fought for pedestrian safety and continued 24-hour PATH service. He became involved in activism in 2015 when PATH train officials announced they wanted to end service at 1 a.m. instead of having the train run all night. He began a petition to help stop the change, garnering 3,000 signatures. Officials eventually changed their minds. Also, through Bike Hoboken, of which he is a former board member, he helped advocate for and establish safe area near the Union Dry Dock for cyclists and pedestrians to walk. He said residents should vote for him because he is not only a longtime resident who is in tune with residents’ concerns, but also he has experience in alleviating traffic and transportation concerns in his former roles as an advisor for the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation and the New York Department of State. Bautista’s largest hurdle appears to be that he has less of a public presence and has only raised about $1,000 in campaign contributions, according to ELEC filings. “I want to show that a regular person can run and win an election for office based solely on the issues,” said Bautista. “Social media has definitely helped out and people know me. It’s not like I just started to become involved in Hoboken. I’ve been doing the groundwork for years. Voters need options.” Nason announced she was running for mayor in March. She is a local businesswoman who owns Hoboken Hot House, a café on Second and Monroe streets. She said she is most proud of not only being a mother, but also changing the way people perceive women in business. She was awarded the Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business award in 2014. Nason said she is also proud of her charitable contributions, including hosting events for local non profits and donating a piano to Hoboken High School. Nason has fought the city’s zoning in the past and was featured in a June 5, 2016, Reporter cover story discussing about the difficulties of having a business in town. She is among several businesspeople in town that have made such a complaint. Nason said residents should vote for her because she doesn’t come from a previous administration, but from a local business, an area she says is often overlooked. “The candidates that people are choosing from are from an administration led by Dawn Zimmer who gave them – Jen Giattino, Michael DeFusco, and Ravi Bhalla – amazing opportunities to further their careers,” said Nason. “I think it’s an outstanding detriment to their careers to go against someone or say negative things about someone who believed in them.” Like Bautista, this is her first foray into politics. She has held fundraisers, amassing about $4,000 in campaign contributions, according to ELEC filings. By contrast, Bhalla – who had been raising funds for his council re-election before Zimmer publicly announced she was dropping out – has funds of more than $84,000. Nason said, “It’s not about the money from contributors in Bergen County or outside of town; it’s about the people in Hoboken. I am working my butt off and people know me and hear me. Actions speak volumes.” Of potentially siphoning votes from candidates who may be more likely to win, Nason said, “People have tried to get me out of the race since the beginning and my answer is always no. It is about the issues and electing the best person for the job. From the beginning, Michael DeFusco’s team has said, ‘You will never win and you should bow out.’ I’ve had people, developers, say that I don’t dress cool enough to be the next mayor. I don’t think my skirt choice is an issue to the people of Hoboken, and as a woman it is horribly insulting.” The Reporter will host a mayoral debate next month, and will be running more stories on the election. Watch your doorstep or come to hudsonreporter.com each Sunday. Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com. Send letters to editorial@hudsonreporter.com> and gener@hudsonreporter.com and put Hoboken in the subject head.
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The city will be watching
City to expand public safety street cameras in high crime locations /font>
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Sep 24, 2017 | 155 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KEEPING AN EYE OUT – New police cameras are being placed in high crime areas under a new three phase program
KEEPING AN EYE OUT – New police cameras are being placed in high crime areas under a new three phase program
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Jersey City has announced that it has moved into the second phase of a three-phase, multi-year program to entirely revamp the city’s public safety camera system. Over the three phases, the city plans to install more than 200 new cameras citywide. Late last year, Public Safety Director James Shea said the existing technology was not only out of date, but also poorly positioned to serve as a crime-fighting tool. The system was largely installed as funding became available, and often placed in locations dictated by grants, rather than where the surveillance was most needed. “Many of these are pointed in the wrong direction,” he said. “The new cameras will be active 24 hours a day seven days a week.” The state-approved vendor, Millennium Communications, is nearing completion of Phase I of the program, which includes a total of 78 cameras at thirteen locations and six parks. That includes 26 cameras at the following six parks: Ferris (Triangle) Park, Stevens Park, Muhammad Ali Park, Audubon Park, Arlington Park and Columbia Park. Last week, Mayor Steven Fulop announced the launch of Phase II of New CCTV Camera Program that will install 40 additional cameras to be added through $355,000 Homeland Security Funding. “We have been working quickly to replace the outdated and inefficient CCTV camera program with a state-of-the-art system in strategic locations,” said Fulop. “In less than a year, we have made significant progress and know that these new cameras will have a huge impact on public safety. As we continue to increase the number of officers on the streets, this is another resource that will assist us in fighting crime with the latest technology and best practices.”
_____________ “We have been working quickly to replace the outdated and inefficient CCTV camera program with a state-of-the-art system in strategic locations.” – Mayor Steven Fulop
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Old system out of date The prior system, which was comprised of 150 cameras, was installed in phases between eight and 15 years ago using Urban Enterprise Zone funds, which meant they were placed in business districts throughout the city, not the most needed locations. The locations for the new cameras are based on crime data showing areas of historically higher crime or on feedback from the community, and in municipal parks. Additionally, the old cameras hadn’t been serviced in several years once the state withdrew UEZ revenue from municipalities, which meant that at times a third or more were out of service. Shea, however, said some of the old cameras will be maintained for use in public parks. Shea also noted that this will coincide with the recently established list of private camera systems – a voluntary program that allows police to access cameras from private residences, stores and other locations to help in an investigation. Phase II of the project includes four cameras at each of the following 10 locations: Winfield and Ocean avenues, Bartholdi and Ocean avenues, Fulton and Ocean avenues, Dwight Street and Ocean Avenue, Lexington and Bergen avenues, Bayview and Garfield avenues, Monticello and Brinkerhoff avenues, Monticello and Belmont avenues, Monticello and Jewett avenues, and Monticello and Gardner avenues. Another feature of the new camera system that sets it apart from its predecessor is that all of the cameras are 5 megapixel cameras to provide higher clarity, whereas previously they were 1 megapixel. The majority of camera locations will have four fixed cameras covering a 360-degree field of vision, thereby removing user error because a camera will never be facing the wrong way and criminals will be unable to move out of view. Fiber optic improvements as well In addition to the 78 cameras, Phase I also included the installation of the most advanced fiber optic cable along the length of Ocean Avenue, MLK Drive and Bergen Avenue, in addition to portions of Garfield Avenue. This allows for the connection of the side streets into the CCTV camera system and easier expansion for the future phases. Phase I and Phase II total approximately $600,000 and are a combination of Department of Homeland Security Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) funds and capital budget funds. The city has also secured an additional $500,000 in funding for future phases of this project from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Forfeiture Fund. Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.
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Film tax breaks may return to NJ
Professionals gather in Jersey City to discuss new production tax incentives
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Sep 24, 2017 | 178 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FILM
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME – A panel of film professionals came to Jersey City on Sept. 12 to talk about tax incentives as well as the future of film industry in the state.
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Film history often attributes the origin of the term “cliffhanger” to the 1914 silent film serial “The Perils of Pauline” in which the main character is depicted clinging to the Palisade cliffs near Fort Lee. Many people are unaware that New Jersey has a long history in the film industry, dating back to Thomas Edison’s invention of many technical aspects of photography and film production in Newark and his laboratories in West Orange. One of the early companies that eventually evolved into Universal Studios started as a small silent film studio in Bayonne. Numerous places in Hudson County and New Jersey have served as locations for major films such as “A Beautiful Mind,” “Grosse Point Blank,” and the HBO series “Oz,” as well as many minor films. But the state has long lived in the shadow of New York City, which has always competed with Los Angeles as a setting for film production, despite the fact that more than 18,000 union workers associated with movie and TV production live in New Jersey. For a brief time, both Secaucus and Bayonne were considered as possible locations for major studio production facilities. But those plans partly fell through, because New Jersey does not provide tax incentives the way New York and many other states do.
_____________ “It just makes good sense. We get it, but obviously our governor does not.” – Nancy Giles
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State needs to restore incentive program Nancy Giles, a Weehawken resident, actress and commentator best known for her appearances in the series “China Beach” and on CBS News Sunday Morning, said the film industry spends as much as $9 billion in production in New York annually, partly because the state provides up to $400 million annually to encourage them. Many of those companies would do business in New Jersey, too, if the state also provided similar tax incentives, she said. The late actor Frank Vincent, a Jersey City native, told The Hudson Reporter as early as 2004 that he supported developing movie studios in New Jersey. He made an appearance before the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in support of a proposal that would establish studios in Secaucus. He said that New Jersey has big advantages over New York, including less traffic and cheaper production costs. “It’s cheaper to shoot in New Jersey,” he said. “People from New York can get here easier than it is to get people around in New York.” The state once had a tax incentive program that attracted a number of film productions to the Garden State, including Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” But the incentive program was done away with in 2010 when Gov. Christopher Christie took office. Statistics show the production tax incentive program worked, creating more than 7,000 jobs directly associated with film production in 2008 with spillover to local businesses estimated at $500 million, according to a report by Motion Picture Association of America. Getting back to where they started On Sept. 12, Giles and members of the Fort Lee Film Commission came to Jersey City’s Loew’s Theater to hold a symposium in preparations for drafting plans for a revived tax incentive plan. The group included some of the same people who helped uncover the 2013 lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, commonly referred to as “Bridgegate,” orchestrated by several people close to Gov. Christopher Christie. Among these were Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who was instrumental in uncovering the wrongdoing associated with Bridgegate, and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who was allegedly targeted by the closures for refusing to endorse Christie for reelection. Their appearance at Loews, however, was not to blame Christie for closing lanes, but for vetoing legislation in 2016 that would have established a tax incentive program to encourage film companies to do business in New Jersey. Sen. Weinberg is a founding member of the Fort Lee Film Commission. She has been a long time advocate for an aggressive tax credit for film and TV production in New Jersey. Fort Lee was the beneficiary of much production until the tax credit was extinguished. “Law & Order SVU” was one of many programs that shot on the streets of Fort Lee thanks to the efforts of the Fort Lee Film Commission, but relocated to Manhattan after the tax incentives were ended. A who’s who in New Jersey film Hosted by Golden Door Film Festival and moderated by Giles, the panel included a who’s who of New Jersey film people, such Gary E. Donatelli, an Emmy Award-winning television director and producer; Craig DiBona, known for his work on “Blue Bloods,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance” and “The Godfather: Part III;” Diane Heery of Loftus Casting, a Primetime Emmy nominee for casting; Michael Kriaris, a location manager known for his work on films like “A Beautiful Mind,” “American Gangster,” “The Big Short,” and “Men in Black 3;” Adam Himber of Parlay Studios, an award-winning writer, producer and production executive for national and international clients in film, television and photography. Others included Carol Cuddy, a producer and production manager for television shows like “Elementary” and “True Detective,” “Rachel Getting Married” and “The Departed,” and Doug Pelligrino, a director of photography and cinematographer, best known for “Bluebloods,” “Law & Order SVU,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Analyze This” and “Glory.” The audience also included representatives from film companies in Secaucus and Jersey City. Getting around Christie In 2016, Weinberg sponsored production tax incentive legislation that passed the state legislature by a sizeable majority but was vetoed by Christie. Giles said most people understand the huge benefits associated with having film production take place in New Jersey, especially the economic spill over to local businesses. She said there are opportunities for diversity such as location, people and character stories. “It just makes good sense,” Giles said. “We get it, but obviously our governor does not.” Christie in his veto said, “The state legislature chose to advance an expensive bill that offers a dubious return for the state in the form of jobs and economic impact.” Weinberg said, “For some reason, the state treasurer seem to hype this up with some resentment and turned it into what they called ‘The Brat Pitt Tax Relief Program. We are getting ready to kind of tweak the bill but we’re not going to pass it because we’re in a lame duck session. So this legislation will go out with the legislature on Jan. 20.” She said she’s had long talks with Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate for governor. “And he is very well educated on this subject, and he will have a new bill on his desk when he comes into office in January,” Weinberg said. “We added some things such as an extra incentive for Atlantic City with the hope of getting some of the southern legislators on board. We are encouraging public private partnerships with universities to allow students to be involved.” Sokolich said the Fort Lee Film Commission will soon have a home in Fort Lee in anticipation that a new governor will be more sympathetic to the tax incentives for film. “The original idea was $4 million or $5 million, we’re up to $15 million, but we’re going to do it anyway,” he said, criticizing the governor for the veto. “This is a selfish move. There is not much impact off the bottom line. Look at what this did for Brooklyn and a lot of other places. If Fort Lee was to have a regular traffic of these productions which we did for a time, our restaurants were full, our businesses were full with 95 percent of the soft costs for films spent locally.” Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.
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Prepare for detours and traffic
DOT to begin multi-year rehabilitation of Route 495 bridge in fall
by Hannington Dia
Reporter Staff Writer
Sep 24, 2017 | 195 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Route 495 bridge in North Bergen
The Route 495 bridge in North Bergen
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Route 495, which connects the New Jersey Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel, is set to undergo a multi-year renovation to repair its debilitated viaduct bridge in North Bergen, according to the NJ Department of Transportation. The nine-span, four-lane bridge carries 495’s traffic over Route 1/9, Paterson Plank Road, and the NYS&W and Conrail rail lines. The $90.3 million, three-and-a-half-year project will increase traffic near the Lincoln Tunnel, officials said. An official for the I.E.W. Construction Group advised motorists who take 495 in that area to head to the George Washington Bridge or Holland Tunnel rather than the Lincoln Tunnel during construction hours if they can. The state Department of Transportation held a local forum on the matter Sept. 14 in North Bergen’s McKinley Elementary School, next to the bridge. It was attended only by a handful of people, mainly transit officials. They handed out information about the project. The project will begin later this fall. Starting Sep. 18., and continuing weekdays through fall, the I.E.W. will perform preliminary mobilization work such as installing signals and erosion controls. This work will happen between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. For most of the time, the 31st Street on-ramp to westbound 495 will be detoured to Paterson Plank Road, according to the project’s website. The 495 bridge connects to 1/9, which leads to the George Washington Bridge, and to Route 3, which connects to East Rutherford’s Meadowlands Sports Complex. The 3.45-mile Route 495 itself runs through Secaucus, North Bergen, Union City, and Weehawken en- route to New York City. Over 150,000 vehicles use it daily, the DOT says. Per the DOT’s website covering the renovation, “The bridge is rated as structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. The project will extend the useful service life of the bridge for an estimated 75 years and eliminate the need for potential emergency repairs.”
_____________ “If possible, go to the GWB.” – I.E.W. Construction
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Two phases During phase one of the project, set to begin this fall, construction workers will make safety, drainage, and lighting improvements under the bridge and along the nearby Paterson Plank Road/Union Turnpike Corridor. Phase one will last approximately one year, the DOT says. Phase two will begin in summer 2018, and include replacing the entire bridge deck. This phase is set for two and a half years. The entire project is expected to be completed in summer 2021, the DOT said. The renovation will also work on and close ramps connecting to Route 1/9 at certain points of construction. Detours will be put into effect for drivers heading westbound along 495. Fortunately, the work will maintain three of the four bridge lanes during the deck reconstruction. The project won’t affect the Lincoln Tunnel’s exclusive bus lanes that are used in the area between 6 and 10 a.m. However, NJ Transit’s North Bergen Park and Ride Lot, which is directly under the bridge, will lose parking spots in the construction. Therefore, a new parking lot is being created adjacent to the current lot during the project. Softening the impact In order for Paterson Plank to accommodate the additional traffic from the detour, the DOT will install temporary intersection improvements, such as minor intersection widening and re stripping. Traffic signals on Paterson Plank will also be adjusted to allow more time for motorists to navigate the thoroughfare. Identical improvements will also come to Union Turnpike, which links to Paterson. Such upgrades will be in place before the DOT implements the traffic restrictions, the agency says. The official for the I.E.W. Construction Group, which is the project’s contractor, gave some suggestions for motorists during an interview at the forum. “If possible, go to the GWB,” he said. “If possible, go to the Holland Tunnel. It's not always going to be possible, but we're going to try to minimize the impact as much as possible.” He said that he expects an increase in Manhattan-bound traffic from Route 3, during the project. The Turnpike should also see a similar increase heading in-bound, he said. To help drivers navigate the construction zones, a contract to install Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) infrastructure along the route was completed this summer. The work installed CCTV cameras, overhead lane control signals, and full color matrix dynamic message signs. The cameras will be used to monitor traffic, detect incidents, and contact emergency services as soon as possible. The DOT will also be performing extensive outreach to inform affected communities. Sign up for project alerts at http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/roads/rt495/signup.shtm. Hannington Dia can be reached at hd@hudsonreporter.com
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‘We are evaluating the finances’
Council gets no assurances city will hire new firefighters despite federal funding
by Marilyn Baer
Reporter Staff Writer
Sep 24, 2017 | 158 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The city of Hoboken currently has 113 firefighters which union president Michael Stefano says isn’t enough. Despite his statements the council received no assurances from Business Administrator Stephan Marks that the city would accept grant funding to hire four additional firefighters.
The city of Hoboken currently has 113 firefighters which union president Michael Stefano says isn’t enough. Despite his statements the council received no assurances from Business Administrator Stephan Marks that the city would accept grant funding to hire four additional firefighters.
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During the City Council meeting on Sept. 19, council members questioned Business Administrator Stephen Marks as to why the city had yet to accept a grant that would provide partial funding for four additional firefighters in town. The city has until Sept. 28 to accept the funds. The federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant is awarded by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and pays for salary and benefits for new firefighters. The grant, which lasts three years, would pay for 75 percent of the salaries and benefits for the first two years and 35 percent of the firefighters’ salaries and benefits for the last year. This would mean the city would have to pay the remaining costs, funded through the city’s budget. Marks said the total cost of hiring the four new firefighters is about $1.3 million. The council approved the city’s application for the four new firefighters in February and the city was notified of the $667, 539 grant in late July. But it remains unclear if the city will hire the four new firefighters. According to Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia, Mayor Dawn Zimmer has the ultimate power to hire new city employees. Councilman David Mello asked why the city hasn’t yet accepted the funds, to which business administrator Stephen Marks responded, “The finances are still being evaluated.” Mello asked, “How do we get assurances that the submit button will be pressed?” Marks offered no assurances. “All I can say is we are evaluating the finances.”
_____________ “I’m just confused how there could be further evaluations necessary to submit something we’ve been talking about for over a half a year.” -- David Mello
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Firefighter urges city for more manpower Michael Stefano, who is on the executive board for the local firefighters’ union, spoke to the council during public portion, urging them and the city to act. “First of all council members, I want to thank you for investing, approving the SAFER grant,” he said. “However, as of this date, the administration has not yet accepted it. On July 28, it was awarded by the federal government, I believe there’s 60 days to accept it,” said Stefano. “It is Sept. 19: that gives us nine days to reach that deadline. Why are we waiting to get to the deadline? You guys approved it two weeks ago…We need the manpower. We have 113 members, total. Eight years ago, we had 132...This is just a drop in the bucket but it helps. We need to put this in the mail.” In a follow up interview the union president said, “I don’t know what the holdup is. The union requested that we have 24 new people. The chief recommended 16 and the council only approved four. The population is growing and yet the city has decreased the amount of fire fighters protecting it. It makes no sense. We have new residential buildings in places where there didn’t used to be residences, we have an estimated 56,000 people in the city now, and yet the city isn’t adding to the people who help protect it.” He added, “You can’t have less people doing more work. Being a firefighter is tough on the body. Just your gear alone can weigh 65 to 70 pounds. Now add a hose, and climbing up stairs that’s 100 pounds. That’s a lot of wear and tear on knees and backs and their bodies in general when there aren’t enough people to help with the work. People could get injured. It’s exhausting.” Councilman Michael Russo asked for more clarification as to why the finances were still being evaluated when they were already reviewed by the councils finance subcommittee, something Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who chairs the committee, also asked. “Our fire force is decreasing as our population is increasing,” said Russo. “That makes zero sense to me. For you director, to say, you’re not prepared to comment on this, is kind of insulting to this council. You’re here to report to us on questions like this. You’re here to explain the administration’s position on acceptance of grants, or positions that they take in the city, or things that are going on – that’s why we have these meetings. Not just for our sake, but for the public’s sake.” “I’m just confused how there could be further evaluations necessary to submit something we’ve been talking about for over a half a year,” Mello said. “These SAFER grants are not given out like Tic-Tacs,” said Councilman Ruben Ramos who added that other municipalities were probably denied the grant while Hoboken was approved and that not accepting it not only did those municipalities a disservice but Hoboken as well. Zimmer was unavailable for comment as she was out of the office Thursday observing Rosh Hashanah but city Spokesman Juan Melli said “she is fully evaluating the issue and will make a final decision early next week.” Melli said “following the SAFER grant period, the city would be responsible for reducing the ranks of firefighters or assuming the full cost of the four additional fire fighters which in year four is an estimated $457,736 and in year 5 is an estimated $521,560.” He said that the city’s adopted ordinance establishes the Table of Organization for the department calling for 63 firefighters and that the Table of Organization increased in 2012 to hire seven additional firefighters through the SAFER program which is why the city now has 70 firefighters although the ordinance also provided that the staffing level for the firefighter position were to return to 63 at the end of the grants funding period. Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.
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