The biggest stories for Bayonne in 2011 covered a range of topics – from a proposed gas line through the city’s southern edge, the fate of the Bayonne Bridge, an ugly beating by a group of teens, the murder of a family, and the impact of a blizzard and hurricane.
Bayonne was confronted by a series of issues about race relations, business growth, dealing with its feral cat population, and whether or not to abolish rent control.
Strucinski beating hit nerve
Few moments in 2011 struck a nerve as much as the reports of the beating of Dawid Strucinski, which left the Rutgers graduate student in a coma for several months.
The outpouring of support to help cover his medical bills brought back some of the feelings of old Bayonne, when the community routinely came out to support good causes.
But the circumstances of Strucinski’s beating sent shivers through the community. Two groups of young people met in the early hours in July on Broadway, and he was beaten when trying to stop the conflict. Several of the attackers apparently went through his pockets after he was on the ground. Eventually, the police rounded up as many as 19 attackers, charging some of them as adults. At least one parent was charged with attempting to prevent apprehension. By year’s end, Strucinski had woken from his coma and recovered his speech, although was still undergoing physical therapy.
In early December, Bayonne was shocked again after a man shot his estranged wife, her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s infant son, and then himself in an incident near Fourth Street and Avenue A.
Doria cleared in corruption probe
Former Senator and Mayor of Bayonne Joseph Doria was formally cleared of charges in the federal Bid Rig II investigation that resulted in charges against dozens of other public officials in Hudson County and across the state. Doria was under a cloud for almost two years after FBI agents came to his house in the wake of the arrests in July, 2009. Doria was never charged with a crime. But in October of 2011, federal authorities announced that he was not the target of an investigation.
The results of the 2010 census came out early in the year, showing that Bayonne had grown in population for the second decade in a row, and – to no one’s surprise – showed a significant growth in Hispanics and other minorities.
The 10th anniversary of 9/11
Although Bayonne commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in September, the fate of the 100-foot tall “To Struggle Against World Terrorism” monument by Zorbas Tsereteli was in doubt earlier in the year, until Gov. Christopher Christie’s office said that the Port Authority had no plans to move the monument to another location.
The 10th anniversary was marked also by Bayonne receiving a piece of steel from the World Trade Center towers to be used as part of the monument park.
Mother Nature played havoc with Bayonne and the region during 2011, kicking off the year with the aftermath of a massive blizzard that closed down transportation hubs and other critical facilities throughout the area.
Known as the Christmas blizzard, the storm left people stranded throughout the city. Despite the city’s ability to clear critical streets, the impact of the storm lingered for the first few weeks into the new year. And then there was another major snowstorm in late January.
At the end of the summer, Bayonne and the rest of the region got hit by Hurricane Irene, which left streets flooded, tore up trees, and left many residences without power.
Mall stores open
Lowe’s Home Improvement Center opened just before Christmas a year ago, and it was soon joined by a host of other stores in the new Bayonne Crossing mall, including Five Guys Hamburgers and Fries, Sonic, Michael’s Arts and Crafts, LongHorn Steakhouse, and – by year’s end – Walmart and New York Sports Club.
The mall’s opening, however, pressed the city to find alternate uses for the Broadway shopping district. One plan was to create a medical mecca to fill the spaces being left as older businesses closed. Key to this is the planned construction of OMNI’s nursing home facility on 29th Street and Broadway, which by year’s end appeared to have cleared one of the final legal hurdles that would allow it to begin construction.
Plans for raising the height of the Bayonne Bridge were unveiled in early January, to the relief of residents and local officials who had feared loss of their property. The existing bridge imposed a severe impediment to shipping, which is the region’s principle industry. New cargo ships due to begin arriving in the area after the opening of the newly-widened Panama Canal would not be able to fit under the bridge. By year’s end, Port Authority officials said the plans were ahead of schedule for work to raise the roadbed.
The bridge celebrated its 80th birthday this year, a significant milestone for historians who noted that its construction coincided with some of the other great engineering achievements of the 1930s, such as the George Washington Bridge and The Empire State Building.
Next stop on light rail
Bayonne celebrated the long-awaited opening of the Eighth Street station of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line in January. Seen as key for the revitalization of the Bergen Point section of the city, the new station included a reproduction of the Central Railroad Station that served Bayonne riders until it was demolished in the 1970s.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority held two public hearings for proposed changes to the Turnpike Extension that serves Bayonne and Jersey City, and provides access to the Holland Tunnel.
Extensive changes proposed in January that would have steered the massive truck traffic from the container port operations through a modified Jersey City exit were rescinded later in the year after a significant public outcry from Jersey City residents and politicians. But many residents who reviewed the revised plans felt the changes proposed will not solve many of the problems that currently exist at the Bayonne exit.
The gas line
Although the city had been aware of a proposed natural gas line through the southern portion of Bayonne, rhetoric heated up with several public hearings during the year. Originally opposed to the route of the pipeline, Bayonne public officials said by year’s end that they were satisfied with the changes made in the route. Thus, they did not follow Jersey City and Hoboken, who still oppose the line.
Rent control may go to court
In March, the City Council attempted to do away with rent control, but withdrew its proposed ordinance when outraged residents opposed it and several council members said they could not support the ordinance as originally drafted. A revamped version was passed by the City Council in November, but it still would phase out rent control when existing tenants leave their apartments in the city.
A group of residents sought to put the measure on the ballot for voters to decide. But the city’s legal department determined that the petitions failed to provide the necessary disclosure, and rejected the petitions. The residents behind the effort have vowed to take the matter to court.
Cat ordinance debated
The alleged poisoning of a dog led to even more outrage among residents seeking to protect feral cats. The dog apparently ingested the poison while being walked, leading animal rights’ groups to suspect someone of putting out poison to kill feral cats. The City Council had rejected an ordinance in 2010 designed to help control the population, but introduced a modified version in 2011, which animal rights groups were opposed to. Late in the year, the council withdrew the ordinance and agreed to work with the groups on a plan to help control the feral cat population.
Holy Family Academy, Marist High School, and All Saints Catholic Academy saw changes in principals this past year. Mary Tremitiedi took over in September at HFA, while Alice Miesnik became acting principal of Marist in February when the new principal hired in 2010 could not continue his duties. Miesnik was named as the regular principal by the fall. In September, All Saints Catholic Academy welcomed a new principal, Joseph Moran.
Hospital deal in Hoboken
Several of the people who purchased Bayonne Medical Center in 2008 announced their intention to purchase Hoboken University Medical Center this year. The purchase – which had been speculated on heavily in 2010 – had little impact directly on Bayonne. But its prominence in Hoboken eventually brought in help from Gov. Christopher Christie.
In addition, BMC resolved its insurance issues with Horizon Blue Cross – an insurance carrier that represents a significant number of Bayonne residents and public employees. That meant that Bayonne and Hoboken could be in-network with that insurance company, as well as the Medicaid plan it helps administer.
Along with a series of upgrades, which included the installation of the first hospital-based PET scanner in Hudson County, BMC also signed an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to convert to energy-efficient practices.
As part of an effort to reduce its operating costs, the Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority took steps toward privatizing some of its operations in January, and by year’s end had one bidder interested in taking over some aspects of the operations. The BMUA also began construction of the city’s first windmill, which is designed to create enough power to operate the pumps at the Oak Street Station.
A lawsuit brought against the city by workers claiming they’d been discriminated against led to a series of public hearings that included members of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Some of the most influential ethnic leaders in Hudson County took part in an effort to resolve questions regarding race relations between the city and some of its minority workers. The rhetoric grew heated and the issues remained unresolved by the end of the year.
The grand dame of social services for Bayonne announced in January that she would be retiring from the head of the BEOF. Eleanor Tiefenwerth helped found many of the critical programs for the needy, and expanded on programs such as Meals on Wheels, Head Start, and Helping Hands. By mid-year, Ana Quintela was named as the new executive director.
The city abolishes the Parking Authority
With legal issues lingering from the previous year, the Bayonne Parking Authority was abolished by the end of the year. Two lawsuits brought by former executive directors plagued the Parking Authority. One suit alleged the authority was involved in ticket fixing and other activities. Peter Cresci, who served in a role of executive director of the Parking Authority for almost two years, sued after being fired by the city amid allegations that he exceeded his authority – which he denied. Later in the year, the city filed criminal charges against Cresci, which were still unresolved by year’s end.
Firefighters had a busy year
Along with the routine fires, the Bayonne Fire Department responded to an electrical fire in the chemical storage section of the city. While the blaze proved less serious than it looked – rising plumes of smoke halted traffic along the city’s main highway – it was a reminder of the risks firefighters face every day.
Firefighters underwent several training sessions during the year, but normal duties resulted in several key rescues, including people stranded in the waterways around the city.
Bayonne target in alleged terrorist plot?
In an arrest made by New York City police, a terrorist allegedly named the Bayonne Police Department as one of his targets in November, prompting concern among city and regional officials since the city is considered high-risk because of its chemical storage facilities.
High school excelled in tennis
The Bayonne High School Tennis Team continued to dominate its opponents, winning the Hudson County tournament for the fifth straight year. Coach Bill Broderick was honored by the school district and the City Council for his remarkable record of his teams reaching the championships 20 times, and winning 14 times during that stretch.
In 2011, former Bayonne Freeholder and Hudson County Executive Ed Clark passed away at 85. The year also saw the passing of longtime Bayonne naturalist Marvin Silber at age 81. Perhaps most shocking was the early death of community activist Joe Taglarini.