If you’re one of those people who save old text messages, old e-mails, old newspapers, or who just has a good memory, look – or think – back. Depending on where you live, a single name or phrase will immediately conjure up some local human or political drama that unfolded in 2012.
It could be Sandy, or James Wiley, or Count Wiley, or the Roque arrests, Mister Fresh Deli. Superintendent Randina. Rent control. Secret meetings.
These stories may need to be explained to friends and family members who aren’t neighbors. But for those of us in North Bergen, Guttenberg, Secaucus, Jersey City, Hoboken, West New York, and Union City, we know what dramas were all about. Here are the top stories in Hudson County and its towns in 2012.
So powerful was the unprecedented “Superstorm” Sandy that many residents and businesses were still recovering as the year came to a close. The category 1 hurricane made a direct hit on the Jersey Shore, landing two days before Halloween and trapping some people in their homes with floodwaters. The New Jersey death toll was reported as at least 33, with three victims in Hudson County. At the end of the year, a handful of businesses were still struggling to reopen and many residents whose homes were flooded were still waiting for money to renovate. Much of the post-hurricane discussion has now shifted to what can be done to better protect the metropolitan area from similar storms in the future.
The state gave its approval in 2012 to Holdco’s purchase of Jersey City’s Christ Hospital, a deal that shifted the hospital from nonprofit to for-profit status but kept ownership of the hospital local. Holdco already owns Bayonne Medical Center and Hoboken University Medical Center and runs them as for-profit entities. Both Holdco and Jersey City Medical Center made bids to purchase the struggling Christ Hospital, which filed for bankruptcy in January after a deal to sell to a California-based for-profit hospital chain fell through. A bankruptcy judge awarded Christ to Holdco in March.
Since purchasing Christ Hospital, Holdco has made moves to restructure its operations and spread its medical services across its three hospitals. Proponents argue this streamlined approach could improve health services in Hudson County, but others wonder if Holdco’s de facto monopoly over hospitals in Hudson County will decrease services and increase costs for patients.
Mister Fresh deli owner stabbed
In one of the more shocking crimes to rock Hudson County in 2012, a North Bergen man, Bahaa Nesim, was stabbed inside Mister Fresh, the Guttenberg-based deli he owned on Bergenline Avenue. According to the Hudson County Prosecutor, Nesim was stabbed more than 40 times in the face and upper body in a robbery attempt. Police quickly arrested Jose Castaing and his girlfriend Liz Velez. They were indicted on murder, felony murder, robbery, and weapons charges in October. According to Acting Prosecutor Guy Gregory, the couple faces 30 years to life if convicted.
Charter school up in smoke
On Sept. 6, a fire swept through the top floor of 713 Washington St. The Hoboken Charter School K-8 program was housed in that building and students were displaced during their first week of school. The building was severely damaged and the school lost a great deal of supplies. Several firemen suffered from smoke inhalation. The children remained displaced for over a week before an interim space was decided on at St. Anne’s School in Jersey City Heights. Many fundraising efforts were held.
Three important ballot questions
Three referendum questions on the November ballot created quite a stir in Hoboken, especially Public Question 2, which would have ended rent control in all buildings when a current tenant moved out, temporarily in some buildings and permanently in others, depending on the number of units and owner occupancy. Ultimately, rent control stayed, but only by a 52 vote margin.
Question 1 eliminated run-off elections, so the candidate receiving the most votes wins, even in a crowded field. Question 3 rescheduled municipal elections from May to November. Now, Mayor Dawn Zimmer is up for re-election in November of 2013 rather than in May.
Zimmer advocated all three outcomes, which some say is indicative of her mayoral strength. Her school board slate also won in November.
Steve Fulop’s ‘secret’ meeting
Mayoral contender and ward E City Councilman Steven Fulop could very well be just six months away from taking leadership of New Jersey’s second-largest city from Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy. But Fulop’s status as a rising political star took a hit in July after leaked e-mails sent from his personal account revealed that he held a secret meeting in May 2011 with two members of the Jersey City Board of Education; two recently-elected school board members who had yet to be sworn in; Christopher Cerf, who at the time was the acting commissioner of education for the state; Ellen Simon, founder of Parents for Progress, and Shelley Skinner, deputy director of Better Education for Kids, a school choice advocacy group. Fulop’s e-mail was also sent to Leda Duif Shumbris, Mohamed Akil, and Tine Pahl. Fulop, a reformer who is unaccustomed to criticism, seemed caught off-guard by the resulting criticism.
The meeting took place just days after Fulop’s allies gained control of the school board and was timed to come up with a strategy to replace Dr. Charles Epps, who was at the time the superintendent of schools. Fulop’s machinations angered some parents and other members of the community who saw the May 2011 meeting as evidence of back-door dealings they fear could become a hallmark of Fulop’s governing style.
Meanwhile, Epps has joined Healy’s re-election campaign as the council candidate for Ward A.
Marcia Lyles selected as new superintendent of schools
Former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Epps resigned his position last year and was barely out the door before many parents began expressing support for Interim Superintendent Franklin Walker to be promoted to the position permanently. Walker applied for the super position and received the public backing of many parents but was bypassed in favor of two out-of-state contenders, Dr. Marcia Lyles and Dr. Debra Brathwaite. Lyles was selected after a contentious search process that was followed by an equally contentious and controversial contract negotiation with the new superintendent.
The fact that Fulop endorsed, helped elect, and has met privately with several of the school board members who selected Lyles has led to allegations that Fulop is an unseen force guiding the school board.
Appleview condo controversy continues
The controversy continued over the proposed Appleview condo project near the Guttenberg border. The North Bergen Planning Board had approved the project, a 59-unit residential complex at 7009 and 7101 River Road, over residents’ protests on March 30, with numerous conditions. The project is near the Galaxy Towers in Guttenberg and 20 feet from a major natural gas pipeline. Residents are concerned that construction would remove too much of the Palisades Cliffs, and that a nearby Transco Williams Gas pipeline could potentially explode. A superior court judge ruled that the project had to go back to the Planning Board so that more evidence could be presented. The next hearing will take place Jan. 3.
Public works scandal
North Bergen Department of Public Works (DPW) Superintendent James Wiley resigned his position over the summer, just days before pleading guilty in Hudson County Superior Court to ordering subordinates to work as campaign volunteers in political elections in Jersey City and Bayonne while on the township payroll. Wiley also admitted to having DPW workers do chores at his private home while the town was paying them. Wiley is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 11.
By the end of the year, three other people had also been implicated in the scheme – two DPW supervisors and Wiley’s supervisor, Public Works Director Timothy Grossi.
Randina quits school district before school district can quit on her
After four years at the helm of the Secaucus school system, Superintendent of Schools Cynthia Randina announced that the 2012-2013 school year would be her last in Secaucus. Randina, began her post in September 2008. However, she made a number of personnel changes – including switching several school principals – that rankled many teachers and staff and angered the Secaucus Education Association (SEA). Twice, in 2010 and again in 2012, the SEA took a vote of “no-confidence” in Randina’s leadership, although the votes were nonbinding. However, some members of the school board praised her strides in the district, particularly in the areas of technology, science, and math.
Controversy at Meadowlands Hospital
The Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents 350 workers at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus, filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an injunction ordering the hospital to stop alleged ongoing violations of the rights of nurses and healthcare workers. Labor leaders have repeatedly asked for an independent state monitor to step in since MHA, a for-profit, private company, purchased Meadowlands Hospital from LibertyHealth in December of 2010. Their past complaints have led to state investigations.
The hospital has said that the union’s actions have succeeded only at alienating the professional staff and unfairly tainting the hospital’s reputation.
FBI raid at City Hall
In November, FBI officials raided Union City’s Community Development office in City Hall. A source inside City Hall said the agents shut down the fourth floor and entered the community development grant office and the city comptroller’s office. Federal agents seized computers and some documents. Published reports speculated that the raid was related to investigations of alleged misappropriation of federal funds inside the office, where city officials award Community Block Grants to specific contractors.
Police Chief Charles Everett retired in October, right before the city released the results of an investigation into his off-duty security detail work, for which he was paid by the Board of Education. Cable News 12 said they had videos of Everett allegedly arriving late to off-duty jobs, leaving early, and even exercising at the gym all while the Board of Education paid his department for the off-duty work.
Mayor Brian Stack hired a private attorney to investigate the situation. The attorney recommended that the city change how it distributes off-duty work for police officers. The concern was that the additional work was being heavily assigned to superiors to supplement their salaries as opposed to being given to those who earned considerably lower salaries.
The attorney general’s office also began investigating the possible criminal aspect of the case. They have yet to release their findings.
Shades neighborhood decimated
The Shades, a nickname derived from the downtown Weehawken neighborhood’s location beneath the cliffs of the Palisades, was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and is still recovering. As the town’s topographical low point, most of the neighborhood’s basements, garages, and ground floor apartments incurred serious damage. This included Weehawken’s primary Catholic parish, St. Lawrence Church, which has not fully reopened and will need extensive renovations. Mass is currently being held in the parish hall.
Pier B restoration project
In early December it was announced that Weehawken will receive $500,000 in grant funding to add to $2.5 million in Green Acres grants from New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection to kick start the township’s Pier B Restoration Project. The money will pay for construction of a recreational pier just north of the Chart House pier, and will give residents of upper Weehawken one more reason to visit the waterfront, said Mayor Richard Turner.
Pier B will stretch nearly 500 feet into the Hudson River, directly opposite the Empire State Building. It will have six “pods” connected by 10-foot-wide walkways, each designed for a specific use. One will include a kayak dock to be completed later, two will be used for educational purposes, one raised hexagonal pod will be a viewing station, and two others are specially designed for fishing.
WEST NEW YORK
Dr. Felix Roque arrested; Count Wiley tries recall
Mayor Dr. Felix Roque and his son Joseph were arrested by federal agents on May 24 for allegedly hacking into a website called “Recall Roque.” The two were released on a $100,000 bail bond and had to surrender their passports. Their travel was temporarily restricted to New York and New Jersey. Roque and his son were indicted by a federal grand jury in August and pleaded not guilty to three counts of computer hacking. Their trial is set to begin in February 2013.
Town Commissioner Count Wiley, once a close ally of Felix Roque, announced his intention to run a recall election against Roque. Wiley filed his letter of intent with the town clerk’s office in November.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at email@example.com.