This was not the best of years nor the worst of years, but looking back at 2012 and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and the local impact of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, 2012 certainly could have been better.
This was a year that saw a former Bayonne resident edge nearer to sainthood, a historic church gain recognition, a local priest become a bishop in Scranton, and a street get named after a pope.
It was a year in which key people moved on or up, or found peace after a lifetime of success. It was year of slow economic recovery, of small and big improvements to the city’s business community, and a year of seeking answers to some of the city’s most fundamental problems. Like in years past, it was a year to look back on and reflect, and in doing so, look to the future to do more, better, or differently in the upcoming year.
Upward and onward
Changes began in early 2012 both locally and countywide. The results of the 2010 census caused a redistricting of local legislative offices and as more of Bayonne shifted into the 10th Congressional District, state legislative districts expanded more into Jersey City.
The redistricting became very relevant in early February with the death of Rep. Donald Payne Sr., resulting in a primary fight that eventually led Bayonne elected officials to back Nia Gill for the seat. Elsewhere in Hudson County, officials backed Payne’s son, Donald Payne Jr., who eventually prevailed both in the June primary and later in the general election.
Although she officially retired from her post as executive director of the Bayonne Equal Opportunity Foundation in 2011, Eleanor Tiefenwerth’s death on Jan. 2 marked the end of an era in Bayonne history – she was the last of the New Frontier Democrats whom former Mayor Dennis Collins had organized.
January saw a shift in the upper management of Bayonne Medical Center as Daniel Kane – who had overseen the rescue and sale in 2008 – stepped down as executive director to be replaced by Dr. Mark Spektor.
The Bayonne Chamber of Commerce saw a change at the top as Vincent Virga took over as president and began an ambitious program that would lead to a number of new business initiatives during the year. The Chamber also saw its 100th anniversary in April.
Bayonne saw the construction of its long-awaited wind turbine designed to power some of the operations for the Municipal Utilities Authority – the first of several significant changes. Later in the year, the MUA sold off some of its operations to a firm backed by United Water, reducing costs to the city.
Taxes and development
But budget issues remained a problem for the city as the council voted to increase fees for services to help bridge some of the budget gaps.
Unfortunately, county and school taxes rose in 2012, imposing more burdens on local residents struggling to maintain their homes in a downturned economy.
The impact of federal cuts came home in early February with the cuts from Community Development Block Grants, causing hardship to already financially struggling not-for-profit organizations. Adding insult to injury, agents from the FBI later began an investigation reportedly involving some aspects of the CDBG loan program, although the extent of the investigation was not revealed by year’s end.
Along with St. Vincent’s Church uptown, the city sought historic distinction for a former hotel near the Eighth Street Light Rail Station.
After months of repair, the Bayonne Youth Center reopened in late February, one of the key institutions for after school programs in the city.
Issues resolved and unresolved in 2012
While state funding and still-unresolved contract issues with teachers plaguing the school district, Bayonne would see a historic moment in early March when G. Joseph McNeil, one of the heroic Civil Rights activists from the 1960s, paid a visit to Bayonne High School.
The school budget rose 2 percent in April from the previous year, the first increase in several years.
The city’s Urban Enterprise Zone absorbed operations of the Special Improvement District in March, part of a move to reduce costs and refocus some of the operations. The UEZ and SID overlapped in some areas. The theory was that by cutting the overhead of the SID, these funds could be used more effectively.
The battle to retain rent control in the city headed up in March as groups tried to get the matter put onto the ballot. Late in 2011, the City Council voted to do away with rent control in the city, allowing landlords to opt out once current residents moved out. After several failed attempts to get the measure on the ballot, activists succeeded, only to see the measure lose in November.
An appeals court ruled in favor of the city in one of several racial discrimination cases brewing for almost a decade. In 2011, activists held hearings in Bayonne to try to highlight these and other alleged problems with the city.
Public safety advances
In early May, Bayonne had a brief visit from the Enterprise shuttle as it was flown over the city for its eventually relocation to the Space and Air Museum in New York City.
Also arriving at the same time was a new fire platform, one of several major improvements to the Fire Department during 2012, which included the arrival of a new fire boat in June and the ground breaking for a new firehouse in July.
Police Chief Robert Kubert retired in late May after having served as chief since 2004 and after a 43-year-long career with the Police Department. Deputy Police Chief Ralph Scianni was named acting chief in June and then in August, named chief.
In May, after an eight-year investigation, federal officials along with a local crime unit busted an alleged internet gambling ring that included an alleged member of the Gambino crime family. The raids also involved several other counties in New Jersey.
In August, Drug Enforcement Agents busted a $13 million cocaine ring, arresting three men who allegedly operated out of several sites in Bayonne.
Economic high notes
Three key residential developments began in 2012: one located near the 45th Street Light Rail Station, another at the former Maidenform factory on Avenue E, and a third at the site of a former garage on Kennedy Boulevard a few blocks north of the Bayonne Bridge. City officials view these projects as the foundation for future redevelopment in the city. Indeed, the developers of Bayonne Crossing mall on Route 440 went on to propose two more projects: one that would expand Royal Wine operations to a new building on East 22nd Street, as well as a proposed redevelopment of the former Best Foods site on Avenue A.
Another key piece of local economic growth is the upgrading of Global Terminals on the border of Jersey City and Bayonne, which is expected to become one of the most important port facilities in the New York area as new larger cargo ships arrive in 2015.
In conjunction with this, plans advanced for the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, which would allow larger ships to eventually make their way into Ports Newark and Elizabeth.
Winners Bayonne, an off-track wagering facility operated by Meadowlands Race Track, opened its doors, becoming the anchor for a highway shopping district that extends from Fifth Street to 45th Street along Route 440.
Local economics got a little greener with the establishing of the Bayonne farmer’s market, which remained open until October and drew thousands of people to the Broadway shopping district.
The approval in the fall of a Walgreens franchise for the northern gateway of the city is expected to revitalize that portion of the city’s business district.
A matter of faith
Sister Miriam Teresa took the next step towards sainthood in 2012 when the Catholic Church named her Blessed. This former Bayonne resident has a park named after her near where she once lived on the east side of town. At the same time, the city named a street near that park after Pope John Paul II, a Polish pope who was also elevated closer to sainthood.
Good deeds continued to mark some of Bayonne’s civic accomplishments as the Bayonne Rotary Club, in conjunction with Bayonne schools, worked with the Maywood Rotary to help build a well for a needy village in Africa.
Sandy blows through Bayonne
Few things impacted Bayonne, Hudson County, the state, and the region as Hurricane Sandy did when it arrived in time to bring real horror into people’s daily lives in late October. Flooding wiped out people’s memories and destroyed homes in the lowest lying sections of the city.
Power remained out in many sections for up to nine days. Evacuation centers became refuges for those flooded out or without power, and one school even became a satellite for Bayonne Medical Center, which operated on generator power, but remained open throughout the ordeal.
Considered a once-in-500-years storm, Sandy left scars in Bayonne and in people’s lives that will not be healed until well into the new year.