Even though the Weehawken Elks' facility on Boulevard East remains closed and is under massive restoration after severe water damage 18 months ago, the event still went on as usual, only this time at North Bergen's Schuetzen Park.
Press Night drew a crowd of approximately 250 people, including many local dignitaries.
Other than Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and the entire Township Council, elected officials on hand included Freeholder Sal Vega, Assemblyman Rafael Fraguela and the guest speaker of the evening, State Assembly Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires.
"I don't know of many organizations or municipalities that salute the press," Sires said. "I like to thank the Weehawken Elks for taking the time to honor the press. I come from a country [Cuba] where there was no freedom of the press, so I truly appreciate and truly understand how important freedom of the press is."
Sires said that he has to deal with the press on a daily basis, even more so now that he has been elevated into the role of State Assembly Speaker.
"There is no such thing as a good press day," Sires said. "I have to deal with the members of the media every single day. There were some reporters who wanted information about a 'smart gun' bill that is in discussion or a plan to develop technology."
Sires said that one of the first events he had to attend as the State Assembly Speaker was a meeting of the New Jersey Press Association in Trenton, to speak on the new freedom of public information law that was introduced.
"I was the first Assemblyman to appoint someone to the commission dealing with the freedom of information law," Sires said. "The press is very interested in trying to gain the information it needs to accurately report the news."
Sires said that he also had to deal with the press on such controversial topics as the new corporate tax laws and racial profiling.
"Homeland Security is also an issue that the press is very interested in," Sires said. "I feel fortunate to have a very good working relationship with the press corps. My door is always open to them. If they need to get a statement from me, I'm usually very able to do so. A public official has a duty to inform the public, just like the press has a duty to inform the public. We work hand in hand."
Student wins essay contest
Sires then presented a check of $1,000 from the West New York Democratic Committee, which will go to the necessary improvements needed to open the Elks Lodge again in the future. An artist's rendering of the improvements were on display during the course of the evening. Elks officials hope that the renovations can be completed by the end of 2003.
Mayor Turner said that he also has to deal with the press on a daily basis.
"Day by day, minute by minute, it can be sometimes trying, sometimes exasperating," Turner said. "But it is a true virtue of our society."
Annually, the Elks sponsor an essay contest, encouraging students to express their feelings about the media and its freedoms. The winner of this year's contest, Samantha Pierre, received a $100 savings bond from the Weehawken and You Civic Association.
"They use an arsenal of pens, pencils, notebooks and tape recorders to retrieve an accurate account of what takes place in the world," Pierre said, reading her essay to the audience. "Many journalists risk their lives in an attempt to find the truth."
Pierre chose to salute the media for their efforts in reporting the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The efforts of the media provided some comfort to us all," Pierre said. "The media provided some solace, just like chicken soup does for a lingering cold. It provided a new sense of pride for all of us."
Representatives from the Hudson Reporter newspaper chain and from the daily Jersey Journal,/I. were on hand and spoke during the evening's festivities as well.