Guttenberg Mayor re-elected: Running unopposed, Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna received a new term in office, this time for four years instead of two. A bill signed into law by Acting Gov. Richard Codey gave elected officials in small towns like Guttenberg in New Jersey four-year terms instead of two. The election also saw incumbent council members Gerald Drasheff, Adela Martinez, and Efrain Velez re-elected.
Businessman sentenced: In June, Guttenberg-based businessman Rene Abreu, a former North Hudson political bigwig and ally to politicos like West New York Mayor Albio Sires and U.S. Rep. (and senator-to-be) Robert Menendez, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and fined more than $700,000 after his conviction for real estate schemes and bank fraud involving his companies.
Abreu, a Fort Lee resident whose businesses such as Abreu Real Estate, the Mortgage Pros, Inc. and RLA Homes are located on Bergenline Avenue in Guttenberg, was ordered to serve 87 months in a federal prison, as well as paying $200,000 in fines and $499,000 in restitution.
Abreu has yet to begin his federal jail sentence. He worked out a deal with the federal prosecutors to go to jail after Jan. 1, as long as he paid the fines beforehand.
Hoboken Mayor/council election: After a hard-fought battle, Mayor David Roberts soundly defeated challenger Councilwoman Carol Marsh in the mayoral runoff in June. Other mayoral contenders who didn't make it to the runoff were Board of Education member and businessman Frank Raia, Councilman Michael Russo, and community activist Evelyn Smith.
Also victorious were Roberts' council slate of incumbent Ruben Ramos Jr., and new councilpeople Theresa LaBruno and Peter Cammarano.
Roberts nearly reached the $1 million fundraising mark in his race to be re-elected.
Government shuts down: Non-essential Hoboken city services were shut down for two days in March after a stalemate over the city's $72 million budget.
Since a majority of the City Council had not approved Mayor David Roberts' permanent city budget, which was proposed back in September 2004, they were passing temporary budgets each month to keep the city running.
Four council members opposed the mayor's spending policies (including two who are ran against him for mayor). They also didn't like the idea that the city was continuing to increase spending without closing a long-running budget deficit.
Non-essential city services were closed because city workers couldn't be paid. However, police and firefighters continued working, as per state law.
The nine council members eventually came together to end the city shutdown by passing a temporary budget.
Jersey City Crime: There was the rising number of homicides in Jersey City last year. As this article went to press, 38 homicides occurred in the past year, the most since 1994.
Among the worst were two separate cases of family violence.
In January, all four members of the Armanious family - Hossam Armanious, 46, his wife Amal Garas, 36, and their two children, Sylvia Armanious, 15, and Monica Armanious, 8, were found murdered in their Oakland Avenue home. The suspects in their killing, Edward McDonald, 25, of Jersey City and Hamilton Sanchez, 30, of Newark, were arrested in March. Money was the apparent motive.
In September, three members of the Wilson family - Marcia Wilson, 31, and her daughter, Dartagania, and son, DeQuan, both 11 - were found dead in their Wegman Parkway apartment. A third child, Paris, was stabbed numerous times but survived his injuries.
Marcia Wilson's brother, Dwayne Wilson, 38, was arrested in New York in November as a suspect in the three murders and an attempted murder.
Mayor re-elected: In May, Mayor Jerramiah Healy was elected to a full four-year mayoral term after winning a special election in November 2004 to fill the remaining term of late Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham. Healy won in a landslide over former City Councilwoman Melissa Holloway and independent candidate Alfred Marc Pine.
Trump lives: In September, Donald Trump appeared in Jersey City for the groundbreaking of Trump: Jersey City, two 50-plus story luxury residential towers to be built in downtown Jersey City starting early next year. The $415 million project will bear Trump's name but will be constructed by Hoboken developer Dean Geibel.
There will be a 55-story tower with 445 condominiums and a 50-story tower with 417 condominiums located on Washington Boulevard. Both towers will be set on top of a seven-story base including a 696-spot garage and 23,000 square feet of retail space.
North Bergen School extention finally opens: In September, North Bergen saw the long-awaited opening of the new Lincoln School extension, which took nearly six years to complete, and currently accommodates about 400 5-year-old kindergarten students.
The three-story, 20-classroom extension now houses 90 percent of the district's kindergarten classes. Disputes between contractors and other problems had held up construction in the past.
Railroad trash dispute: In February, officials became aware that piles of trash were rising along the New York, Susquehanna and Western railway line. It came to light that the railway was allowing solid waste transfer stations there, and that they were protected by a federal law protecting interstate railroad commerce.
The waste stations were identified as health hazards by local, state and even federal officials. Legislators proposed a state law that would override the federal law concerning dumping on the line. There even was a scare in July concerning the storage of potentially-dangerous phosphorus pentasulfide tanks along a NYS&W parking lot. Litigation ensued from both sides.
In July, acting Gov. Richard Codey levied a $2.5 million fine against the NYS&W, citing the new state regulation.
But in November, U.S. District Judge Katherine Hayden ruled that the federal law protecting railroad operations was still applicable, allowing the waste transfer stations to remain in operation. Since then, the company has built two new waste storage facilities in North Bergen, on 83rd Street and Paterson Plank Road, so that the trash is contained.
Secaucus Mayor re-elected: On Nov. 8, the mayoralty and all three council seats were up for election, except that two of the council candidates faced no opposition.
Democrats Mayor Dennis Elwell and 3rd Ward Councilman John Reilly beat their Independent challengers, Frank MacCormack and Tom Roarty Jr., respectively by 2 to 1.
Democrat Richard Kane, 1st Ward, and Independent John Bueckner, 2nd Ward, ran unopposed.
Incumbent Assemblyman Vincent Prieto kept his seat in the 32nd District.
All candidates said they felt good about the number of votes they received. MacCormack said the most important thing about running was that the people got out and voted. "That's what the American dream is all about," said MacCormack.
Elwell will begin his second four-year term Jan.1.
Political rancor: On Oct. 31, just a week before Election Day, Department of Public Works Superintendent Mike Gonnelli and his wife Linda filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal District Court, District of New Jersey against the Town of Secaucus, Mayor Dennis Elwell, and Town Administrator Anthony Iacono. The suit alleged that town officials retaliated against the Gonnellis for political reasons.
The suit was the latest in a series of salvos between Gonnelli and the Elwell administration over the past year. Gonnelli has been involved in a political game of ping-pong with the municipal government over issues such as his retirement package, his voting as a member of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, and his volunteerism in the Fire Department. For a while, Elwell said the Volunteer Fire Department could not fundraise for social activities because it might create a conflict when Gonnelli, in his role on the NJMC, votes on projects for places that donate to the Fire Department. The matter created much rancor and was seen as a political game to force Gonnelli to step down from at least one of his positions. Months later, the fundraising ban was dropped.
Union City Menendez rises: Former Union City Mayor and current U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) continued his political rise earlier this month when U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine said he would appoint Menendez to replace him in the Senate when Corzine becomes governor in January. The ascent was long awaited by Menendez, who got his political start on the Union City Board of Education at 19.
North Hudson sexual assaults: Union City, North Bergen and neighboring towns had to fear a string of sexual assaults that occurred within a six-month period. One involved a kidnapping.
In May, a 57-year-old Union City woman was brutally attacked around 1 a.m. in the vicinity of 20th Street and Bergenline Avenue after she got off one of the local jitney buses and was followed. She survived.
On July 18, the body of Margarita Espinoza of Union City was discovered at the foot of a stairway beneath a porch of her 14th Street apartment building off of Summit Avenue. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered.
There were also two rapes in North Bergen. In May, a 16-year-old North Bergen girl was snatched off of 46th Street, brought to the Meadowlands by a masked assailant, raped, robbed, and dumped in Newark.
In October, a 59-year-old woman was walking home from work and was raped in Braddock Park. Her assailant was apprehended a week later in a Guttenberg bar.
Police are not sure if the remaining cases were linked, and a suspect has not been captured. They offered a series of self-defense seminars to local female residents.
Alleged slave labor: In July, two Union City bars and one in Guttenberg were shut down for allegations of human trafficking and forced labor.
Bar owner and alleged ring leader Luisa Medrano of Cliffside Park was among 10 people who were indicted on federal charges of illegally smuggling young Honduran women into the state and allegedly forcing them to work in the bars.
El Paisano Bar and Nightclub on 22nd Street and El Puerto de la Union II on Bergenline Avenue, as well as a third bar in Guttenberg, employed the women.
Medrano, a U.S. citizen and native of El Salvador, and her alleged co-conspirators were brought up on 31 counts, including conspiracy to commit forced labor and alien smuggling.
Health official laid to rest: In January, town officials and Union City residents mourned the loss of the late Union City Commissioner Michael Leggiero, who also had served full-time as the head of the North Hudson Community Action Corporation in West New York. The NHCAC provides low-cost health services for low-income people in the area.
The absence of this beloved community leader left a dispute about who would succeed him in his six-figure NHCAC position.
In the end, Ann Dudsak, vice president of operations and long-time second in command of NHCAC, assumed the position of interim CEO/president until a permanent replacement is found. In Union City, Margie Bombino was appointed to the Board of Commissioners and then won the official election in November.
West New York An opening for Sires: It looks like Assemblyman and West New York Mayor Albio Sires, who had served as state Assembly speaker until earlier this year, may be on the rise again. Current U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.) found out earlier this month that when U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine becomes mayor in January, Mendendez will become Senator. So who will replace Menendez in Congress? Some think it will be Sires, who was recently endorsed for the position by local state Senator and Democratic leader Bernard Kenny.
Two unusual crimes: The West New York Police Department made the headlines several times this year.
First, back in January, newly arrived Police Director Tim Griffin was sworn into office and took over for retiring Police Director Joseph Pelliccio.
Then, Griffin's department had some unusual and disturbing stories to deal with. In September, they found a discarded newborn baby boy in an airshaft in one of the town' residential buildings. He had fallen onto a mountain of empty cigarette cartons. The police then found the mummified corpse of his sister a day later. The babies' mother, 18-year-old Lucila Ventura, was charged with attempted murder, child abuse and child endangerment, as well as an additional charge of homicide. Her father, Julio Ventura, the alleged father of the infants, was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and child abuse against his daughter. Both are currently in the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny.
West New York Police also played a role in the apprehension of 52-year-old local resident Louis Hillen on Nov. 3 as the suspected "Ghostwriter" who was allegedly harassing women by leaving sexually explicit notes on the windshields of their cars since October of 2004 in Paramus, West New York, and as far away as New Paltz, N.Y.
Weehawken Second light rail station in town: Several elected dignitaries and officials got together in October in Weehawken to announce that the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail train from Bayonne would begin service into Weehawken's Port Imperial Station that weekend. Eventually, the rail service will include stations in Union City, North Bergen, and Bergen County. The Port Imperial Station was the latest to open along the line since the two Hoboken stations (Second and Ninth Streets) and the Weehawken Lincoln Harbor station opened in September of 2004.
Service to the new Weehawken station operated to and from the Hoboken Terminal, where riders could make connections to other trains and buses.
Jaramillo/Ives update: It's been two years since Jose Luis Ives Jr. of Union City was killed near the Union City/Weehawken border during an altercation with off-duty Weehawken Police Officer Alejandro Jaramillo. Jaramillo's trial was supposed to take place this past fall, but has not yet occurred.