1. Menendez v. Kean
On Jan. 18 of last year, history was made at the nation's capital, as former Union City mayor and current Hoboken resident Robert Menendez was sworn into office as New Jersey's first Hispanic U. S. Senator, after being appointed to replace Jon Corzine in the position.
Menendez is the fifth Hispanic in history in the United States Senate, and one of three currently serving.
In November, he ran for office to win the seat outright. His chief opponent was Republican Tom Kean Jr., the son of the former governor, who made a point of trying to tie Menendez to Hudson County's history of corruption. But Menendez's accomplishments won out, and he was successfully re-elected.
For more on the politics of the past year, see Al Sullivan's article on the top political stories of the year, p. 4.
2. Teenager strangled in Weehawken
In July, an 18-year-old Bergen County woman was savagely beaten and strangled to death in a Weehawken hotel room, and then her body was dumped in a trash container outside a West New York high-rise apartment complex.
A day later, New York City police arrested 35-year-old Draymond Coleman, a drifter with no home address and a long rap sheet, and charged him with the murder and sexual assault of 18-year-old Jennifer Moore.
Moore apparently went out for a night of underage drinking in Manhattan and ended up getting a ride back to New Jersey from Coleman. He allegedly took Moore to the Park Avenue Hotel in Weehawken, where she was strangled to death.
Coleman and his girlfriend, Krystal Riordan, remain in Hudson County Jail on $2 million bail each and await trial on the murder charges.
3. New Light Rail stations
On Feb. 25, the two anticipated new Hudson Bergen Light Rail stations - one at 49th Street and Bergenline Avenue in Union City, and one at Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen - celebrated their grand opening.
The stations provide four-minute service to the Port Imperial Station in Weehawken, which opened in October, and connect with Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne.
In Union City, the Bergenline Avenue Station is accessible via elevators, 165 feet underground. There are also stairs and other provisions for emergencies.
Ultimately, the 21-mile light rail system will terminate in Ridgefield, in Bergen County.
4. Hospitals in transition
Hudson County hospitals are currently navigating a precarious financial landscape that has resulted in a city taking over a hospital in Hoboken, and several others facing serious cutbacks.
Public hospitals can't always get government reimbursement for the growing number of patients they treat who don't have adequate insurance. And for those who do have insurance, their carriers often do not pay the prevailing rate for the services.
In Jersey City, Jersey City Medical Center has averaged $77 million in charity care expenses per year for the past three years, but the Medical Center only received a little over $52 million in state and federal charity care funds last year. In October, former Jersey City Medical Center head Dr. Jonathan Metsch stepped down after a report called for cutting staff and various services.
St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken, built in 1863, is the oldest acute care medical hospital in Hudson County. But the hospital's owner, Bon Secours Health Care Systems, a private Catholic health care company based in Marriotsville, Md., announced at the beginning of this year that St. Mary was on the verge of closing because of massive operational losses. The city of Hoboken got permission from the state to take over the hospital and will run it under an autonomous city agency called the Hospital Authority.
5. Tragic shootings
There was good news and bad news in terms of crime last year. Two different men were captured who were thought to be connected with several rapes that had occurred in the North Hudson area over the past year and a half. But while crime was declining in several of our towns, the fact that this is a metropolitan area always keeps the police busy.
Last year, the number of murders decreased in Jersey City. There were 20 in that city as of this past September, down from 26 by September of 2005. But there were still many tragic situations. For instance, in late October, 47-year-old Fidelina Claros was killed inside the G&P Deli on the corner of Ferry Street and Webster Avenue in Jersey City Heights around 1 p.m. According to Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, Claros, the owner of the deli, was shot three times - once in the back and twice in the head - with a semi-automatic pistol. DeFazio was believed to be the victim of a "robbery gone awry." There have been no arrests.
In mile-square Hoboken, where the murder rate usually vacillates between 0 and 1 per year, the projects on the southwest side of town saw two youths killed in separate incidents. In the early morning hours of Feb. 17, an 18-year-old Hoboken High School senior, Ismar Mineros, was murdered at the corner of Fifth and Jackson streets. The victim, who was affectionately referred to as "Mookie," was engaged in a verbal dispute with other youths when one allegedly pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and fired one shot into Mineros' back and two into his chest. He was pronounced dead at St. Mary Hospital.
Antonio Rivera Jr., a 19-year-old from Harrison Street who was out on bail for an alleged shooting in Jersey City the previous year, was charged with the murder. In addition, Larry Ladson, a 27-year-old also from Harrison Street who allegedly handed Rivera the weapon and told him to shoot Mineros, was also charged for the crime. Both Rivera and Ladson were indicted for murder on June 13 and are currently awaiting trial early next year.
A second fatal shooting occurred Nov. 10 a block away from the first, at Fourth and Jackson streets. The murder occurred in broad daylight at 12 p.m. killing Ronald Dixon, a 22-year-old from Jersey City. Twenty-one-year-old Carlos A. Myrie, a convicted drug dealer also from Jersey City, turned himself in to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office five days later.
6. Firefighter killed
September saw the first fatality involving an on-duty firefighter in the north Hudson area since 1977. A Union City fire claimed the life of firefighter Vincent Neglia.
Neglia, a 45-year-old native of North Bergen and an 18-year veteran of both the North Bergen and North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue fire departments, was tragically killed when he entered a three-story structure on the 1800 block of Bergenline Avenue (between 17th and 18th on Bergenline) on Sept. 9, looking for civilians who might have still been inside the burning structure.
Fire investigators determined that the fire was more than likely started by a resident who tossed a lit cigarette into the air shaft of the building, igniting cardboard and other paper at the bottom of the shaft.
Neglia's death was obviously also the first fatality suffered since the NHRFR was formed in 1999.
7. Xanadu to be done
The Xanadu entertainment and retail development site is not in Hudson County, but it's close enough to have an economic impact. The proposed $2 billion entertainment/retail complex in the Meadowlands experienced both lows and highs in 2006. The project was set to include such amenities as a minor league baseball stadium and an indoor snow dome. However, the severe financial problems of one of its initial developers, the Virginia-based Mills Corp., caused concerns about the project's viability. The state, which was working on a Port-Authority-funded $150 million rail link to the Meadowlands, was, in the words of Gov. Jon Corzine, "deeply troubled" by these developments.
However, the Xanadu project was given a reprieve through a cash infusion. The Los Angeles-based Colony Capital Acquisitions investment firm announced in August that it had agreed to replace Mills as the managing partner of the project. To do it, Colony agreed to provide $500 million in equity for the project, and later secured a $900 million construction loan in order to jump-start the construction process. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority approved the deal in September, and after some delays, the deal between Mills and Colony was closed in November. Colony has stated that they will follow the original plan for the project.
The Xanadu project is now scheduled to be completed in 2008.
8. Robotic Parking
Hoboken's one-of-a-kind automatic parking garage at 916 Garden St. was taken over by the city's Parking Utility this summer, after a longstanding battle between the city, which owns the building and rents out the spaces, and Florida-based Robotic Parking, which had owned the software that operated the garage. The battle ended with Robotic employees being escorted off the premises by police.
After learning that Unitronics, a competitor, had taken its place at the garage, Robotic took the city to court, arguing that it had given Unitronics access to its patented software. A judged ruled that Hoboken had broken its confidentiality agreement with Robotic.
The judge ordered Unitronics off the property by Nov. 10 and handed over complete control of the garage to the Parking Utility.
The 314-car automated garage was closed on Sunday, Dec.17 by the city, which transported approximately 150 vehicles at the facility to other city garages, where they will remain until the week of Jan. 3. Then, the Israeli-based Unitronics, which has entered into a new contract with Hoboken, will take over operations at the garage.
9. Attorney General resigns
In August, North Bergen resident Zulima Farber's tenure as the state's Attorney General came to an end, just eight months after Farber earned the distinction of being the first Hispanic to ever hold the prestigious position as Attorney General for the state of New Jersey.
The long-time North Bergen resident now holds another distinction - the first state attorney general to ever resign from office.
The 61-year-old Farber stepped down amid the controversy caused when she went to the aid of her long-time boyfriend, who was stopped for a variety of traffic infractions in Fairview during Memorial Day weekend. The summonses he received were expunged before he had to appear in court. However, Farber said she never asked for special treatment.
10. Healy's night out
In June, Jersey City Mayor Jerremiah Healy, along with his wife Maureen, claimed they were assaulted by police officers in Bradley Beach after leaving a restaurant/bar with family after a night of celebrating his niece's graduation from the state's police academy. Healy said he and his wife were thrown to the ground by police without provocation after Healy interceded in an argument. Police claimed he was obstructing an investigation into the argument. Both Healy and his wife wound up suffering injuries with Healy being handcuffed. Healy and his wife testified in a court in Monmouth County in November about the events of that morning. However, a Monmouth County grand jury decided last week not to indict the officer involved in the scuffle.
The Xanadu entertainment complex in the Meadowlands is now scheduled to be completed in 2008.