Friday, June 26, 2015

Desperate editors pit GOP against Dems to sell papers

At Wednesday afternoon's 120th Commencement, graduating Hackensack High students used an elaborate, wheelchair-accessible pedestrian overpass to cross to the football field from the school, above and below.


Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling was a victory for millions of Americans who were able to buy affordable health insurance for the first time.

But that's not sexy enough for Editor Martin Gottlieb, who is desperate to sell copies of The Record during what is certainly print journalism's darkest hours.

So, as he has done so many times in the past with this and other stories, he reports the decision in political terms, pitting President Obama against the Republicans who have been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act (A-1).

Gottlieb uses "Obamacare" liberally, even though GOP conservatives have made it a dirty word.

Sadly, the word fits into headlines more easily than Affordable Care Act.

Since Gottlieb left The New York Times to take over the Woodland Park newsroom in early 2012 and cruise into retirement, Page 1 stories have grown longer and more complex, and many show his own rewriting.

Today, a paragraph in a front-page sidebar sums up the political conflict once again for weary readers:

"Amid the applause, however, came a strong dissenting voice that echoed the chorus of outrage from ardent opponents of the Affordable Care Act nationwide, including many Republican Party leaders" (A-1).

Give me a break, Marty. 

Absentee governor

The front-page story quoting sources on Governor Christie's entrance into the race for the 2016 GOP nomination has an unintentionally hilarious line:

The GOP bully is making an announcement on Tuesday at Livingston High School, "where he served as class president for three years" (A-1).

Let's hope he doesn't hold that presidency up as experience that makes him suitable for the White House, especially given how badly he has screwed up New Jersey.

According to radio news, Christie today signed the state budget after vetoing taxes on the wealthy and state pension system contributions proposed by the Democrats (A-3).

Gottlieb splashes the Christie-might-run story on Page 1, but the budget story is on A-3, even though that is the one that affects middle-class readers most.

Production error

Six-figure Production Editor Liz Houlton must have been snoozing at her computer after a big lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant.

That is the likely explanation for why the same story on the Garfield Council appears twice in Local today, on L-2 and L-3.

Temper tantrum

There are only 10 paragraphs in the appraisal of Nirvana Indian Kitchen in Allendale, but one of the longest relates how Staff Writer Elisa Ung "struck out on all counts" on the desserts she sampled (BL-14).

I'll bet the majority of readers, who are older and watching their weight and cholesterol, don't even bother with dessert.

Still, Ung is obsessed, and in the data box notes the pricey restaurant is "less appropriate for anyone for whom dessert is a priority."

Like her. The poor woman.  

Eye on The Record
 will return in a couple of weeks

Thursday, June 25, 2015

GOP bully grabs veto pen as N.J. budget battle heats up

In a 90-minute ceremony late Wednesday afternoon, more than 440 Hackensack High School students graduated in the school's 120th Commencement. This message on the back of a car in the school parking lot summed up how some of them felt.

Valedictorian Alexis Holmes, left, speaking to parents, relatives and friends of the Class of 2015.


I don't see anything in The Record today, but radio news is reporting Governor Christie is getting his veto pen ready to slash a budget plan from the Democratic majority in the state Legislature.

On Wednesday's A-3, Staff Writer Melissa Hayes seemed to emphasize "a few pet projects for powerful Democrats" over restoring women's health centers, the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor and $2.6 billion for the underfunded state pension system.

Is Hayes, who covered Christie's out-of-state appearances in pursuit of his White House dreams, really the right reporter to cover the annual budget battle?

Just below Hayes' slanted budget story, her byline appears on another report:

"Governor Christie's approval rating in New Jersey continues to fall as he hovers in the middle of the pack of likely Republican presidential candidates among New Hampshire primary voters, according to polls released on Tuesday."

Graduates were arranged in rows from the shortest in front to the tallest in back in two groups, with officials in the center, forming an "H" on the football field.

Selling LG deal

Editor Martin Gottlieb uses Page 1 today to sell the deal that will allow LG to build a five-story headquarters atop the Palisades in Englewood Cliffs (A-1).

In fact, the compromise is a dangerous precedent. The Korean company should have donated the 25 acres to the borough for a park.

Demonizing transit

Gottlieb also continues to argue that NJ Transit and other mass-transit agencies should at least break even or make money.

A so-called Page 1 analysis raises the specter of a 11% increase in fares, if the agency's unionized employees win 3% annual raises over six years.

That would be on top of a 9% fare increase and service cuts that were proposed in response to Christie slashing state subsidies to NJ Transit.

This story and others on the state budget budget seem to be written from Christie's point of view, even though editorials in the Woodland Park daily have criticized the governor for his refusal to raise the low gasoline tax, which helps fund mass transit.


On A-2 today, the editors acknowledge three errors, and provide news on the whereabouts of a missing stock page.

Breaking news

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the latest Republican challenge to the Affordable Care Act, ruling President Obama's health-care law may provide nationwide subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy insurance.

In a letter to the editor today, Bob Verbeek of Leonia wrote about how the federal health-car law is working (A-10).

He also slammed Christie "for pandering to the Tea Party crowd in his bid for president" by refusing to set up a state exchange to enroll New Jersey residents.


Board of Education President Jason Nunnermacker, a lawyer, said nothing memorable in his address to Hackensack High School graduates. In fact, none of the speakers exhorted the students to try and make the world a better place.

Guests were forced to sit under a hot sun on cramped, metal bleachers overlooking the football field.

Hackensack news

Today's Local section leads with a report on Tuesday night's City Council meeting in Hackensack, where officials announced the formation of a task force "to help people with mental illnesses" (L-1).

Police Director Mike Mordaga is quoted as saying the department "had 20 stun guns on order" before recent fatal police shootings of two Hispanic residents, but officers are awaiting "training" by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

This story and earlier ones don't explain why a police officer who is already trained to kill an armed suspect with a single gunshot needs to be trained in the use of a Taser or stun gun.

Not working out

Why does today's Business page carry an upbeat, highly promotional story from The Associated Press on one-room gyms in Manhattan (L-8)?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

LG deal in Englewood Cliffs exposes big flaw of home rule

On a busy street near Palisade Avenue in wealthy Englewood Cliffs, domestic workers have to walk on the pavement, close to speeding cars, because the borough never installed sidewalks.


Is Englewood Cliffs anything like Hackensack, once known derisively as "Zisaville" for the decades-long political dominance of a single family?

On the front page of The Record today, a photo shows Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph Parisi applauding a deal between LG Electronics and environmentalists (A-1).

But the upbeat coverage sounds more like public relations than objective reporting (A-1 and A-8).

And it doesn't explore the decades-long rule of the Parisi family in the Cliffs, just as The Record hasn't done any probing in Cliffside Park, dominated for more than 50 years by the Calabreses.

Home-rule communities like Englewood Cliffs resist consolidating services with neighboring towns, and are desperate for ratables to cover the resulting inefficiences.

Englewood Cliffs fought a "racially tinged legal battle" to remove its students from Englewood's Dwight Morrow High School that began in 1985 and dragged on for years, The Record has reported.

Then, in October 2014, the state decided to cut nearly $600,000 in aid for 33 students from the Cliffs who were attending Dwight Morrow's Academies, a magnet program.

Hungry for ratables

More tax revenue was likely the motive for the borough to throw out its 35-foot height restriction, and approve the Korean company's plan for a 143-foot-high building on 27 acres between Sylvan Avenue and the Hudson River.

Now, the height will be reduced to 69 feet or five stories, but that still will be the biggest building ever approved for the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge.

And in return for despoiling the majestic cliffs, Parisi and other borough officials will be celebrating an additional $2.5 million in property tax revenue every year.

Cliffs resident Donald Rizzo, who favored the higher LG headquarters, put it succinctly in a sidebar with a sub-headline reading, "Residents will benefit from revenue."

"A bigger building means more tax revenue. I'm all for it. I was never worried about the height of the building. I was worried about letting LG go" (A-8).

Maybe, the town can now afford to put in sidewalks on Summit Street to protect pedestrians and dog walkers.

In the county seat

In Hackensack, dozens of lawsuits filed against Ken Zisa, the former police chief and state assemblyman, cost the city so many millions to settle that one block of Euclid Avenue hasn't been paved for 30 years.

Prospect Avenue, lined with high-rises, and many other streets are in such poor condition one resident at Tuesday night's City Council meeting compared them to T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land."

Hackensack's school board spends more money per pupil than Ridgewood's, yet feeds high school students food of such low quality that many race out to Starbucks, Chipotle Mexican Grill and other lunch spots.

Hackensack's property tax payers are so shell shocked they even objected to the city spending public funds on a downtown park and arts space as part of the redevelopment of Main Street.

Hackensack news?

On the front of Local today, Teaneck residents find two stories on Monday night's Township Council meeting (L-1).

But there is nothing about Tuesday night's council meeting in Hackensack.

As Police Director Mike Mordaga and Capt. Timothy Lloyd listened, clergy from Mount Olive Baptist Church and other churches commented on the killing of two suspects by city police officers in recent weeks.

They urged Hackensack to find money to buy Tasers or non-fatal stun guns.

As a result of the shootings, five police officers are "on leave," city officials acknowledged, but they insisted the department is not "understaffed."

HUMC pact

A lawyer hired by the city reported a federal anti-kickback law prohibits Hackensack from continuing to ask Hackensack University Medical Center to provide ambulance services to residents for free up to $140,000 a year. 

Still, Board of Education attorney Richard Salkin rose and rambled on about the lawsuit he has filed to enforce the original 2008 pact with HUMC that he negotiated for the city.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

WNYC-FM: Christie campaign revs up, Statehouse snores

These enormous pipes are being installed along River Street in Hackensack, below, as part of a $3 million-plus storm sewer separation, and that is for the first phase of the project.

The sign with information about the work is in front of the Johnson Public Library on Main Street, below.


You'll find a frank assessment of how little governing an absentee Governor Christie is doing -- on a New York-based public radio station, not in The Record of Woodland Park.

Matt Katz, the WNYC-FM reporter who brought us The Christie Tracker, today takes a look at how the GOP bully is leaving major initiatives unfinished and vacancies unfilled:
"A year-and-a-half into his second term, as he prepares to announce his desire to get another job — president of the United States — I took a look at whether Christie has gotten back to work in New Jersey, as promised. What I found is that there's a whole lot less going on than there was in his first four years.

Katz recalls Christie's victory speech in November 2013, when he won a second term with the lowest turnout ever for a New Jersey gubernatorial election:

"When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was reelected ..., he stood before an adoring crowd at Asbury Park Convention Hall to declare victory.
"'Tonight I know that my mom is looking down on New Jersey and saying to me — I can feel it – she’s saying to me, ‘Chris, the job’s not done yet. Get back to work and finish the job for the people of New Jersey,'" Christie told the crowd. "That’s exactly what I’ll do! I love you, New Jersey!'"
More boring columns

And what has The Record reported on Christie?

On Sunday and Monday, Editor Martin Gottlieb ran political columns on Page 1, the first assessing Christie's relationship with the majority Democrats in Trenton, and the other on how he is doing with religious conservatives nationwide.

On Saturday's A-3, Staff Writers Melissa Hayes and Herb Jackson reported on Christie's out-of-state appearances before "crucial audiences he will need to win the GOP nomination for president."

Gag me with a spoon.

Today, a Page 1 story assesses the Democrats' chances of getting their $5.3 billion budget plan -- including tax increases to shore up funding of the state pension system -- past Christie's veto.

But on A-3, Hayes devotes an entire story to Christie doubling his PAC staff in New Hampshire.

Hackensack news?

The front of the Local section today has an upbeat feature on the principal of the high school in Tenafly, where Publisher Stephen A. Borg lives (L-1).

But when was the last time local Editors Deirdre Sykes and Dan Sforza assigned a story on the schools in Hackensack?

Tonight, as at every City Council meeting, school board members and their attorney likely will get up and attack council members on just about everything they are doing or not doing.

Residents who attend meetings have witnessed this parade of bitter Zisacrats (Democrats allied with the once-powerful Zisa family) stomping on sour grapes since their slate was defeated in the May 2013 municipal election.

Two members of the losing slate are on the Board of Education, and another Zisacrat, school board attorney Richard Salkin, was stripped of his other job as municipal prosecutor.

Residents are wondering when board members Jason Nunnermacker, Daniel Carola, Joseph Barreto and others will tell them what they have done -- if anything -- to improve education in Hackensack.