Sunday, August 28, 2016

We're stuck with cronies, corruption, patronage, home rule

This 2012 photo from NJ.com focuses on the natural beauty of the Meadowlands.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The Record's front page today -- dominated by two articles on the 40th anniversary of the Meadowlands Sports Complex -- is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

A story on the pivotal role of young voters in the Nov. 8 presidential election completely ignores the real problem -- apathetic voters of all ages (A-1).

And Staff Writer Pat Alex repeats a common theme in media coverage of the presidential race -- that wacko racist Donald J. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton "are among the most unpopular candidates in the history of modern polling."

The media adore polls -- unreliable indicators that allow Alex and other reporters to portray the contest between Trump and Clinton as a horse race.

And such coverage surely contributes to apathy among readers and voters, because The Record and other media refuse to focus on such issues as gender equality, a higher minimum wage and taxing the wealthy.

Local news?

Law & Order coverage is dominating local news again, as readers can see from today's lead story on Paterson's 11th homicide in 2016 (L-1).

And in recent days, the local editors have needed a long Dean's List to fill holes in news coverage (L-3).

L-3 also carries the Monthly News Quiz, which asks readers, "How well do you know what happened in N.J. and beyond?"

That's a question readers want to ask the editors and reporters who put out the pathetically thin Local section.

Margulies

Let's hope Margulies' cartoon on O-2 today doesn't become reality, though you never know with Governor Christie.

"Have you heard about Christie's Motor Vehicle Commission efficiency plan," a wife asks her husband.

"To automatically get a gun license when you renew a driver's license?"

Saturday's paper

Staff Writer Jeff Pillets could have gone deeper in his review of more than a decade of "missed deadlines and broken budgets" on publicly financed projects (A-1 on Saturday).

He shows how Trenton has left "the public on the hook for helping to fund failed or stalled projects," but doesn't explore a system of local and state government that thrives on cronyism, political patronage and corruption.

So, the story played next to it was no surprise:

To help his campaign, Trump tapped Bill Stepien, a former Christie crony "whose ascent in Republican politics was shot down by the politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge."

Rudy Van Gelder

Editor Deirdre Sykes probably has run more animal stories on Page 1 then the obituaries of prominent local residents.

But below the fold on Friday, she ran a story about a starving pit bull from Paterson next to the obituary for Hackensack native Rudy Van Gelder, who died on Thursday at 91.

Staff Writer Jay Levin and Carla Baranauckas, an assignment editor, called him "perhaps the most influential recording engineer in the jazz genre, who brought to life the sounds of such legendary artists as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard."

The dog got better play, though.

And the Van Gelder obit erred on where he recorded Monk's "Hackensack" and other jazz classics.

The Van Gelder family home in Hackensack was on Prospect Avenue, not "Prospect Street." 

Schnitzel+

Kosher restaurants usually are more expensive, but do customers get food of higher quality than at non-kosher places?

In Friday's Informal Dining Review, Staff Writer Elisa Ung doesn't bother answering the question.

As is usually the case in her reviews, she doesn't say whether the kosher chicken and turkey served at Schnitzel+ in Teaneck are naturally raised.

And a photo of what she describes as a "huge platter" shows five falafel, a single pocket bread cut into four piece and some hummus. 

The price is an inflated $11.95.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What did we do to deserve Governor Christie and Ken Zisa?

The Hudson Riverfront 9/11 Memorial in Weehawken marks the site where about 60,000 people were evacuated to New Jersey after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Governor Christie was conspicuously absent when the memorial was unveiled on Sept. 7, 2011.

The land surrounding the memorial is a huge construction zone for apartments with a river view.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

For the second day in a row, Hackensack taxpayers are horrified over the prospect of a long legal battle with their disgraced former police chief, Ken Zisa, whose never-ending saga again lands on Page 1 of The Record. 

And when they turn to A-3, they learn that despite continuing gun violence in Paterson and other cities, Governor Christie wants to make it easier to carry a concealed weapon in New Jersey. 

Christie also vetoed a bill that would bring "smart gun" technology to retailers statewide.

Governor Veto

What did long-suffering taxpayers do to deserve these two? 

The Record hasn't bothered recently to report just how many times Christie has vetoed progressive legislation (more than 500), but he surely has set a record for a New Jersey governor. 

We can thank apathetic voters for his reelection to a second term just a couple of months after the George Washington Bridge lane closures in September 2013. 

The voter turnout was the lowest for any gubernatorial contest in state history.

Ex-Chief Zisa

Ken Zisa joined the Hackensack Police Department in 1976, according to today's Page 1 story. He was arrested and suspended from his post as police chief in 2010.

Yet, here we are about six years later and his legal problems haven't been resolved -- a testament to a glacially slow system that guarantees lawyers hundreds of thousands of dollars in exorbitantly high legal fees, which are only loosely regulated.

On Tuesday, a Superior Court judge dismissed the remaining charge from Zisa's 2012 trial, official misconduct, ruling that to retry the ex-chief would violate his constitutional rights.

Now, Zisa may sue Hackensack and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office for $35 million, but he's declared his intention to get his old job back, even though the city abolished the position a few years ago.

More hearings

The prosecutor, on the other hand, may restart his investigation of disciplinary charges alleging Zisa intervened in a 2008 accident involving his girlfriend, Kathleen Tiernan, whom he drove away before a sobriety test, and in a 2004 incident involving her teenage sons, who took part in an assault on a classmate.

City Attorney Alexander Carver said a disciplinary hearing --plus any appeal -- could take years to resolve. 

The Record doesn't take a guess at how much the city will have to pay lawyers to hold the disciplinary hearing and handle any appeal or what it will cost to defend against a $35 million lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Zisa; and his brother, former four-term Mayor Jack Zisa, have formed Team Hackensack, which is expected to field a slate of candidates in next May's municipal election in hopes of once again flying the despised "Zisaville" flag from the roof of City Hall.

Sloppy editing

In his lead paragraph, Staff Writer John Seasly wrote the judge "threw out the last criminal conviction" against Zisa.

Four paragraphs later, the reporter refers to it as "the remaining charge of official misconduct" (A-1).

A "charge" and a "conviction" aren't the same.

In the next paragraph, he has Judge Susan Steele "arguing ...." Judges don't argue; they rule.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In unending Ken Zisa saga, lawyers are the biggest winners

In this February photo from the Bergen Dispatch, defense attorney Patricia Prezioso is asking a Superior Court judge to throw out an official misconduct charge against former Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa, right.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

A Page 1 headline in The Record today -- "Zisa can pursue return to force in Hackensack" -- set off panic attacks in thousands of residents.

But if they bothered to read the entire story about Ken Zisa -- especially the last four paragraphs -- they'd learn the disgraced former police chief must first "face a disciplinary hearing for his conduct," City Attorney Alexander Carver says (A-7).

"Another roadblock for Zisa," Staff Writer John Seasly reports, "is ... that the city eliminated the position of police chief following his arrest."

Today's story focuses on Superior Court Judge Susan Steele dismissing the single remaining criminal charge against Zisa, citing misconduct by the prosecutor (A-1).

Seasly quotes defense attorney Patricia Prezioso saying "Mr. Zisa will begin the impossible task of reconstructing his life."

Reviving 'Zisaville'

But nowhere does The Record mention residents' anger and resentment toward the Zisa family political dynasty that transformed the city into a North Jersey laughing stock called "Zisaville."

Nor has Seasly reported that Zisa; his brother, former four-term Mayor Jack Zisa; and their cousin, former City Attorney Joseph Zisa have launched Team Hackensack in their bid to wrest control from a reform City Council elected in 2013.

In fact, Team Hackensack already succeeded in putting three candidates on the Board of Education this year, and the organization is expected to challenge the council in next May's municipal election.

$8M in legal fees

After Ken Zisa was indicted in 2010, about two dozen police officers sued him and the city, alleging corruption and intimidation.

"Most of the lawsuits stemmed from a bitterly contentious relationship between Zisa and police officers who accused him of engaging in campaigns of retribution and harassment as paybacks for their refusal to go along with his political demands [as a Democratic state assemblyman]," The Record has reported.

The city racked up $8 million in legal fees defending against those allegations, and insurers paid out many millions more to settle the cases, minus the deductible.

See: Zisa nearly broke Hackensack

Pay to play

If you live in New Jersey -- where "pay to play" seems to have been invented -- you have to laugh at Republican charges that many of the people who met with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state gave money to the Clinton Foundation (A-1).

Pay to play is ingrained in New Jersey's home rule communities -- political donations often lead to an appointment as auditor, engineer and so forth -- as well as in Trenton and in the nation's capitol.

In Washington, congressional lobbyists are actually writing bills to protect the biggest, wealthiest corporations from regulation.

At least in the case of the Clinton Foundation, the money went to good causes -- not to corrupt our law-making process.

Oscar leaving N.J.

In another Page 1 story today, Staff Writer Lindy Washburn again gives Governor Christie a pass for refusing to set up a New Jersey marketplace for buying coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Christie isn't even mentioned in her story about another insurer, Oscar Health Insurance, withdrawing next year.

But an editorial slams Christie for peddling an "unfair school funding plan" (A-8).

Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin calls the proposal "Jersey Wrong," a play on the governor's "Jersey Strong" message after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

That fortifies the impression Doblin can't write an editorial or opinion column about Christie or anything else unless he can find a play on words or a movie, play, book or song to compare it to.

Scallops and steak

Food Editor Esther Davidowitz apparently thinks those extraordinary wild-caught sea scallops are so weird she has to sell them to readers by comparing them to "a good piece of steak" (BL-2).

Better she should advise readers to look for "dry" scallops -- the ones that are sold in fish markets without a liquid preservative.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Today's focus on local news is welcome, but may not last

Atlantic and Main streets in Hackensack once was the site of the Washington Institute, founded in 1769 and considered to be "one of the finest educational institutions in the state, according to this marker, and "it brought recognition to the Village of Hackensack."


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Three of the four major elements on Page 1 of The Record today focus on local issues, and the local-news section actually has reports from towns on almost every page.

Although local news bores most of the editors and reporters, this is the stuff homeowners and others need to know to judge how well their tax dollars are being spent.

On Page 1 today, Staff Photographer Tariq Zehawi turned in a great enterprise shot from Hackensack's Junior Police Academy, showing he has a lot more talent than readers see in his ambulance-chasing accident photos, which are often used as filler in Local.

But Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado did a poor job of researching her story on Palisades Park's Korean residents asking for an interpreter at Borough Council meetings (A-1).

Her first paragraph mentions interpreters in municipal courts and hospitals, but that ignores the interpreting staff attached to every state Superior Court.

Trump, Clinton

The Record and other media largely continue to ignore the issues in the presidential campaign, but at least the stories about GOP nominee Donald J. Trump's racism and Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails are played on A-7 today.

The lead story -- "Chilling posts by Trump staffers" -- is from The Associated Press:

"Donald Trump's paid campaign staffers have declared on their social media accounts that Muslims are unfit to be American citizens, ridiculed Mexican accents, called for Secretary of State John Kerry's death by hanging and stated their readiness for a possible civil war" (A-7).

Catholic sex abuse

In contrast to all of the Page 1 stories about the pope and the Newark archbishop, settlement of a child sex-abuse lawsuit against Bergen Catholic High School was pushed back to the Local front today.

Still, there is no explanation why the $1.9 million settlement from last November is just being reported, nor any mention that lawyers for the victims will likely take about a third of the money (L-1).

Traffic tickets

Monday's Page 1 story on the drop in the number of tickets issued to drivers on Bergen County roads and highways is missing so much information you have to wonder why The Record published it.

Staff Writer Jean Rimbach begins by reporting that "most drivers" will welcome the decline in enforcement by the Bergen County Bureau of Police Services, but that would mean the majority break traffic laws.

That's preposterous.

In fact, a minority of drivers speed and drive recklessly, and endanger others who have enough to worry about on Bergen County's antiquated road network.

There is one reference to "a reduction in moving and non-moving violations," but nowhere does Rimbach discuss such specifics as speeding tickets.

Least productive

Typically, Rimbach spends weeks or months on such projects, under the protection of Editor Deirdre Sykes, the newsroom's mother hen, and Sykes publishes the results no matter how flawed.

The Record already missed a bigger story -- a dramatic drop in the number of speeding summonses issued by state police on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway in the past five years. 

See: 

Speeders are having a field day