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Young Harrison squad looks to learn, grow

12-24 Harrison boys_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

Noel Colon thought that he had the world on a string last year, when he took over the Harrison High School boys’ basketball program and led the Blue Tide to seven wins among their first nine games.

It was a great start for a rookie head coach, considering that Harrison hadn’t won seven games over the previous three seasons.

But then, the bottom fell out for some reason. The Blue Tide lost their last 16 games of the season to finish 7-18.

“The goal was to get better and honestly, we didn’t get better,” said Colon, who began his second season as head coach last Friday night in a 52-41 loss to Queen of Peace. “There were games where we weren’t making winning plays. We shot 47 percent from the free throw line as a team. It’s very tough to win games doing that. I would wake up every day, thinking that it would be the day that we would turn it around and it never happened. We weren’t able to take the other team’s punches and bounce back.”

Colon believes that there were major changes made with the Harrison program a year ago, but he was still disappointed overall.

“We were able to change the culture a little, but I think the kids were satisfied with their early success,” Colon said. “Even in our wins, there were warning signs that we were stuck in neutral.”

So Colon began this season, trying to put the up and down of a year ago behind him and his players.

“We’re starting from scratch,” Colon said. “It feels like I’m back to where I was last year when I started.”

Colon welcomed back only three seniors from last year’s team, two of which are current starters. The majority of the current varsity roster has never played varsity basketball before. Needless to say, it’s a challenge right from the opening tip.

“Our biggest problem is that we need to be consistent,” Colon said. “We have to bring the same focus to practice as we have in games. Once we can do that, then that’s the next phase in our development.”

Senior Alexander Cajiga is a 6-foot forward who earned All NJIC Meadowlands honors last season, averaging nine points and three rebounds per game.

“He has been doing really well in the preseason,” Colon said, “He was having a nice summer for us, but he suffered a fractured bone in his back and it took him a while to get back.”

Incredibly, Cajiga just received medical clearance to return on Frriday, the day of the season opener.

“So he hasn’t been able to do much in the preseason,” Colon said. “You can tell that he just doesn’t have his legs.”

Senior William Azabache is a 6-foot-2 forward.

“I’m really proud of him,” Colon said. “He’s had a different approach. He’s matured a lot. He works really hard in practice. He’s become a leader for others to follow.”

Senior Jordan Villalta is a 5-foot-7 point guard.

“He will play more this year than last year,” Colon said. “He’s a good defender who has worked hard to earn his position. He’s a good defender. He’s improved with his decision making.”

Junior Chris Downs is a 6-foot-2 forward/guard who is getting quality minutes this season.

“He shoots the ball pretty well,” Colon said. “He has a chance to be a pretty good player.”

Colon thinks that Downs can be a double digits scorer in most games.

“He has that kind of ability,” Colon said.

Junior Felix Calderon is a 5-foot-8 guard with good defensive skills. Junior Craig Ruff is a 5-foot-11 guard who is a good shooter, defender and rebounder. Both will play considerable minutes this season.

Junior Marquis Valentin is a 6-foot-1 center who provides physicality down low.

“He’s probably our best rebounder,” Colon said. “He loves to bang down low and get after the ball.”

Sophomore Quincy Rutherford is a 6-foot-3 is a versatile performer.

“He can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket,” Colon said. “He can also shoot the ball very well.” Rutherford paced the Blue Tide with 16 points Friday night.

Freshman Jonathan Leiras is a point guard who is getting playing time right away.

“He’s a very talented kid,” Colon said. “There’s a lot of pressure on him as a freshman to play varsity, playing the most important position on the floor. But he’s the type of kid who can handle it. He’s a mentally tough kid and has the desire to get better. He loves the game. He has a very bright future.”

Sophomore Genaro Falcon is a 5-foot-9 guard who is also in the rotation.

“He’s working hard and trying to get more playing time,” Colon said.

The Blue Tide Yule Tide tournament will take place Friday, with the Blue Tide playing Paterson Charter and Cliffside Park facing Lincoln in the other game.

“We were fortunate to get commitments from those schools,” said Colon, as Paterson Charter’s head coach is Tommie Patterson, the former head coach at Paterson Catholic. “I think we’re the type of team that will get better as the season goes on. They just have to mature on the court, do a lot of the little things. If they do a better job paying attention to details, then they will be a better team. They just have to take pride in coming to practice and that will be the first step.”

Give Colon credit for taking over the Harrison program and giving it all he has. Here’s to hoping that Harrison never grows tired of Colon and that the eager young coach doesn’t become tired of Harrison.

Time for the Santa Hague bag of gifts


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s Christmas time in the city.

So it means it’s time for Santa Hague to get out his giant bag of goodies and hand out gifts to those who were naughty and those who were nice.

So here goes, the Santa Hague column for 2014.

As Santa Hague reaches into his bag, he finds gifts for North Arlington.

For boys’ basketball coach Rich Corsetto, a private tanning salon and a beach to be placed in Riverside County Park.

For football coach Anthony Marck, a healthy team from start to finish in 2015.

For softball coach John Galante, for the powers that be to realize just how good of a coach he is and that they should stop messing around with him.

For track coach Bernadette Afonso, name cards to hand out to people who don’t realize she got married. Even the kids still call her Fash.

For versatile coach Dan Farinola, a Starbucks gift certificate, so he can get some coffee to energize him as he coaches at the crack of dawn from season to season.

For baseball coach Paul Marcantuono, a new last name like Smith or Jones. Marcantuono is almost a sportswriter’s nightmare.

For athletic director Dave Hutchinson, more great kids and coaches like the ones he gets to work with every day.

For Queen of Peace, Santa Hague finds happiness, joy and an end to the constant strife that the school’s coaches all work under. QP has to be the hardest places to work as a coach, because there is no longevity whatsoever.

For the great people of Lyndhurst, like retired athletic director and baseball coach Butchie Servideo, warm weather in Florida and a solid 7-iron.

For girls’ soccer coach Kim Hykey, a longer summer and a state sectional championship.

For new athletic director Jeff Radigan, more pairs of socks, so he can successfully fill the shoes of the guy he replaced.

For track coach Tom Shoebridge, several new hoodies with the arms torn out, so he can show off his impressive guns.

For football coach Rich Tuero, to totally forget about his first season and shoot for a promising future.

For basketball coach Paul Palek, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Indiana who rebounds like a beast and can shoot from 30 feet and in.

Over at Nutley, for athletic director Joe Piro, several gift certificates to the best Italian restaurants in the area. If you need to ask which restaurants, chances are that Piro already knows where they are.

For baseball/basketball coach Bob Harbison, a pocket planner that will keep his schedule and team records in the palm of his hands.

For football coach Tom Basile, a shotgun so he can ward off all comers in 11 years when his adorable 5-year-old daughter becomes old enough to date. She’s going to be in high demand, so we’ll throw in the rocking chair for the front porch to wait for her to come home.

For softball coach Luann Zullo, more costumes to wear during the offseason.

For the great DiPiano brothers, Frank and Mike, recognition for doing a great job in all the different sports you coach.

For boys’ soccer coach Marcellino Marra, a 30-goal scorer.

At Harrison, for athletic director Kim Huaranga, some more basketball players who could score 2,700 career points like Kim McDonough once did.

For baseball coach Jairo Mendez, his players to realize just how great of a pitcher he was.

For football coach Matt Gallo, patience, because things can only get better.

For girls’ soccer coach Rapahel Viana, a few containers so he can bottle up that incredible energy he has and share it with some others.

For boys’ soccer coach Michael Rusek, absolutely nothing. He has it all, including a wonderful happy and healthy baby son. Ok, maybe a new one of those.

For boys’ basketball coach Noel Colon, a few hard-nosed players like Noel Colon.

At Belleville, for athletic director Tom D’Elia, a Rolodex so he can put up with all the requests for phone numbers that he gets.

For football coach Joe Fischer, a few dozen talented players and a state championship. Hey, it’s Christmas time. One can dream, right?

At Kearny, for athletic director John Millar, a new baseball cap to wear during outdoor events. The one he dons most of the time is older than his children and is faded beyond repair.

For football coach Nick Edwards, a few more wins and a state playoff berth, to get that huge albatross off his neck.

For basketball coach Bob McDonnell, two players 6-foot-7 and a 16-win season.

For girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill, about two players who can play like Jody Hill did.

For boys’ soccer coach Bill Galka, the elimination of soccer academies, so he can coach the players he’s supposed to coach and not lose them to these academies.

For girls’ soccer coach Vin Almeida, a state championship.

For baseball coach Frank Bifulco, a lifetime membership to the Lollipop Guild.

For the great people at the Observer, like Natalie Ulloa, who handles anything and everything and Michelle Rybeck, who puts our pages together and Ron Leir, who edits these words, and for general manager Bob Pezzolla, who keeps us all going after all these years, my undivided thanks for another great year. It’s now 13 years that I’ve been able to write stories for this wonderful organization and I can’t think of a day when that association will end.

And to all the avid readers of the Observer and this sports section, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and thanks for your devotion and dedication, because without you, there’s nothing to write for. Happy Holidays!

Maroon Raiders feature deep, flexible roster

12-24 Nutleyboys

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Bob Harbison has been coaching the boys’ basketball team at Nutley High School for quite some time now and he’s never had a team as deep and as versatile as the current bunch of Maroon Raiders.

“They’re all going to get a chance to play,” said Harbison, whose team defeated Christ the King of Newark, 47-38, to open the season last Friday night. “Whoever plays well that day is going to play. Whoever does the most will determine who stays in and plays.”

There are as many as 11 Maroon Raiders who will get playing time. There isn’t one player who stands out above the others.

“We’re not a young team,” Harbison said. “They’re all not veterans. They’re really not tested. We really had only two guys who had any real playing time last year. They’re all pretty balanced.”

One of the two who played last year is senior do-everything Pete Russo. The 5-foot- 11 Russo, who is coming off a brilliant football season, averaged only four points per game last year, but Harbison is expecting much more this season.

“He’s just a very good athlete,” Harbison said of Russo, who scored 10 points in the season opener. “He’s probably going to play football in college, but he’s a good basketball player.

He’s much stronger this year and he’s a lot more confident. I’m asking him to do a lot. He has to handle the ball, shoot the ball, cover the other team’s best player.”

Another key player is senior center Sean Rodriguez, who was the Maroon Raiders’ leading scorer Friday with 14 points. The 6-foot-3 Rodriguez is the key to the Maroon Raiders having a successful season.

“He’s making a lot of short shots, but he can get outside and shoot from the (3-point) arch,” Harbison said. “He shoots it well. He’s another athletic kid.”

Senior Eli Mir is a 6-foot forward who didn’t play much last year, but has worked himself into the Maroon Raiders’ rotation this season.

“He’s worked very hard to get this chance,” Harbison said. “He can shoot the ball.”

Junior Will Montgomery, the soccer standout, is another forward. Montgomery, whose older sister Grace was The Observer Co-Female Athlete of the Year last year, is a 5-foot-11 forward.

“He’s a strong kid,” Harbison said of Montgomery. “He can also shoot the ball pretty well from the outside.” Junior Geoff Bevere is a 5-foot-10 guard who made two big 3-pointers coming off the bench Friday. Bevere is a point guard, but can move around if needed.

Senior center C.J. Kaminski is one of the newcomers that Harbison related to.

“I actually cut him (from the team) last year as a junior,” Harbison said. “Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he worked hard to get bigger, faster and stronger. Now he’s just a better player.”

Kaminski made two shots and had a blocked shot coming off the bench Friday night.

“He also had four rebounds early,” Harbison said. “He was able to help us extend the lead.”

Senior Michael Sejias will be a defensive presence when he returns to action after serving a suspension.

“He’s a defensive presence,” Harbison said of the 6-foot-3 Sejias. “He’s strong under the basket and that’s important for us.”

Harbison has also been experimenting putting both Rodriguez and Sejias on the floor together.

Senior Isaak Lindenbaum is a 5-foot-9 guard.

“He shoots pretty well and plays good defense,” Harbison said. “I don’t know how many minutes he’s going to get, but he’s another hard worker looking for a shot.”

That internal competition has been fueling the Maroon Raiders in the early going.

Junior Giancarlo Padilla is a 5-foot-11 forward.

“He’s going to find his way,” Harbison said. “He’s another good athlete.”

Junior Devin White has his chance to play with the varsity as well. The 5-foot-8 White already has made his impact, hitting two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Friday’s win.

“He’s a good ball handler and might be our strongest player with the ball,” Harbison said.

Junior Devin Merritt is another 5-foot-8 guard off the Nutley bench – for now.

“He’s a wonderful kid who shoots it pretty well,” Harbison said.

Merritt’s father, David, is the secondary coach for the New York Giants.

Dante Vocaturo is a 5-foot-10 junior forward.

“He’s a strong defender, very strong on the ball,” Harbison said. Antonio Olivo is a 6-foot-3 center who is a junior as well. “He’s a very solid rebounder,” Harbison said.

“He gets to back up the big guys.”

Needless to say, Harbison has a very deep squad.

“It’s as good of a group as I’ve ever had here,” Harbison said. “There’s not an ego in the group. Every single one of these kids has the potential to play well. I like that about this team. The kids all push each other to make everyone better.”

The Maroon Raiders were set to take on Caldwell before the Christmas break, then will head to the Chatham Christmas Tournament, the Cougar Classic, with host Chatham, Hanover Park and New Providence in the tourney field.

The Maroon Raiders are also a lot more competitive in the Super Essex Conference these days.

“It makes every game winnable,” Harbison said. “We know now that if we play well, we can win. It’s going to be a fun year.”

It’s off to the good start.


Delia Alejos 

Delia Alejos died Dec. 19. She was 74.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass was held in St. Cecilia’s Church followed by a private cremation. D

elia is survived by her husband Pedro, children Carmen Lopez, Rafael Troya and Patricia Dajar, seven grandchildren and seven greatgrandchildren.

Bevina Eclarin 

Bevina Eclarin died suddenly in Vermont on Dec. 13. She was 47.

Born in the Philippines, she lived in Kearny.

Funeral arrangements were by Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home. A funeral Mass was held at St. Stephen’s Church, followed by burial in Arlington Cemetery.

Bevina is survived by her husband Mohamed Abassi and their beloved daughter Miriam, her mom Maria along with many siblings in the Philippines. She also leaves behind her loving extended family Preston, Jenn, Parker, Aiden and Reese.

Ronald J. Kaduscwicz Sr. 

Ronald J. Kaduscwicz Sr. entered into eternal rest on Tuesday, Dec. 16. He was 58.

Funeral services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Avenue, Harrison. A funeral Service was held in the funeral home. His interment was in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington.

For information or to send online condolences to the family please go to: www.mulliganfh.com

Born in Newark, Ronald was a lifelong Kearny resident. Ronald worked as a roofer for various roofing companies in the Kearny area. He was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles of Kearny.

Ronald is survived his devoted children Ronald J. Jr. and his wife Brianne, Nicole Gingerelli and her husband Thomas and Crystal Kaduscwicz. He was the loving grandfather to Thomas, Jason, Alexandra, and Trinity. He is also survived by his dear siblings John, Michael and his wife Kathie, Nancy LoBianco and husband William and Maureen Harris as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins.

For those desiring, the family requests donations to: American Cancer Society, 986 South Springfield Ave., Springfield, NJ 07081 in memory of Ronald.

John M. Longo

John M. Longo died on Dec. 20 in St. Barnabas Hospital. He was 80.

Born in Wilkes Barre, Pa., he lived in Jersey City before moving to Harrison in 1971.

Arrangements are by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral service will be held Tuesday, Dec. 23 at 11 a.m. in the funeral home and entombment will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery. www.armitagewiggins.com

John was the owner and cook at J and J Coffee Shop in Newark. He also served in the military during the Korean Conflict.

Husband of Connie (nee Campana), he is also survived by his son and his wife Michael and Nicole Longo and his grandchildren Michael and Alexa. He was predeceased by his brother Sammy.

Bruce E. Matonis 

Bruce E. Matonis entered into eternal rest suddenly, on Sunday, Dec. 14. He was 62.

Funeral services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, Harrison. A funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, Harrison. His interment was in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. For information or to send an online condolence to the family, please visit www.mulliganfh.com.

Born in Jersey City, Bruce grew up in Harrison and lived on Warren St. his entire life. He was the owner/operator of Matonis Scrap Metals, Kearny, for 45 years. Bruce was a member of Our Lady of Grace Council #402 Knights of Columbus, Harrison. He was also a Bingo caller for Holy Cross Church, Harrison, for the last 25 years.

He was a parishioner of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, Harrison.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Bruce greatly enjoyed the outdoors, especially his summers at the Jersey Shore. He was also very knowledgeable in politics, specifically the history of the U.S. Presidency.

Son of the late Tillie (nee Wenckus) and Peter Matonis, Bruce is survived by his beloved wife, Sue Ellen Matonis (nee Farrow) married 30 years, dear brother, Peter R. Matonis and his wife Janice, loving brother-in-law of Valerie, Richard and James Farrow. He is also survived many nieces, nephews, cousins and lifelong friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family would greatly appreciate Mass Intentions from any church in memory of Bruce.

Help sought in cold case


By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent 


Somebody knows something.

Six years ago, an 87-year-old man was deliberately run down by a car in a South Kearny parking lot and robbed while he lay helpless on the ground.

He died of his injuries the next day. Authorities ruled the death a homicide.

The Kearny Police Department and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office have been hunting the killers ever since, and as the anniversary of the crime is marked, they are making a renewed call for the public’s help in solving this cold case.

Do you recognize the suspect in the sketch? Did you ever hear any chatter on the streets? Any rumors? Read more »

100G for Arena tax case

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Now that the state Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the New York Red Bulls professional soccer team should pay taxes on the stadium and the land it occupies in Harrison, the town has hired an outside law firm to defend its position before the court.

To that end, Mayor James Fife and the Town Council voted Dec. 2 to retain the Bloomfield law firm of Pearlman & Miranda as special counsel, from Dec. 1, 2014, through Nov. 30, 2015, for a “maximum” amount of $100,000 (no hourly rate specified).

To the casual observer, that would seem to be a lot of money to spend on a legal matter that will end up with the lawyers for both sides fielding questions from the chief justice and six associate justices. Because the court already has the facts of the case in hand, the lawyers won’t even have to write new briefs.

But, for Harrison, the stakes are high enough to justify that kind of investment in a legal brain trust since the town currently is collecting more than $2 million annually between taxes on the land and the arena.

Why will the firm’s services be needed for up to a year? Because, as explained by Town Attorney Paul Zarbetski, typically it can take, from eight to 12 months, for the state’s highest tribunal to actually schedule a hearing of a case.

Zarbetski said the Essex County firm was the only one that responded to the town’s solicitation for proposals to represent the town in the case known as Red Bull Arena Inc. vs. Town of Harrison, the Harrison Redevelopment Agency and Hudson County Improvement Authority.

Zarbetski said the firm was well qualified to handle the assignment because several members of the firm were “well-versed in bonds and redevelopment law, which is the basis for what the Red Bulls’ claim for tax exemption is based on.”

Pearlman & Miranda are currently representing RTL Services, owner of Kearny Point Industrial Park, in efforts to apply for a lowinterest loan from the state Environmental Infrastructure Trust Financing program to facilitate water quality improvements at the firm’s South Kearny site.

In prior appearances before the state Tax Court and the state Appellate Court, where the Red Bulls argued for tax-exempt status, Kearny attorney Norman Doyle Jr. defended the town’s interests and came away with victories on each level.

Doyle died in December 2013 so, when the Red Bulls decided to press on with the case and managed to persuade the State Supreme Court to “grant certification” on Sept. 25 to hear the case, Harrison searched for a replacement.

The road to litigation began in 1998 when Harrison adopted a redevelopment plan for its 250 acre largely dilapidated waterfront area and because that plan was to include a “professional soccer stadium and its accessory uses,” the town invited the then-Metro Stars soccer team to set up its home field in Harrison. In 2003, the town amended the plan to provide for a 25,000- seat multi-use stadium to be built on 12 acres of land in the redevelopment area.

In 2005, Harrison sold $40 million in bonds to the Hudson County Improvement Authority and gave the proceeds to the Harrison Redevelopment Agency to finance acquisition and preparation of the land for the stadium.

The Metro Stars, acquired by Red Bull, agreed to build and finance the stadium. In 2006, the HRA, HCIA and Red Bull signed various contracts: a redeveloper agreement which required Red Bull to develop the land as a soccer/entertainment stadium; a ground and stadium lease which required the HRA to lease the land to the HCIA; and a ground and stadium sub-lease which required the HCIA to sublet the land to Red Bull for 30 to 50 years.

The Red Bulls began playing their home games at the Harrison stadium in early 2010.

The agreements signed by the parties left the taxation question an open-ended one and the town’s tax assessor Al Cifelli went ahead and assessed both the land and stadium. For 2010, the Town assessed the land at $3,702,000, and the stadium at $22,127,000 and it issued a tax bill to Red Bull for $215,863.62 for the land and $1,290,225.37 for the stadium. For 2011, the Town assessed the land at $3,702,000, and the stadium at $30,400,000 and billed $119,482.05 in taxes for the land and $1,222,359.31 for the stadium. The current assessment on the land is the same and the stadium is assessed at $30,750,000 so the taxes on both are more than $2 million, Cifelli said.

Red Bull argued that the state Authorities Law must be liberally construed to exempt the land and stadium as “property” or a “public facility” of the HCIA devoted to an essential public purpose and that the Redevelopment Law must be liberally construed to exempt the land and stadium as “property” or a “project” of the redevelopment agency devoted to an essential public purpose.

However, in a June 13, 2012, opinion, the state tax court judge held that the HRA owned the land, Red Bull owned the stadium, and neither the land nor the stadium was tax-exempt because they were not used for a public purpose.

In July 2012, Red Bull paid its back taxes and, since then, has paid its taxes on time, while, at the same time, reserving its legal quest of tax-exempt status, taking an appeal to the Appellate Court which, on May 12, 2014, affirmed the state tax court ruling.

The appellate court opined that, “We recognize that the Authorities Law authorizes the Authority to operate public facilities for public recreation and entertainment; however, Red Bull operates the stadium privately for its own economic benefit, not for recreation or activities freely open to the general public. Notwithstanding the Town’s right to use the stadium for four civic events per year, or the Agency’s ability to use the stadium for events open to the public, those uses are subordinate to Red Bull’s right and do not convert the stadium to a public use as contemplated by the Authorities Law and Redevelopment Law …. Accordingly, because the property is not used for a statutorily authorized public purpose, it is not tax exempt.”

Scammers out in force for holidays


It may be holiday time but gremlins are out to spoil the festivities of the season.

Mayor/Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco and Police Chief Tom Strumolo are cautioning Nutley residents to be wary of scammers posing as government agents, utility workers or whatever, out to plunder families’ hardearned cash.

On Dec. 9, a Fischer Road resident contacted police with this hard luck story:

At 3 p.m., a man who, the elderly woman resident believed to be a construction worker, pounded on her front door and told her there was a chemical spill the next block over and he needed to check her basement water supply.

After displaying a fake ID, the resident allowed the man inside and led him down to the basement where he let the water run and then radioed an accomplice who, police said, entered the house and ransacked a bedroom.

The pair got away with an undisclosed amount of proceeds, police said.

Police said the phony construction worker was described as a Latino, 30 to 35, between 5-feet-7 and 6 feet, average build, 180 to 200 pounds, with dark hair, wearing blue jeans, a flannel shirt, dark jacket and dark color work boots.

Detectives are checking homes in the neighborhood for any surveillance footage that may have captured images of either of the burglars. Anyone who thinks they may have seen something or someone suspicious in the area at the time of the incident is asked to call Nutley PD at 973-284-4940.

“This is why we advise residents to avoid keeping valuables in their bedrooms because it’s usually the first place that burglars search,” said Nutley PD Det. Sgt. Anthony Montanari.

Chief Strumolo added that Nutley residents have been victimized several times in the past few years by burglars posing as utility workers. Running water in the basement prevents the resident from hearing someone else entering the house, he noted.

A criminal data search shows that more than 50 “diversion burglaries” with M.O.s similar to the Nutley incident and whose victims range in age from 70 to 80 have occurred in New Jersey during the past year and a half, according to Montanari.

Police said they were contacted about another scam on the same day as the Fischer Road burglary. The victim, another elderly woman, told police that a male caller who identified himself as an IRS agent threatened to have police arrest her for allegedly delinquent taxes. The woman was told to go to a pharmacy and forward a Green Dot payment to him and she complied, sending $4,000, before realizing she’d been swindled.

Strumolo said that crooks are more likely to prey on senior citizens who tend to be more trusting via phone scams or internet and social media tricks.

– Ron Leir 

Staffing Skyway fire-watch


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


For the first time, members of the Kearny Fire Department will have a shot at off-duty pay, much like their counterparts at the Police Department have enjoyed for many years, although there is a sunset provision for the privilege.

This opportunity has arisen as a consequence of the long-term reconstruction of the Pulaski Skyway, the elevated state highway built in 1932 that links Jersey City and Newark, and, in particular, the welding work being done on the structure.

Starting in mid-April 2014, the state closed the northbound (towards Jersey City) lanes of the 3.5-mile long superstructure while the contractor, CCA Civil Inc./ Diadone Electric, a joint venture, replaces the bridge deck. The job, which will run more than $300 million, is expected to take two years.

Until recently, when there was construction work involving burning going on, the contractor had assigned a member or members of the work crew to monitor that activity to make sure no one would be hurt and that no property would be damaged.

But after some safety issues surfaced, things changed.

Kearny Councilwoman Eileen Eckel, liaison to the Fire Department, reported at the Dec. 2 council meeting that “there have been several incidents where sparks of fire from work on the deck have triggered brush fires below.”

In at least one instance – on Aug. 15 — Kearny firefighters responded in the department’s fireboat to a fire involving wood tenders under the Skyway which could have been set off by sparks from a welder’s torch above.

As a result, one Kearny Fire Department source said, local fire chiefs from Newark, Jersey City and Kearny told the contractor and the state Department of Transportation that maintaining a fire watch “was something they’d rather handle themselves.”

After DOT, which contracts out the work on the Skyway, concurred that the municipal Fire Departments should handle that responsibility, the Kearny Town Council passed a resolution Dec. 2 “permitting off-duty members of the Fire Department to accept (on a volunteer basis) fire-watch employment with the contractor making improvements to the Pulaski Skyway.”

The resolution noted that the state permit issued to the contractor for the improvements has been amended to include these conditions:

“While all hot work is being conducted, a fire watch shall be posted.

“Fire watch must be conducted for a minimum of one hour after hot work has been completed. “

Fire watch personnel must be New Jersey State Firefighter 1 (basic knowledge of firefighting techniques) or 2 (working under supervision as a member of a team) Certified and must be on site during all welding and cutting operations. Dedicated off duty firefighters shall be used for fire watch. Arrangements shall be made through local fire department having jurisdiction. “In the event that hot work is being conducted in the vicinity or above brush or combustible material, an additional fire watch must be posted on in the direct vicinity of ignitable material.”

The Skyway contractor will pay Kearny firefighters opting for the off-duty work at the rate of $58 per hour for a minimum of four hours of work. An additional fee of $10 an hour is tacked on “to cover administrative costs and out-of-pocket expenses for the town,” the resolution says.

“If the contractor fails to contact the Fire Department at least two hours before the scheduled work time to cancel the job, or [if] the Fire Department member works less than four hours and the job is completed, the Fire Department member shall be entitled to be paid for a minimum of four hours at the rate established [$58 an hour],” the resolution notes.

The contractor must provide an estimate of the number of hours required for the fire-watch job to the fire chief for approval, set up a trust account dedicated to the payment of off-duty firefighters and deposit sufficient funds to cover all costs on a monthly basis. All payments must be submitted to the town for deposit into the account.

Town Administrator Michael Martello reiterated that the full burden for payment rests with the contractor. “We don’t lay out any money at all,” he said.

No fire rigs from Kearny can be used on a fire-watch job and, if there’s a fire or emergency during a firewatch, the fire chief can pull any of the off-duty firefighters to respond to that fire or emergency.

The opportunity for the off-duty work “shall expire upon completion of the Pulaski Skyway project.”

New No. 2 has seen it all


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


The Lyndhurst Board of Education has revived the position of assistant superintendent, albeit on an interim basis, with the hiring of 50-year educator Jeffrey P. Feifer.

Feifer, who came aboard Sept. 25, was appointed to serve “no more than 120 days,” to work two days a week at $80 an hour and at a salary “not to exceed $70,000,” but no health benefits.

The district has done without a No. 2 administrator since 2010 when the then-Asst. Supt. Tracey Marinelli was promoted to superintendent. Last year, the then-high school principal Nicholas Coffaro was given extra duties as assistant to the superintendent but he has since departed to become superintendent of the Haledon public schools.

What prompted the board to fill the gap this year isn’t clear: neither board president Christopher Musto nor vice president Joseph Abruscato could be reached to explain but Marinelli said, given that, “there are so many state mandates and initiatives,” she welcomed the counsel and insight of someone with a wealth of experience.

Feifer, who grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., began his career in 1964 as a fourth-grade teacher at Public School 61 in the South Bronx which his mother had attended as a girl. During his five years there, teaching pre-k to grade 6, overcrowding ruled and “every inch of free space was taken up by trailers.”

Next came a five-year stay in East Ramapo in Rockland County, N.Y., initially teaching grades 5 and 6, followed by a promotion to assistant principal. Then it was on to Closter in Bergen County, first as k-to-6 principal for nine years and then superintendent for 24 years until he retired.

But eight months later, Feifer heeded the call for service again, accepting the first of many interim appointments in Bergen County, the first as special education administrator at Northern Valley Regional High School for two years, followed by sojourns as interim superintendent at Norwood, Oradel, Oakland and Old Tappan.

And now Feifer has landed in Lyndhurst where, he said, “I’m very pleased with the work I’ve seen. I’m thrilled at the level of commitment to all the schools here, for which I credit Ms. Marinelli, in consultation with her staff, for developing a comprehensive and educationally sound plan to maximize student achievement and, especially, curriculum and instruction.”

Marinelli and Feifer have worked together on the first-year implementation of the state-mandated new administrator/ supervisor evaluation system. “We’ve taken the state model and tweaked it to get more face-to-face interaction,” Marinelli said.

Feifer is taking the lead on a project to minimize disruption of classroom time in language arts and math for students who are pulled out for things like Gifted & Talented, instrumental music, ESL (English as a Second Language), speech and occupational therapy.

Both are working to ensure that students have a smooth adjustment to the first-time online administration of the state-mandated PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers) test. “Every elementary school has its own computer lab and in the high school, we have five computer labs and each student has his or her own iPad,” Marinelli said.

Meanwhile, the local district is moving ahead with several of Marinelli’s initiatives like the consolidated third grades at the Jefferson Annex Memorial Campus, the Parent Academy and the Lighthouse Campus on Riverside Ave.

Marinelli said the academy offers monthly workshops designed to give parents insights into all the changes that are taking place in all aspects of their children’s educational program.

For example, she said, in November the topic was report cards for children in pre-k through grade 3. Instead of the conventional letter grades, the state now wants local districts to incorporate a 4-point scale of how students are meeting the Common Core standard set for each grade. Some 70 parents showed up for two sessions led by Elba Castrovinci, elementary supervisor of instruction, and Marlene Krupp, supervisor of math curriculum and instruction for pre-k to 12.

This month, Krupp and Marinelli did a presentation on changes to the language arts instructional program in language arts for grades 3 to 5 and in math for grades 4 and 7, along with reports on special education developments and the SATs.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from parents so far,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli said that her administrative team is still fleshing out the mission of the Lighthouse Campus, a shared-time program in life skills, vocational training and recreation for general and special education high school students, operating from 601 Riverside Ave.

“Approximately 25 to 30 students are bused between the campus and the high school where they have lunch and attend their regular classes,” Marinelli said. “The space at Riverside is being made available to us by the township under a sharedservices agreement.”

Meet Nutley’s ‘Notables’


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


The prolific Anthony Buccino (15 books and counting) has just published his latest work: “Nutley Notables,” profiling more than 150 “Men and Women Who Made a Memorable Impact on Our Hometown.”

Included, of course, is Annie Oakley, whom everyone in Nutley knows once lived here. (Yes, outlanders, she did!)

Almost everyone in Nutley knows that this was the hometown of Martha Kostyra, now Martha Stewart.

But do you know about Frances Goodrich? Or Uncle Fred? Or Grumpy the Clown?

You can meet them, along with political leaders, military heroes, businessmen, scientists, athletes, artists, writers, et al., in the pages of “Nutley Notables.” And you may be surprised at the wide array of talents who called this tree-shaded town home. Or as Buccino describes Nutley: the kind of place “Norman Rockwell only dreamed of illustrating.”

The author started accumulating material, including photos and sketches, about three years ago, doing research at the Nutley Historical Society and the Nutley Public Library. The library, he noted, “had five five-drawer cabinets full of clippings. I spent a couple of weeks going through those.”

In fact, his research produced so much information, he is already working on Volume 2 of “Nutley Notables” and has compiled a five-page list of names.

But back to the current book. We had a chance just to skim through it, but we did finally learn how Annie Oakley ended up here. The world-renowned sharpshooter performed with a circus that used to visit Nutley (performances were held on what would later become the Hoffmann-LaRoche property). She fell in love with the town and, in 1892, she and her husband, Frank Butler, built a house at 304 Grant Ave. Because of their travels, they lived in it intermittently for about 10 years. Alas, it was torn down in 1937.

Frances Goodrich was born in Belleville but grew up in Nutley. She and her husband, Albert Hackett, became celebrated screenwriters and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights and based the fan-favorite Nick and Nora Charles movie characters on themselves.

They also wrote the screenplay for that holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Buccino has surmised that Goodrich based the Bedford Falls bridge, which has a key role in the plot, on her memories of the Passaic River bridge that joins Nutley to Lyndhurst. (It’s possible. The bridge is 100 years old. But if Goodrich saw its traffic mess today, she’d put it in a horror movie.)

When we found “Uncle Fred” in the book, we were gleeful. Fred Sayles hosted a long-long-ago children’s cartoon show called “Junior Frolics,” which was broadcast live from a studio in Newark. And it was on this show that your correspondent, at age 5 or so, made her television debut. As a member of the audience, sitting on a little grandstand with the host and a dozen other kids.

And because it was a Saturday, we got cake! (The Monday-Friday audiences got zilch.)

Grumpy the Clown (a/k/a Weary Willie) we had never heard of. “Nutley Notables” explains that Grumpy performed with a traveling circus in the 1800s. He carried a bag of gold coins, and if you could make him smile, you’d get the coins. Apparently, no one ever did.

When Grumpy died, he was buried in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field, now part of the cemetery at Franklin Reformed Church on Prospect St. There was no money for a headstone, the book explains, so when the circus came back to town the following year, his friends planted a pine tree on the grave. “Nutley Notables” has a recent photo of the now-stately tree. (You might like to pay a visit. Maybe that will finally make him smile.)

All these people and more are in “Nutley Notables,” which you can order at www.nutleynotables.com or Amazon.com.

And if you’re wondering why we didn’t profile Martha Stewart’s Nutley links, it’s because we are not a fan of Martha Stewart. If you’re interested in her, read the book.