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Relic is missing from church

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

HARRISON – 

A sacred relic has been purloined from Holy Cross Church in Harrison, according to police and church officials. The religious artifact is believed by the church faithful to be a piece of the original Cross of Christ from Jerusalem and has been in the church’s keeping at least since its founding in Harrison in 1886, said the Rev. Joseph Girone, pastor of Holy Cross.

“We were told by [former pastor] Monsignor John Gilchrist that the relic was brought here when the church was built as a gift from Rome,” explained the Rev. Francisco Gonzalez, parochial vicar of Holy Cross and youth minister.

A Harrison PD report issued last Monday, Sept. 15, gave this account of its disappearance: On the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 11, police were called to the church on a report of a burglary. Upon arrival, officers were told that the night before, at about 7:15 p.m., a church volunteer found a stranger in the sacristy carrying one of the church’s donation collection bags.

When the volunteer asked the man what was inside the bag, he replied: “Trash.” At that point, the volunteer told the man she was going to get a priest, Father Rodriguez, and left the sacristy.

After being alerted to the situation, Father Rodriguez confronted the intruder in the rectory kitchen where the man was searching through the cabinets. When asked what he was doing, the man replied: “I’m hungry.” The priest asked the man to leave and escorted him to the rear kitchen door.

Going to the sacristy, where the man was first seen, Father Rodriguez discovered that the relic – which, according to Father Girone, had been left in its receptacle on a table to be polished in preparation for Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Cross – was missing.

Girone said the artifact is normally kept in a rectory safe but had been removed for its once-a-year cleaning. The reliquary is in the shape of a cross about a foot long encased in a brass canister with the tiny relic itself contained in a glass “eye” and is used on special occasions, such as when priests offer a blessing for the sick.

What police described as “an unknown amount of rare gems” were said to be affixed to a portion of the artifact. Father Girone produced a framed certificate of authenticity for it written in Latin and signed by James J. O’Gorman, possibly a bishop of the period, and dated April 21, 1907.

This past Sunday, Sept. 14, the church had another surprise visit – this one from members of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Department – who were returning two liturgical identified as being from Holy Cross which they said were found near railroad tracks in Jersey City along with a canopy known as the “banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” which the church displays during the annual Feast Day on Dec. 12.

Girone said the intruder is believed to have removed the missals or books of prayer from a shelf in one of the rooms of the rectory. He said these were “old translations” of prayers that have since been replaced by the church.

“When the Port Authority police brought them to us, they were waterlogged,” he added.

Girone said the intruder apparently entered the rectory by climbing through a window on the side of the building.

Police described the suspect as African-American, between 50 and 60, about 5-feet-10, with short black and gray hair, a black and gray beard, wearing a black shirt and denim shorts.

In other recent criminal activities logged by Harrison PD, police listed these incidents:

Sept. 9 

Two bicycle thefts were reported.

In the first incident, reported at 2 p.m., the owner of a green Huffy valued at $30 told police he parked his bike in front of 506 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. N. at 12:20 p.m. and when he returned at 1 p.m., the bike was gone.

The second theft, reported at 7:46 p.m., involved the disappearance of a gray Mongoose with orange tire rims, valued at $350, which, according to its owner, had been secured at the bike rack near the Harrison PATH station at 8:30 a.m., but which, upon the owner’s return at 7 p.m., was missing.

Sept. 10 

Hilario Gonzalez, no age or address listed, was pulled over in front of 36 Harrison Ave., at 2 p.m., after police said they observed his vehicle cross the painted median as it approached the intersection of Harrison Ave. and First St. In questioning the driver, police said they detected a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. Gonzalez was ticketed for DWI, reckless driving, being an unlicensed driver and maintenance of lamps.

Ruling due on high school vote

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

EAST NEWARK – 

East Newark wants to ask its residents, through a non-binding referendum, this question: “Should East Newark high school students be sent to Kearny High School instead of Harrison High School?”

The borough wants the question to go on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election and the Hudson County Clerk’s Office has prepared such a ballot. Sample ballots were to be mailed out this past Monday.

But the Harrison Board of Education – which stands to lose a lot of money if the switch is done – has gone to court to block its neighbor from conducting the referendum, which – by itself – has no legal standing to change anything.

Hudson County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter Bariso reserved decision at a hearing held in Jersey City last Friday. He will likely rule on Harrison’s request on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 3 p.m.

The East Newark Board of Education, meanwhile, has hired its own lawyer to draft a feasibility study to make its case with the state Commissioner of Education to end a more than 100-year-old practice of sending its school children to Harrison High. East Newark has a single school which educates students in pre-K through grade 8.

But East Newark Mayor Joseph Smith, whose wife Marlene is president of the local school board, has previously said that the tuition fees assessed by the Harrison school board are too high for borough taxpayers so the borough is looking for an alternative – which, in this case, happens to be Kearny High.

Currently, East Newark is sending 125 students to Harrison High at a cost of $16,300 a year per student, according to Harrison school board records.

For the past several months, representatives of the East Newark and Harrison school boards have been talking about a possible compromise, with interim Executive Hudson County Superintendent of Schools Monica Tone serving as a sort of referee. At the same time, the East Newark school board is, through its legal advisor, pursuing the path toward separation that could take effect as early as the 2015- 2016 school year.

On May 14, the East Newark Borough Council resolved “to obtain the sentiment of the voters … on whether the send-receive relationship with Harrison High School should be ended and East Newark high school students [be] sent to Kearny High School.” And, on May 29, the borough asked Hudson County Clerk Barbara Netchert to put the question on the November ballot.

Princeton attorney Richard E. Shapiro, retained as special counsel by the Harrison Board of Education, filed legal papers last week with Hudson County Superior Court, asking the court to order the county clerk to “refrain from placing the proposed question … on the ballot,” or, failing that, to “remove the proposed question from the ballot….”

In the brief filed with the court, Shapiro argued that the borough exceeded its statutory authority in calling for such a referendum because state law limits municipalities to seek such action only to “… any question or policy pertaining to the government or internal affairs” of the municipality.

Viewed in this context, Shapiro reasoned, the proposed question “relates to an educational issue within the purview of the Borough of East Newark’s Board of Education,” and, therefore, fails to meet the criteria set by the statute.

As such, Shapiro says, the proposed question “… is illegal and cannot lawfully be placed on the ballot for the next general election on Nov. 4, 2014.”

In his legal papers, Shapiro cites a 1958 case known as Botkin v. Westwood in which the state Appellate Court held that Westwood’s municipal governing body’s proposal for a non-binding referendum on whether there should be a “deconsolidation” of the consolidated school district of Westwood and Washington Township was improper.

The court found that “this particular referendum question does constitute a prohibited intrusion … in school district affairs by a body which has no business intermeddling with them in the slightest degree except as the legislature has permitted.”

East Newark school board’s feasibility study is still in process but the Kearny Board of Education went on record in March to accept the borough’s students at Kearny High if and when that possibility unfolds.

Loving life in Harrison

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

HARRISON –

When a young Theodore Plasky moved with his mother to the Kingsland Court apartments in Harrison in 1959, they found it a welcome refuge.

“We were staying at my cousin’s house in Fairview and the house blew up – I think it was something to do with the heating system that caused an explosion,” Plasky recalled. A little boy who lived next door was killed by the force of the blast, he said.

“We needed a place to stay and my mother took us here,” Plasky said. Since then, he added, “Everything’s been great.” Plasky, who says everyone in the complex knows him as “Ted,” made a living by playing accordion with different musical groups in the area.

Plasky was one of five longstanding public housing tenants awarded framed certificates of appreciation by the Harrison Housing Authority last Wednesday, Sept. 17, as the authority celebrated its 75th anniversary barbecue at Harrison Gardens, the town’s first public housing development.

It was among the earliest government-built housing complexes in the nation, on the heels of Congress’s passage of the U.S. Housing Law (also known as the Wagner-Steagall Act) in 1937 which provided federal funds for the creation of affordable housing.

A company called JAJ Construction Inc. built Harrison Gardens, 214 apartments spread among 10 buildings, at a cost of $1,070,000, which comes out to about $5,000 per unit, according to Harrison Housing Authority Executive Director Roy Rogers. Hugh A. Kelly was the design engineer on the project and the thentown engineer Joseph Cundari signed off on the plans.

When “the Gardens,” as the complex is commonly called, opened, the average monthly rent was $22; today, monthly rentals at the Gardens range from $650 to $700, Rogers said.

Kingsland Court, with 54 apartments, dates from 1952.

What makes the Gardens distinctive among the hundreds of public housing clusters built around the country, Rogers said, is that, “These are the original units – the walls were never modified – they were well-constructed brick with the original plaster. All the buildings have the same basic footprint.” The interiors – kitchens, bathrooms and HVAC systems – have been upgraded over the years, he said.

HHA maintenance worker Michael Ferriero, who has helped with the upkeep of those apartments, was presented with a certificate of appreciation at the celebration “as being the current longest working employee at the Harrison Housing Authority” with 33 years under his belt.

Other tenants who received certificates of appreciation were: Charles Kinsella, who has lived at the Gardens for 63 years; Margaret Kearns (mother of Harrison Police Chief Derek Kearns), a Gardens resident for over six decades; Jean McCormack and Geralding Doffont, both Gardens residents for over half a century.

As the many guests at the barbecue helped themselves to free hotdogs, hamburgers and soda, and as kids enjoyed pony rides, a petting zoo and a lemon toss, various local officials talked about old times at the Gardens.

HHA Commissioner/Councilman Larry Bennett recalled how as a boy, “I lived [nearby] on Franklin Ave. and, during the winter, I liked coming to Harrison Gardens because it was warm inside.”

Bennett said it was important to remember that, “Cops, lawyers, all good people, came out of here.”

Mayor James Fife, a former longtime Harrison educator, told the crowd that he felt an attachment to the Gardens because “I grew up in a housing project in Newark – in Hyatt Court – from the ages of 2 to 15 and it was a great place to grow up.” Unfortunately, he added, “many of those buildings have been knocked down since then.”

And Councilman James Doran, currently personnel director for the Harrison Board of Education, said he spent part of his youth in the Gardens’ Building 1, as did Councilman Victor Villalta, “and [Board of Education member] Artie Pettigrew lived in Building 7.”

“So many familiar names are connected to the Gardens,” Doran said. “It feels good to be home.”

190M could flow to the Passaic

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The Occidental Chemical Corp. has agreed to pay the State of New Jersey $190 million to resolve the company’s liability in the contamination of the Passaic River, state officials announced last week.

Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co., which had manufactured pesticides and herbicides at its plant on Lister Ave. in the Ironbound section in Newark — and reportedly dumped the toxic waste into the water. The factory was near the riverbank, directly across from Harrison and South Kearny.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, the state says, Diamond Shamrock (formerly Diamond Alkali) intentionally discharged hazardous substances — including the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, a known carcinogen used during the Vietnam War — into the Passaic.

In the river-pollution litigation launched by the state, Occidental was the lone defendant that had yet to settle. However, the agreement is still a proposed settlement, subject to a public comment period and review by a Superior Court judge. Officials said a decision could come by December.

“The cleanup of the lower Passaic River is vital to the health and safety of people who live and work along the river and is one of the state’s top environmental priorities,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin.

Those people are you, The Observer readers. The lower Passaic is that stretch bordering Lyndhurst, North Arlington, Nutley, Belleville, Kearny, East Newark and Harrison. It is considered by some environmentalists to be the most polluted waterway in the nation.

Calling the Passaic “one of our most precious natural resources,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman stated, “Our objective throughout the Passaic River litigation has been to hold accountable those legally responsible for contaminating the river, and we have done so.”

If approved, the Occidental settlement would bring to $355.4 million the total amount recovered by N.J. as a result of litigation involving the river cleanup and contamination-removal costs, natural resource damages and other expenses, the state says.

Environmentalists point out, though, that due to a change in the law, a portion of the funds could be directed, not toward river remediation, but into the state’s general fund.

Last April, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan to remove toxic sediment from the lower eight miles of the Passaic flowing into Newark Bay. The cost of that project is estimated at $1.7 billion.

– Karen Zautyk 

Kearny fire displaces 5

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By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY– 

A kitchen fire last Thursday temporarily displaced five persons and sent one of them to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, officials reported.

KFD Chief Steve Dyl said units responded to a 7:02 p.m. call Sept. 18 at a two-family residence on John Hay Ave., below Schuyler Ave.

The blaze was confined to the second-floor kitchen and was extinguished within 20 minutes, but all five occupants of the dwelling were relocated for the night, Dyl said, and would likely remain displaced until the structure was inspected by the buildings department.

Initially, there was a report that someone was trapped inside the home, but that turned out not to be the case.

Dyl said the blaze was accidental and was ignited by cooking oil.

“Luckily, the occupant who was doing the cooking knew not to put water on it [the burning oil], and she got out immediately,” the chief said.

But he said a downstairs resident initially attempted to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher, and she suffered smoke inhalation and was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville.

Dyl said the occupants all left the home, “which was important, because had they stayed, injuries would have been more severe.” And he reiterated the standard advice: “Get out and stay out, and call the Fire Department.

While Kearny firefighters were at the scene, the Jersey City FD provided coverage to the town.

Kearny vs. Harrison at Red Bull

HARRISON – 

After a two-year lull, the Red Bull Arena will once again host a soccer doubleheader, matching up longtime archrivals Harrison and Kearny, on Saturday, Sept. 27.

The Blue Tide will be hoping to avenge the Kardinals’ sweep of the boys’ and girls’ games played in 2011 at the Arena.

The Kardinals girls’ squad of Kearny High School will face off against the Blue Tide girls’ team of Harrison High School on the Arena pitch, starting at noon.

That game will be followed, at 2 p.m., with the Kardinals boys’ group taking on the Blue Tide boys’ crew.

James Doran, Harrison school district’s director of personnel, and Kearny High Athletic Director John Millar each said that the Red Bull organization has confirmed it has agreed to play host to the event this year.

“We’d certainly like to make this an annual thing [at the Harrison-based Arena],” Doran said.

Doran said the Red Bull organization will be taping the games but no decision has yet been made as to whether it will go out on a live feed to local cable. Each school district will be provided a copy of the tape “which we will post on our website,” he added.

The games will count as part of each team’s regular season schedule, he added.

Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

In Harrison, tickets may be secured through the superintendent’s office or at the high school and, in Kearny, tickets are available at the high school athletic office. Or, patrons can buy tickets on game day at the Arena on Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. across from the Harrison PATH station.

Two years ago, the Red Bulls provided nominal cash donations to both schools but for this year’s event, no contribution is anticipated, according to Millar. “It’s a big expense just to open the stadium,” he noted.

 – Ron Leir 

Taking shape

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Kearny Public Library Director Josh Humphrey stands in the nearly-completed outdoor reading garden, with plantings, bluestone pavers, benches, a small stage for public events, 4-foot-high fencing and a ramped entrance allowing wheelchair access, adjacent to the main branch of the library, 318 Kearny Ave. Work still to be done includes replacement of the library’s old wrought-iron fencing. Part of the project included construction of a retaining wall as a buffer to neighboring residences. Humphrey projects a formal opening of the garden by next month. Lou’s Landscaping of Wayne was contracted to do the job for $245,000. The town is applying a $150,000 grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund toward the cost of the project

WE’VE GOT MAIL

‘SOBER HOUSE’ CONTROVERSY

Dear Editor:

Having grown up in Kearny and being a licensed minister for the past 32 years, I offer my comments regarding the “Sober House.”

First of all, Kearny has a rich history of supporting those in need and giving people second chances. That is not the debate point here. The point of debate is the manner in which the organization occupied this house.

Mr. [Charles] Valentine does not understand “what the neighbors are going through” because I believe he simply does not care about the neighbors. He made this dramatically obvious by not connecting with them prior to violating numerous town ordinances by occupying the property.

If he were concerned, would not the good-neighbor thing be to knock on their doors to introduce and discuss the idea before moving in and creating a uproar?

“We’re an asset to the community,” he states. Prove this by engaging with the community instead of picking a fight with it.

Garry Senna

Haymarket, Va.

CORRECTION

A story about the new Element Harrison Hotel in last week’s issue of The Observer mischaracterized the guest parking location. It is the Harrison Parking
Center. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Even in ‘paradise,’ global tensions intrude

This week, your correspondent – armed with a valid passport – was planning (this column is being written Sept. 20) to vacation on the island Republic of Malta, whose islands – the website lonelyplanet.com tells us – “are like nowhere else.” Indeed, the website adds, “Here you’ll find great prehistoric temples, fossil-studded cliffs, glittering hidden coves, thrilling diving opportunities and a history of remarkable intensity.”

According to Wikipedia, there are indications that the country has been inhabited since pre-historic times. It has seen many occupiers – including Napoleon – in its lengthy history, until achieving its independence from Britain in 1964, and joined the European Union in 2004.

There will be much to absorb for such a relatively tiny place – which looks like an almost perceptible speck on a map – and a lot to explore in just a few days. Maybe I’ll even find the legendary Maltese falcon – or is that just another Hollywood myth?

But, leaving aside for the moment the anticipated pleasures of R&R at an island paradise, we can’t forget the fact that Malta finds itself smack up against a geopolitical cataclysm.

Migrants – many refugees from war-torn Syria and Libya – along with Palestinians from Gaza – are being smuggled out of their desolate land through tunnels in Egypt and packed into boats bound for destinations in Europe. Those fleeing reportedly pay thousands of dollars for what they see as an opportunity for a better life elsewhere.

But their journeys are typically perilous, as evidenced by a recent episode chronicled by, among other media outlets, BBC News World which, through the Times of Malta, reported the deaths of “at least 300 migrants” who “drowned off Malta’s coast” on Sept. 12.

Survivors, brought to Malta’s shores, told the Times of Malta and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that “the smugglers deliberately rammed the migrants’ boat after they refused to move to a smaller boat from the fishing vessel they were on,” leaving its passengers to fend for themselves in the sea.

The Times of Malta account said the IOM had logged “about 2,900” migrant drowning deaths in the Mediterranean so far this year, up from 700 recorded in 2013.

Malta – just 50 miles south of Sicily – has provided shelters for several thousand of the desperate migrants who arrive at the islands and Italy has launched “Mare Nostrum,” a search and rescue enterprise pledged to save migrants in peril in the waters off its coast.

Still, the number of deaths is mounting.

Meanwhile, Malta finds itself grappling with another dilemma of increasingly global concern: the deadly Ebola virus that has emerged in West Africa and threatens to engulf the region and beyond.

On Sept. 19, the Associated Press reported that Malta turned away a cargo ship, enroute to Ukraine from Guinea, carrying a crew of 21 including a Filipino reportedly showing symptoms of Ebola. AP said the boat’s captain had sought to dock in Malta to get medical treatment for the stricken crewman.

But Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was quoted as saying that, “We cannot endanger our health system” and that it was impossible to know whether the captain was “understating or overstating” the man’s condition.

Maltese coast guard vessels escorted the boat, MV Western Copenhagen, out of the harbor, according to the AP.

And so, it seems that even in paradise, there is no escape from the crushing realities of the world.

– Ron Leir