web analytics

Author Archive

Kearny coach Hill reflects on late father

1-14 Sports View_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Growing up as a female athlete in a male-dominated world in highly competitive Harrison was nothing in comparison to what Jody Hill had to endure last week. Serving as a teacher and a high school girls’ basketball coach for the last decade was a walk in the park next to saying goodbye to the most influential man in Hill’s life, namely her father, Anthony, who died after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.

Anthony Hill was 67 years old.

“To me, he was the greatest person in the world,” Hill said, choking back tears three days after her father’s funeral. “He ended up with three daughters, but I was the next best thing to him having a little boy. Just having him as a Dad was the greatest experience in the world.”

Lee-Ann Hill is two years older than Jody. Melissa came 13 years after Jody. All three Hill girls had sports as a part of their lives – Lee-Ann running cross country, Melissa playing softball and soccer – but it was Jody who took athletics to a new level as one of the finest girls’ basketball players in Harrison High School and Hudson County history.

Growing up in Harrison, Hill always played with and against the boys. She was a standout Little League baseball player and was constantly holding her own, playing with some of the best athletes in the town, including long-time friend and classmate Ray Lucas.

But the inspiration to compete came from her father.

“Growing up, my father worked two full-time jobs,” Hill recalled. “He worked for an oil company, repairing heating systems and then came home and went back out to work as a teller at the Meadowlands Race Track. He took the bets. He enjoyed that, because he really loved the horses.

Added Hill, “But between jobs, for that 30-to-45 minutes, Dad would always play Whiffle ball or football in the yard, pitch baseballs to me even when it was raining – we would be doing dive plays in football in the living room. “My Dad was a volunteer coach in Little League. He had a unique way about him in that he didn’t push us to do anything we didn’t want to do. He didn’t push me into sports. But he encouraged me and supported me. He made me feel like I could accomplish anything. He made me feel like I was on the top of the world.”

Most of the time, Hill was indeed that.

Throughout her brilliant All-State career at Harrison and later Pace University, Hill was a dominant basketball player, scoring 2,000 points in high school and 1,000 more in college, eventually earning induction into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame.

And Anthony Hill was there every step of the way.

“He was loving and caring and pulled the most out of me,” Hill said. “He was constantly complimenting me and praising me.”

Anthony Hill was a fine athlete in his days growing up in Harrison, especially in baseball. He passed the athletic gene on to his middle daughter.

“I was shy about playing baseball with the boys, but it was comforting to me to have him there,” Hill said. “I can’t even explain the impact he had on me. I knew back then that if I could play with the boys, I could play anywhere. I wanted to surround myself with the best competition. Dad never tried to steer me away from it. He just always wanted me to be happy. He wanted my sisters to be happy. He energized me and encouraged me to let it all happen.” Anthony Hill lived for his wife, Kathy, and his three daughters and eventually his grandchildren.

“He worked so hard his whole life,” Jody Hill said.

Anthony Hill finally retired last year and was given a fond sendoff by his friends and co-workers. A month after his retirement, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“He always put everyone before himself,” Jody Hill said. “We all wanted him to finally enjoy his time and he never really got the chance.”

Going through the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation took its toll.

“Especially over the last three weeks, it got real hard,” Hill said. “He lost his ability to speak. It was hard seeing him like that. He never once raised his voice to any of us. He was giving, loving and mentoring. Every person I bump into all say, ‘You have the greatest Dad.’ And I did. I was very lucky for a long time.”

Last week, as the end drew near, Jody Hill had to make arrangements for her assistant coaches to take over her team. Anthony Hill died Monday night and the Kardinals faced Hudson Catholic a day later. Hill turned the reins over to assistant coaches Jeanine Wallace and Vicky Zicopolous to coach that game.

The Kardinals won the game and dedicated it in memory of their top fan.

Two days later, while services for Anthony Hill were being held, the Kardinals were scheduled to face North Bergen in a crucial game. But the Kardinals knew they couldn’t try to play without their leader.

“They all texted me and said that they wanted to postpone the game so they could be there for me,” Hill said. “At 4:30 p.m., the whole team walked in single file and wanted to be there for me. I thought they were going to play without me. I hadn’t missed a game for anything in 12 years.”

Saturday morning, Jody Hill returned to coach her team against Clifton after enduring those tough four days. But she was moved to tears again when she saw her team go through pre-game warm-ups.

“They pulled off their shooting shirts and underneath, they all wore a T-shirt that said, ‘Kearny Basketball,’ on the front and ‘In loving memory of A. Hill’ on the back with a grey ribbon for brain cancer,” Hill said. “It would have been a perfect ending if we would have won the game.”

Sometimes, Hollywood endings don’t always take place. The Kardinals lost to Clifton.

“But I feel so blessed to have those girls in my life,” Hill said. “They gave me strength. You think that you’re the adult and you’re the one who is supposed to lead them. Well, Saturday, they led me. I found my strength in them. I felt really lucky to be coaching those girls. They showed such maturity, thoughtfulness and a great understanding of family.”

And Jody Hill finally had a sense of serenity after the months and weeks of turmoil going through her father’s illness and subsequent demise.

“I knew somewhere my Dad was smiling,” Hill said. “He was their No. 1 fan. One of his favorite things to do was to come watch us play. He was just enjoying his life in retirement with his grandchildren. It’s sad that it all ended that way.”

Anthony Hill may be gone, but certainly not in spirit.

“It was amazing to see those kids come the way they did,” Hill said of her father’s wake. “Finally, I had something that uplifted me and got me through it.”

And the season will resume this week, with the Kards’ No. 1 fan looking down and offering support to his daughter, the coach.

Kearny’s Baez comes of age in a hurry

1-14 Baez_web

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

Joe Baez knew that this was going to be a crucial year for him as a member of the Kearny High School boys’ varsity basketball team.

As a junior, Baez had to prove he could be more of a vital performer.

As a young man, Baez had to prove to himself that he could remain focused on the matters at hand and stay away from the trouble that plagued him in the past.

“I knew that I had to step it up,” Baez said. “Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, I had problems. I wasn’t disciplined enough to play organized basketball. I was basically playing street ball. I knew I had to be a leader and I had to get better all around.”

Kearny head coach Bob Mc- Donnell realized that fact as well, that if the Kardinals were going to be successful this season, he needed a big season out of Baez.

“Without a doubt, he had to become more of a leader on the team,” McDonnell said. “Even though he’s only a junior, he had to become more of a main focus on the team. I thought the talent was there. He just had to be more mentally prepared. He had to focus on being the leader, be more mature, more responsible both on and off the court.”

Baez admitted that he was a little immature in the past.

“At times, I would go a little crazy,” Baez said. “I would also get into a little bit of trouble. But that’s the past. I focus on doing what I have to do now, staying out of trouble. I can’t afford to get into trouble anymore. I’ve become a better person and a better player.”

Baez is certainly a gifted athlete. He’s a fine shortstop and pitcher on the Kearny baseball team in the spring, but he has all the tools in the world to be a fine basketball player as well.

A year ago, Baez averaged 7.2 points per game as someone who played both the point guard and shooting guard slots.

However, with a new-found focus and attitude, Baez has elevated his game to new heights.

Baez is averaging close to 16 points per game with six assists. He’s a scorer with a playmaker’s mentality. “He’s made a conscious effort to change his focus,” McDonnell said. “He’s learned that everything he does is so important to us.”

“It just clicked for me,” Baez said. “I worked hard and just want to play the game the right way.”

Baez is certainly doing that and more for the Kards these days. Last week, Baez had 14 points in a win over American History of Newark, had 18 points and six assists in a big win against Queen of Peace and topped his week with a 24-point, six-assist outing against Lyndhurst, another win, giving the Kardinals three wins in a row, improving to 6-3 overall in the process.

For his efforts, Baez has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“He just realized his capabilities,” McDonnell said. “Not just as a scorer, but as the team leader. He’s taken on that role and has done well. He’s just taken control of the team, playing either the one (point guard) or two (shooting guard), depending upon the opponent. It’s nice to have a guard who is under control.”

Baez said that his recent performances have helped him to gain faith in his own abilities.

“I definitely have a lot more confidence,” Baez said. “I think this proves to me that I can do it. I’m helping the team with scoring and my passing. It’s good to be consistent, because it helps us win and that’s the biggest goal.”

The Kardinals had eight wins all of last season. They have six already this year.

“He’s accepted his role, even on defense,” McDonnell said. “He’s become a very good scorer. I am surprised how much he’s improved.”

So far this season, Baez is averaging close to 16 points per game, a huge leap from last year’s seven point-per-game average.

“I feel like I’m a better player,” Baez said. “I played a lot of basketball over the summer to get ready for this year. It really is almost like a complete transformation.”

Baez was asked if his success on the hardwood would help him get ready for the baseball diamond.

“They are two totally different sports, but of course, this is going to help my confidence,” Baez said. “What I do in basketball does carry over to the baseball field. I feel like I’m a building block for the future. As long as we keep winning, because I never want to lose. I’m still developing, still growing. I still have to work hard.”

McDonnell believes that Baez is a college basketball player for the future.

“He’s already focusing on getting his grades up,” Mc- Donnell said. “He’s made a concerted effort to get better both on the court and the classroom. We’ve had conversations about college and not just from an athletic standpoint. He realizes he has a bright future.”

It might have taken a little while, but Joe Baez has the world on a string these days.

“I’m just grateful to have the chance,” Baez said. “I just needed a chance.”

Join the Lions & become a volunteer

ShopRite of Lyndhurst, an Inserra Supermarkets store, is hosting a full roster of “New Year, New You” health and wellness events throughout January. Julie Harrington, in-store registered dietitian, will lead each of the LiveRight offerings and provide easy-to-implement nutrition and wellness advice. The following free events are being held for local residents. All programs are open to the public, held at the store and do not require advance registration, unless otherwise noted:

• Walking Club group  meets every Thursday throughout January at 8 a.m. for a one-mile trek through the store, starting at Dietician’s Corner. Membership cards and prizes are awarded to all participants.

• Julie’s Produce Pick fea tures ShopRite’s dietitian mixing the week’s produce pick into a delicious new dish on Wednesday, Jan. 14, from 1 to 3 p.m. Stop by for samples and recipe cards.

• LiveRight with Shop – Rite Kids’ Day Cooking Class allows youngsters age 6 and up to try and create new things while preparing a simple, healthy snack on Wednesday, Jan. 28, from 4 to 5 p.m. Space is limited, and pre-registration is required.

• ShopRite Cooking  Class: Veggie Power Edition invite folks to join Shop- Rite’s dietitian on Thursday, Jan. 29, from 2 to 3 p.m., to learn how to prepare a vegetarian meal while gaining the inside scoop on how going meatless once a week can improve one’s health. Space is limited, and pre-registration is required.

ShopRite of Lyndhurst is located at 540 New York Ave. In addition to developing a full roster of store-based wellness programs, ShopRite’s retail dietitians can serve as guest speakers/instructors at wellness events hosted by local organizations. For more information or to pre-register for a program, contact Harrington at 201- 419-9154 or email Julie.harrington@wakefern.com.

Bianchi focused on meadows redevelopment, spending checks


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


North Arlington selected a group of new professional staffers at the borough’s reorganization meeting Jan. 6.

After the victors in the November election were sworn in – Joseph Bianchi as mayor and Daniel Pronti and Kerry Cruz as Borough Council members – the governing body approved a slew of appointments of new professionals, reflecting the new 4-2 Republican majority. And the council picked Republican Richard Hughes as council president.

Among the changes: Hackensack attorney Randy Pearce, who had served as borough attorney a few years ago, was returned to that post on the recommendation of Bianchi and his fellow Republicans. Pearce, who takes over for Doug Bern, had represented the borough in an expensive lawsuit against the Passaic Valley Water Commission which the borough ended up settling last month.

The borough hired the Saddle Brook law firm of Eastwood, Scandariato & Steinberg to provide the services of municipal prosecutor at $15,000. And it hired Wiss & Bouregy of Westwood as labor counsel and Rogut McCarthy LLC of Cranford as bond counsel.

Lerch Vinci & Higgins of Fairlawn is the new borough auditor.

Brought back as borough engineer was Neglia Engineering Associates of Lyndhurst, replacing Remington Vernick of Secaucus. Neglia had many years of prior borough service. And the Alaimo Group of Mt. Holly was hired as consulting engineer.

In his public remarks – his first as the borough’s new chief executive – Bianchi pledged to make every effort to find redevelopers for the borough’s meadows area, to control municipal spending and to maintain municipal services.

Bianchi also sent kudos to all borough employees and volunteers “for the excellent work they have undertaken over this past year, under very difficult circumstances.”

In the future, to try and tackle “financial problems that we have been left with,” such as rising water rates – resulting from the borough’s sale of its water system – Bianchi said the borough “must be smarter and not play politics” and “cannot continue to push [its] financial problems down the road, from budget to budget.”

The borough, Bianchi said, must find a way “to find new ratables … by using our redevelopment powers while at the same time, keeping the character of the community.” That, he said, means “that we are not planning to build any high-rise, high density or low-income housing” because “that would change what North Arlington is about.”

Borough Council committee assignments were parceled out this way: Hughes will chair Finance; Pronti heads up Public Safety; Cruz leads Recreation; Democrat Al Granell gets Administrative & Executive; Democrat Tom Zammatore leads Health, Transportation & Welfare. The chair for Public Works, Buildings & Grounds is currently vacant.

Still to be determined is who will be picked by the council to fill the unexpired term of Bianchi’s council seat.

Elsewhere, Harrison’s governing body also convened its reorganization meeting last week, swearing in James Fife as mayor and Town Council members Jesus Huaranga, Anselmo Millan, Laurence Bennett and James Doran.

Photos courtesy Borough of North Arlington TOP: Mayor Joseph Bianchi and family members at reorganization meeting. From l., are grandchildren Isabella and Frankie, spouse Kathy and grandson Anthony. ABOVE: From l., are Councilman Dan Pronti, Fire Chief John Inzinna, Assistant Chief Brian FitzHenry, Deputy Chief Robert Kairys and Freeholder Steve Tanelli.

Photos courtesy Borough of North Arlington
TOP: Mayor Joseph Bianchi and family members at reorganization meeting. From l., are
grandchildren Isabella and Frankie, spouse Kathy and grandson Anthony. ABOVE: From
l., are Councilman Dan Pronti, Fire Chief John Inzinna, Assistant Chief Brian FitzHenry,
Deputy Chief Robert Kairys and Freeholder Steve Tanelli.


Villalta was picked as the new council president.

Several of the town leaders talked about seeing come to roost much of the hard work by the late Mayor Raymond McDonough in promoting the Harrison Waterfront Redevelopment Area and luring redevelopers to the sprawling site.

As examples, Fife mentioned the Pegasus Group/ Ironstate starting phase 3 of its mixed-use project for more than 1,000 new apartments (studios and one-bedroom units) next to the PATH station; Advance Group preparing for a new A.C. Marriott hotel at Guyon Drive and Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. and Carlstadt developer Ed Russo moving ahead with construction of a 5-story, 400-unit apartment building with 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail near the Red Bull Arena.

In considering its list of professional staff, the town was continuing to review four bid proposals submitted for town attorney: the incumbent Robert Murray of Shrewsbury, who proposed an hourly fee of $165; Cleary/Giacobbe/Alfieri/ Jacobs LLC of Oakland, who bid $150 an hour; DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole of Teaneck, $175 an hour; and Eric M. Bernstein & Associates of Warren, $125 an hour.

The town is also reviewing four proposals for the services of tax appeal attorney received from the incumbent Castano Quigley of West Caldwell, who offered to work at the bid criteria specified by Harrison; William J. Rush of Wayne, $125 an hour; Eric Bernstein, $125 an hour; a


Gregory S. Cerstvik

Gregory S. Cerstvik, of Newark, entered into eternal rest, after battling cancer at his sister’s house in Lyndhurst, on Jan. 9. He was 62.

The funeral was conducted from the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison, on Tuesday, Jan. 13. A funeral Mass followed at St. Cecilia’s Church, Kearny. Interment took place in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. For information, directions or to send condolences to the family, please visit www.mulliganfh.com.

Born in Newark in the Ironbound, Gregory was raised there and spent most of his life there. He worked as a dairy manager for several food chains for many years. He was a member of UFCW Local 1262, Clifton. He was also a plumber on the side. He was a friend of Bill W. and an avid sports fan who enjoyed fishing and NASCAR. He greatly enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren. A fan of music, he was a vocalist for several bands, mainly SCID.

Gregory is survived by his loving daughters Jennifer Cerstvik and her fiancé James Hartkopf and Mimi Antonio and her husband Trijilio; his cherished grandchildren Mikey, Julia, Jayden, Kennedy and Aiden; his dear brother and sister Peter Cerstvik and his wife Marion and Patricia “Sis” Ebbe and her husband Michael. Gregory is also survived by his nephews Christopher, Michael, Richard and his wife Marisa, Richard and Peter Jr.; his greatnephew Ryder Thomas; his beloved ex-wife Michelle Cerstvik and many cousins, friends and extended family. He was predeceased by his parents Peter and Jennie (nee Jusinski).

In lieu of flowers, an expression of sympathy may be made to the American Cancer Society in care of Mulligan Funeral Home in loving memory of Greg.

David Anthony Collazo 

David Anthony Collazo died on Jan. 8. He was 23.

Born in Belleville, he lived in Kearny before moving to Towaco in 2006.

Visiting will be on Tuesday, Jan. 13, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass will be on Wednesday, Jan. 14, at 10 a.m. at Queen of Peace Church, North Arlington and entombment will follow in Holy Cross Cemetery. (www.armitagewiggins.com)

David is the beloved son of Jose and Maria Collazo and grandson of Carmen Sanpedro Davila. Brother of Brian, Jessica and the late Nicole Collazo, he is also survived by his uncle and aunts, Adolfo Rodriguez, Maria T. Vazquez and Maria C. Collazo, along with many loving cousins and friends.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Make A Wish Foundation.

Mary Devaney 

Mary Devaney (nee Brechin), 83, of Kearny, and formerly of Harrison, died on Jan. 6.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. Funeral services were at the funeral home, followed by interment in Holy Cross Cemetery.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Mrs. Devaney lived in Harrison before moving to Kearny four years ago. She was a cashier with A & P Supermarket in Kearny and Jersey City for 30 years, retiring in 1993.

She was the beloved wife of 62 years of James Devaney. She was the dear mother of James P. (Lisa) and Neil Devaney, grandmother of James P. Devaney Jr., Keth Devaney, Valerie Bradley and Paul Roman and greatgrandmother of Lillian Pires.

John B. Dowie 

John B. Dowie, 89, of Jupiter, Fla., passed away on Jan. 4.

Born and raised in Kearny, John attended Kearny schools where he excelled as an athlete and lettered in baseball, basketball, soccer and football; played shortstop and was captain of the baseball team that won the Greater Newark Tournament in 1943; and was inducted into the Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame for baseball.

Upon graduating from Kearny High School in June 1943, he entered the United States Army in August 1943 at the height of World War II and served as an infantryman with the 163rd Regimental Combat Team of the 41st Infantry Division in the Pacific where he took part in several island assaults against Japanese forces during the war and was wounded by enemy fire during the Battle of Biak Island for which he was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge.

Upon his return to Kearny, he attended John Marshall College and was active in area baseball and basketball organizations. In his free time, he devoted countless hours to coaching and managing Kearny youth baseball, something that he truly enjoyed.

Mr. Dowie was appointed to the Kearny Police Department in 1955 and then in 1962 to the Kearny Fire Department where he was honored as Fireman of the Year in 1977 as the result of a lifesaving event. After 32 years of service to the Town of Kearny, he retired to Spring Lake Heights, prior to moving to Jupiter, Fla.

John is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne V. Dowie (nee Kelly); son, John Dowie and his wife Ann; daughter, Suzanne DeLuca and her husband Jeffrey; and grandchildren, Catherine and Jonathan Dowie and Jeffrey, Joshua and Jesse DeLuca. His parents, William and Rubina Dowie, a sister, Ruby and three brothers, William, Robert and Walter, predeceased him.

A memorial service was held Jan. 7 at Taylor and Modeen Funeral Home, 250 Center St., Jupiter, Fla. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Sunflower Team, Hospice of Palm Beach Foundation, 5300 East Ave., West Palm Beach, Fla. 33407.

Stephen B. Haggerty 


Stephen B. Haggerty, 71, formerly of Williamsburg, Va, passed away peacefully, Friday, Jan. 2, in Burke, Va., with his wife at his side.

Steve was born Sept. 9, 1943, in the Bronx to Joseph Francis and Bridget Anne (Hughes) Haggerty. He graduated from St. Peters Preparatory School in Jersey City and from the then- St. Peter’s College. Steve was employed as a systems analyst for the mobile phone industry before his retirement to Williamsburg, Va.

Steve is survived by his wife of 50 years, Mary Ann Haggerty, son Brian Haggerty, daughter Laura Socha, brother William Haggerty, sister Marianne McGarry, eight grandchildren, and many loving nieces, nephews, and extended family. Steve was a loving father, husband, grandfather and friend to all. A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m., Monday, Jan. 19, at the Church of the Nativity, 6400 Nativity Lane, Burke, Va. 22015.

Memorial donations may be made to Capital Caring Hospice in Stephen’s name so that others may be blessed by their loving support at 2900 Telestar Court, Falls Church, Va. 22042 or capitalcaring.org.

Condolences to the family may be sent by mail/common carrier to: The Haggerty Family, c/o UPS Store, 5765-F Burke Centre Parkway, Burke, Va.

Break-ins disrupt holiday week


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


In the 24 years that his family has operated Fulger’s Golden Beer & Liquor, there’s never been any trouble from the outside. “It’s a nice, friendly neighborhood,” said owner Hitesh Patel.

Now, however, Patel is applying for a permit to carry a gun. Christmas week was marred for Patel and several other Harrison merchants when their shops – all within a few blocks of each other on Harrison Ave. – were burglarized – possibly by the same individual.

Harrison Police Capt. Michael Green said the first incident was reported at 4:18 a.m. on Christmas Day, from Fulger’s, at Harrison and Davis Aves., where – as the store’s surveillance tape revealed – a black male with a hoodie emerged from a pickup truck parked outside and smashed the glass front door with a brick.

Once inside, the burglar removed two cash registers with an undisclosed amount of cash and cigarettes and fled, probably in the pickup truck, Green said.

Last week, Fulger owner Patel told The Observer he was asleep in an apartment above the store when he was awakened by a call from one of his longtime customers informing him that, “my main door is shredding – they broke in.”

Patel said he immediately went downstairs to investigate. He found a brick – the one believed to have been used by the burglar – at the store entrance. And, he said, “I saw everything was on the floor and my two registers were missing.”

Surprisingly, Patel said, the shop’s alcohol stock was not disturbed.

Patel said an examination of his store’s surveillance footage shows that the same pickup truck the burglar was reportedly driving is seen circling the block – apparently casing the location – after the owner got his last delivery for the night.

“I work hard – 13 hours a day, seven days a week,” Patel said. “In the 24 years we have been at this location, we have known honest, loyal customers.”

Four years ago, Patel recalled, he secured security gates for the front entrance to his store, but given the level of comfort formed with his neighbors and patrons, he said he’s never given them a second thought.

Photo by Ron Leir Hitesh Patel holds brick that a burglar used to shatter his glass door.

Photo by Ron Leir
Hitesh Patel holds brick that a burglar used to shatter his glass door.


Since the break-in, however, “I use them,” he said.

Then, on the night of Dec. 30 and continuing into Dec. 31, a series of shops were victimized by an intruder who, Green said, could be the same individual who got into the liquor store earlier in the week.

At 12:15 a.m. on Dec. 31, police got a report of an attempted burglary at Hinze’s Deli, Harrison and Sixth St.

Deli owner Ted Toth told The Observer he was getting ready to lock up, at about 11 p.m., when he and an employee heard the sound of glass breaking in his front door. “It sounded like a BB gun shot,” he said. “We turned the lights on real quick, hoping we’d scare off whoever was there.”

It cost him $300 to replace the broken glass, Toth said.

The only consolation was that the culprit was denied entry.

Not so fortunate, however, was Pepita’s Beauty Salon, Harrison and Fifth St. At 1 a.m., police got a report that someone had shattered the glass in the salon’s front door window, got inside, removed $25 from the register and fled.

And, at 1:35 a.m., a police officer discovered a partly broken glass door at Harrison Grocery, Harrison and Third St. Here, though, no entry resulted, according to Green.

“We’re assuming,” he said, “that all these incidents are all connected, possibly the same individual,” looking to exploit the fact that with the holiday season, there figured to be more inventory and cash available.

Merchants said two other stores – a pizzeria and a Mexican eatery – were the targets of attempted burglaries but this couldn’t be readily confirmed with police.

In the meantime, police released an image of the suspected burglar captured on surveillance tape and asked anyone with information on any the incidents to call police at 973-483-4100.

4-year contract for cops

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


The borough has nailed down a new labor pact with the police union and narrowly approved a two-year extension of its contract with Police Chief Louis Ghione.

At a special meeting Dec. 29, the mayor and Borough Council unanimously voted to enter into a new agreement with Patrolman’s Benevolent Association Local 95 that will provide annual pay increases of 1.25% for four years, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2017.

The prior three-year contract had expired Dec. 31, 2013. The new agreement, which covers all 28 members of the North Arlington Police Department, except the chief, calls for annual pay raises of 1.25%, with no other changes to the existing steps in the salary guide or benefits.

As of last week, no new salary guide spelling out how pay levels for each police rank will change over the life of the contract had yet been prepared, according to Borough Administrator Steve LoIacono.

It took a state arbitrator, Frank Mason, to settle the prior contract: Mason awarded no pay increase for 2011, a 2.5% pay hike effective April 1, 2012; and an additional 2.5% raise effective April 1, 2013. Mason called for an 11-step process for a police officer to reach maximum pay, starting at $42,079 and topping off at $106,107 per year.

According to LoIacono, the old PBA contract set $121,510 as the base pay for police sergeant, $132,446 as base pay for lieutenant and $144,356 as base pay for captain. The chief’s contract entitles him to a salary at least 9% above captain’s pay and that provision is retained under his extended contract.

In a phone interview with The Observer last week, outgoing Mayor Peter Massa, a Democrat, hailed the new four-year agreement as “one of the lowest settlements in the (South Bergen) area. I commend the PBA for accepting my counter-proposal.”

And, Massa added, “I’m doing the new administration (led by incoming Mayor Joseph Bianchi, a Republican) a favor by wrapping up an important labor contract before I go out the door.”

PBA Local 95 President Robert Evans said the union negotiating team recommended approval of the pact to the membership, which, he said, voted overwhelmingly Dec. 30 for ratification.

Given the financial pressures felt by the borough, Evans said the union did what it could to “hammer out a deal to serve the interests of the officers and the taxpayers” – and without having to resort to a third party intervening.

Still, while the borough government may have achieved some measure of labor peace with the new contract, the Bianchi administration may soon find itself having to deal with the issue of maintaining sufficient personnel in the police ranks, given that, according to Evans, six members of the department – one officer and five superiors – representing about 20% of the force — are currently eligible for retirement.

“They can walk out the door tomorrow,” he said. At this point, it‘s unclear whether any or all of them will do that.

One key figure who will be presiding over this situation is Chief Ghione, whose term of employment, under his old contract, had run from Dec. 31, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2015, and which now continues through Dec. 31, 2017.

The Borough Council had deadlocked 3-3 along party lines on the Democrats’ proposal to lengthen the chief’s contract and it fell to Massa to cast the tie-breaking vote in the chief’s favor.

Bianchi told The Observer last week that he and his fellow Republicans opposed the contract extension because the chief’s old contract specifies that a new contract “can’t be talked about until September 2015. There are to be no negotiations until 2015.” By voting now to give the chief another two years, “we broke the contract and it was wrong,” Bianchi said.

Asked for his reaction, Massa said he interpreted the language in the old agreement to mean that, “it encourages the parties to negotiate prior to the expiration date of the contract. To keep stability, the chief agreed to an extension with no additional benefits. He’s done an exemplary job during his 10 years as chief. He’s kept the crime rate low, he’s managed the department well with minimum manpower and he’s helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in (police) grants.”

Winter haven for Hudson homeless


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


If you open it, they will come.

That’s what Hudson County has done for the adult homeless population and they’ve been coming. They are directed to the third floor of the former U.S. Naval Reserve Readiness Center at 53 Hackensack Ave. in South Kearny to accept the hospitality of a “warming center.”

It’s a place where folks with nowhere else to go can come in from the cold and spend the night in a safe environment. It’s safe because it’s monitored/ staffed by the county Department of Corrections.

And while they have no beds or cots, DOC is continuing to collect bunches of recliners that serve just as well for the exhausted men and women who are guests of the facility.

“We feed them, give them toiletries, shower facilities, clean clothing if they need any, and there’s a big common area where they can interrelate or watch TV,” said DOC Director Oscar Aviles.

“We’ve been averaging 50 to 75 every night,” Aviles said.

In the morning, the visitors are taken to the Garden State Episcopal Community nonprofit in Jersey City which is contracted by the county to interview them and refer them to a variety of social services – housing, substance abuse treatment job counseling, etc.

The Hackensack Ave. space has been used sporadically in past years, to take the overflow from shelters on especially frigid nights but this is the first time that it’s being deployed daily through the winter season, to March 15. The South Kearny connection is part of a new approach by the county to its homelessness issue.

Last winter, homeless folks found in the streets by outreach workers would be directed to any of three shelters operating in Hudson – St. Lucy’s Emergency Shelter, 619 Grove St., Jersey City; the Palisades Emergency Residence Corp. (PERC), 108 36th St., Union City; and the Hoboken Shelter, 300 Bloomfield St., Hoboken – but only if the temperature fell to 26 degrees or below.

Since that rule could be pretty cumbersome to enforce, a new policy was put in place to allow shelters to accept as many walk-ins as they could reasonably accommodate regardless of what the thermometer reads, according to Randi Moore, chief of the county Division of Housing and Community Development.

At the same time, Moore said, the county has contracted with Garden State Episcopal Community, a Jersey City-based nonprofit, for $75,000 to send out outreach teams seven days a week on a year-round basis, to work with homeless people ages 18 and older, concentrated in and around the PATH stations at Journal Square and Hoboken, to help get the resources they need to stabilize them and, to work toward becoming self-supporting, if possible.

Members of homeless families, with young children, are directed to a county hotline for referrals to a hotel stay for the night, Moore said.

On his end, Aviles arranges for bus transports, with two corrections supervisors aboard, to make stops at Journal Square at 9 p.m. and at the Hoboken Terminal at 10 p.m. to pick up any homeless adults looking for a place to sleep and bring them to South Kearny where a third corrections officer awaits.

DOC has budgeted $270,000 for the warming center program, Aviles said. No rental fee is being assessed by the building’s landlord for the use of the third-floor space, he said.

The pace of Hudson homelessness has quickened, Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea asserted. Counts have reached “close to 400 a night physically living in the streets – more than double than a year ago,” he said.

As the problem intensifies, O’Dea said the answer lies in “creating more units” of transitional housing with social service resources to offer those adrift a “bridge to help them back to stability.”

And, Moore said, the county is hoping to set the stage to do exactly that by coordinating continuous care projects for the chronically homeless by applying to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development for $1 million to fund 27 housing units with fund services for two years.

Attention must be paid, Aviles said, “because it appears this is a problem that is not going to go away.”

Cops in Essex getting Narcan


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

In April 2014, Gov. Christie announced a pilot program to equip some New Jersey police departments with Narcan, an antidote administered to persons suffering from a heroin overdose.

The initiative was launched in Monmouth and Ocean counties and reportedly has since saved the lives of more than 220 individuals.

Now, the program is being expanded to Essex County.

Last week, County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced that all 27 police agencies in Essex are receiving Narcan kits. In total, 250 kits will be distributed.

“The goal of this program is to equip every police department in Essex County, including campus police and others, to be able to immediately render life-saving assistance to someone who is overdosing on heroin or other opiates,’’ Murray said in a press release.

“Because police officers often arrive on the scene prior to emergency medical personnel, they will now be able to intervene and provide relief until back-up help arrives,’’ Murray said.

According to Murray’s office, Narcan, a trade name for Naloxone, “is a drug with no euphoric properties and minimal side effects. If administrated to a person who is not experiencing an overdose, it cannot harm the patient. It comes in nasal form and can easily be administered by someone with little or no medical background.”

In October, representatives from the various law enforcement agencies attended a Train the Trainer seminar at the Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove. Those officers will, in turn, instruct members of their departments in administration of the antidote.

How well does it work? The following is from a National Public Radio report quoting a Revere, Mass., deputy fire chief: “It’s just incredible, it’s like magic.

“There’s somebody who’s on the ground who’s literally dead. They have no pulse.

“Sometimes they’re blue, sometimes they’re black. And you administer this stuff and sometimes, in a minute or two or three, they’re actually up and talking to you.”

The Belleville Police Department has received five Narcan kits from the prosecutor’s office and plans to purchase five more, Detective Gary Souss told The Observer. There will be one in every patrol car, he said.

Paramedics currently are equipped with Narcan, but since the police are often the first to arrive at a medical call, they have been at a disadvantage. They could offer some first aid, but in an overdose case, they had to wait for EMS to arrive before the life-saving antidote could be used.

“Now, the first-responders will have it,” Souss said.

Souss said members of the Belleville PD patrol division will begin training in Narcan use sometime this month, after training materials are received from the county.

Narcan has not been without controversy. Critics have argued that the antidote does not address the underlying causes of addiction and might even encourage heroin use because an overdose would no longer amount to a death sentence. When Christie launched the program, however, he emphasized that it would be just one “vital, life-saving element” in New Jersey’s “broader approach to the drug problem, which also includes vigorous awareness, enforcement and anti-addiction efforts.”

Another objection, though, has been the cost.

The Prosecutor’s Office is footing the bill for the initial 250 kits distributed in Essex County. They cost a reported $50 each, for a total of $12,500.

However, the individual PDs will be responsible for replenishing the supply or, as in Belleville, buying any additional kits.

A spokesperson for Murray told The Observer, “It is my understanding refills will run about $30.” But according to Souss, the five extras that his department is buying will cost $60 each.

That appears to reflect November news reports that the price of Narcan was soon expected to double.

There has also been speculation that, as the demand for Narcan increases nationwide, and since there is only one current supplier, the cost will continue to rise.

Town awards PILOT, issues bonds


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


The tax break for Kearny Point Industrial Park – or, at least, the first in what’s likely to be a series of such financial concessions – is a done deal.

Kearny’s governing body voted in special session Dec. 29 to approve an ordinance granting a 30-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxation) for an existing warehouse known as Building 78 on John Miller Way.

Plans by the Kearny Point principals call for the rehabilitation of the 207,000 square foot warehouse into eight condominium “flex spaces,” each of which would accommodate separate tenants.

When the building is fully developed, the town – which currently collects about $60,000 in taxes for the property – figures to net at least $311,636 for the first year of the PILOT, of which it will pocket $296,064, with the rest going to the county. But the town won’t be seeing all of that at once.

As explained by Thomas Banker, financial adviser to Kearny Point, “The expectation is that construction will begin by mid-January with the earliest occupancy [of the initial flex space] by Hugo Neu Recycling [relocating from Mt. Vernon, N.Y.] by April 2015.”

Banker said the “first PILOT” will “kick in” after the town issues a certificate of occupancy (CO) for the recycling tenant who will be taking over 65,000 square feet of interior space (or 72,000 square feet, counting some overlap of “common elements” of the building).

“The other condominium units will still be subject to conventional taxation,” Banker told the mayor and council, based on a “distribution of [tax] assessments across the entire property. … We hope that you’ll be getting PILOTs as the other commercial units get their COs.”

Banker said that Kearny Point owner Wendy Neu will be filing an application with the state Department of Community Affairs for the proposed commercial condo units “right after” New Year’s and approval is anticipated “in a matter of weeks.”

Sometime during January, Banker added, Kearny Point should be getting word on applications filed with the N.J. Economic Development Authority for a “Grow New Jersey” grant to support the Neu Recycling condo project and with the N.J. Environmental Infrastructure Trust fund to help finance water and sewer main improvements for the entire industrial park site.

So far, no other tenants have been secured for the site but Banker said that the owner is very close to signing leases with at least two prospective occupants.

Meanwhile, in other business conducted at the Dec. 29 meeting, the mayor and council approved a $2 million general improvement bond ordinance proposing to borrow:

• $600,000 for an unspecified number of patrol sport utility vehicles with equipment for the Police Department.

• $400,000 for the acquisition/ installation of fiber optic and computer infrastructure town-wide to tie into police surveillance cameras.

• $350,000 for a dump truck, pickup truck and utility van for Public Works.

• $350,000 for equipment and turnout gear for the Fire Department.

• $300,000 for computer infrastructure and equipment for the Police Department.

Dep. Police Chief George King said the department is looking to purchase up to 12 Ford Explorer Police Interceptors, plus light bars, cages, radio consoles, e-ticket units and computer mounts. And, he said, the department desperately needs to update its computer servers and software. The governing body also:

• Awarded a $1,444,980 contract to Reivax Contracting Corp. of Newark to resurface Midland Ave., between Kearny and Schuyler Aves., and approved a $1 million bond ordinance for water utility infrastructure improvements for Midland.

• Belatedly accepted a memorandum of understanding that sets conditions for the town’s receipt of transitional aid from the state.

• Set a developer’s contribution to the town for flood/ drainage improvements as $33,333 in connection with an approved townhouses project on Tappan St. and $63,333 related to a proposed factory rehab project that was rejected by the Planning Board.

• Agreed to pay an additional $20,626, mostly for new fencing, for the Kearny Public Library Reading Garden project. The original $245,000 contract, partly subsidized by a $150,000 Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund grant, was awarded to Lou’s Landscaping of Wayne. Library Director Josh Humphrey said he’s planning to hold several children’s events and adult music programs in the space in the spring.