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State: Distracted-driving incidents total 1.4 million

By Karen Zautyk Observer Correspondent The statistics are mind-boggling. From 2004 to 2013, 1.4 million motor vehicle accidents in New Jersey were linked to distracted driving. Repeat: 1.4 million. In New Jersey alone. From 2003 to 2012, more than 1,600 people were killed […]


Moving day is coming

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent KEARNY – Even Steven Shalom, who has run Discount City in Kearny since 1992, concedes that sprucing up the Passaic Ave. mall with BJ’s Wholesale Club as a new anchor store, will be “a good […]


Going out in style with Blue Ribbon

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent HARRISON – You could say Ron Shields’ career as a Harrison educator was preordained, given that both his parents taught at Harrison High School. His dad, Fred Shields, a 1936 soccer Olympian, was a physical […]


For the sake of the Passaic

By Karen  Zautyk Observer Correspondent KEARNY– Plastic lawn chairs, propane tanks, wrought iron railings, pipes, dead shrubbery, pieces of street signs, and innumerable plastic shopping bags and plastic bottles — but no groundhogs. The groundhogs who burrow along the banks […]


Nothing stops her

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent Harrison’s Blanca Alvarez was sick with the flu the morning of the big race. “But I decided to run anyway,” she said. Still, Alvarez had something to brag about: Her time of 1:08:44.96 was good […]


Unsung heroes in our midst

  By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent HARRISON – The Harrison American Legion Post 282 salutes Joseph Moscinski as 2013 Firefighter of the Year and Corey Karas as Police Officer of the Year on April 26 at 4 p.m. at the […]


Armed robbery suspect caught

Photo courtesy North Arlington PD Ahmed N. Alaidy

Photo courtesy North Arlington PD
Ahmed N. Alaidy



An out-of-state man was taken into custody soon after he allegedly held up and robbed two young borough residents in the early hours of Sunday, March 9, police said.

North Arlington Police Chief Louis Ghione credited Kearny PD’s quick response to an alarm broadcast after the incident as leading to the apprehension of the suspect.

According to NAPD Capt. James Hearn, headquarters received a 9-1-1 emergency call at 3:41 a.m. that two 20-year-old North Arlington males had been robbed at gunpoint on the street on Harding Ave. near Morgan Place.

The victims told police that the suspect pointed what appeared to be a silver revolver at them and demanded cash. The robber got away with $15 from one victim and $26 from the other, they told police. The victims weren’t harmed, police said.

North Arlington PD then put out a radio broadcast of the robbery, along with a description of the suspect, and, soon after, Kearny PD had located a man matching the description on the Belleville Turnpike a couple of blocks from the bridge, seemingly trying to hide.

Picking up the story, KPD Police Chief John Dowie said that Police Officer Derek Hemphill was on patrol along the Pike observed the suspect acting suspiciously and asked him what he was doing there. The suspect replied that he was looking for a particular store and, when asked his identify, gave Hemphill a fake name, leading the officers to charge the man with hindering apprehension, Dowie said.

A search of the suspect yielded the proceeds of the robbery, Hearn said.

Police called in the Bergen County Sheriff BCI’s canine unit for an assist and, at around the same time, according to Dowie, KPD Officer Glen Reed found a weapon, believed to have been used in the robbery, which, Hearn said, turned out to be a starter’s pistol – in the bushes near a medical office at 12 Belleville Turnpike.

The suspect, Ahmed N. Alaidy, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged by NAPD with two counts of robbery, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose and terroristic threats.

Ghione said that Alaidy was ordered held at Bergen County Jail, Hackensack, on bail of $100,000, with no 10% cash option, pending court action.

– Ron Leir

Probing public relations services


The borough’s public relations employee – who also works for Bergen County and Hackensack – is reportedly the focus of several subpoenas issued by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and served on those employers, according to published reports.

The Record and NorthJersey. com reported last week that office is seeking information about the employment of Thomas Ammirato as it relates to all three of his jobs. They listed his yearly pay as $21,600 from North Arlington, $35,000 from Bergen County and $78,000 from Hackensack.

Ammirato told The Observer that none of his employers had mentioned any problems with him and that he knew nothing about the subpoenas until he’d read about them in the press.

“I’ve consulted an attorney,” he said last week. “I don’t know what they’re looking for.”

In North Arlington, where he’s worked “on and off for several years,” Ammirato said, “They’re happy with my work product. I produce everything I’m supposed to. I’m always available to members of the press. I just want to do my job to the best of my ability.”

Asked about the subpoena served on the borough, North Arlington Mayor Peter Massa said he inferred that, “It’s part of a wide-ranging investigation. We’ve complied.” Massa said he was legally precluded from saying what specific information the borough was asked to provide but said it was in the category of “general business records.”

Massa added: “We don’t have an issue with [Ammirato’s] work. He does what he’s supposed to do for us. He works well within the scope of services of his [one-year] contract, which is for $1,800 a month.”

Ammirato said he has “the same sort of contract with Hackensack, but it’s a lot more work.” He said he’s worked for the city since the end of July 2013.

He said he’s worked for the county, as an employee, since Memorial Day 2012.

A registered Republican, Ammirato said he’s also done “project work,” periodically, for various GOP officials in the state.

– Ron Leir


Anthony James DeLeva

Anthony James DeLeva, 55, of Lyndhurst, passed away on Thursday, March 6.

He was the beloved husband of Michele DeLeva (nee Matonis) who works in financial aid at Montclair State University; the devoted son of Rose DeLeva Bonavota; loving father of Gloria, Anthony Jr., Robert, Briana, PJ, Alexa and Franky DeLeva; dear brother of Peter Bonavota and the late Emily Renzullo; cherished grandfather of Alyssa, Brandon, Emily, Robert Jr. and Anthony III.

Mr. DeLeva was an executive chef for 35 years.

Arrangements were by the Ippolito-Stellato Funeral Home, 425 Ridge Rd., Lyndhurst. A funeral Mass was held at Sacred Heart Church. Interment was in St. Joseph Cemetery, Lyndhurst. Donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Pl., Memphis Tenn. 38105.

Anna Moore

Anna Moore, 88, of Kearny, died on March 9.

Arrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny. A Mass of Christian burial was officiated at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Kearny. Interment was in Holy Cross Cemetery.

Born in Newark, Mrs. Moore lived most of her life in Kearny.

She was the beloved wife of the late Ernest Arthur Moore; mother of Ernest Wayne (Maureen) Moore, Charles Arthur (Valerie) Moore and Barbara Ann (Leith) Moore Mace; sister of Jon Shindle and the late Mary, Mildred, Emily and Joseph; grandmother of Steven (Sandra) Moore, Marisa Mace, Kevin Moore and Christine (Eric) Ziomek and great-grandmother of Lily and Shawn.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758518, Topeka, Kan. 66675 (www.woundedwarriorsproject.org) or The Popcorn Park Zoo, 1 Humane Way, Forked River, N.J. 08731 (www. ahscares.org) would be appreciated.

Gloria Ruiz

Gloria Ruiz died March 13. She was 62.

Born in Puerto Rico, she lived in Harrison.

Arrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny, with a funeral service held at the funeral home, followed by a private cremation.

Gloria was the dear companion of Rafael DeJusus, mother of Carmen Ruiz, Pedro Lebron and Joel Zapata and sister of Benjamin and Hector Ruiz, Annie Alvarez and Luz Parada.

Free Dentistry Day

Free Dentistry Day copy


Continuing to give back to the community, Dr. Rich Ekstein of Smile Design Specialists, 312 Belleville Turnpike, Suite 3B, North Arlington, will offer his second annual free “Dentistry Saturday” on April 12.

Ekstein and his staff say they’re excited to be part of this Pay-It- Forward day. They have been trying to find a way to help local families and thought that offering their skills and services may help ease the stress of unforeseen dental expenses.

Smile Design Specialists will provide, at no cost, teeth cleaning, fillings, extractions and any other necessary dental work which can be performed in one visit to people who are unemployed or who are the spouse or child of someone who is jobless.

Those wishing to participate are asked to schedule their visit by calling 201-991-1228 and pressing 2 for Stephanie, to reserve an appointment time for between 9 a.m and 3 p.m. on April 12.

Anyone with questions about services and/or eligibility is invited to call the office.

Harrison woman nabbed in bank jobs

Main photo courtesy Harrison PD Inset photo courtesy Newark PD Bank security photo. Inset: Police mug shot of bank suspect Valeria Parziale

Main photo courtesy Harrison PD
Inset photo courtesy Newark PD
Bank security photo. Inset: Police mug shot of bank suspect Valeria Parziale


By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


A 34-year-old Harrison woman was being held in the Essex County Jail on $300,000 bail in connection with the Jan. 30 hold-up of a Harrison bank — and of two Newark banks in February, authorities have reported.

The suspect, Valeria Parziale, was arrested Feb. 24 on a street in Newark by officers of the Newark Police Department Street Crimes Unit, Harrison police said.

A spokesman for the Harrison PD said it had been working closely with the Newark police in cooperation with the FBI on the investigation into the robbery of the Valley National Bank at 433 Harrison Ave.

Police said Parziale, who was captured on security video, had entered the bank near S. Fifth St. at 1:30 p.m., Jan. 30, and handed a teller a note demanding $3,000. She reportedly claimed to be armed, but no weapon was seen.

The bandit fled with $2,550, police said, and investigation later revealed that she had entered a cab several blocks away and was driven to Newark.

According to reports, Parziale has also been linked to a Feb. 14 robbery of a Wells Fargo Bank and a Feb. 20 heist at a Banco Popular, both located on Bloomfield Ave. in Newark’s North Ward.

In both of those incidents, tellers reportedly were presented with notes and the robber claimed to be armed, but no weapon was displayed.

Parziale, who allegedly has 15 aliases, has made headlines in the past.

According to published reports, in October 2009, she escaped from a Trenton halfway house, where she had been serving a three-year sentence for violating parole from a Hudson County drug conviction.

However, she was soon back in custody. In a 2012 story on New Jersey halfway houses, the New York Times wrote: “Nine days later [after the 2009 escape], in a Newark liquor store, Ms. Parziale . . . attacked a man with a folding knife, cutting off part of his ear and slashing his face, prosecutors said. She was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and possession of a weapon.”

Disposition of that case is not known.

Hoping for tax relief

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


With its back against the wall, Kearny’s municipal government is poised to go with hat in hand to the Christie administration and beg for financial help.

Mayor Alberto Santos said he’s asked the town auditor and CFO to draft an application to the state Local Finance Board for “transitional aid” by the March 14 deadline, conditional on first getting Town Council approval.

The council was expected to consider the matter at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, March 11. Reportedly, the mayor can count on at least four members’ votes which, combined with his own, would provide the required authorization to file.

How much the town will be asking for was still up in the air, as of last week, but one insider reported that it could be as much as $3 million – less than 5% of its $75 million municipal budget.

Even if Kearny manages to persuade the state’s fiscal overseers to hand over the cash, it would still mean that local property owners would face a tax increase – the owners of a house assessed at $10,000, for example, could expect their 2014 tax bill to rise by about $70 for municipal purposes, according to Santos.

And it could be even more, the mayor acknowledged, depending on spending blueprints of the local school system and the county for this year.

But without an infusion of state aid, the outlook will be grimmer, Santos said, with financial experts projecting a 10% municipal tax increase based on current spending levels.

That’s an alternative that Santos said he finds unacceptable because it would force Kearny to “slash municipal services, which I would oppose.”

Asked about the possibility of asking voters to allow the town to increase spending above the state-mandated 2% budget cap, Santos said: “I don’t want to go to referendum. We can’t afford an increase.”

Santos said his administration has done everything it can to keep a lid on local property taxes by effecting municipal cutbacks through attrition, by hiring only part-timers to fill vacancies and by negotiating employee contracts with minimal raises, extended salary guide steps and reduced longevity pay.

With personnel levels in the Police and Fire Departments well below what’s permitted by town ordinance, “we can’t go any lower” without compromising the expectations of residents and business owners to public safety protections, the mayor said.

And, even though – as a condition of getting transitional aid – Kearny would have to accept being under the thumb of a state fiscal monitor who could veto any hirings, purchases or any significant spending proposed by the town, Santos said that restriction is preferable to “undergoing further costs.”

To be eligible for transitional aid, under rules set by the state Division of Local Government Services, a municipality must, among other things, submit its budget to the state for review; show that it achieved savings via “limited increases” in pay scales, reduced staffing levels, modified work rules and benefits; and “must demonstrate severe fiscal distress that will result in a constrained ability to raise sufficient revenues for meeting budgetary requirements.”

Santos said the state has “reduced to zero” the money Kearny was supposed to get in annual Consolidated Municipal Tax Relief Aid and has “frozen” the amount of annual utility revenues at $18 million “when we should be getting $24 million a year.”

Council President Carol Jean Doyle, who chairs the council finance committee, said she supports the application. “We’re in a position where we don’t have a lot of options,” Doyle said. “I think this is the best way to go for the taxpayers of Kearny – we owe that to the residents. It’s so difficult now to keep taxes as close to flat as possible. We’re doing everything we can to control costs, I don’t know what else we can do.”

Doyle acknowledged that Kearny may just be going through an exercise in futility. “I don’t think the governor is a friend,” she said. “I don’t see any help coming from him. I’d rate our chances as slim to none.”

“But this is the prudent thing to do,” Doyle said. “I can’t see us raising taxes any more than we have and nobody is in favor of laying anyone off. … The finance committee talked about making this application four weeks ago. But well before that, we knew this day was coming.”

Asked about regionalization as a money-saving strategy, Doyle said the town tried to negotiate a deal with its neighbor Harrison to consolidate municipal Fire Departments but couldn’t come to an agreement on dollars.

Neither Santos nor Doyle had any answers to what the town would do if its application is denied.

Pothole needs filling? Call hotline

Photo courtesy Kearny DPW DPW employee Brian Paul applies fi nishing touches to pothole on Davis Ave. near Laurel Ave.

Photo courtesy Kearny DPW
DPW employee Brian Paul applies fi nishing touches to pothole on Davis Ave. near Laurel Ave.



Kearny’s beleaguered public works crews have been up to their collective ears in snow and brine and, now in the aftermath of cleaning up the white stuff, they’re busy filling in potholes.

Since folks began digging their way out of snow-packed streets, some 500 holes all over town had been filled with 35 tons of asphalt, by the reckoning of Assistant Public Works Superintendent Kevin Murphy.

If there are still some that remain unattended, Mayor Alberto Santos and Public Works Superintendent Gerry Kerr are inviting people to call a telephone hotline at 201-955- 7889 and leave a message giving the nearest street address or nearest cross street for that pothole.

Residents can also use their mobile devices to report a pothole by downloading the Town of Kearny’s SeeClickFix app which allows the user to either manually enter the location or, within the town’s boundaries, to use the system’s GPS technology to pinpoint its location. The app is available, for free, at the App Store or can be downloaded at http://www.seeclickfix.com/ apps.

This winter, Kearny DPW has responded to more than a dozen storms that dumped in excess of 55 inches of snow, officials said. For the recent three-day period when the town got hit with a cumulative total of 17 inches, the DPW logged nearly $38,000 in overtime, working consecutive 12-hour shifts in rotation.

A press release issued by the mayor and public works offices said that temperature variations during the winter “cause the water that seeps under pavement to freeze and then thaw, resulting in cycles of contracting and expanding water [which] can cause the pavement to crack. Once cracked, the pavement deteriorates quickly under the weight of traffic. Water underneath pavement can also weaken the road by eroding the material underneath, causing the pavement to sink and break.”

One such episode was noticed by Santos while driving through town last Thursday at the intersection of Kearny Ave. and Liberty St. where stone and fill were brought in to fix what the mayor described as a “small sinkhole” before topping it with asphalt.

Among the many craters that have cropped up, Santos said, are “serious potholes” on Bergen Ave. between Schuyler and Harrison Aves. “That’s probably our busiest local road where a lot of traffic goes to get to Rt. 280 and the Turnpike and temperature fluctuations plus the weight of vehicles caused the holes to form,” he said.

Santos said the town didn’t begin filling the holes earlier “because asphalt wasn’t available.” Some years ago, Kearny acquired a furnace-like unit in hopes of making its own asphalt but the equipment didn’t live up to its billing, the mayor said.

This spring, Santos said, the town hopes to repave a section of Kearny Ave. between Linden Ave. and the Jones Bridge. Also, the town has secured $200,000 to repave part of Midland Ave., “but we’re applying for more [state Department of Transportation] funding to do as much of the street, from Schuyler Ave. to Kearny Ave., as we can. We’re also looking at the condition of the water line under Midland to determine how much money we’ll need for everything. We’ll probably do the job in several phases.”

– Ron Leir

Skyway in line for mid-April fix

Top photo by Ron Leir, bottom courtesy nj.com Construction of new Hackensack River Bridge (top) is progressing while repairs to Pulaski Skyway should start in a few weeks.

Top photo by Ron Leir, bottom courtesy nj.com
Construction of new Hackensack River Bridge (top) is progressing while repairs to Pulaski Skyway should start in a few weeks.


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


Better adjust your travel plans because it’s coming … finally.

The long-anticipated – and long-dreaded – big fix to the 80-year-old Pulaski Skyway will begin next month, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The DOT announcement, which was quietly posted on the DOT website on Feb. 24, says that, “Saturday, April 12 will mark the start of an approximate two-year period for construction activity connected to the $1 billion Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation project, which will improve road and travel conditions in both the northbound and southbound lanes across the deck of the 3.5-mile bridge.”

Work will start with repairs to the two northbound lanes. “When that work is completed,” the DOT explains, “southbound traffic will be shifted to the new northbound bridge deck. This shift will allow workers to rebuild the two travel lanes that normally carry southbound traffic.”

DOT reminds motorists that, “Motorists will be unable to travel in the northbound direction, from Newark to Jersey City, for the duration of the construction period.”

Once that happens, it will spawn nasty consequences for local travelers forced to take alternate routes, particularly through the South Kearny area, predicts Kearny Police Sgt. John Manley, deputy coordinator of the town’s Office of Emergency Management.

The closure, Manley said, “is going to increase traffic to roads already taxed to the maximum,” such as Truck Rt. 1&9, Rt. 7 (Belleville Turnpike) and Harrison Ave., with the “biggest impact” expected during the morning rush.

Secondary thoroughfares like Fish House Road, Second St. and Hackensack Ave. – all of which loop through South Kearny – will also be congested, Manley said.

And, since all those roads – particularly Rt. 7 and Harrison Ave. – flood during rainstorms, that could be a recipe for traffic gridlock, Manley said.

Similarly, Manley warned, a disabled car or accident on the Skyway – with the South Kearny exit ramp, and all exit ramps, being closed to southbound commuters (but open to emergency providers) – will potentially cause hours of delay. “An incident on the Skyway will back up traffic into the [Holland] Tunnel and into Manhattan,” he said.

Worst possible scenario is the closure “is going to double people’s travel times,” Manley said. “I would encourage people to leave early to get to their destination.”

Another severe winter like the one now being experienced will only compound the travel complexities, Manley said.

Not to mention the issue of the Norfolk & Southern freight line that hauls industrial wastes out of the South Kearny area. Manley said there are negotiations involving the rail line, CSX (which controls the rail yard), the waste company, Kearny and the DOT to try and limit the train’s movements to off-peak hours.

If the “garbage train” plods along during morning or afternoon peak times, “traffic will come to a standstill in South Kearny,” Manley predicted, and “emergency responses will be delayed for hours.” Manley said that Kearny police, fire and EMS representatives have been meeting periodically with their counterparts from Jersey City, Newark and the Port Authority of N.Y. & N.J. to discuss the logistics of getting to accidents and the like during the closure.

“It’s going to be a learning experience,” he said.

For its part, DOT says it has worked for more than a year “to develop alternate routes and travel modes for the motorists who currently travel in the northbound direction on the Skyway, which carries Rt. 1&9 traffic,” and which is most crowded between 6 and 9 a.m. when an estimated 9,600 cars head toward Jersey City, Hoboken, other Hudson County destinations, and New York.

As alternate routes, DOT recommends drivers consider taking:

• N.J. Turnpike Newark Bay

• Hudson County Extension (I-78) where an eastbound shoulder will be converted to a third travel lane during morning and evening rush to handle an additional 4,500 cars.

• N.J. Turnpike Eastern Spur, projected to accommodate an additional 1,500 cars during morning rush.

• Truck Rt. 1&9, where “adaptive traffic signal control technology and intersection and entrance ramp improvements” will help take almost 1,700 more cars. To deal with “crashes, breakdowns and other incidents,” DOT “is staging state Safety Service Patrol trucks and two trucks to respond to incidents as quickly as possible.”

On the public transportation front, DOT says the P.A. and NJ Transit are taking steps to increase ridership capacity on its train and bus services. The P.A., for example, will add more PATH departures from Newark Penn Station to accommodate 6,000 additional riders. NJ Transit is adding trips on the Morris & Essex Lines between Summit and Hoboken Terminal, on the North Jersey Coast Line between Bay Head and Hoboken and the Raritan Valley Line to and from Newark Penn Station.

Also, DOT will provide monthly $325 subsidies to NJ Transit through the Hudson County TMA “to support up to 10 new vanpools” to handle about 100 commuters. DOT and the Hudson TMA “are visiting work sites to provide employees with a clear summary of their [travel] options.”

Meanwhile, DOT is continuing work on replacement of the Rt. 7 Wittpenn Bridge over the Hackensack River with a new $480 million vertical lift bridge rising parallel to and 250 feet north of the existing bridge. It will carry two 12-foot lanes, a 12-foot auxiliary lane and an 8-to-12-foot shoulder in each direction, plus a 6-foot sidewalk along the eastern roadway. An 8-foot median with barrier will separate opposing traffic flows. Pedestrians and bicycles will be accommodated. The new lift will allow for a minimum vertical clearance of 70 feet above mean high tide in the closed position – double the capacity of the existing span.

Part of the job calls for reconstruction of a portion of Fish House Road, construction of a pump station and pipe jacking under railroads. Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said that his understanding is that, “DOT will be sinking Fish House Road to get sufficient overhead coverage for trucks.” As for the pump facility, Santos said that Fish House Road “floods with normal rain events.”

Work is proceeding in five phases:

Contract 1 calls for construction of river piers and fender system, and a pier protection system on either side of the channel consisting of “73 eight-foot diameter drilled shafts that are anchored into rock.” This phase will be done by summer 2014.

Contract 2 provides for off-line portions of the bridge on the Jersey City side, including construction of several piers, superstructure, base supports for sign structures, barrier gate and warning gate supports, and utility relocations. This work should be done by fall 2014.

Contract 3A calls for construction of a pump station, surcharge for Fish House Road abutments, reconstruction of part of Fish House Road and pipe jacking under railroads. Fish House Road and ramps to and from Fish House Road to Rt. 7 will be closed for two weekends. Contract 3 will see construction of the new vertical lift span, with control and machinery houses, lift span towers on the piers already built and the Kearny approach, and construction of off-line portion of the main lift span on the Kearny side, including piers and superstructure, base supports for signs and barrier gate.

Contract 4 will provide for construction of the final bridge and approach roadways and improvements to the Fish House Road interchange, plus new connection ramps to Newark Ave. and St. Paul’s Ave., demolition of old bridge, and utility relocations.

The entire job should be completed by summer 2020.

Get a feel for feline fancy: ‘Cats’ at KHS

Top photo courtesy Kathleen Astrella; bottom photo by Ron Leir TOP: The cast of “Cats.” BOTTOM: Playing Grizabella, Demeter and Munkustrap, respectively, from l., are Cassie Shea, Jessica Sela and Michael Oliveira.

Top photo courtesy Kathleen Astrella; bottom photo by Ron Leir
TOP: The cast of “Cats.” BOTTOM: Playing Grizabella, Demeter and Munkustrap, respectively, from l., are Cassie Shea, Jessica Sela and Michael Oliveira.


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


Kearny High School’s upcoming spring musical is certain to give you “paws,” if you’ll pardon the pun.

It’s “Cats,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about a tribe of cats known as the Jellicles that enjoyed a twodecade- long run on Broadway and a 21-year run in London.

The show, based on the poet T.S. Elliott’s book, “Old Possum’s Book of Cats,” has been translated into 20 different languages.

But this will mark the first time around for local audiences. “It’s something we’ve never done before here,” said director Brian Toal. “We thought it would mesh well with the talent we have available.”

For the past two months, Toal – who is also stage and vocal director – has been pushing his Kardinal cast of 30 through the show’s demanding paces. “It’s challenging musically since there’s music and dancing 90% of the way through,” he explained.

“Our kids leave here tired every night,” Toal said. “We’ve had to make up for time lost to snow days so they’ve been coming in Friday nights, weekends. I have to say, to their credit, this is the most energetic cast I’ve had.”

When these human felines start purring, so to speak, they’ll be accompanied by an eight-piece orchestra of professional musicians, including some former KHS students, under the baton of music director Ed Gargiulo.

Easily the best known tune from the musical is “Memory,” which 17-year-old senior Cassie Shea, as the outcast Grizabella, gets to sing.

It turns out that her character isn’t mentioned in “Old Possum’s Book of Cats” but, instead, appears as the four-legged version of the woman in another Elliott poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Cassie, performing in her fifth and final KHS musical (she got her first shot on stage as an eighth-grader), has found her role something of a reach.

“[Grizabella] used to be young and beautiful and she wanted to go off and see the world. Now she’s grown old and beat up and she wants to come back to the tribe but she’s shunned. I’ve never played a role like this before and I’m friends with the other kids in the cast so when they try to keep me away in the play, we end up laughing,” Cassie said.

But she’s working hard to keep it together for the good of the show, she says.

Jessica Sela, 17, a senior appearing in her second KHS musical, plays Demeter, who Jessica describes as “one of the more sensual cats out there” and a leader of the opposition to Grizabella’s return to the tribe.

“She left and exposed herself to something different [and] I don’t want Grizabella’s influence on the younger cats,” Jessica said, explaining her character’s motivation. Pressed for more, Jessica added: “There may be some jealousy behind it, too.”

The notion of being protective as the character has a real life parallel for Jessica. “I’m defensive about what’s mine,” she says.

Demeter is aligned with the tribe’s second in command, Munkustrap, acted by another 17-year-old senior Michael Oliveira, doing his third KHS musical and bound and determined, after graduation, “to be on the stage for as long as I live, but I also want to teach [acting].”

“Munkustrap wants to protect everyone from harm,” Michael says of his character. He, too, has found a real-life situation from which to draw his motivation. “I have an older brother and younger sister and I’m kind of protective of them,” he explains.

In the context of the play, “When you offend someone in our group [by leaving it], you offend all of us, so I have to step in.”

Aside from the demands of learning songs and dance routines, choreographed by Milly Gonzalez, the young thespians are faced with another challenge – applying and performing under a ton of face paint and makeup – plus costume – designed to give each of the “cats” a distinctive look.

Kathleen Astrella, the show’s business manager, said that 10 AP Studio Art students have been recruited for makeup duties – which are considerable, given that it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to complete work on one person, according to Toal.

So, in the interests of efficiency and time, Astrella said that, “Each AP student will be assigned to do makeup of three actors and the goal is to do everyone in two hours.”

“We spoke to one of the makeup artists who worked for the Broadway show – he’s now a university professor who teaches makeup artistry – and he graciously talked with us for an hour in great detail about the process so we were very fortunate to get that professional guidance,” Astrella said.

All of the costumes are being rented, she said.

A 15-member student crew, led by set designer and lighting director John Bednarczyk, is creating the “home” of the Jellicles.

The show runs Thursday, March 20, Friday, March 21, and Saturday, March 22, all at 7:30 p.m., in the high school auditorium. Admission is $8 for students and senior citizens and $10 for adults. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

Additionally, the KHS Players will present a free preview performance for senior citizens on Tuesday, March 18, with a pre-show dinner prepared and served by KHS culinary arts students at 5 p.m. in the high school cafeteria, followed by the play in the auditorium at 7 p.m. Seating is limited to 200 so seniors are encouraged to sign up in advance at any senior citizen center or with Sally Sprague at the KHS main office by 3 p.m. Friday, March 14.

And, as a treat for the younger set, the KHS Players will offer a kiddie matinee performance for children ages 12 and under, accompanied by an adult, on Saturday, March 21, at 1:30 p.m., in the high school auditorium. Admission is $6. As a bonus, kids will have a shot at face painting from 12:45 p.m. to 1:20 p.m. and during intermission and, after the show, starting at about 3:30 p.m. there will be photo ops with the cast of “Cats.”

Kearny Firefighters of the Year

A January 2013 blaze caused a structural collapse at this Devon St. house, trapping several fi refi ghters, who were rescued by KFD members Andrew O’Donnell (top) and Michael Janeczko.

A January 2013 blaze caused a structural collapse at this Devon St. house, trapping several firefighters, who were rescued by KFD members Andrew O’Donnell (top) and Michael Janeczko.

By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


At 2 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, fire broke out in a three-story, six-family home at 118 Devon St. All 24 residents were safely evacuated, but the blaze was so fierce, it took three hours to bring it under control.

At one point, conditions were so bad, the flames forced the firefighters from the building. But then, before they could all reach safety, the roof collapsed.

Several of the men were trapped, buried under burning debris.

They were saved by two fellow members of the Kearny Fire Department, who dug them from the rubble.

Those rescuers — Firefighter Michael Janeczko and Firefighter Andrew O’Donnell — have now been named the KFD Firefighters of the Year for 2013, sharing the honor as they shared the danger that night for the sake of their “brothers.”

The honorees were selected by the department’s Meritorious Acts Review Board, on which all ranks are represented. They will also receive the New Jersey State Firemen’s Benevolent Association Brotherhood Valor Award.

In 2012, O’Donnell was cited for another heroic act, earning the KFD’s Class B Medal of Honor, which is awarded “only when a member performs an act with great personal risk involved.”

According to a department statement, O’Donnell “acted courageously and without due regard to his own safety at a house fire on Laurel Ave.”

He was the acting captain on Engine 3 and arrived at the scene to find the second floor of the home fully involved. At the time, other KFD units were battling another blaze, on Harrison Ave. O’Donnell, with limited staffing, “directed his crew in extinguishing the fire and searching for trapped occupants.”

O’Donnell, a 1986 Kearny High School graduate, has been a member of the KFD since February 1999 and is currently assigned to Station 2 on Kearny Ave.

He is president of FMBA Kearny Local 18 and is an active member of the department’s Technical Rescue Team.

O’Donnell and his wife, Kathleen, have four sons: Griffin, Luke, Hunter and Cole.

Janeczko has been with the KFD since April 2007.

A graduate of Bayonne High School, he attended Jersey City State College and was previously employed as a senior manufacturing assistant with AT&T and as a train engineer for PATH. He is assigned to KFD Station 3 on Midland Ave.

Janeczko is active in Emergency Management and has been a Red Cross Disaster Volunteer for 20 years.

He is also a Lifeguard Instructor Trainer, Emergency Response Instructor Trainer, Water Safety Instructor and Disaster Instructor.

Currently, he also serves as an elected member of the Hudson County Democratic Organization Committee and he is the director of the Bayonne Community Education Indoor Soccer League.

Janeczko and his wife, Stacey, live in Bayonne with their two daughters, Alexa and Ella Grace.