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Tomko is new schools chief


By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 


Richard Tomko came up unlucky in the race for state senate in the 24th district in 2013. As the Democratic nominee, he lost to GOP incumbent Steven Oroho by about a 2-1 margin.

But last Thursday, Tomko, 42, a product of Queen of Peace High School, North Arlington, emerged from a field of nearly 50 candidates as the pick for Belleville’s chief schools administrator.

At a special meeting, the Belleville Board of Education voted 5-1 to appoint Tomko to the post, starting Feb. 15, giving him a 3-year-plus contract running through June 30, 2018, at $167,500 a year, with an opportunity for annual merit increases of up to 14.99% after his first year of service.

The only dissenting vote came from Ralph Vellon, who was elected to the board this past November. (Board member John Rivera did not attend the meeting but later told The Observer he was caught up in work and couldn’t get away but added that he felt that Tomko was “one of the stronger candidates” and felt he was “fully qualified as superintendent.”) Read more »

PJs & reading: perfect together


By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 


Some folks probably were scratching their heads after seeing adults and children toddle into East Newark Public School while dressed in PJs in the early evening hours Thursday, Jan. 22.

No, it wasn’t for a sleepover. And it didn’t signal the opening of the first-ever night school session.

Give up? It was “Pajamarama.”

But nobody was sleeping, a visitor from The Observer can assure you. Instead, there was a whole lot of reading going on. Parents, teachers and staff were reading aloud – some in Spanish and some in English – from age-appropriate books to students in their classes for 20 minutes. Read more »

Check how town’s plowing … from home

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By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 


That big Nor’easter that was supposed to whack The Observer’s territory last week turned out to be a big bust for snow enthusiasts.

At the same time, those Kearny residents fretting about the perils of maneuvering around the mounds of white stuff were treated – for the first time – to an insider’s look at how quickly the streets were being cleared of the estimated 7.5 inches that fell in the area.

All they had to do was log onto the town website – kearnynj.org – and click on the “Snow Plow Map” icon.

From there, the viewer could choose any of three options to access a web map that graphically displayed color-coded route statuses of routes for plowing, brining and salting showing real-time positions of GPS-equipped vehicles on each route. Read more »

9 displaced by Brown St. fire



A fire at a multi-family residence at 12 Brown St. broke out in the early morning hours last Tuesday, forcing its occupants to scramble out of bed and into the cold.

Some 35 firefighters from Nutley, Bloomfield and Montclair overcame frozen hydrants and freezing temperatures to beat down the two-alarm blaze, just down the block from Lincoln School, said Nutley Fire Lt. Dave Hollywood.

An alarm of fire came in at 3:18 a.m. and as the first Nutley FD units responded, right away, Fire HQ alerted members of the DPW – who had been on duty in the aftermath of the snowstorm – so that the fire rigs would have a clear path to the scene, Hollywood said.

“So by the time we got there, Public Works had the street plowed for us,” he said. Read more »

Serial robber gets 20-year prison term


A Newark man who robbed a Harrison pharmacy — and 10 other establishments in Hudson and Essex counties over an eight-month span — was sentenced last week to 20 years in prison,

Christopher Mojica, 24, had pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy, robbery and discharging a firearm in connection with the crime spree that began Sept. 14, 2012, and ended April 19, 2013. He was arrested April 27, 2013, following the final heist — at a Delta Gas Station on Bloomfield Ave. in Newark. In that incident, Mojica fired a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun as he fled the scene.

The Harrison robbery was reported Feb. 21, 2013, at Pharmacy Plus, 234 Harrison Ave.

Authorities said Mojica and his conspirators primarily targeted pharmacies, including five in Newark and one in Jersey City, taking cash and oxycodone tablets. They also robbed a jewelry store, a barber shop and “a gambling operation,” all in Newark.

All the establishments were reportedly robbed at gunpoint.

U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano imposed the prison term Friday in Federal Court in Trenton. In addition, he sentenced Mojica to five years of supervised release. Restitution will be determined at a later date.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman cited the FBI, the Harrison, Newark and Jersey City police departments, and the Essex and Hudson County prosecutors’ offices for their work on the case.

– Karen Zautyk 


Welsh joins Brady, Brady & Reilly firm

James C. Welsh, supervising judge of compensation, has joined Brady, Brady and Reilly of Kearny as head of the Workers’ Compensation Department. Judge Welsh has more than 43 years of experience in handling workers’ compensation cases, with the last 22 years as the supervising judge in Hudson County.

He has received various awards from the Hudson County Bar Association including:

May 3, 2006 – For commitment to fair and legal treatment to petitioners and Respondents alike. Read more »

Thoughts & Views: The world must never forget

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Last Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I am embarrassed to admit that I had not realized that. But then, the local media didn’t exactly highlight the news. They were too busy providing weather reports on the blizzard that wasn’t.

In any case, I eventually heard it mentioned somewhere, and over the weekend, C-SPAN carried footage of commemoration services held at the site of the infamous extermination camp in Poland.

It was on Jan. 27, 1945, that Russian troops liberated that hell. But even then, there apparently was sparse attention paid on this side of the Atlantic.

I’ve just read a JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) article that states that “at the time the camp was liberated . . . it was given virtually no press coverage, at least not in the American media.” Read more »


A story in last week’s issue of The Observer about the Kearny Town Council preparing to fill a vacant council seat misstated the name and workplace of one of the three nominees. Jenny Mach is one of the nominees. She teaches in the Tenafly public school system. The Observer regrets the error.

Wilson Ave. gun arrest & more: KPD

Last week’s Kearny Police Department blotter included an incident in which a local man allegedly threatened another with a gun during a verbal altercation.

Well, it happened again. Different man, though. At 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 25, Officers Frank West, Sean Kelly, Daniel Esteves and Giovanni Rodriguez were dispatched to the 50 block of Wilson Ave. where, during a dispute between tenants, one of the parties reportedly had pointed a weapon at another.

Andrew Falastin, 22, of Kearny, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, unlawful possession of a weapon (a Smith & Wesson handgun) and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.


Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Jan. 24 

Officer Patrick Becker, checking the registration on a double-parked vehicle at Kearny Ave. and Rose St. at 4 p.m., found that the owner had a suspended license. Becker stopped the car at Rose and Maple Sts., confirmed the identity of the owner-operator and charged Richard Jara, 44, of Kearny, with driving while suspended and failure to surrender a suspended license.

Jan. 27 

At 6 p.m., the Vice Squad observed Janusz Chytla, 25, of Kearny, riding a bicycle at Chestnut St. and Wilson Ave. Police said they had reason to believe he had been involved in a drug transaction, detained him for questioning and subsequently confiscated 13 folds of heroin, stamped “Aston Martin.” [Editor’s note: Who picks these names?] Chytla was charged with possession of the drug and drug paraphernalia.

Jan. 28 

At 9:30 p.m., pursuant to an ongoing investigation, Vice arrested Dominique Solise, 23, of Newark, on a charge of engaging in prostitution. Police did not disclose the location of the arrest, but they did disclose her alias, “Nina, Your Favorite Fun Girl.”

– Karen Zautyk 

Man charged in beating case & more: NPD blotter

A Clifton man accused of beating up a Nutley resident in the resident’s apartment last week has been arrested, according to Nutley PD.

Police gave this account: At 11 p.m. last Tuesday, Jan. 27, a patrol officer spotted a man on Church St. who had injuries to his body and face.

The victim was taken to an area hospital where detectives questioned him about his injuries, including a broken nose, police said. The man told them that while he was home sleeping earlier that night, a man he described as his girlfriend’s daughter’s boyfriend allegedly entered his apartment and assaulted him with his fists and made threats to his life.

Police said the man identified his alleged attacker as Andrew Duval, 20, of Clifton.

Police said Duval subsequently came to police HQ where he was booked on charges of burglary, terroristic threats, aggravated assault and robbery of a set of keys to the victim’s apartment and a local gas station where the victim works.

Duval was then transported to Essex County Jail after failing to post $75,000 bail. Police said the keys weren’t recovered.

Police Chief Thomas Strumolo said that, based on an investigation, police suspect that Duval was defending the victim’s live-in girlfriend after the victim and girlfriend reportedly had a prior argument. Between Jan. 24 and 30, Nutley PD said they responded to 16 motor vehicle accidents, 13 disputes, four burglaries, 39 medical calls and these incidents:

Jan. 24 

Two residents called police to report wires down on Spring Garden Ave. and Freeman Place. No one was hurt and utility companies responded to repair the downed lines, police said.

Jan. 25 

A Franklin Ave. business reported a shoplifting incident and police said that three females were seen on the store’s surveillance camera removing the contents of a Coricidin HBP box – about 15 tablets – and walking out of the store.

Jan. 26 

Police responded to a Park Ave. residence on a burglary report. The owner told officers that when they returned home at about 5 p.m., they noticed pry marks to the front door. Detectives are investigating.

Jan. 27 

A Vine St. resident reported the theft of thousands of dollars worth of tools. Police said they found no signs of forced entry to the building. Detectives are investigating.

Jan. 29 

Police issued township ordinance tickets to two residents, one on Walnut St. and another on Nutley Ave., charging them with failing to have their sidewalks shoveled of snow in the proper amount of time.

Jan. 30 

A Glendale St. resident and a Bloomfield Ave. resident were ticketed on the charge of failing to have their sidewalks cleared of snow in the proper amount of time.


A Franklin Ave. store owner reported an attempted burglary. The owner told police that someone had tampered with the vent cover to the boiler room and officers who responded verified that was the case. Detectives are investigating.


Detectives are checking into the report of a burglary at a Rhoda Ave. residence whose occupants told police they’d returned home at about 4 p.m., only to discover that someone had entered the house.

– Ron Leir