The year 2023 saw a whole lot of firsts, a whole lot of firsts in a long time and a whole lot of moving and shaking from the beginning of the year until and including the penultimate week in the year. As has been a tradition at The Observer for the last 21 years, the final edition before the calendar turns to January has always been a recap of the year gone by.
This year, there is no ranking of stories — just a look back the ones we thought were important. And so, we begin.
The year Kearny had three mayors
Kearny’s history has always been storied. But for the first time ever, Kearny had three mayors in one calendar year — starting off with the longest-serving mayor in history, Alberto G. Santos; then onto Peter P. Santana, who served on an interim basis from July through Nov. 7; and finally Carol Jean Doyle, who won the mayoralty Nov. 7, 2023, becoming Kearny’s first-ever elected female mayor.
(Doyle is not the only female mayor, however. Therese Jones served few a few months, having been appointed to the position of mayor in 1938, following the death of her husband, Arthur Jones.)
Santos shocked the world when he announced over the summer he would be resigning to become a Superior Court Judge in the Hudson County Vicinage. It meant the end of an era that began when Santos was sworn into the mayor’s seat on Jan. 1, 2000, one year after he became a Second Ward councilman.
Santos would go on to hold the seat for 22+ years, having won re-election numerous times (first in two-year term increments and then in four-year increments.) While there were many things his mayoralty will be noted for, perhaps the two that most stand out are his work fighting along private citizen Cristina Montague, members of the then-sitting Town Council, members of the public and this newspaper to close the Keegan Landfill and the redevelopment that has defined a town that anyone who left a decade ago wouldn’t recognize today — almost always for the better.
The Keegan Landfill ordeal resurfaced in 2018 when residents began to notice a putrid scent in the air that only got worse into 2019. Santos, Montague and company were relentless, refusing at all costs to accept anything but full closure of the landfill.
And finally, in late December 2019, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority gave in, agreeing to a full closure — and a 100% cap of its remnants (we may have to revisit the capping portion of this deal sometime very soon — but for now and since then — the landfill had never again accepted so much as an ounce of waste.
The redevelopment in Kearny is a concept anyone who has lived here over the last decade or more is aware off keenly. Santos was able to translate blighted properties developers would normally be reluctant to to even touch into high-end apartments and massive amounts of retail space. He was able to accomplish this by offering PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes.) Otherwise, builders like Ed Russo likely would have taken their plans elsewhere.
The days of those PILOTs and new ones in the future is something the new mayor and current town council will have to tackle. Doyle has come out fervently against further PILOTs. The same cannot be said of all of her colleagues on the council, but we will save that discussion for another day.
While Santos has, indeed, moved on to greener pastures as a judge in Family Court, he is still often seen attending Kearny ribbon cuttings, events, dinners, etc. When he resigned, he told The Observer it was his hope he left the town in a strong position. Time will determine whether that holds true when the history books are written.
Santana, meanwhile, served as interim mayor following an internal Democratic fight. He became the nominee of the Democratic Party, but did not have full support of the Town Council, just enough to have his appointment approved in a 5-3 intra-party vote.
By accepting the interim mayoralty, Santana had to resign the Second Ward Town Council seat he held from 2017. It was a risk to do so because after the final votes were cast and Santana finished third in the field of three candidates — Sydney J. Ferreira came in second place —Santana no longer had a place on the council anywhere.
Doyle, meanwhile, became mayor besting both Ferreira and Santana in an historic election where her closest competitor was Ferreira, who had 300 fewer votes and Santana who had 329 fewer. The new mayor will serve through 2025 and she has indicated being open to running for re-election that year.
Santana was replaced on the Town Council by longtime KMUA commissioner Dennis Solano and Doyle was replaced on the Town Council by New York City Department of Education supervisor Renato DaSilva. Solano’s term ends in 2025 while DaSilva will have to run in 2024 to keep his seat, beginning in June, for a term that runs through 2026.
The loss of a legend — The Observer’s James F. ‘Jim’ Hague
It’s not often The Observer is itself part of a year-end recap, but 2023, as it was in so many ways, was uniquely different. Jim Hague, who had been The Observer’s sports reporter from 2002 to 2022, and who also worked prominently for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspaper, as well as The Hudson Dispatch, The Associated Press among scores of other news-gathering agencies, died June 11, aged 62.
News of his death caused shockwaves around the entire Tri-State Area because sports journalists from Howie Rose to Michael Vaccaro to just about anyone who ever covered any sort of sports in Jersey, New York and beyond loved Hague, knew him well — and knew just how profound his loss was.
So many people shared reflections upon his death, but will bring you a few of them here.
We begin with the aforementioned Vaccaro, currently a world-renowned columnist at The New York Post. Vaccaro took time to reflect on the life that was Jim Hague’s just hours after he died.
“I’ve been a sportswriter for 35 years and I have never met another person who felt as deeply about a place — Jersey City, and Hudson County — and a vocation — lending a powerful voice to its athletics and athletes —as Jim<” Vaccaro said. “Not an exaggeration. Not hyperbole. Jim cared meticulously about his beloved home’s history and was every bit as vigilant in recording its contemporary triumphs and tragedies. And he did so with a voice that was powerful and absolutely unique. Jim’s imprint and impact will be felt forever. And anyone who ever spent even five minutes in his company was instantly impacted by that larger-than-life personality.
“For me, when I was new to New Jersey he was amazingly gracious and generous in educating me in every way possible. A good day was always when I’d arrive to cover a high school football or basketball game and he was there also. That was always going to be a tremendous couple of hours. I’m going to miss my friend but I’m in also going to miss his commitment and tireless passion for the things that truly mattered to him — his family, his Mets, his Rams, Jersey City and the Marquette basketball team.”
There there was Jack Curry, of the YES Network, who is an alumnus of Hudson Catholic High School, also of Jersey City. Though Jim’s Prep and Hudson Catholic are bitter rivals in the sports and academic world, it mattered not one bit when Curry recalled his friend’s death.
“Jim Hague was a giant, literally and figuratively, as a NJ sportswriter,” Curry said. “If you wanted to know anything about Hudson County sports, especially in Jersey City, @ogsmar (Jim’s Twitter handle) was the source. Hope he & Ed (Faa) Ford are arguing sports right now. RIP, my friend.”
Thousands of mourners flocked to the O’Keefe Commons, on the campus of Hague’s alma mater, St. Peter’s Prep, for Hague’s wake. For the most part, the line was out there door, as he drew mayors, politicians, former athletes, current athletes, family and so many others. The day after that, St. Paul’s Church in Greenville was packed to the gills, where one of Hague’s longtime friends described his sendoff Mass as one of the most incredibly constructed funeral Masses he’d ever heard.
To forever memorialize our friend and departed brother, The Observer has, in perpetuity, named its Athletes of the Year awards after Hague.
He leaves behind his beloved widow and dearest friend, Mary Costello, along with many other relatives, friends and former colleagues.
Sold! Now what?
Though there has been no obvious changes to the building, in January word came down the Lincoln Theater was sold to local entrepreneur Shallan Haddad, who reportedly paid $975,000 for the one-time movie house.
While Haddad did say he might consider repurposing the theater, he also noted he’d prefer to build new apartments on the property. Since January, however, there has been no indication of any movement on the location.
In perhaps the most tragic event of 2023, a Harrison woman was stabbed to death, allegedly by her own son, in the Harrison Gardens in January, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office said.
Rosa Massoni, 67, was allegedly killed at the hands of her son, Victor Temoche, 32 at the time. Both were Harrison residents. Another woman, believed to be Temoche’s aunt, was also stabbed in the incident, but she fortunately survived.
The incident shook the local area, and especially residents of the Gardens.
“I was very scared when I found out what happened when I woke up this morning,” one woman, who lives in the Gardens and who asked we not use her name, said. “I didn’t hear anything in the night. But I am pretty sure it happened close to my building. Everyone here gets along for the most part (so) to know someone has died so violently is very hard to believe. I didn’t know her personally, but I heard she was wonderful lady.”
Harrison Third Ward Councilman Larry Bennett, who represents the entire Gardens complex, visited the the day of the murder to let his constituents know he was there for them, thinking of them and was ready to
assist anyone in need of help. He, like many of the locals, was just as stunned by the day’s events.
“I’ve represented this area for 16 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Bennett said. “It is very safe here. People know each other here. So this is all so sad and shocking. But I felt it was important to be here for the people of the Gardens, to know we’re ready to do whatever we can to help in the aftermath.”
As of Dec. 21, 2023, Temoche remains in custody at the Hudson County Jail, South Kearny, where he awaits trial.
The year of parking
Suffice it to say, 2023 will go down, in Kearny at least, as the year of parking woes. Over the summer months, five meetings took place —one designed for the entire town to attend, and four others, one for each ward — where residents discussed their views on how the situation should be handled.
Early in the summer, the town introduced several ordinances — one that would have established a parking utility, one that would have created a permit program and another that set parameters for new parking regulations.
However, at least two of those concepts were wildly unpopular — and former interim Mayor Peter P. Santana said he was prepared to scrap the utility and there were little to no movement on the permits. The general consensus was all permits would do is give one one the honor of driving around to find a spot.
None of those ordinances saw second readings and all three are likely to die a natural death. Doyle has said she will not move on any of them. And, while Santana planned to conduct four more meetings in each of the town’s wards, Doyle has since scrapped that idea.
“I think we’ve heard plenty from the residents,” Doyle said at the time.
The mayor has since asked all members of the Town Council to submit notes and reports based on what they’ve heard to Town Administrator Stephen Marks. Come 2024, the entire council will revisit those reports and decide, collaboratively, how to proceed.
One other proposal — to bring mobile-based parking to town, using the app Park Mobile LLC — was also discussed.
One chief retires
The beginning of the fall saw the retirement of longtime East Newark Police Chief Anthony Monteiro.
Monteiro severed in East Newark for 20 years and was chief the last 10. On his way out, The Observer sat down with the chief for a wide-ranging interview — and to say the very least, he was very candid about his departure.
“It was a true honor and privilege to serve you. I am going to miss all the people of East Newark,” the chief said. “This is not goodbye, but see you later. I would also like to thank all of the past and present East Newark residents who have made this a special journey throughout my career as a police officer and as an East Newark volunteer firefighter. The Borough of East Newark will always have a special place in my heart. I was raised on President Street.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.