Newark murder suspect turns himself in to Booker, Hillary and Rudy continue to lead in New Jersey, no mention of monetization at governor’s town hall meeting, Republicans crash Democratic anti-monetization event, Baroni and Beck want to suspend indicted legislators.
NEWARK BREATHES A LITTLE EASIER
“An accused child rapist and a teenage boy have been charged in the execution-style killings of three college students in a Newark schoolyard, a crime that has badly shaken New Jersey's largest city since the weekend.
The arrests came during a dramatic 13-hour span capped by the older suspect's negotiated surrender yesterday to Mayor Cory Booker outside offices housing the police department's homicide squad.
Jose Carranza, a 28-year-old Orange resident described as the "principal suspect" in the Saturday night attack, turned himself in just after noon yesterday. The 15-year-old boy, who lives a short distance from the school where the killings took place, had been arrested about 11 p.m. Wednesday…………
Two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation said detectives were seeking to question another adult and two more juveniles.” (Schuppe and Mueller, Star-Ledger)
TOUGH TO OVERCOME THOSE MARGINS
“Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's popularity among New Jerseyans has fallen since he became a presidential candidate, while Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has surprisingly weak support from women, a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows.
Even so, both candidates are far ahead of their competitors with six months to go before New Jersey's presidential primary.
Among Republicans, Giuliani holds a commanding lead over his closest competitor, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). In a telephone poll of registered voters, the 339 who identified themselves as Republicans favored Giuliani by 61 percent to 10 percent for McCain. Eight percent said they would vote for "Law and Order" actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thomp son.
Clinton got support from 45 percent of the 420 voters who iden tified themselves as Democrats, compared with 21 percent for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and 16 percent for John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president.
Although a majority of voters in each party said they might change their minds between now and the primary election in February, poll director Tim Vercellotti said "it would take shifts of seismic proportions to make the primary races competitive in New Jersey."” (Schwaneberg, Star-Ledger)
GOV IS MORE HANDSOME IN PERSON
“For the first time since he was nearly killed in a highway crash four months ago, Gov. Jon Corzine hosted a town hall meeting last night, fielding questions on topics ranging from the state's tax levels to health care costs to same-sex marriage.
After receiving a standing ovation and even the compliment (twice) that he is "far more handsome in person," Corzine alternately paced and stood in front of an overflow crowd at the new South Orange Performing Arts Center, where he worked with a cordless microphone and no notes…………
More than any other type of interaction with residents, the town hall question-and-answer setting is by far Corzine's favorite. He held his last such event, in Burlington County, the day before the crash.
Corzine has vowed to go county by county to market his impending "asset monetization" plan to raise cash from the state's toll roads and other assets. But that plan was not among the topics on the minds of the questioners in South Orange last night.
From state budget cuts to growing local school taxes, the main theme was the cost of living — summarized by one woman, who said she was a Maryland native, and asked Corzine: "Could you ex plain why the property taxes are so high in the state of New Jersey?"
"Got a couple of weeks?" Corzine quipped in response.” (Margolin, Star-Ledger)
“THE ONLY THING THEY’RE NOT DOING IS TAKING OUR WOMEN”
“Republicans on Thursday crashed a Democratic rally opposing Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s plan to sell or lease New Jersey’s toll roads.
Sen. Nicholas Asselta, R-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, and his two running mates for Assembly attended the rally with a mostly empty chartered bus they used as a billboard with the message, “Don’t let the Democrats sell our roads. Vote Republican.” They parked the bus across the street from the rally at the Ocean View Fire Hall, which was peppered with Democratic campaign signs.
Assemblyman and Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Van Drew organized the campaign event with his Assembly running mates Nelson Albano and Matthew Milam to rally opposition to a proposal to sell or lease the state’s toll roads.
“The Republicans are at our rally. They’re eating our food. The only thing they’re not doing is taking our women,” Cape May County Democratic Party Chairman James Pickering quipped.
Generally speaking, both Republicans and Democrats in the 1st District legislative races are in complete agreement over the sale of toll roads. Both say it’s a terrible idea.
Each side says the devil is in the details. Asselta and the other Republicans say Van Drew and Assemblyman Nelson Albano voted for the budget, which contained a provision allowing the governor to study the proposal. Van Drew said Asselta voted in 1999 to give the governor’s office latitude to sell state assets in a law that is in effect today.
Milam, who runs a Vineland trucking company, said any increase in tolls would cost his company dearly.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is opposed to this,” he said.” (Miller, Press of Atlantic City)
WHO’S THE ETHICS CHAMPION?
”TRENTON — Two lawmakers in prominent elections called yesterday for indicted state senators to "have the decency" not to vote on judges and prosecutors whose nominations are expected to be reviewed by the state Senate before the indictments are resolved.
The pair — Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, and Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Mercer — also announced legislation that would suspend any elected official who gets indicted.
Their action drew Democratic Party criticism that they were staging a campaign "stunt."
"We must balance the ancient presumption of innocence … Creating that balance has been a challenge for New Jersey," said Baroni. He said indicted Sens. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, and Sharpe James, D-Essex, "should have the decency not to vote on prosecutors and judges."…………
But Mercer County Democratic Chairman Richard McClellan said that Beck and Baroni, both former lobbyists, were pulling off "a stunt to divert public attention from their own record as insider lobbyists prior to their election."
Beck is running this fall against Sen. Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, who has called for Bryant and James to resign. Karcher issued a letter to Beck yesterday saying ethics reform should be bipartisan and "free from political grandstanding and hyperbole."
"My ethics legislation has helped create a climate of change in Trenton, but it will take effort from all sides, beyond issuing press releases and holding press conferences, to bring lasting change to state government," Karcher wrote in the letter, released by her campaign.” (Baldwin, Gannett)
THE ONLY ADMINISTRATORS EVER CHARGED WITH A HAZING DEATH
“Rider University Dean of Students Anthony Campbell pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of aggravated hazing in the alcohol poisoning death of freshman Gary DeVercelly, who died after a fraternity initiation ritual last March.
A popular and influential administrator at the Lawrence Township-based university, Campbell said nothing as attorney Rocco C. Cipparone Jr. entered the plea. Campbell, 51, of Lawrence, was re leased without bail.
Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badgley, who also was indicted Friday, are thought to be the only administrators in the country ever charged in connection with a hazing death. Several attor neys have said the case could be a watershed event for college administrators throughout the nation.
The pair were indicted along with three students, fraternity president Michael J. Torney, 21, pledge master Dominic Olsen, 21, and house manager Adriano DiDo nato, 22. All are officers in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity where DeVer celly was a pledge.
If convicted of the fourth-degree felony, the five face up to 18 months in jail along with a $10,000 fine………
"I'm not aware of anything he has done or anything he omitted to do that would make him guilty of anything," he said. "He was home asleep in his bed. He didn't sanc tion (the party), didn't commission it and didn't approve it. I expect at the end of the process we will see the full exoneration of Dr. Campbell."” (Isherwood, Trenton Times)
STILL NOT EQUAL
“Roslyn Quarto and Judith Prichason, a lesbian couple from Middlesex County, married four years ago in Canada and registered as domestic partners in New Jersey in 2004.
After the New Jersey's civil union went into effect on Feb. 19 — automatically recognizing their already recorded relationship — the couple wondered if they could file a joint tax return.
Yesterday, a state appeals court said they can't — not yet, anyway.
The three-judge panel's unanimous ruling said couples in civil unions can't file joint returns for the money they earned in 2006 because the law didn't take effect until 2007. They will be able to file joint tax returns in future years.
"Because (their) Canadian marriage was not legally recognized by statute in New Jersey as a civil union until Feb. 19, 2007, (they) are being treated no differently than a truly similarly situated heterosexual married couple," wrote Judges Jack Sabatino and Ariel Rodriguez. The judges explained that heterosexual couples married in 2007 cannot file joint returns for money they earned in 2006.
The court sidestepped any constitutional issues and said the question was really a matter of timing. It said the state Division of Taxation may use a reasonable period to adjust its forms and procedures to conform with the law.” (Coscarelli, Star-Ledger)
PUZZLING NJEA ENDORSEMENTS
“THEY ARE the chosen 88. The political action committee of the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers' union, has endorsed 88 candidates in state legislative races. It did not endorse in every race. It did endorse in the 38th District. NJEA PAC gave a thumbs-up to Sen. Joseph Coniglio.
Coniglio, a plumber by trade, is a good union guy. He also was a really good guy for Hackensack University Medical Center. He was so good at his side job as a paid consultant for HUMC that he is now under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office. He received a "target letter," an indication that a criminal indictment may be pending.
Yes, the good plumber is innocent until proven guilty. But there is a big, dark cloud over his head. Why would any political action committee decide to ignore the strong possibility of a long rainy season?………….
The release states the committee voted on the recommendations of local interview teams. A spokesman for NJEA PAC could not say who was on the team that interviewed Coniglio. He said that candidates were sent questionnaires, and that past voting records were also scrutinized.
The "target letter" was not an obstacle to an endorsement because it did not come up on the questionnaire. "Our process is very narrowly defined," the spokesman said.
That's one way of looking at it. How could a group of educators not question a candidate under federal investigation about a possible indictment? NJEA PAC did not endorse in every legislative race. In its press release, it stated future endorsements were still possible. Why not hold out on endorsing in the 38th until the U.S. Attorney's Office's investigation is complete?” (Doblin, Bergen Record)
“Seven months ago, educators backed by the state teachers' union launched a battle against a powerful state senator in a bid to squash a proposal creating a countywide school district.
Local teachers sent fliers home with students, urging parents to fight for their childrens' education, claiming it could be drastically altered if the plan considered by state Sen. Stephen Sweeney for Gloucester County passed………..
This week, that struggle seemed to be forgotten. The New Jersey Education Association, representing 200,000 educators, endorsed Sweeney for the November elections, along with 3rd District assemblymen John Burzichelli and Douglas Fisher, all Democrats.”
"We did disagree with Sen. Sweeney on that," said NJEA spokesman Steven Baker. "We appreciated the fact that he listened to the concerns of the public in that district. That plan is not being put in place in Gloucester County now."
The intense opposition killed the proposal to consolidate county administrative school services.
Sweeney said talk of the consolidation plan came up during the interview process for the endorsement.
"The thing in Washington Township, that was a very ugly evening for everyone, I think," Sweeney said. "They know that I'm a good person and that I support education." (Graber, Gloucester County Times)
“Racial and ethnic minorities are driving population growth in South Jersey, a pattern that is being repeated across the nation, according to a Courier-Post analysis of new census estimates.
Without double-digit growth among Asian, multiracial and African-American residents, and a surging Hispanic population, the tri-county area would have grown an anemic 2 percent between 2000 and 2006, the analysis found.
Instead, Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties grew 5 percent, to 1.25 million people.
This batch of census data shows that diversity is increasing in more parts of the country. In 303 counties — nearly one in 10 — the share of white residents has slipped below 50 percent. Eight more counties joined the list since 2005, and 205 others are nearing the mark with more than 40 percent minorities, nearly all in the South and West.” (Schwartz, Courier Post)
“Prompted by suspicions of payoffs to organized crime, the embattled International Longshoremen's Association took control this week of Local 1235 in Newark.
The ILA's International headquarters in Manhattan — itself the target of an ongoing federal racketeering case — intervened in Newark over concerns about an alleged conversation between a reputed mob boss and the son of the local's president.
The ILA's headquarters in Manhattan appointed one of its vice presidents, James Paylor, as trustee to oversee the operation at Local 1235, which represents about 840 dock workers in Newark and Elizabeth. The trusteeship took effect on Monday.
"It's an effort to make certain there's no outside influence, no influence by the Mafia or by organized crime," said Milton Mollen, the retired judge who is serving as the ILA's ethical practices counsel. "We don't have any proof that that did occur. But there's enough there to make us concerned."
Mollen said the ILA International became concerned about the Newark union after the "Gang Land" column in the New York Sun on May 24 quoted from what it said was a transcript of an FBI wiretap of a conversation between accused capo Michael Coppola and Eddie Aulisi, son of Local 1235 president Vincent Aulisi……….
ILA officials said they have not been able to obtain a copy of the alleged FBI transcript, but Mollen interviewed the two Aulisis based on what was published in the newspaper.
The younger Aulisi, who was a member of ILA Local 1 in Newark, "took the fifth," declining to answer questions, Mollen said.” (Malinconico, Star-Ledger)
“IT’S BEEN LIKE LIVING IN A DIME STORE NOVEL”
“A lawsuit accusing Gloucester County's most powerful politician of sexually harassing a senior Democratic Party official has been dropped.
Stephen M. Sweeney, director of the county Board of Freeholders and a Democratic state senator, said yesterday he felt ecstatic to be vindicated.
"It's been like living in a dime store novel," Sweeney said. "I'm just very happy it's over and my name's been cleared."
Diane Kirwan-Patterson, once the acting executive director of the Gloucester County Democratic Party, filed a harassment lawsuit in October, contending that Sweeney made sexually suggestive comments to her on numerous occasions in the late 1990s.
Her lawyer, Clifford Van Syoc, withdrew the case against Sweeney on Wednesday, one day after Sweeney gave a sworn deposition in the case. Van Syoc didn't return phone calls yesterday.” (Wood, Philadelphia Inquirer)
ALBANO TAKES ON WAL-MART
“VINELAND — State Assemblyman Nelson Albano welcomes commercial growth and new jobs in his legislative district.
But he doesn't want a Wal-Mart Supercenter in his city.
In 2004, when the company first proposed building a Supercenter on West Landis Avenue near Delsea Drive, Albano was among dozens of union employees who spoke out against the project at city meetings.
Three years later, with construction of the Supercenter ready to begin in the next few months, Albano's opinion hasn't changed.
Albano, a Democrat who represents Vineland, said he's concerned Wal-Mart doesn't pay a livable wage or offer adequate health benefits to its employees, which in turn causes many of its workers to seek public assistance.
Albano is a union steward for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 152 and a 31-year ShopRite employee. The Supercenter, scheduled to open in October 2008, will sell general merchandise and a full line of groceries around the corner from ShopRite on Delsea Drive. Albano works at a separately owned ShopRite at Lincoln and Landis avenues…………
In Cumberland County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, the Supercenter would provide about 400 jobs.
Those jobs, combined with the 552 at the company's Millville and Upper Deerfield stores, would make Wal-Mart the fourth-largest employer in the county.
In June 2005, four ShopRite employees — including Albano's brother, Anthony — filed a lawsuit seeking to block the project. The plaintiffs alleged City Councilman James Forcinito should not have voted to amend Vineland's redevelopment plan to allow the Supercenter because his son is a Wal-Mart employee………….
Albano pointed out that Wal-Mart faces more than 50 lawsuits in state and federal courts, including a class action in New Jersey alleging the company denied employees breaks and forced them to work off the clock.
Albano said he's concerned not just for ShopRite and its employees, but local businesses in general.
"We have to protect our businesses that for years have taken care of our residents," he said.” (Zatzariny, Daily Journal)
HOW ABOUT A 27 MEMBER PANEL AND 15 MONTHS?
“TRENTON — In response to the killings of three college students in Newark, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer wants the governor and the attorney general to meet with mayors, prosecutors and law enforcement officials to discuss ways to prevent the killings that are causing chaos in cities, suburbs and rural areas throughout the country.
Palmer said the Attorney General's office is working on a more comprehensive anti-gang initiative, which should be unveiled in early September. Palmer would like the meeting to take place before the initiative is released.
Palmer said he and Police Director Joseph Santiago met with Attorney General Anne Milgram last week to discuss what the city is doing to fight gun and gang violence and how the city can be helped. Palmer said they talked about issues including the need for a gun court, and greater coordination among the state police, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office and the city to go after gangs and people who use guns illegally.
"I think it's critically important on the heels of this that we take this opportunity to have other mayors talk to (Corzine) about his proposal, (and) what we feel is needed to do even more," said Palmer. "I want for the governor to have the benefit of all of our thinking and ideas as he puts forth an even more comprehensive program.”………….
Palmer is asking everyone in New Jersey to use the incident as a rallying point to continue the push to get illegal guns off the street, and have the laws already on the books used to put offenders in jail. "This is an opportunity for all of us to rally around Newark, to rally around our children, to make sure we give the governor and the attorney general the political support to push for even tougher legislation," said Palmer.
Palmer said the effort should go further and include improving the public school systems, ensuring there are job opportunities for people getting out of jail, finding ways to "grow" the local economy so more jobs are created, and providing outlets for young people so "they don't get away from us."” (Loayza, Trenton Times)
“STRUCTURALLY DEFICIENT” BUT SAFE
“While all New Jersey bridges are safe, it could cost as much as $7 billion to repair deficient bridges and the aging Pulaski Skyway may be replaced, Gov. Jon S. Corzine said Thursday.
Standing in the shadow of the skyway just off the New Jersey Turnpike Thursday morning, Corzine said it might make sense to spend $1 billion to replace the bridge than to spend $100 million to maintain it over the next 10 years.
"If we spend $100 million just keeping the thing afloat for the next 10 years, one wonders if that wouldn't be a good down payment on replacing it," Corzine said.
He emphasized no decision has been made to replace the bridge and noted inspectors were examining the bridge Thursday morning………….
"The most important point is zero (New Jersey bridges) are unsafe," Corzine said.
The state spends about $500 million per year on bridge repairs, but Corzine said that pales in comparison to what's needed to fix existing problems.
"We think we have a $5 billion to $7 billion problem," Corzine said.” (AP)
“New Jersey motorists should feel secure as they cross the state's 6,434 bridges even though 11 percent of the structures were found to be "structurally deficient" the last time they were inspected, Gov. Jon Corzine said today.” (Feeney, Star-Ledger)
HIGHLANDS ACT AUTHORS MUST SEE TEACHER AFTER CLASS
“Three years ago today, a law was passed to protect the Highlands and its water supply. Now, members of a local environmental group say that law is not quite failing. But almost.
Their overall grade was a D, printed on a report card issued yesterday by the New Jersey Sierra Club to mark the Highland Act's third anniversary. The club, which has pushed to preserve the Highlands land and water for the past 20 years, is seeking to highlight the Highlands Council's failure to adopt a regional master plan that effectively implements the 2004 law.
The act virtually bans major development on hundreds of thousands of acres in northwestern New Jersey, a water supply for 4 million people. It also required the Highlands Council to create a master plan, but the council missed 2005 and 2006 deadlines for adopting it and is still sorting through mounds of environmental and land use data.
In the meantime, frustrated environmental groups and other critics say development has continued in the Highlands, polluting local streams and rivers with runoff from chemicals like lawn fertilizer. ” (O’Connor, Star-Ledger)
CRESITELLO SALARY MESS
“Morristown residents who op pose Mayor Donald Cresitello's proposed 46 percent pay hike yesterday delivered petitions they said were signed by more than 700 residents –300 more than they needed.
The petitions — seeking to let voters decide in November whether the mayor should get a $12,000 raise to his $26,000 part-time salary — have no legal force, according to petitioners and town officials.
The town recently announced that the council measure approving the raise was invalid, since the town clerk, Matthew Stechauner, neglected to alert the public in ad vance about the vote. As a result, the petitions protesting against the raise are also invalid, according to a town attorney, Ron Gordon.
But the petitioners decided to deliver the 730 signatures anyway, as a show of opposition to the raise, said Myra Bowie McCready, who led the petition drive. They needed only 420 signatures to get the question on the ballot, she said.
"The administration clearly needs to know that it was real," McCready said of the opposition to the raise. "They may pretend that it never happened, but it did happen."” (McDermott, Star-Ledger)
SOUTHERN COUNTIES FEEL LEFT OUT OF IMMIGRATION PANEL
“MILLVILLE — Freeholder Jane Christy issued a press release Thursday criticizing a "blue ribbon panel" appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine to study how best to integrate the state's burgeoning immigration population, for not including any members from Cumberland, Salem or Cape May counties.
"I find that unconscionable. Bridgeton listed a total population of 22,771 from the 2000 census, with 11,652 of Latino descent. It is estimated there are approximately 9,000 Mexican immigrants now living in Bridgeton. With the Mexican numbers increasing, I would certainly hope that an advisory representative from our area by appointed as soon as possible," she said in the statement.
But furthermore, Christy questioned the need for a panel.
"On the other hand, I agree with Senator Nick Asselta, who has criticized the governor's plan. Instead of studying the immigrant issue for 15 months, we could also find a simpler solution and enforce the laws that already exist. If only President George Bush would authorize similar actions," she said.” (Dunn, Bridgeton News)
“The chances of Beverly Jones, the whistleblower who exposed the Sherman Avenue grading scandal, teaching in city schools again dimmed yesterday as the state education commissioner ruled Jones had agreed to resign.
Commissioner Lucille E. Davy agreed with an administrative law judge who found that Jones agreed to resign last year in ex change for the district dropping its tenure charges against her.
Jones later changed her mind and has fought to continue teaching for the district, arguing that an oral agreement with the district was not finalized.
Davy found that Administrative Law Judge Jeff S. Masin was right to conclude that a settlement was reached on Nov. 27.
Trenton school board attorney Thomas Sumners said that her conclusion was what the district was looking for.” (Kitchenman, Trenton Times)
IN WARREN COUNTY
“An investigative report released Thursday found allegations of improper conduct by two board members at the county landfill to be baseless.
The report, commissioned by the Warren County freeholder board, found that landfill board members Angelo Accetturo and Laurel Napolitani acted properly and prudently during an investment of $2.5 million of landfill money.
The report is the work of former Superior Court Judge Douglas K. Wolfson, who was appointed by the freeholders in April to head an investigation into allegations of interference and bid rigging at the Pollution Control Financing Authority.
The accusations surfaced in a Jan. 3 letter, written by the PCFA's former attorney the late James Broscious. They were based upon a sworn statement by the authority's former chief financial officer, Jeff Long.” (Satullo, Express-Times)
“PATERSON — Angry over their new tax bills and fearing they will lose their homes, 107 residents stormed City Hall on Wednesday night searching for answers about the citywide revaluation.
They didn't get many.
What if people can't make the payments," asked Vanessa Rodriguez, the first speaker of the night. "What are we going to do? We'll lose our houses."
More than a week after third-quarter tax bills were mailed, the first to reflect new assessments after the citywide revaluation, residents had their first chance Wednesday to vent publicly at elected officials. The scene before the City Council was dizzying as 59 residents signed up to speak, alternating betweem making emotional appeals and citing staggering increases.” (MacInnes, Herald News)
IN ATLANTIC CITY
“ATLANTIC CITY — Fred A. Buro, president and chief operating officer of Tropicana Casino and Resort, was fired in a management shake-up that follows massive layoffs and shrinking revenues under the property’s new owner.
Mark Giannantonio, a 19-year veteran at Tropicana who most recently served as executive vice president of operations, will run the casino and its hotel operations as the new president and general manager, Columbia Sussex Corp. announced Thursday.
Buro’s reign was controversial from the start. He oversaw the layoffs of more than 700 workers as part of deep cost-cutting by Columbia Sussex, the Kentucky-based company that took control of Tropicana in January after buying former owner Aztar Corp.
Buro declined to comment Thursday. On Monday, he joked about rumors that had been swirling that he had been fired over the weekend. Days later, the ax really did fall.” (Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City)
PAY TO PLAY REFORM
“WASHINGTON TWP. — The township clerk on Thursday certified there were enough valid signatures on a petition to have an ordinance banning pay-to-play enacted by the township council.
If the council does not act on the ordinance or defeats it, the issue will be placed before the voters on the November ballot, said one of the organizers of the petition drive, Josh Aronovitch, 29, an attorney who lives in the Turnersville section of the township.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it passes," Council President Frank Scarpato III said. "I'm in favor of the ordinance. I believe in it, I absolutely do."…………
Washington Township enacted a pay-to-play ban in 2005 that forbids firms from donating directly to elected officials or candidates. The proposed ordinance is a stricter ban, which would set limits on how much firms can contribute to political parties. (Huelsman, Express-Times)
IN OCEAN TOWNSHIP
“Superintendent of Schools Thomas M. Pagano on Thursday reversed an earlier decision and said "The Laramie Project" will be performed at the high school this fall, ending a weeklong controversy that had gay-rights groups promising to bring hundreds of protesters to town
The play — based on the true story of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual college student, and the aftermath — had initially been canceled by administrators, who said its provocative themes might prove a disruption to the district.
In explaining his reversal Thursday, Pagano — who had said previously that he would not be pressured into changing his mind — said reaction in the community was overwhelmingly in favor of the play going on and that no one had expressed support for the initial decision.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a statewide gay-rights group, said the district's about-face represented one of the most jubilant days in the organization's history.
"This victory means that the students of Ocean Township High School will see a play that will change their lives," Goldstein said. "And that will go such a long way in bringing mutual respect and tolerance for all people from the area. This is also a huge victory for academic freedom — it says a lot to the power of the gay-lesbian community and our allies.” (Larsen, Asbury Park Press)