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    The South Orange Performing Arts Center has apologized to a Muslim student from Seton Hall after the woman says she was racially profiled before a student production of "Steel Magnolias."

    A performing arts center has apologized to a Muslim student from Seton Hall after the woman says she was racially profiled during a security screening before a student production of "Steel Magnolias."

    Rawda Abdelmenan was in line at the South Orange Performing Arts Center for the student production on Feb. 24 when house manager Tom Cogan asked to check her book bag. The senior said she noticed that other students with backpacks were not checked.

    Abdelmenan, who wears a hijab, says that when she asked Cogan why he singled her out, he cited protocol and explained that "no one else is a threat."

    Another manager said the senior, who is pursuing a speech pathology degree, needed to be checked due to "things that have been happening in our country," the 22-year-old alleges.

    "My peers were walking in casually and I was pulled out of line. In a college town, I don't think a book bag is supposed to be that big of a deal," she said. "Because of everything that's been happening in the media, maybe that's why he thought I was a threat, because I'm not only a Muslim, I'm veiled."

    SOPAC, which is funded in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, denies that Cogan made the "threat" comment and that the other manager, Alicia Whavers, referenced current events in America.

    The theater investigated the incident, and found that Cogan checked the Jersey City native's "large bag" because the theater has a strict no food or drink policy, Director of External Relations Dee Billia said.

    "I don't think she understood that's why he was asking her," Billia said. "She felt singled out because of that, she was very upset, which we regret very much."

    Since the incident, Abdelmenam has met with SOPAC executive director Mark Packer to talk about updating policies, providing bias training to the community and to "make amends for what occurred," according to a letter Packer wrote to editor of The Setonian.

    "(We) recognized the hurt and embarrassment a member of the staff unwittingly caused a patron. For that, we offer Ms. Abdelmenam out heartfelt apology and thank her for courageously working directly with us on a corrective action plan that will strengthen us as a welcoming community institution and elevate the level discourse around this important issue," Packer wrote.

    The student agreed that SOPAC has been proactive in making changes.

    "I always think, it doesn't have to be a Muslim who's profiled. It can be anybody and it's such an unfortunate situation to be in," she said. "It's important because it opens your eyes to incidents that happen over and over again that no one is saying anything about."

    Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find on Facebook.

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    Meet the All-State girls athletes from the 2018 NJ winter track season

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    The hotline serves seniors in distress as well as authorized caregivers.


    MONTCLAIR -- Mountainside Medical Center has established a 24-hour-a-day Senior Intervention Helpline to address the behavioral health concerns of area senior residents.

    Seniors in distress, as well as authorized caregivers for the elderly, can call 973-429-6073 and receive assistance from the hospital's geriatric medicine professionals.

    "The Mountainside Integrative Geriatric Services program is dedicated exclusively to ensuring that the complex mental health needs of seniors in our community aren't overlooked, underserved or misdiagnosed," said Juan Riestra, medical director of the Behavioral Health Department at Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside Medical Center. "We take life circumstances and physical changes that are unique to senior citizens into account when diagnosing and treating their behavioral concerns."

    To learn more about Mountainside Medical Center, located at 1 Bay Ave. in Montclair, go to

    To submit news for the Senior Spotlight column, please call 973-836-4922 or email

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Their first album in seven years, Cas, an abbreviation for the Gaelic word for "turn," features notable vocalists

    For 20 years, the Irish instrumental band Lunasa has connected with audiences around the world through the universal language of music, but with its new album, the lads are trying something new: words.

    Their first album in seven years, "Cas", an abbreviation for the Gaelic word for "turn," features notable vocalists, including Mary Chapin Carpenter and blues singer Eric Bibb, on five of the 12 tracks. The others are instrumental tunes, such as jigs and reels, played with Lunasa's nimbly executed Celtic swing.

    "We have been toying with the project for a while and just waiting for the right occasion," said flute player Kevin Crawford. "It's an anniversary year for us," he said, so they thought it was "perfectly appropriate to have a change in the shape of our album."

    The members, Crawford said, did not want to just "just cherry-pick a couple of names and forge a relationship," but to work with vocalists "we had established ties or it's a sincere collaboration."

    "Everybody came aboard with the right mindset," Crawford said, "and were all generous and positive and encouraging toward the notion that we were finally going to embrace the world of song."

    As part of a month-long U.S. tour, Lunasa is performing at the South Orange Performing Arts Center with the West Virginia-born bluegrass singer and multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien.

    O'Brien is a Grammy-winning songwriter whose songs have been recorded by Kathy Mattea, Garth Brooks and Nickel Creek. In addition to founding the bluegrass band Hot Rize, he has played with Steve Martin, Steve Earle and The Chieftains.

    Crawford said that O'Brien will play a few songs solo and then collaborate with Lunasa at SOPAC. "Tim sort of becomes part of the band....It's a full-on collaboration," Crawford said. "He's so versatile in what he can do."

    Lunasa performed several songs on Natalie Merchant's 2010 album Leave Your Sleep and now she returns the favor on Cas. She has a "huge love for traditional Irish songs," Crawford said, adding she can "really define a song and put her own stamp on it." He said her interpretation of the sadly beautiful "Bonnie Light Horseman" about a war widow "is incredible....Regardless of our contribution, she's pretty spectacular."

    The instrumental tracks on the new album are a mix of traditional and newly composed songs by band members or others. "We've probably entered into a sphere where the balance of tunes...are new or contemporary rather than traditional tunes," Crawford said, adding "Even when we are [playing] contemporary tunes it's in the traditional vein."

    While some of the members of Lunasa have changed since they started in 1997, the band has kept its signature breezy sound of fiddle, flute and bagpipe playing beautiful intertwined melodies over a standup bass and acoustic guitar rhythm section. Crawford noted that, in fact, the genre has changed more than the band over the years.

    "Over the 20 years we have been together the music has evolved," he said. "There's a lot of strictly traditional bands emerging as well, but many of the alternative bands coming out of Ireland are going into more diverse places than we do."

    Lunasa photo 3.jpgThe Irish band Lunasa will perform March 22nd at the South Orange Performing Arts Center

    Building on the genre-stretching neo-traditional bands of the 1970s like The Bothy Band and Planxty, Lunasa rose along with performers such as Sharon Shannon and Solas, who brought immaculate playing and looser geographic boundaries to the traditional canon. These reverent rebels added new instruments and repertoire, expanding the genre from "Irish" to "Celtic" by including Irish diaspora songs - from Galicia in Spain to Cape Breton in Canada to American bluegrass.

    Crawford said that when Lunasa formed - named after the ancient god Lugh, who was associated with skill and the arts - the band was considered "a bit radical" for using a non-traditional rhythm section and creating richly textured harmonic arrangements of old tunes. "We were younger, wilder and a bit kickass," he said. "By no means did we invent that, but we were one of the group to embrace that."

    "If you strip away the veneer," Crawford said of Lunasa's music, "at the core there's a good solid traditional tune."

    The members, Crawford observed, have seen the music industry move from record-company campaigns centered around new albums to a "more organic little world" where bands are in more direct contact with fans through live shows and social media.

    "We're just so lucky, to be honest," Crawford said, "to be able to go out and still do what we do 20 years later and people enjoy it. We are so lucky."

    Lunasa with Tim O'Brien

    When: March 22nd at 7:30 p.m. and March 24th at 8 p.m.

    Where: South Orange Performing Arts Center, One SOPAC Way, South Orange on the 22nd and Sitnik Theater, 715 Grand Avenue, Centenary College, Hackettstown on the 24th

    How much: $32-$48. For SOPAC info call (973) 313-2787 or go to; $30 for Centenary, for info call (908) 979-0900

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    The 29-year-old told university officials and NJ Advance Media that Nabil Adam sexually assaulted her in January 2016 -- six months after she became his research assistant.

    Rutgers University is investigating a sexual harassment complaint filed by a graduate student against a renowned professor who was her mentor, New Jersey Advance Media has learned.

    Nabil Adam, vice chancellor for Research & Collaborations at Rutgers University-Newark, was placed on administrative leave with pay after the student filed the complaint in November, said Peter Englot, senior vice chancellor for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff.

    University policy requires placing an employee on leave during a harassment investigation, which is still underway, he said.

    The 29-year-old graduate student said she told university officials Adam sexually assaulted her in his office in January 2016 -- six months after she became his research assistant and he became her dissertation adviser.

    She said she told him to never touch her again; he agreed and said she could find another advisor. The following week, he asked to come to her apartment to discuss the episode and she agreed. Once again, he coerced her into "unwanted sexual contact," she said. 

    The student said she grew infatuated with Adam, 75, a Distinguished Professor of Computer & Information Systems whom she said she once considered a father figure and often spent every day with him, including most weekends.

    They engaged in an 18-month relationship in which she became so dependent on his affection and attention that she attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills in July 2017, she said.

    "As a faculty (member), he was aware of University policies that prohibit this kind of relationship and in some cases, even if allowed, requires formal disclosure to the University. But he failed to do so," the student said. "He continuously lied saying he did not have any inappropriate relationship."

    NJ Advance Media is not identifying the student, who requested anonymity, because she claims to be a victim of sexual abuse and the university is taking action.

    Adam did not respond to request for comment. His attorney, Bruce Atkins of Hackensack, responded via email stating his client never had any physical contact with his former assistant and has done nothing wrong.

    Atkins noted the student first made -- then recanted -- harassment allegations against Adam last summer.

    "My client vehemently denies all allegations and continues to fully cooperate and provide necessary documentation to the University for its investigation," Atkins wrote in an email.

    Tell us your experiences with sexual harassment in N.J.

    The student, however, said she has evidence, including a pair of her pants she provided to the university that she says is stained with Adam's semen.

    She also supplied the names of two students in whom she confided months prior to filing the complaint. NJ Advance Media interviewed the students who confirmed she had told them about Adam's behavior. They also said they had cooperated with the university's investigation.

    The student acknowledged she did decline to cooperate with the school after informally accusing Adam of harassment last summer, but said she then decided to file the formal complaint in November because his harassing behavior resumed.

    "Dr. Adam showed no decency of controlling his actions and still continued this abusive relationship, so I finally gathered courage and decided to file the complaint," she said. "Before filing the complaint, I also started seeking counseling and reached out to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs to seek advice."

    The student also criticized the university for not finding her a new Ph.D advisor and delaying her studies -- until she sent an email in January asking University President Robert Barchi to intervene.

    "We take allegations of sexual harassment extremely seriously," Englot said in an email. "As soon as allegations were made in this case, an investigation was initiated, the person against whom they were made was put on administrative leave (with pay), and appropriate supports put in place for the person making the allegations. A thorough investigation has been under way, which includes having turned over all relevant materials to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office."

    Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, said the investigation is ongoing.

    In the days before she said she attempted suicide in early July, the student contacted another Rutgers business school professor and laid out her grievances about Adam. In that email, she accused Adam of "physically getting involved with me and exploiting me over one and half year now and driving me to the point where I lost my complete mental stability." She also said he saddled her with most of his work responsibilities.

    She copied Adam on the email. He replied: "As for exploiting you physically or mentally, that is absolutely not true; I never did." He also said she insisted on helping him and he compensated her for the added time, according to his email response.

    The business professor contacted the director of the university's Office of Employment Equity, which investigates harassment complaints, accordng to a copy of the email the student provided to NJ Advance Media. The student did not file a formal complaint against Adam at the time, but the office opened an investigation based on her email.

    In September, the Office of Employment Equity wrote a letter to the Business School Dean stating the student admitted she made the false allegations while "incoherent and hallucinating."  The Director, Lisa Grosskreutz, also sent a letter to the student notifying her she had violated the university's harassment policy by making false allegations against Adam.

    The graduate student acknowledges she withdrew the claim at the time because she felt it was in her best interest.

    "I declined to proceed ahead after I recovered because of him intimidating me, saying I would be deported," she said. The woman is here on student visa that expires in 2021.

    "He said no one would believe me," she said.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find Politics on Facebook.

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    Meet the All-State boys athletes from the 2018 NJ winter track season

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    Completion of the course may qualify participants for a five percent discount on their auto insurance.

    Front Library.jpg 

    CEDAR GROVE -- The Cedar Grove Public Library invites area residents age 60 and older to an AARP Driver Safety course on March 26 from 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Participants will learn about the latest traffic laws, new car technologies and strategies for being a safe driver specifically tailored to seniors. Completion of the course may also qualify participants for a five percent discount on their auto insurance.

    The library is located at 1 Municipal Plaza in Cedar Grove. For more information and to register, call 973-239-6914.

    To submit news for the Senior Spotlight column, please call 973-836-4922 or email

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Violinist Joshua Bell performs and conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center March 18.

    When acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields take the stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center March 18, Bell will not only perform but conduct, standing amongst the orchestra as it interprets Beethoven's Sixth Symphony ("Pastoral") and other pieces.

    "I'm not just waving my arms and telling them how to play," Bell said in an interview with NJ Advance Media. "The fact that I'm playing with them somehow gives a certain credibility, I guess, and a feeling we're all doing this together, and it actually creates an experience that's more visceral."

    Bell, who recently released a 14 CD "Classical Collection" on Sony Classical,  began this new chapter in his career with the London-based Academy's music director in 2011. He is the second person to hold that position after the late Sir Neville Marriner, who founded the orchestra in 1958.

    "Before doing this sort of thing, I was a violin soloist," he said. "I'd come to an orchestra and play a Tchaikovsky concerto, and then the second half I'd get to go get a beer or go to dinner early or, more often than not, I would listen to the conductor conduct a Beethoven symphony. I got a lot of education that way over the years."

    Since then, Bell has conducted eight of Beethoven's nine symphonies, except "the big ninth. Someday. Maybe," he said, adding that the sixth is probably his favorite.

    The NJPAC program also includes Overture for Violin and Orchestra, which Edgar Meyer, a double bassist from the bluegrass world, composed with the Academy and Bell in mind.

    Bell said he enjoys commissioning new works by living composers, like Meyer and John Corigliano, who wrote the Oscar winning soundtrack for "The Red Violin," which Bell recorded.

    "I'm very picky with modern music because I'm in the business of playing the music of the incredible geniuses of Mozart and Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky and Beethoven," Bell said. "Our standards are held very high because we're spoiled for great music so we look for new music that gives you the same sense of awe." 

    Like all classical musicians, Bell is looking to expand his audience, seeking younger listeners. To that end, he does things "a little outside of the mainstream classical world," like playing with Josh Groban and Sting, and performing in TV cameos on "Sesame Street" and "Mozart in the Jungle."

    "We're living in an age when young people are eclecitc in their musical tastes," he said.

    He's also involved in music tech projects: He partnered with Sony to create the "Joshua Bell VR Experience," which allows a PlayStation user with a virtual reality headset to feel like they're looking and listening to Bell performing Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 1 just for them.

    Bell said he's excited to see what virtual reality can do for music.

    "I'm looking forward to the day you can use the technology to see the Super Bowl or a concert and feel like you're watching it live," he said.

    Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell 

    March 18, 3 p.m.

    New Jersey Performing Arts Center

    1 Center St., Newark

    Tickets: $24-109, available online at

    Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at Find her on Twitter @nataliepompilio. Find on Facebook.  

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    Seven percent of Scott Kelly's gene expressions did not return to normal after he returned from a year-long stint on the International Space Station.

    Kill the engine -- Scott Kelly is still a twin.

    The West Orange native and astronaut went to space for an entire year and returned with seven percent of his gene expression changed, NASA said.

    Gene expression is how your body reacts to the environment, NASA said. The changes Kelly saw are likely within the range of the stress that a normal body can see when it goes mountain climbing or SCUBA diving, for examples, the agency explained.

    "Scott's DNA did not fundamentally change," NASA said in a statement after the findings of NASA's preliminary study were picked up by multiple media outlets.

    Coverage of the findings of a preliminary study questioned whether Scott Kelly was still a twin. His brother, Mark Kelly, also an astronaut, stayed on earth for the year Scott was in space. Mark served as a control for the study of the impacts on his brother's body.

    The brothers themselves added to the fun after reports surfaced of Scott's changes.

    "This could be good news! I no longer have to call @ShuttleCDRKelly my identical twin brother anymore," Scott Kelly said, tagging his brother, Mark Kelly, on Twitter.

    "I used to have an identical twin brother. Then this happened....," Mark Kelly said, linking to an article about the study.

    In Scott Kelly's life, he's spent more than 520 days in space, but scientists took the opportunity of analyzing his nearly year-long mission in 2017 on the International Space Station.

    "The perfect nature versus nurture study was born," NASA said of the twin-based research in a news release.

    Researchers determined that most of Kelly's genes returned to normal after he landed, but the 7 percent that didn't suggest longer-term changes concerning his  immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia and hypercapnia, according to the study.

    "This change of gene expression is very minimal," NASA said in an updated statement. "We are at the beginning of our understanding of how spaceflight affects the molecular level of the human body. NASA and the other researchers collaborating on these studies expect to announce more comprehensive results on the twins studies this summer."

    Sara Jerde may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SaraJerde.

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    George Gaymon was convicted in January on a 20-count indictment that included two carjackings, despite his proclamation of being a "sovereign citizen" over whom the court had no authority.

    An Irvington man convicted of a 2014 carjacking and robbery spree through Essex County was sentenced to 65 years in prison Thursday by a Superior Court judge who said he wanted to deter others from the man's unorthodox legal tactics.

    George GaymonGeorge Gaymon. (Essex County Prosecutor's Office)

    George Gaymon, 30, was convicted by a jury in January on a 20-count indictment that included two carjackings and an armed robbery, despite his proclamation of being a "sovereign citizen" over whom the court had no authority.

    Superior Court Judge Martin G. Cronin previously had ordered Gaymon removed from the courtroom during jury selection for his trial in Newark after Gaymon made inappropriate comments in front of potential jurors "that basically tainted the entire jury panel," Cronin said Thursday.

    Assistant Prosecutor William Neafsey, who tried the case with Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Perez, said Gaymon and his-conspirator, Mario McClain, "terrorized Essex County" in a series of carjackings and a robbery in March 2014.

    Investigators said the pair would use one stolen car to bump and carjack another, ultimately stealing two cars and carjacking two more in Orange, Newark and Irvington.

    They also robbed a gas station, authorities said, and were arrested after they used credit cards stolen in a carjacking at a deli where they were caught on video.

    McClain ultimately cooperated with prosecutors as part of a plea agreement, and was offered a lesser sentence.

    Last March, attorneys said, Gaymon began ignoring his lawyer and started filing his own legal correspondence with the court as part of his "sovereign citizen" defense -- a theory popularized by anti-government extremist groups that has since spread to prison populations.

    While Cronin denied prosecutors' request he impose extended sentences on Gaymon, he granted their motion to make each sentence run consecutively.

    Among other reasons, Cronin cited the need to deter other defendants from pursuing sovereign citizen legal strategies, which he said have no basis in the law. "It virtually assures conviction," he said.

    Gaymon must serve 51 years before he's eligible for parole.

    Thomas Moriarty may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty. Find on Facebook.

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    Newark residents were not happy about a PSE&G switching station, but they've come to gradually accept it after negotiations with the utility achieved economic benefits for the community.

    Residents in the Fairmount section of Newark's West Ward have a new neighbor they've gradually come to accept.

    Public Service Electric and Gas has built the Fairmount Heights Switching Station to meet Newark's growing demand for electrical power, a requirement the utility was under from a regional transmission organization that maintains the power grid for 65 million people in the country.

    "We've come a long way from day one from fighting it," said Dorian Johnson, president of the Fairmount Heights Neighborhood Association.

    MORE: Recent Barry Carter columns  

    Five years ago, packed community meetings protested what they feared would be an unsightly facility at Littleton and Central avenues. Residents, by the busload, accused the corporate PSEG officials of not telling them about its plans when it purchased 41/2 acres of land for $7.5 million that the city helped them locate.

    With the Urban League of Essex County leading the way, residents and the social agency said that the facility was not compatible with their plans to address the neighborhood's economic, educational, recreational and social needs.

    psegrendering[1] copy.jpgA rendering of the Fairmount Heights Switching Station built by Public Service Electric and Gas 

    PSE&G, however, had the land and needed to upgrade its electrical infrastructure that would benefit Newark and the region. Officials noted that Hurricane Sandy had left Newark neighborhoods in the dark when substations near the Passaic River flooded.

    A new station would prevent that. Jaye Cavallo, a PSEG spokesman, said the switching station steps down high voltages to lower voltages before power is transmitted to substations, where the voltage is further reduced so electricity can be used in homes and businesses.

    "If there is an issue at another station, the new station can pick up that extra demand for electricity," he said.

    As Newark develops, he added, the upgraded electrical feature would be an incentive for companies to relocate.

    "The city can be more attractive to bring in new businesses," Cavallo said.

    Everyone understood the need, but residents still didn't want the station next to them. After hearings held by the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment and the state Board of Public Utilities, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's administration brokered an agreement with PSEG in 2014 that would give both sides what they needed for the project to move forward.

    For starters, PSEG agreed, in lieu of taxes, to pay Newark about $1 million every year for 30 years. The money, said West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum, helps the city do different projects, including plans for the riverfront development, housing and repaving Newark streets and major corridors.

    "This is big," he said. "This is going to increase property values. Public Service agreed to help the city."

     The utility company listened to resident concerns, too, and cleaned up the contaminated land on the site that once contained a church and the Whisk Scissors factory. As the facility was built, PSE&G hired locally, training residents along the way.

    It agreed to invest in housing, a community center and give the Urban League 3 acres of land adjacent to the facility to develop a mixed-used retail and housing development.

    Instead of a cinder-block design to surround the switching station, a 30-foot, decorative mauve-and-beige wall has been created by Adjaye Associates, the architecture firm that designed the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

    National and local artists, including six from Newark, have created pieces. Several tall aesthetic pillars serve as a gateway to a courtyard for the public to walk past and observe the art, making it a destination for the neighborhood.

    Considering how ugly this fight started, the project is shaping up, with stakeholders understanding that there had to be some give and take to make this work and form a community partnership.

    "It's going to contribute to the vitality of the community," said Urban League President Vivian Fraser. "At some point, you have to say your focus is on building and not just fighting. We're focused on the future of the neighborhood and making it great for everyone who lives here."

    MORE CARTER: N.J. Big Brother and Big Sister come through every time | Carter

    While the facility is delivering power, Cavallo said it won't be fully operational until this summer.  Contractors are laying concrete for the sidewalk. Landscaping is on the way. City officials will hold a press conference April 11 to show off the wall and its art.

    Some residents, however, have not warmed to the reality, wondering if their health is at risk.

    Ethel Ellis, who lives in George King Village apartments, wants to move.  "We don't want that thing across the street," she said. "We are concerned about what this is going to do to us."

    Johnson, the neighborhood association president, said it's time to get along with PSE&G and focus on the positive outcomes, even though his preference is for it to be somewhere else.

    "It's been a three-year battle, but I think we did good for the community," he said. "We have to work together."

    Sonja Dabney, another active resident, agreed. Employment, a community center, housing, commercial development, and art to beautify the neighborhood go a long way toward acceptance.

    "It (station) is here," she said. "Being ticked off about is irrelevant at this point. We've got it. Now let's make the best of it."

    These days, it's all about the community. And that's how it should have been from the beginning.

    Barry Carter: (973) 836-4925 or or or follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL

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    Some districts would get millions more. Other would get flat funding.

    Gov. Phil Murphy's first state budget would boost funding for 546 school districts, with more than half of them seeing at least a 5 percent increase in state aid, according to new state data. 

    The Democratic governor this week called for a $283 million increase in direct aid to schools, bringing total state funding for districts to more than $9.6 billion.

    Exactly what would that mean for districts?

    It could be millions more or nothing at all, depending on a district's demographics and enrollment -- core aspects of the state's school funding formula. 

    Newark Public Schools would get the largest increase, $37.5 million more -- a 5 percent increase that would bring state aid to nearly $790 million. 

    Haworth Public Schools is set up for the largest percentage increase, 16.5 percent. But for a district that receives little state aid, that's only $37,306 more, not even enough to hire a full-time teacher. 

    Thirty one districts would receive flat funding, but Murphy may have done them a favor anyway. If strictly followed, the school funding formula calls for decreased funding to districts with declining enrollment or certain demographic changes. 

    Even with the increases, though, most districts are receiving less than they should under the funding formula. Murphy said he wants to close that gap over the next four years. 

    Check out the tool below to see what Murphy's budget means for each district. 


    Carla Astudillo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @carla_astudi. Find her on Facebook.

    Adam Clark may be reached at Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind on Facebook


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    The cats lost their home when their owner fell on hard times.

    ex0318pet.jpgMattox and Donatello 

    BLOOMFIELD -- Mattox and Donatello are a bonded pair of male cats in the care of A Purrfect World Rescue.

    Mattox, 5, and Donatello, 3, lost their home when their owner fell on hard times and could no longer afford pets. Volunteers say both cats are "very loving," but need to go to a home together.

    They have both been neutered, are FIV/FeLV negative and up-to-date on shots.

    For more information on Mattox and Donatello, call Kristina at 201-965-9586, email or go to A Purrfect World is a nonprofit group in Bloomfield that places stray and abandoned cats in permanent homes and is currently caring for more than 100 felines.

    Shelters interested in placing a pet in the Paw Print adoption column or submitting news should call 973-836-4922 or email

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    ORANGE -- Identified in this photo -- taken at the Redwood Lounge in Orange in the 1950s -- are Ike Renzulli, right, and Johnny Tiberi, second from right. MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey The other patrons are unidentified. The establishment located at 16 S. Essex Ave. closed in 1995. If you would like to share a photo that provides...

    ORANGE -- Identified in this photo -- taken at the Redwood Lounge in Orange in the 1950s -- are Ike Renzulli, right, and Johnny Tiberi, second from right.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    The other patrons are unidentified. The establishment located at 16 S. Essex Ave. closed in 1995.

    If you would like to share a photo that provides a glimpse of history in your community, please call 973-836-4922 or send an email to And, check out more glimpses of history in our online galleries on

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Essex County held its annual deer hunt over 11 days in January and February Watch video

    Hunters killed 139 deer during an 11-day hunt in January and February at two parks in Essex County.

    Officials said the hunt, which sparked a protest by animal rights activists, resulted in 212 deer being "removed" from the population since the deer that were killed were carrying 73 fetuses.

    south mt deer protestDeer hunt protesters at South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, Jan. 20, 2018 

    The hunt began in January with five days at South Mountain Reservation, where 87 deer were killed.

    It continued in February at Hilltop Reservation for six days, during which 52 deer were killed.

    The last day of the hunt was Feb. 27.

    Essex County has been holding a deer hunt for 11 years, separate from the state-run deer season running from September through February.

    Supporters of the deer hunt, including Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., have cited several justifications -- from stemming the rise of Lyme disease spread by deer ticks and preserving forest habitat, to reducing collisions with vehicles.

    Sue Russell, director of wildlife policy for the Animal Protection League of N.J., countered in January that a better approach would be to rely on chemicals and vaccines to lower the rate of reproduction.

    Her group organized the Jan. 20 protest.

    Of the two hunting areas, the South Mountain Reservation covers 2,110 acres in Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange, while Hilltop Reservation is 284 acres in Cedar Grove, North Caldwell and Verona.

    Rob Jennings may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RobJenningsNJ. Find on Facebook.


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    The state's largest city kicked off St. Patrick's Day weekend. Watch video

    Even the lines on the street were green.

    For the 83rd year, crowds gathered in Newark Friday to celebrate the Irish in all of us. The annual Newark St. Patrick's Day Parade featured students, police officers, bands, and more marching through the city's streets.

    Revellers lined the streets from the parade's kickoff, Mulberry Street at the Prudential Center, along its entire route, ending at the Newark Museum and Washington Park.

    "Though the route has evolved over the years, the Newark St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee has been proud to consistently call Newark home..keeping the tradition alive," the parade committee said in a release.

    This year's parade was led by Grand Marshal Joseph Taylor, Chairman & CEO of the Newark-based Panasonic Corporation of North America. Deputy Grand Marshal, Josie Logue Tully, immigrated to New Jersey from Ireland in 1957. The 2018 parade was dedicated to Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.

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    All high-risk and most moderate-risk offenders are listed online -- 4,397 as of Wednesday.

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    The most positive takeaway from the governor's budget speech: He's all-in on fixing our abused and neglected transit system. Watch video

    In Chris Christie's first year in office, he kneecapped the state subsidy for New Jersey Transit by $62 million, raised rail fares 25 percent, hiked bus fares 10 percent, reduced schedules, and eliminated off-peak rail discounts.

    Somehow, it didn't produce a better product.

    In fact, the transit system became more of an omnishambles with each subsequent year he strangled it.

    On Tuesday, Christie's successor announced a $242-million increase in state funding for NJ Transit and muzzled any talk of fare increases for 2019. And judging by the other steps Gov. Murphy has already taken - appointing real transit experts, purging patronage hires, and ordering an audit - he has shown that he is ready to strap on a helmet and tackle this neglected, abused and understaffed agency that is responsible for moving 910,000 passengers every day.

    Right, don't say it: The actual net increase in funding is closer to $98 million, after you factor in the agency's loss of $75 million in redirected Turnpike Authority funding, and the loss of $60 million in state and federal grants.

    But you don't raise the Titanic on your first try, and even an NJT founder acknowledges the significance of the governor's commitment: "He's shown that he is very responsive to transit funding that had gone into free-fall," Martin Robins said, "and this is a very good first step."

    Other steps seem perfunctory, yet the last governor never took them. Under Murphy, NJ Transit has put 40 more cars in operation. It is hiring 40 more bus drivers, 12 trainmasters and trainers, and more compliance experts.

    But more is happening outside his purview, and it make you think that the restoration of this agency does not have to turn into a bureaucratic knife fight.

    Job 1 for Murphy: Change the NJ Transit culture | Editorial

    Consider a bipartisan bill working its way through the Legislature, which checks a lot of boxes.

    The measure adds five people to the board, including two "regular riders," two members of regional planning organizations, and a second union representative - who like the existing union rep must recuse himself in labor discussions.

    It also has numerous transparency measures (agendas posted in advance, more public meetings, more streaming), fortifies whistleblower protections, and calls for the hiring of an ethics officer.

    True, the bill fails to establish a long-term funding mechanism or explore new revenue sources, but its sponsors - Sens. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, Robert Gordon, D-Bergen, and Tom Kean, R-Essex - plan to address that problem post-audit, Gordon says.

    None of this could not have happened four months ago under Baron Von Tollbooth.

    The last administration offered nothing but financial stress. It was so casual about safety its accident rate was highest among the nation's 10 largest commuter lines. It had such disdain for efficiency and merit, a dozen six-figure executive positions were filled by Christie cronies. The brain still spins from its pure audacity.

    Christie has left his successor with a Category 5 meltdown, and the forthcoming reboot will take time. But we now have a governor who understands that our economic viability is dependent on a transit system that can no longer be - to borrow a phrase - a national disgrace.


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    A municipal court judge faces an ethics inquiry after berating state troopers during drunken driving investigation. Watch video

    Wilfredo Benitez was passed out in the driver's seat of his silver BMW hatchback at 2:13 a.m. with his hazard lights flashing along the shoulder of Route 80, records show.

    Two New Jersey state troopers who found his vehicle on the stretch of highway in Teaneck quickly began to suspect he was drunk. Benitez struggled with the field sobriety test, according to a police report, but insisted he wasn't a "drug addict" or "a drunk."

    He was "a f--king judge," he said.

    Newly obtained video shows Benitez -- a municipal judge in East Orange, Belleville and Bloomfield -- repeatedly told the two troopers about his position before they cuffed him on suspicion of drunken driving.

    He then told the trooper reading him his rights that he was "being a d--k," the video shows.

    Police later administered a breath test that found Benitez's blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit, but the court case against the judge fell apart because of flaws in the investigation, NJ Advance Media has learned.

    The November 2016 incident is now the subject of a separate ethics case against Benitez, who was found not guilty of drunken driving in May of last year but is still prohibited from hearing DWI cases in his courtrooms, according to the state judiciary.

    'I'm a f--king judge'

    In court papers, the judge said he was "regretful and apologetic" about using foul language but denied any other wrongdoing. Neither he nor his attorney returned messages seeking comment.

    The incident was not disclosed publicly until January, when the state judiciary released a copy of the ethics complaint, which accuses him of abusing his position.

    Benitez argued in a February filing that he told the troopers he was a judge because the handcuffs they placed on him were hurting him and he "intended to convey that the handcuffs were unnecessary since he was a judge and he was not going to harm them in any way."

    The filing states that Benitez "never asked the State Police not to administer any field sobriety tests, and never asked not to be placed under arrest."

    Through an Open Public Records Act request, NJ Advance Media obtained dashboard camera footage and police reports from the incident. The news organization also reviewed audio from a May 11 hearing in which Superior Court Judge Roy McGeady found Benitez not guilty of driving while intoxicated.

    The video shows the troopers -- identified as Justin Kearns and Danny Kim -- were driving down I-80 west in Teaneck when they encountered Benitez's car on the highway's shoulder. 

    Kearns wrote in a report that Benitez was "slouched over and sleeping" when they approached, and the video shows the troopers spent about three minutes trying to wake him before he roused, activating the brake lights and the rear windshield wipers as the troopers asked him to turn off the car.

    When Benitez opened the window, Kearns wrote in a report, he "detected the strong odor" of alcohol.

    Benitez repeatedly told the troopers he was driving home after dropping his daughter off at school before later saying it was his son he had dropped off, the video shows. The video shows Benitez had pulled over well before the troopers arrived, but when Kearns asked the judge why he was parked on the shoulder, he replied, "because you asked me to pull over."

    The troopers performed a field sobriety test, but Benitez's car blocked it from the view of the troopers' dashboard camera. 

    The video shows the judge grew irate after the troopers placed him under arrest. 

    "I can't believe you're doing this," he said, according to the video. "I'm not a f--king drug addict. I'm not a drunk."

    Kearns began reading Benitez the Miranda warning, prefacing it by saying -- "I'm sure you know it," the video shows.

    "You're wasting your time and you know it," Benitez said, repeatedly interrupting the trooper. "I'll fight you. You know you're being a d--k. I will f--king fight you."

    Benitez was taken to the State Police Totowa station where he submitted to a breath test and blew a .16, according to the report.

    But Judge McGeady, who heard the DWI case against Benitez, threw out the test results because of discrepencies in the timeline of when the test was conducted.

    Under Supreme Court rules on the use of breath-testing devices, a defendant is supposed to be observed for 20 uninterrupted minutes before the test is performed to ensure they had not chewed gum, vomited or performed other actions which might affect a test result.

    Authorities could not prove that was done in Benitez's case. 

    Benitez's attorney, John Bruno, also argued Kearns lacked certifications neccesary to perform field sobriety tests and improperly performed the test that Benitez failed. 

    McGeady found the trooper's academy training gave him the minimum qualifications to conduct such tests, according to the recording of the hearing. 

    McGeady said in his decision that the prosecution had not provided testimony proving Benitez's behavior was caused by intoxication "as opposed to sleep deprivation or having just been awakened."

    "I don't know that he had bloodshot, droopy eyes, that his clothes were dissheveled, that he was swaying, holding on for balance, I don't have any testimony on that," he said. 

    Kearns' report notes Benitez' eyes were "bloodshot and watery" and he was "unable to balance," but the trooper was never asked about it in court. It's unclear whether the judge reviewed the dashboard video.

    A State Police spokesman declined to comment on the case. 

    Benitez will still have to appear before the state Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct to answer to the ethics complaint. A spokeswoman for the judiciary said a hearing date had not yet been set. 

    A person who answered the phone at Belleville's municipal court this week said Benitez was scheduled to hear cases again on Tuesday.

    S.P. Sullivan may be reached at Follow him on Twitter. Find on Facebook.


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    The incident occurred Friday afternoon in Irvington.

    Authorities are investigating a police-involved shooting in Irvington.

    No injuries were reported in the Friday afternoon incident, according to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.

    Irvington officers responded to Lincoln Place shortly before 4 p.m. for a report of a suspect with a gun.

    As officers tried to apprehend the man, identified as Jahad Goff, 18, of Irvington, an officer "discharged his service weapon," officials said. No one was struck.

    Officers recovered a handgun from Goff and he was charged with weapons offenses and resisting arrest. He's being held pending an appearance in Essex County Central Judicial Processing Court.

    Authorities did not release additional details about the incident.

    State guidelines require that county prosecutors investigate whenever a law enforcement officer discharges a weapon, the prosecutor's office noted.

    Anyone with information about the incident may contact the prosecutor's professional standards bureau at 862-520-3700.

    Matt Gray may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us:


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