As the Christmas Season Closes

Christmas is a time for miracles. Seasonal movies and hymns remind the world of as much. This year, my favorite such miracle was re-enacted during a Sainsbury’s commercial: the World War I Christmas truce. During the dark and bloody days of the “war to end all wars,” the sound of Christmas carols rose from the trenches, replacing explosions and mortar fire as the Kaiser’s troops joined the King’s soldiers in no-man’s land, dropping their weapons to celebrate the birth of Christ in the most appropriate of ways: peacefully.

Germany and the United Kingdom had seen the full extent of human manufactured horror during this conflict.This was the dawn of chemical warfare, and the level of carnage that swept across Europe remains mind boggling, even a hundred years later, especially when one realizes the average citizen really had little stake in the battle, regardless of which side they were on. This was the terrible end result of strategic alliance building, and despite the fact they were on opposite sides of the battlefield, neither Germany nor Britain wanted to shed the other’s blood during the Feast of the Nativity.

To that end, it is worth noting the violence didn’t resume until the military’s higher-ups forced the war to recommence. The Allied and Central Powers, sworn enemies, had briefly come to a realization that the remainder of the world had yet to recognize: people aren’t that different, regardless of what uniform they wear. Alas, the great tragedy of the truce is that while man was the primary architect of this miracle, they also represented its undoing. The mutual respect for mankind was short-lived, and those who became short-term friends on that cold December evening later returned to arms. Regardless, the potential was great and the message strong.

This is still a well-known story. I heard it in parochial school, an example of our Christ-like behavior in times of trouble, and it has inspired documentaries, countless articles, and even a very popular pop song (“Snoopy’s Christmas”). Alas, it is said such a miracle could never occur today. As horrible as the First World War was, humanity’s barbarism has reached greater levels in the decades since, and an intense darkness has been cast across the world, one so thick that even the light of Christmas cannot shine through.

Or can it?

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon an article in a Lebanese newspaper (inexplicably absent from Western media, I might add) that proved an inspiring reminder of the true gift of Christmas. It was about the Shujaiyeh district of war-torn Gaza. There, among the forgotten Christian minority, comprised mostly of Eastern Orthodox and Catholics, the local youth received a most unexpected guest. Clad in traditional red attire, white beard, and iconic hat, a Muslim man named Sameh Wadi traversed the bombed-out landscape in an attempt to bring Christmas cheer to children who have experienced unimaginable sorrow. That Santa Claus would find his way to Gaza and the children who endured last summer’s military campaign between Israel and Hamas, is beyond touching.

That such immense kindness would come by way of a non-Christian, someone who is very likely in danger of being labeled an “apostate” or drawing the ire of Islamist extremists in Hamas, demonstrates a powerful sense of respect and compassion for one’s fellow man. In other-words, it was very much a Christmas miracle, once again crafted by human hands. How appropriate that such selfless bravery and Christ-like behavior would occur in the land of Jesus’ own birth. Evidently miracles don’t occur only in antiquity.

In the words of one of my favorite songs from the Rankin-Bass classic Twas the Night Before Christmas, “don’t expect a miracle, unless you help make it to be.” All over the world, people have done just that; the American media, more consumed with what Kim Kardashian is wearing or where Beyonce went shopping, is just too distracted or uninterested to notice.

In Syria, Christians have decorated the deserted streets for the holiday, commemorating Christmas in spite of the fact violent civil war and the constant threat of an Islamist takeover hangs above their heads. In Iraq, the belly of ISIS’s recently established Caliphate, Christmas was outlawed and strict Sharia Law implemented. Yet, despite this, many will observe a solemn holy day; some Iraqi Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike, have donated clothing and provided aide to the refugee Christian minority, whose suffering, overlooked by many in the West, was recently recognized by Pope Frances. The Pontiff called for compassion and an end to armed conflict in both Iraq and Syria:

“There are so many tears this Christmas. May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world.”

The Palestinians, Syrians, and Iraqis, like much of the Eastern Church, will celebrate Christmas on January seventh. That’s more than a week from now. Perhaps there will be other miracles before then; if they can occur on the battlefield of World War I, or the ruins of Gaza, they can happen anywhere. Perhaps Christians in the West will reflect upon their own trying past and remember their Eastern sisters and brothers in 2015. Perhaps the coming year will be a year of miracles.

Posted in Christmas, Feel Good in 2015 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Christos Razdajetsja!

image_1-1“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.(Luke 2:8-11)

Christos Razdajetsja! 

Veselé Vianoce. 

Posted in Christmas, Features | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Forgotten Christmas Traditions Are in Your Culture?

Christmas is finally at hand and it is, without exaggeration, the best time of year! The music, the decorations, the movies, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas albums all solidified December as my favorite month on the calendar. There are, after-all, so many wonderful cultural memes that have become etched into our festive celebrations: the carols, the trees, the gingerbread, the Rankin-Bass specials—oh, there are simply too many to list! And lets not forget the more solemn components: midnight mass, hymns, and advent.

Such traditions are evidently important to us; every single year, youth leave cookies and milk out on Christmas Eve, confident jolly Ol’ Saint Nick will arrive, as he has since before memory, to celebrate the birth of Christ by rewarding children for their good behavior. In the weeks leading up to the big day, children write Santa letters, visit him at malls, and nag parents mercilessly for assurances that the big guy won’t fly over their house on the twenty-fourth. Even President Obama, obviously aware how important Santa’s flight is to American youth, has gone so far as to offer Santa additional protection, should it be necessary to ensure his Christmas flight goes off without a hitch.

And yet, it is easy to forget that the entire world does not share this very Americanized yuletide cheer. It’s so easy to assume that because we in North America celebrate Christmas in a certain way, so too must all the people of the world. This isn’t the case, however, as much of the globe acknowledges a very different Christmas than that of the big-box superstore.

How so?

Well, take Eastern and Central Europe, prime examples of similar, yet at the same time, strikingly different, Christmas customs. Here, among the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, seasonal celebrations stretch out for much of December, and it isn’t surprising for Santa to make a pre-Christmas trip. In America, December 6th may not be particularly noteworthy, but those who keep track of European tradition will recognize the Feast of Saint Nicholas. In many nations—Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, and others—that is a huge deal, equally important in youthful eyes as Christmas itself. It is on this night that the aforementioned holy man visits the homes of good children, leaving small gifts and candy in their shoes.

That may seem like a recipe for disaster (or for stinky candy, at least), but there is magic to the simplicity of the ritual, and even though I grew up in Jersey, I vividly remember leaving my parochial-school uniform shoes out as a child, overjoyed when Saint Nicholas left delicious gelt within!

Unfortunately, it seems very few within the United States are familiar with such lore. Why, in this season of Christmas cheer, have the traditions of the Old World been forgotten? Are they too simple, or too alien, for American consumption?

Lets examine a few more variances.

In the United States, poorly behaved children are familiar with the fact Santa punishes their indiscretions by leaving a lump of coal instead of presents; only kind boys and girls awaken to find wrapped gifts beneath their tree. While nobody would be enthused to find coal on Christmas morning, it isn’t without its practical uses, especially if one happens to have a coal burning stove or locomotive that needs fueling. European children face a much harsher punishment than their American counterparts: a lashing at the hands of Krampus, a demonic entity that roams the streets on Krampusnacht, the night before the Feast of Saint Nicholas.

Swinging chains and threatening to drag the misbehaved away from their homes, Krampus’ diabolic nature is the exact opposite of Nicholas’s saintliness. That may seem a little macabre for Christmastime, but Krampus has become something of a cult icon, gaining minor traction in the United States and providing Europeans an excuse to drink and party on Krampusnacht (I have a Krampus stocking—available at the Paranormal Bookstore in Asbury Park—hanging by my tree, so I can appeal to his ego just in case the evil entity decides to visit Long Branch). Its important to realize this isn’t fringe folklore, either; it is very much part of the mainstream in Europe. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself an Austrian-American, eluded to the horrors of Krampus during a 1988 Christmas special:

When I was a little boy in Austria, we had, a few days before Santa Claus came, we had someone else come: the devil! The devil would come in with his chains and mean looking, and he would read off all the bad things we did. He would say, ‘you got bad grades, you didn’t go to school one day, you were bad to your mother!’ And he would grab me and want to take me away.”

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Saint Nicholas, in his traditional European garb, at Allaire Village.

Saint Nicholas, in his traditional European garb, at Allaire Village.

Saint Nicholas (and Krampus) still visit homes around the world on December 6th, and though the United States has distanced itself from this practice, areas with large ethnic enclaves, particularly Germanic or Slavic people, still commemorate these events and welcome the Saint into their homes. Even here in New Jersey, bastion of American modernism, traces of the feast day’s magic can still be felt. For example, Saint Nicholas visited Allaire Village on December 4th, clad in his European bishop garb, to help keep these old traditions alive into the new millennium, and typically also makes an appearance at St. Stephen’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Toms River.

However, outside of such diaspora, the traditions seem to be dying. I recently inquired via Facebook whether anyone else within my circle of friends remembered or adhered to these traditions? Lo and behold, several shared similar memories. All were excited to find someone else who knew about Saint Nicholas and his affinity for leaving treats in the most seemingly illogical of places. Of course, one of these friends was a native of Germany, who spent his youth in that country. With one exception, the rest had direct connections to Slavic countries, namely the Czech Republic, in the form of first generation immigrant parents or grandparents. When the question was raised, only one of my co-workers was familiar with the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Not surprisingly, he learned of it from a childhood friend, a German.

So, what cultural Christmas memories are in your ancestry? Perhaps it is time to dust off the memory books and revive remembrance, or at least inform the newest generations of their existence. Christmas traditions provide a unique link to the past, our ancestors, and the countries to which we owe our lineage; maybe we shouldn’t discard of them just yet.

A Hungarian Saint Nicholas ornament found at Allaire Village and perfect for a Slovak-American blogger's Christmas tree!

A Hungarian Saint Nicholas ornament found at Allaire Village and perfect for a Slovak-American blogger’s Christmas tree!

 Please share your own Christmas traditions in the “comments” section!


Posted in Christmas, Features, Fun, Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas, Santa Claus, Arrives at the Jersey Shore

Long Branch's tree, pre-lighting.

Long Branch’s tree, pre-lighting.

In many respects, December is the only time of year that can match the excitement of summer at the Jersey Shore. That may sound crazy, especially to those who hate winter or erroneously believe there isn’t anything worth seeing down the shore after Labor Day when it becomes too frigid to take a dip in the Atlantic. However, the holiday spirit that manifests in Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May Counties every year is truly awe-inspiring, and to those who have yet to do so, certainly worth experiencing.

From Cliffwood Beach to Cape May, the coastline is officially decked out for Christmas and Hanukkah, with each community’s unique culture manifested in their individualized yuletide celebrations. There’s the Victorian charm of turn of the century communities like Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, the distinct Americana of Red Bank’s shopping district, the cultural diversity of Long Branch’s oceanfront, and the unrivaled glitz of Atlantic City. No two towns are identical—neither are their holiday celebrations—which provide a multitude of choices for those seeking to maximize their winter experience.

Long Branch

Long Branch showcased the musical talents of Tim McLoone and the Shirley’s, who performed at Pier Village’s pavilion and headlined the annual boardwalk tree lighting on November 30th. Aside from being possibly the best-known restaurateur in Monmouth County, McLoone has become something of a Christmas icon due to his involvement with Holiday Express, a super-group that performs charitable concerts throughout the state.

The band’s rendition of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” heralded the arrival of the big man himself. Kris Kringle entered Long Branch in style, riding on a fire truck (as is tradition). He greeted the enthusiastic crowd and posed for photographs in Festival Plaza. For many local children, this was the first opportunity to make sure the man in red received their latest Christmas-list revisions—after-all, the toys en vogue when their initial letters were mailed in June probably aren’t as fashionable six months later—and for parents, it was a fantastic photo-op and a memory that will likely be cherished for years to come.

As always, it was a magical evening. Councilwoman Kathleen Billings, Congressman Frank Pallone, and his brother, Councilman John Pallone, joined councilwoman Mary Jane Celli, who led to the official countdown to the tree lighting. A lifelong resident of the city, the Councilman has fond memories of Christmases past, and high-expectations for those in the future.

“I was born and raised in Long Branch, so the holidays in our community have always been very special,” Councilman Pallone said. “I think the restaurants and specialty shops throughout our city make Long Branch a great destination for the holiday season. In addition, there are so many holiday events for the entire family. The Christmas tree lighting and Hanukkah candle lighting at Pier Village are great examples.”

Those who missed Santa’s initial visit to Long Branch on November 30th need not fear; he is scheduled to return on December thirteen and fourteenth, along with traditional English carolers and other attractions. Santa isn’t the only holiday attraction in Long Branch; however, and Councilman Pallone hopes would-be visitors recognize numerous Christmas and Hanukah events will be held in the coming weeks.

“Many of our churches, synagogues, civic, and service organizations have been sponsoring annual holiday events for years including visits with Santa, traditional dinners and special music presentations,” he said. “All of these events and festivities bring our community together, enliven the spirit of the season, and make Long Branch a very special place to visit.”

Asbury Park

Similar spirit can be felt a few miles south in Asbury Park, a seaside city that boasts not one…not two…but an impressive three large-scale tree lightings. In that respect, Asbury may take the cake in regards to the most amount of Christmas spirit per square mile: there’s Paradise Nightclub’s lively Santa Saturday, Georgie’s annual Toys for Tots fundraiser, the traditional Santacon convention, a production of Scrooge at the historic Paramount Theatre, and dozens of local businesses, some of the most unique in the state, downtown and the boardwalk.

Councilwoman-elect Yvonne Clayton knows the city is a good place to spend the holidays. After-all, she spent her childhood in Asbury Park. Though she moved away from the city by the sea several years ago, its charm proved irresistible and she wound up returning, then running for and being elected to the City Council.

The Councilwoman-elect has fond memories of childhood shopping excursions during the Christmas season, when she patronized businesses along Cookman and Springwood Avenues (Steinbach’s, Country Fair, Newbury’s, and Woolworth’s were among her favorites). The city has obviously changed over the years—those stores now exist only in memory—but the community has undergone rejuvenation over the past decade or so. Thus, the downtown area is once again alive with an eclectic mix of businesses, all of which add to the festive feelings, attracting visitors from all over the tri-state and beyond.

However, downtown Asbury isn’t the only attraction. Though the beach season has been over for four months, the boardwalk is abuzz with festivities.

“There’s shopping in the arcade outside the Convention Hall where the tree lighting was last week—wonderful, wonderful shops!” Councilwoman Clayton said. “And then, we are having ‘Shuffle Sunday’…what happens is a group of merchants have gotten together and developed a deck of cards…you can go into the stores and get the cards and [they] qualify you to get different discounts. So you just walk in, give them the card, and get the discount. And they are good until March of next year!”

With so much going on, it’s no wonder Asbury residents are so enthusiastic about the month of December. Not even last week’s torrential downpour could keep locals from exercising some yuletide cheer!

“I think the holiday season right now is fantastic,” the Councilwoman said. “There are all kinds of celebrations. There was a tree lighting last night, in the pouring rain, and Santa arrived by fire truck. There were people out—not a large group—but amazingly, there were people who came out.”

“Asbury Park has become just a wonderful destination. What’s exciting about this season is there are three Christmas celebrations, including one of the West Side, and there is a Kwanzaa celebration, so it’s something that’s happening for everybody! It’s a great holiday season.”

But don’t think the fun is confined to Asbury Park and Long Branch. Though they are the two biggest cities along the shore, they are definitely not the only places where Santa Claus will be making the rounds. For example, he will attend Ocean Grove’s tree lighting on December 13th, tour Cliffwood Beach with the Cliffwood Volunteer Fire Company on December 14th, and visit the InfoAge Science center in Shark River on the thirteenth, fourteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first, to name but a few. Also, for those who prefer Santa to have a more European flair, Saint Nicholas will be visiting Allaire Village on December 14th, clad in his traditional Old World garb.

Residents of the Jersey Shore undoubtedly take pride in their communities. That the Christmas and Hannukah seasons allow them to showcase their towns, bond with friends and neighbors, and help spread some goodwill has made this one of the most highly anticipated times of the year. So, if you are looking to indulge in heartwarming yuletide celebrations, look no further than Monmouth County, the most festive place south of the North Pole.


Upcoming Santa Events:

Asbury Park
December 13th, 2014
Santacon in Asbury Park.
Bring a donation for the local food drive.

Cliffwood Beach
December 14th, 2014
Santa will be traveling around Cliffwood and Cliffwood Beach with his buddies from the Cliffwood Volunteer Fire Company. Remember to listen for the truck’s sirens!

November 16th – December 24th, 2014
180 Route 35, Eatontown, NJ
Come see Santa Claus at the Monmouth Mall.

December 6th, 13th, 20th, 2014
Various Locations
Come have breakfast with Santa Claus!

Little Silver
December 28th, 2014
Branch Ave. between Sycamore & Oceanport Avenues
Little Silver, NJ Ride the train with Santa Claus.
Departing from Little Silver to Red Bank at 6:44pm.

Long Branch
December 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 2014
Pier Village, 1 Chelsea Ave, Long Branch, NJ 07740
Come visit Santa Claus near the Atlantic Ocean.

December 6th, 2014
36 Church St, Middletown, NJ 07748
Ride the train with Santa at 10:00AM or 1:00PM. Tickets MUST be bought in advance at 180 Main Street, Port Monmouth. Please check availability.

December 7th, 2014
36 Church St Middletown, NJ 07748
Annual tree lighting featuring a visit from Santa.

Ocean Grove
December 13th, 2014
54 Pittaman Avenue, Ocean Grove, NJ 07756
Santa will attend the annual tree lighting outside the Great Auditorium!

Red Bank
November 28th, 2014
Broad and Canal Streets, Red Bank, NJ 07701
Santa will arrive to light the three following a live performance by Holiday Express.

Sea Bright
December 5th, 2014
United Methodist Church, 1104 Ocean Avenue, Sea Bright, NJ 07760
Following the tree light at Sea Bright Firehouse (1099 Ocean Ave, Sea Bright, NJ 07760), join Santa (and Mrs. Claus!) for some hot chocolate!

December 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th, 2014
2001 Sunset Avenue
Ocean, NJ 07712

This list is by no means complete, so if Santa Claus is visiting your church, business, or community and you would like it listed here, please don’t hesitate to e-mail or Tweet @MIKOLAYdotORG.

Posted in Asbury Park, Features, Holidays, Long Branch, Middletown, Port Monmouth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Election Day (Again), Asbury and Long Branch!

Asbury Park and Long Branch have long been viewed as something akin to sister cities. One-time tourist rivals, both communities were prestigious Victorian seaside resorts that competed to attract society’s upper crust to the pristine beaches and boardwalks. Both suffered economic downturns and the vengeance of the dreaded Garden State Parkway, which lured families further south to Atlantic City and Wildwood, and subsequently enjoyed comebacks as regional destinations in the 2000s. Yet, as with all things, the power to determine the ultimate future of these cities rests not in the hands of real-estate developers, party bosses, or the media, but with their residents, the voters who will take to the polls on Tuesday and elect their municipal leadership.

Both cities hold non-partisan elections, though Long Branch’s Mayoral and City Council races were conducted in early May. It was the same in Asbury Park until last year; holding General Elections in the spring is confusing to many voters, and it ultimately benefits incumbents by lowering turnout. Thus, the decision was made to change Asbury’s electoral model to mimic that of the traditional election by holding the non-partisan races in November. Also, the office of Mayor has changed from being appointed to directly elected, which is a first in the City by the Sea’s history.

Asbury Park: Mayor, Council, and Board of Education

This year, Asbury Park’s races have proven very contentious. Councilman John Moor is heading up the Asbury Together ticket, running to become the city’s first directly elected Mayor. It was an office most expected him to hold already, as he was top vote getter last election and precedent held whoever received the highest percentage of ballots for City Council would be appointed Mayor. Alas, it was not to be. A last minute deal resulted in Myra Campbell, Moor’s one-time running mate, becoming Mayor amidst an outcry of public criticism. Such is the way urban politics is often played. (Mayor Campbell is currently trying to defend her seat, running for re-election free of any down-ticket candidates, and Harold V. Suggs is also running for that office as an independent).

The Asbury Together ticket is the more diverse of the two competing for Council. As their website states, they specifically sought to form a slate that reflected the city’s demographic makeup. Among these candidates is incumbent Councilwoman Amy Quinn, champion of grassroots politics and something of an icon among the city’s political opposition. She represents the transparent government Asbury long lacked, and as an interesting side-note, earned a place in history as being part of one of the first same-sex couples legally married (on the boardwalk, none-the-less) following the overturning of New Jersey’s gay marriage ban last year.

Then there is Jesse “Coach” Kendle, an usher at Good Hope Baptist Church, who (as his nickname suggests) coached Little League and basketball in the city. Environmentalist Joe Woerner, a city native who has been active in trying to save the undeveloped North Beach, and has also been involved in a number of worthy causes both in and outside of Asbury Park, is making his second run, having previously sought a Council seat as a running-mate of the then-allied Quinn, Moor, and Campbell. Yvonne Clayton, a former Eastern Region Sales Support Manager at AT&T who relocated to her childhood hometown in 2011, rounds out the ticket with her promise to fight for the “equitable use of the city’ s resources.” More detailed profiles can be found online at

Asbury Together is pitted against the A-Team, which includes Mayoral candidate Remond Palmer and Council aspirants Derrick Grant, Duanne “King” Small, Rosetta Johnson, and Kenneth Saunders, Jr. This year’s race has proven particularly messy; the A-Team has claimed a fabricated endorsement from Senator Cory Booker and collected vote by mail ballots of questionable legality. Despite such shenanigans, the race is expected to be close. This is unfortunate, because a truly healthy urban coastal city requires leadership concerned with more than gaining power and political self-preservation. It isn’t unfair to ask: if this is how the A-Team behaves on the campaign trail, how would their City Hall look?

The A-Team has also fielded candidates for the Board of Education, including Arva M. Council, Felicia Simmons, and Stephen Williams. They are running against the Moving Forward ticket, which includes Charles Smentkowski (a former city police officer who has received the endorsement of Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini and the Asbury Park Press), Angela Ahbez, and Carol B. Jones.

Long Branch: Board of Education

 Anyone who reads this blog likely remembers Long Branch’s mayoral race last May, when challenger Avery Grant came within a hair of unseating twenty-four year incumbent Adam Schneider. All sitting Council members were re-elected. That said, the Board of Education’s election occurs in November, and there are now five candidates running for the three contested seats.

Among the hopefuls are incumbents Allan Menkin, James Parnell, and Armand Zambrano, and two high-profile challengers, David A. Brown and Rose Marie Widdis. Due to the makeup of the field, one incumbent is essentially guaranteed re-election, but there is the distinct possibility the other two seats could go to challengers. To be clear, none of the candidates running are newcomers to the politics: Widdis is a Board of Education alumnus, who served from 1996 until 2011, and Brown, aside from being former Chair of the local NAACP, worked on Long Branch Tomorrow, the original waterfront redevelopment plan that was proposed in the 1990s.

The contenders for Long Branch BOE debated on October 30th.

The contenders for Long Branch BOE debated on October 30th.

Judging by the prevalence of lawn signs, which have sprouted near houses and on local roads in recent weeks, the battle lines are already largely drawn; however, the undecided were granted a sneak peak at what their prospective Board of Education members would do if elected during last Thursday’s debate. The incumbents touted their record in elevating the school district’s performance.

“We have more students enrolled in our A.P. classes, more than ever right now,” James Parnell said. “We supported teacher growth through professional development seminars, so I think by educating our employees and our administrators, giving them proper training and development…we are on the right track!”

In regards to tracking this student progress, the issue of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the components of the ever-controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative, was raised. Many, particularly on the political Right, have sounded alarms that Common Core is a disaster waiting to happen, and much of the media coverage surrounding the implementation of the various components of the program has gone to drumming up such ideas. Thankfully, these sentiments were absent from the debate, where each candidate seemed to hold a favorable view of PARCC.

“You always hear about how our children and our country are falling behind other countries in educational standards,” Allan Menkin said. “So what happened was they put together these set of assessments that students are required to achieve during their education periods…these standards they need to hit to be able to advance, and these skills they have acquired will help them when they are out of school whether they go to college, or they go into the work force or armed forces.”

Armand Zambrano spoke in similar terms.

“Basically what these tests are doing is seeing that the child achieves these standards,” said Zambrano. “Years ago, we had the California tests, the TerraNova tests; its no different than the PARCC test. Whether its Math, Reading, or Social Studies, it’s the amount of work the student retains within the years of being in different parts of education.”

Rose Marie Widdis, who  supports “individualized programs” to benefit students, outlined the characteristics of an effective Board of Education member as someone who recognizes “everyone should work together for the good of the children,” and also added the government has to “keep the taxpayers in mind.”

“You need to be sensitive to the needs of the students,” Brown said. “And sensitive to the needs of what’s going on in the district.”

If you live in either city, it is important to familiarize yourself with the municipal government. High-profile partisan races may seem more exciting—they appear on TV, are talked about on the radio, and give the impression of being more important—however; the future of your community is determined mostly at the local level, by the Mayor, Council, and Board of Education. Nowhere has this been clearer than Asbury Park and Long Branch. So, on Election Day, remember that the ballot doesn’t end at Freeholder.

Posted in Asbury Park, Asbury Park Election 2014, Jersey Shore, Long Branch, Long Branch Election 2014 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Asbury Park’s Beaches Are Clean, But The Elections Are Dirty!

Last year, Asbury Park’s City Council race was plagued by what seemed like endless controversy. The non-partisan election saw members of both the A-Team and One Asbury tickets join the city’s governing body, but its outcome was fraught by divisiveness and controversy that continued right up to the day Mayor Myra Campbell was sworn into office. Thus, when both teams announced their chosen slate of contenders for this year’s follow-up election, one didn’t exactly have to be Madam Marie to foresee another tumultuous campaign on the horizon. Now, with less than two full days until voters take to the polls, the campaigns for local office have undergone dramatic and unexpected turns.

For example, Dan Jacobson over at TriCity News recently questioned the legality of the A-Team’s Vote by Mail collection process, and Asbury Together has challenged the validity of three hundred of these ballots, which could lead to some being disqualified. If such a purge occurs, the impact isn’t going to be limited to these local races, as the ballot will have to be discarded in its entirety. What does that mean? Well, votes cast for Board of Education, Monmouth County Freeholder, the House of Representatives, and United States Senate will all be disqualified, which will truly be a shame, especially if the margin of loss in one or more of these contests is close.

Asbury Park's beaches are clean...but the city's political scene is a complete mess.

Asbury Park’s beaches are clean, but the city’s political scene is a complete mess.

But the controversy doesn’t even stop there. Asbury Park residents recently received an A-Team mailer that quoted beloved celebrity politician Cory Booker, who is currently seeking re-election, as endorsing mayoral candidate Remond Palmer. The problem: when asked, the Senator denied having done so via his Twitter account, which will inevitably lead to confusion on the part of some voters. The municipal Democratic Party has denied having anything to do with the mailing, as they didn’t endorse city candidates this year, which has further muddied the clarity of an already confusing situation.

Add in that TriCity News recently plastered their front page with the headline, “Bye Bye Moor and Quinn: A-Team Sweeps if Asbury Election Held Today,” and it becomes apparent that, aside from being contentious, this race might be extremely close; the kind of government that takes control of City Hall will be determined on Tuesday. Will it be a throwback to the 1990s, or a continuation of the precedent set by Quinn and Moor?

This messiness will hang in the air until Tuesday, but the members of Asbury Together remain optimistic their message, reputation, and history of championing transparent grassroots government will carry them to victory on Election Day.

Incumbent Councilwoman Amy Quinn, seeking re-election to a second term, has expressed disappointment with the tactics her opponents used, but remains confident regarding her ticket’s chances.

“I’m exhausted but proud of our team,” she said. “Our volunteers and staff are working tirelessly to get the vote out and we are so grateful to them. That said, no matter what happens on November fourth, the next day I’m calling out of work, taking a hot yoga class, and maybe catching a movie!”

Joe Woerner, who said watching Quinn and Moor fight for increased accountability in City Hall restored his faith in the local government, is also running on the Asbury Together ticket. Woerner, who has always been involved in the community, views the Council as “the most effective way to enact change in our city,” and perceives himself as well suited to do so.

“I became frustrated with the inaction of the incumbents,” said Woerner. “Whether it was crime, Bradley Cove, mismanagement of the budget, or lack of options for our youth, I knew we could do better!”

Despite all the controversy, Woerner  remains optimistic.

“I am excited about this election,” Woerner said. “I believe the Asbury Together ticket is hands-down the strongest ticket running.”

All voters in Asbury Park should be excited because of the prospect this race presents, as the future of the little City by the Sea will be determined on Tuesday…whether that’s for better or worse has yet to be seen.

Posted in Asbury Park, Asbury Park Election 2014, Candidate Profile | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Long Branch, Jeff Bell Appeals to Republicans

Long Branch is known for many things—the beaches, boardwalk, dining, and diversity—but being a bastion of Republicanism is not one of them. Indeed, with a Democratic Mayor in office for twenty-two years, and a voter registration profile that benefits the Democratic Party thirty-one to thirteen percent, the GOP represents the regional opposition, in many ways characterize the reality of shore communities in the progressive-leaning Sixth Congressional District. That said, if the stellar turnout at the Fourth Annual Republican Reception, held at the Portuguese Club last Friday evening, is any sign of the times, perhaps there are good things on the horizon for the local GOP!

Former Atlantic Highlands Mayor Anna Little, Senate candidate Jeff Bell, and Chairman Ray Patsky, at the annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch. (10.24.2014)

Former Atlantic Highlands Mayor Anna Little, Senate candidate Jeff Bell, and Chairman Ray Patsky, at the annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch.

Activists, partisans, and candidates congregated for what will be one of the final events before Election Day, an opportunity to meet their candidates for United States Senate, the House of Representatives, and Monmouth County Freeholder. Foremost among these contenders, and likely the biggest draw, was former Reagan confidante Jeff Bell, running against incumbent Cory Booker, the former Newark Mayor and Twitter’s foremost celebrity politician.

Though he ran a very low-profile primary campaign, Bell emerged from the four-candidate field with twenty-nine percent of the vote and his party’s nomination, ultimately earning the endorsements of previous opponents and charging forward with a unified base. Since then, the conservative hopeful has chipped away at the Democrat’s supposedly unbreakable lead, whittling the gap between the two to a mere fifteen points. That may still seem like a high number—and in some races, it would be—but during a United States Senate campaign in New Jersey, for a seat that an elected Republican hasn’t held since the early 1970s, that is a surprisingly small percentage.

The annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch. (10.24.2014)

Jeff Bell at the annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch.

A lot has changed in regards to campaign tactics since last year’s Senatorial Special Election. Back then, Cory Booker, running against arch-conservative Tea Partier Steve Lonegan, rarely campaigned in New Jersey and largely ignored his opponent’s existence entirely. The strategy seemed to be to provide the Republicans with as little attention as possible, but in the end, Booker only received ten percent higher than his opponent. This year, the Democrats are doing this differently. More active in their efforts, they have attacked Bell at every possible turn—be it for his support of the Gold Standard or use of the term “beach” to refer to the Jersey Shore—and have tried to draw as much attention to his affiliation with conservatism as possible.

And yet, despite these efforts, a recent Monmouth University poll shows Bell is behind by only fifteen percent.

Add in that the Republican’s war-chest is astronomically lower than his opponent’s (according to the Federal Election Commission, he only had $91,116 cash-on-hand as of October, while Booker had $3,495,321), and it appears many in the Garden State are less enthralled with their incumbent Senator than the media has implied. Cory Booker may very well be Hollywood’s favorite political infatuation, but the consensus in New Jersey is apparently far from unanimous.

Jeff Bell at the annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch.

Jeff Bell at the annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch.

Few in the general public have probably even noticed there is an election this year; however, the local Republican Party’s support for Bell’s candidacy was clear. His speech, during which attendees were provided with a verbal preview of the then upcoming broadcast of the Senatorial debate, was warmly received and touched upon everything from the recent Ebola Virus scare to the Gold Standard.

While Booker has warned Bell, who penned a book titled The Case for Polarizing Politics, will contribute to gridlock if sent to Washington, the former Reagan speechwriter has pointed to his respectable working relationship with Democrats, including the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and support for comprehensive bi-partisan immigration reform. Such views are surprisingly forward thinking for a self-professed conservative, and Bell even boasted of previous work on behalf of La Raza, an advocacy organization that aims to protect the civil rights of Hispanic immigrants, during Sunday’s televised debate. It is worth noting that La Raza is a perennial target of attack from the Tea Party and Rightwing radio pundits, and Bell’s affiliation with the group should help dispel any doubt regarding his professed desire to expand the GOP’s diversity.

Jeff Bell wasn’t the only candidate courting the Long Branch Republicans. Attorney Anthony Wilkinson, who is running against Congressman Frank Pallone in the Sixth District, was also in attendance. His speech touched upon many of the same issues as the Senate hopeful, though he also criticized President Obama for not sufficiently addressing the issue of unaccompanied youth, many of whom encounter horrendous and dangerous conditions, crossing the border illegally. Wilkinson emerged from an uncontested primary to enjoy tremendous support from social conservatives, particularly those in the Tea Party and evangelical Christians.

Jeff Bell at the annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch. (10.24.2014)

Jeff Bell at the annual GOP Reception, held at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch.

Incumbent Freeholders Lillian Bury and Gary Rich, seeking re-election in a highly contentious campaign against Larry Lutrell and Joe Grillo, defended their record in office, dismissing their Democratic opponents’ frequent attacks as both offensive and without merit. State Senator Jennifer Beck, Assemblywoman Caroline Cassagrande, former Highlands Mayor Anna Little, former Congressional candidate David Larson, and former Long Branch City Councilman Anthony Giordano were also present, the first two of which delivered speeches extolling the virtues of Republicanism while encouraging continued participation in electoral endeavors.

Though they represent the electoral minority in Long Branch, the local Republican Party seems enthusiastic about its odds. As Chairman Raymond Patsky noted in his closing address, last May’s mayoral election was determined by fewer than three-hundred votes; in a city where every single ballot counts, there is always the chance for an electoral upset…which is exactly what the GOP is hoping for.

Posted in 2014 Congressional Midterms, 2014 Senate Race, Candidate Profile, Elections, Jersey Shore, Long Branch, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment