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March 2, 2003
As Marvin Gaye once put it: What's Going On? The Internet provides some answers as "Citizen Journalist" comes roaring out of cities and prairies across the political spectrum. Grinding axes with both hands, often focused on matters local or one particular bete noire. Proving that real news, like individual spirit, isn't dead; just gone cyber. A few examples follow.

In Jersey

Jersey has corruption. No kidding. But it also has cyber citizens dishing the pols who dig for gold in OP pockets. QT has often tipped its hat to the great sites of the Garden State. Past mentions include the Bret busting, budget baring women of Jersey City, along with Hudson County issue sites such as Save The Palisades. (The latter folks incidentally, are still trying to do just that.) QT has also covered the site of the Hoboken group "Fund for a Better Waterfront". Recent events demand a revisit.

Fund For A Better Waterfront, http://www.betterwaterfront.com: Hoboken was first on the Jersey side of the Hudson to go Gold Coast. Starting in the late 70's, real estate fever swept through what was once a cohesive small town. The results weren't pretty. Bug eyed greed like bug eyed utopianism rolls over those who won't get with the program. Fires cleared poor families from suddenly valuable tenements and twenty some people died. The FBI dubbed Hoboken "Arson City". Eventually concerns about overdevelopment and public waterfront access arose. Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) grew out of those concerns. They've been a tenacious and effective non profit group. Their website is one of the best local sites going. Using public material, culled from a wide variety of sources, FBW's site lays out the unlovesome history of Gold Coast development. This has not made them popular with local pols and mega developers. Now a body of learning has joined the angry pack. Namely Stevens Institute of Technology, which has expansion in mind. FBW has been publicly critical of how the expansion will impact plans for a waterfront park and of how asbestos laden rock has been handled during excavation and construction. In return, Stevens has hit FBW and several of its officers, including executive director Ron Hines, with what's called a SLAPP suit: Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. Legal defense for Fund for a Better Waterfront is being mounted by reps from New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center and the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia Law School in NYC. The issues are freedom of speech in relation to community activism. This is one to watch.

DaHiller.com, Editor: Sergio Bichao. DaHiller chronicles questionable political doings in and around Hillside, New Jersey. Hillside is neighbor to Jersey's largest city, Newark. So along with his hometown's government and school system, Bichao covers Essex County. Which has been awash in federal indictments of late, many stemming from pay-for-play public contract deals involving Gunite Inc, the spraycrete sewer kings. Not that Bichao slights his home town. The Hillside Board of Ed is legally serviced by the firm of Weiner Lesniak. As in Ray Lesniak, NJ Dem biggie. Friend to Gore et al. Sergio Bichao, who's been called the Teenage Matt Drudge, has done excellent coverage of how the firm came to be hired. Bichao started DaHiller while in high school, as an alternative to the official school paper "The Hiller". The USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review cites DaHiller as an example of "the new underground newspaper". DaHiller is well researched with a wide index and a libertarian slant. It's also lots of fun. Sergio Bichao has an engaging irreverent style-- he really knows how to whip pols and bureaucrats into a froth.

NorthBergenPD.Com. Editor: Tom Rowan. A hard hitting tabloid site, the kind with a close but no cigar moniker. NorthBergenPD is Tom Rowan's outrageous, effective take on his local Babylon, covering things like which son of which ex mega pol and confessed extortionist was just busted for downloading kiddie porn while on the job. Asking if such things run in families, considering the hoary rumors that cops once caught Dad in a car with a hooker, then let him off the hook in exchange for a suit of plainclothes. Also check the great visuals. Like local pols in court jester drag. And a stunning pic, taken off North Bergen's very own website, of cars crowding a no parking zone in front of city hall. As Tom Rowan points out, only in North Bergen would illegal parking qualify as booster material. What a site. If only every berg or burb with a corrupt condition had one like it.

In New York

NYCHA Spotlight. Editor Jack Ballinger. NYCHA stands for New York City Housing Authority. NYCHA is the largest public housing authority in America. Its population exceeds that of Atlanta, Sacramento, Minneapolis or Miami. "Spotlight", now on hiatus, shone a light into NYCHA's dark corners. Its editor, Jack Ballinger, was a contract inspector within the Contract Administration Department of NYCHA, before becoming a Manager of Computer Operations and Reports(CO&R). While on the job he discovered a number of what seemed to be un-inspected contracts, ones not being monitored by the Authority on matters such as insurance coverage and compliance with various regulations. The contracts were worth over $50 million dollars. Soon after reporting the matter, Jack found himself inspecting boilers in Brooklyn. Eventually other contract inspectors with similar suspicions and who claimed knowledge of bribery and fraud in the contract process had chats with Jack. Attempts were made to get the issues resolved via the NYCHA hierarchy, its Inspector General and its Department of Investigation. The results were not good. Some whistleblowers end up on the cover of Time: more end up with ruined careers. And a heavy dose of disillusionment. But Jack made proverbial lemonade out of what was handed him and set up NYCHA Spotlight "to give employees of the nation's largest housing authority a means to both get out their gripes and report on corruption". Like the best reformers, Jack is committed to that which he seeks to improve. In this case, public housing. NYCHA Spotlight is a dense read and details can be a little difficult for those outside the system to follow. But its insider quality also gives it authenticity and no doubt contributed to its print version becoming, as the New York Post put it: "among the most read papers ever circulated at 250 Broadway". Which, in case you haven't guessed, is New York City Housing Authority headquarters.

In Oklahoma

Michael Wright's Noise Pollution Site, Editor: Michael Wright. A strong bete noire site that anyone who's had their stomach churn when a boom car rolled by or worse yet, paused at the curb, will love. Michael draws a scathing portrait of boom car boys, those chunk-a-lunks with baseball caps turned bass ackward. Some think the boom car a black thing. Wake up and feel the db's. Boom cars rattle everyone's nabe, enabled by the confusion of volume with free speech. Michael Wright is in Norman, Oklahoma, as is the University of Oklahoma. Michael has consistently pressed both the University and the city of Norman to take steps to limit boom car noise, in the process becoming an expert on the legal issues involved. As boom cars rouse national neighborhood ire, Michael receives queries from government officials from around the country, seeking info about relevant statutes. He also receives "a ton of hate mail, including death threats, from the psychopaths of the boom car subculture". Michael has given the issue of noise much thought: "It's hard to escape noise in our society. An oasis of quiet is difficult to find." And "It's about an epidemic of rudeness, a collapse of civility.." Hear hear! Hopefully, not.

In Ohio

City Of Mentor.info, Editor: George Beam. This site chronicles dealings between George Beam and the city of Mentor, Ohio. The dispute arose when George tried to get a little home improvement. He applied for and got, financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), via a HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program intended to help low and moderate income people with home rehab. In Mentor, the program is administered by the city, which awards the contracts for rehab work to city approved contractors. A-Action Waterproofing was awarded a $17,000 contract to repair the foundation of Beam's house. They dug right in. Three months later the house of Beam resembled the House Of Usher. With cracks in the foundations, walls and ceilings and gaps in window and door frames. Mentor gets lake effect winters. The blankets covering A-Action's aftermath do just so much to keep out the cold. George however, has a wicked sense of humor and when recently interviewed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, compared the cloth draped interior of his home to that of a medieval castle. George has been getting press lately, mainly because he's refused to suck the situation up. He has been on HUD's, Mentor's and A-Action's case for over 2 years. After waffling for months, HUD sent in inspectors, who agreed the Beam home rehab had gone seriously awry. Even the city estimates that repairing the damage will now cost roughly three times the original price. HUD temporarily suspended Mentor's CDGB funds and still finds fault with the way Mentor is handling the issue of George Beam. George Beam is suing the city of Mentor. His battle strategy has grown increasingly creative. For one, there's his website. He's also thinking of running for city council. Largely so he can sit in on the closed meetings where Mentor's political worthies fume over that aggravating George Beam. No doubt asking over and over: why won't he just go away? To which George would probably say, as he did to the Plain Dealer: "Principle is everything in this world. Everything".

Copyright (c) 2002 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.


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