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.
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
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.
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".