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Larry Benjamin's blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Name franchises in Freehold

So the national hotel chains have rediscovered the Freehold area. Where have they been? The Press reported today that the Freehold Gardens has been sold and will be refurbished and become a Radisson. Back in the '80s, it was a Sheraton. The same new owner plans to build a hotel on Route 9 that will bring a Hampton Inn to the region. We must be hitting the big time.

This leads to a pet peeve: There's plenty of construction going on, but for what? The Freehold Raceway Mall expansion, a large cleared area across the way, the steel frame of something near Best Buy in Manalapan. You can't help but notice them, but they leave you wondering what's going in there. Each town should require a sign at any construction site listing the prospective tenants. It's good advertising for the business and the town.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Corzine phenomenon

Forget Jim McGreevey. The politician we can't get enough of these days is Gov. Corzine, though not necessarily to his liking. His near-fatal traffic accident was national news, with his failure to wear a seat belt and the high speed of his SUV making it even juicier news. He's now a radio star with his riveting public service announcement promoting seat belt use that starts: "I'm New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and I should be dead.'' What theater!

Then there's the New York Times report that Corzine, then a U.S. senator, gave $6 million to Carla Katz, a state labor union leader, as part of a legal settlement to end their two-year romantic relationship in 2004. His refusal to come clean about the "gift'' and his continued contacts with Katz - who brokered a sweetheart deal for her union with the Corzine administration - fuel the political rumor mill, for which Corzine has only himself to blame.

That settlement could create a new water cooler or even parlor game: What would you do for $6 million? And if you got $6 million, what would you do with it? It's all too easy to say you wouldn't be interested; that you can't be bought. But with $6 million on the table ... who knows?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Track regulars counted out

So the other shoe has dropped on the Monmouth Park faithful who had figured the Breeders' Cup races in October would be the highlight of their racing season, if not forever. The admission prices and seating plan are out - and so, alas, are those track regulars. Not at $50 for general admission standing room only and from $100 to $250 a person for seating areas. That's a far cry from the $2 regular grandstand admission and $4 for the clubhouse.

Blame it on the folks who run the Breeders' Cup. About half of the Saturday tickets are gone anyway, set aside for sponsors, horsemen, industry officials and other preferred customers. The extra money will help defray some of the costs - $30 million in capital improvements and overdue renovations - that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority is spending.

"It's a championship event. We think the tickets are priced in line with other championship events,'' a Breeders' Cup spokesman said. Maybe so. But what about the regular patrons, some of whom pay for box seats, who have been at Monmouth through thick and thin and will be long after the Breeders' Cup is over. Pointing to the less expensive prices for the Friday program - $10 for the grandstand, $15 for the clubhouse and $40 to $75 for reserved seats - is hardly making the races more accessible to the general public. That's not the real championship day.

No doubt the Breeders' Cup will generate big bucks for the region and the state. But it's not really what Monmouth Park is all about.

Friday, May 18, 2007

R U in NJ

You'd think our state legislators would finally learn not to meddle where they don't belong. But the Assembly Higher Education Committee spent precious time Thursday passing a recommendation that the Rutgers University Board of Governors consider changing the school's sports team logo - the one with the scarlet "R" - to more closely identify with New Jersey. The committee chairman, a Middlesex County Democrat, wants to see the "NJ'' reimposed over the "R'' and showed his colleagues an example, drawn by his wife. You can't make this stuff up.

New Jersey has done very well with Rutgers as the name of its state university for years. If people don't know where it is, alums are only too happy to explain. Plus it's the only state university without the state in its name. That makes New Jersey special.

What's not so special is how our representatives in Trenton waste time. One Republican member of the committee called it a bad example of micromanaging at a time when the state has so many other problems. He's right. Worrying about Rutgers' sports logo is not what we're paying our legislators $49,000 a year to do.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

E-ZPass for all

So the folks at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are considering doing away with the toll booths that accept cash at the bridges and tunnels into New York City. Good for them. Seventy percent of the motorists already use E-ZPass. It's about time the convenience of
E-ZPass is forced upon all motorists.

Those without E-ZPass will have photos taken of their cars and get billed later. The PA should tack on a surcharge to pay for the extra paperwork and payment delay. That might encourage drivers to enroll in E-ZPass even if they don't use it regularly. As for the toll collectors forced out of work, well ... it was nice work while it lasted.

Maybe E-ZPass technology can be extended to all parking lots -- whether at the airport, the stadium or arena, downtown, the beach or anywhere a fee for parking is charged. It sure beats hunting around the quarters, dollars or more.

Monday, May 14, 2007

It's a bird, it's a plane ...

What a bummer! To learn that the meteorite that fell through the roof of your house is really just, well, space junk. The world learned last week that the rock-like item 2 1/2 inches by 1 1/2 inches and weighing about 13 ounces that crashed into Srinivasan Nageswaran's home in Freehold Township Jan. 2 was just one of the millions of man-made items floating in space.

The truth was revealed after putting the rock under a new electron microscope at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (And you thought the museum was just a collection of stuff!) The key discovery: The item had chromium, a component of stainless steel. A meteorite would have been nickel and iron.

The homeowner took the news in stride. "That's the nature of science,'' Nageswaran said. "It's still the world's most popular metallic object that fell from the sky,'' he added. But the report does have a down side: its value. As a meteorite, it would have been worth several thousands, a Rutgers scientist said. As space junk, the value falls to zero. What would you expect from a UFO?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eliminating death row

It is awful to contemplate the potential devastation had the Fort Dix terrorists not been arrested this week before they implemented their plan. But it is good to see that didn't prevent the Senate Judiciary Committee from approving a bill to eliminate the death penalty.

The seemingly endless appeals required for death row inmates are a waste of time and money. As some families of victims told the committee Thursday, the appeals process delays the closure these families so desperately seek. And the chance that an innocent person can be executed cannot be minimized, as illustrated in the dozens of cases when new evidence has arisen that brought a reversal of a death row sentence.

Heinous crime - cop killing, child rape and, yes, terrorism - deserves the harshest penalty. But the present system is too costly and can't guarantee it is mistake-free. Rotting forever in prison, where there are no heroes, is good enough.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The 125-page brief

Apparently the lawyers for Long Branch defending the use of eminent domain in the city believe that longer is better. They filed a 125-page brief in their court fight to roust 19 property owners to allow for redevelopment. Yes, whatever points they were advocating took 125 pages to explain. The normal maximum is 65 pages and courts can give some leeway for an "overlength brief.'' But almost twice as long? Fortunately, an appellate court Monday ruled that the city went overboard and rejected it.

It's bad enough that the brief is undoubtedly chock-full of legalese. Judges are used to that. But the city's lawyers shouldn't try to intimidate everyone involved by going on and on with extensive arguments. After all, it is a brief, usually defined as a concise statement of the main points in a case. "Concise'' may vary from reader to reader, but 125 pages? This ongoing eminent domain fight may seem like "War and Peace,'' but it doesn't have to read that way.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sympathetic no more

Excuse this diversion from the heavy news of the day, but we have to thank the New York Yankees and Roger Clemens for inspiring baseball fans everywhere. You have to give the team credit for having the "Rocket'' announce his return to the Yankees over the PA system during the seventh-inning stretch Sunday. It was great theater.

But Clemens' return restores the Yankees to their rightful place as the team fans love to hate. With their sub-.500 record and even some time in last place, the Yankees were becoming sympathetic. Now that money has spoken and the pampered Clemens is riding his white horse to save the franchise - on those select days when he's a real member of the team, not at home in Texas - any fuzzy feelings about the Yankees are gone. And baseball is better off for it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tell the whole story

The dismay of students of the Antrim Elementary School in Point Pleasant Beach and their parents was evident Tuesday night as they protested the Board of Education's decision not to grant tenure to the school's principal, Thomas O'Hara. Even though they should have known the Borough Council can't do anythnig about a school personnel matter, at least 70 parents, teachers and pupils gathered outside Borough Hall to show their support for O'Hara.

But their frustration was heightened by a lack of useful information about the decision. The best the Press could report about it came via e-mail last week from the board president. She wrote that "the principal to receive a tenure contract for this position must be someone who meets the extremely high standards and expectations that the board has.''

The board owes the school community an explanation of what those high standards and expectations are and how O'Hara failed to meet the mark. But don't hold your breath. The board will claim it can't elaborate because of the confidentiality of a personnel matter. That's a shame. And it undermines the lessons to those students about how important it is to tell the whole story.