MERCHANTS DOING THE REVERSE-COMMUTE

Today’s Asbury Park Press has a feature on reverse commuters — people who come to the Shore from Manhattan to work. And all three people cited as examples happen to own stores in downtown Red Bank.

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Interviewed are Mike Buess of Bodega Shoppe on Mechanic Street, Jill Dente of Rok + Lola on Broad Street and Meghan Del Priore of the Bees Knees, also on Broad.

Del Priore commuted via the Seastreak ferry from the time the store opened in 2002 until she and her husband moved to Fair Haven last August.

How does Dente feel about the commute from New York’s Penn Station?

“It’s awful,” Dente said. “It’s really long. It makes so many local stops. It’s rough. It adds almost four hours to your day.”

Dente is a rarity: A New York resident who commutes to a job at the Shore, managing to combine New York’s high cost of living with New Jersey’s more modest pay. All the while enduring grinding hours en route to either home or work.

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BECK OFFERS CORZINE TOLL PLAN BYPASS

More than 100 area residents turned out last night at Mahala F. Atchison Elementary School in Tinton Falls last night for a discussion on Gov. Jon Corzine’s effort to balance the state budge using steep toll-road fare increases, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

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State Sen. Jennifer Beck of Red Bank and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon of Little Silver, both Republicans, organized the event and presented an alternative plan to Corzine’s, which one poll out this week shows has generated widespread opposition. (Democrat Sen. Raymond Lesniak tells the Star-Ledger today that the plan “is dead as we know it.” And Cozine says he’s willing to consider the first detailed alternative to his plan, offered by Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski.)

From the Press:

Veronica Cozzi, a borough resident, wanted to know why the state couldn’t sell New Jersey’s horse racing tracks to private corporations. And Christopher Cast, also a borough resident, just wanted to know how he could continue to drive 40,000 miles a year on New Jersey’s toll roads without going broke trying to make a living.

Beck and O’Scanlon said they have a solution: no increase in the state budget this year, make cuts in future budgets and restructure the way government business is done.

“If we do these three things, we think, we’re going to come real close to solving our problems,” O’Scanlon said.

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NEWLY ELECTED, NEEDS A REAL JOB

MennabeckState Senator Jennifer Beck and Mayor Pasquale Menna after Red Bank’s government reorganization meeting last week.

Her last two jobs, as a lobbyist and executive at a health insurance company, were used as cudgels against her by her opponent in the 12th district state Senate race.

But now that she’s been elected, Republican state Senator Jennifer Beck has opted not to go back to work at Qualcare Inc., the health maintenance organization from which she took a sabbatical last March.

Problem is, with a house in Red Bank to maintain and other expenses, Beck says she can’t make it on the $49,000 salary of a state legislator (it’s the same for both the Assembly and the Senate).

So while she took office today, Beck was also looking for a job. And that means navigating not only conflicts of interest, but anything that might look like one, she tells redbankgreen.

“It’s an interesting dynamic right now,” she says. “Any newly elected official, because of all the negativity in politics, is being exceptionally careful about the work they do to support themselves professionally — to make sure that there isn’t not only a conflict of interest, but an appearance of a conflict.”

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TGI DON’T WORK FOR THE STATE!

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Bucking Gov. Jon Corzine, Monmouth County is giving its 3,500 employees a day off Friday, the Asbury Park Press reports.

Corzine, of course, has moved to end a decades-log tradition of giving state workers a paid day off on the Friday following Thanksgiving. New Jersey will be one of only 18 state governments open for business that day.

In Monmouth County, as at the state level, the day off is not included among the 13 days off per year guaranteed by collective bargaining agreements. But the Monmouth employees are being “granted” the day off anyway, county spokesman William K. Heine told the Press.

Heine said the county typically followed the state’s lead in setting holidays, but “there has been no change yet on the day after Thanksgiving.”

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FORTY YEARS OF MAKING WHEELS GLEAM

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

The building’s roof is somewhat swaybacked, and the slatted wood walls are fringed near the ground by the ravages of water. But it serves its purpose.

Likewise for the elderly pair who own this place.

Essie Dove may have lost a step over the years, but she still clambers in through open doors of her customers’ vehicles — many of them unimaginably large, by the automotive standards of half a century ago — to reach those awkward places that people a third her age might not bother with. And she keeps a brisk rotation of towels going in an operation that is all about clean terrycloth.

Essie’s husband, Dave, moves a little stiffly across the blacktopped yard and climbs a stepladder to clean the roof of an SUV. Realizing then that the spray can of cleaner he’s using is empty, Dave might find it easier to ask Essie to bring him a fresh one than to make the trek back to the storeroom himself. But he’ll clean that roof right to the center, a spot visible to pedestrians on overpasses but few others.

This is not one of those antiseptic new car washes, where you turn your vehicle over to a a giant machine that pulls it through a storm of soap and chamois while you watch, Starbucks in hand, through a window that might have been part of the flight deck of a Star Wars set.

This is Dave’s Car Wash on Bridge Avenue, where one sign touts the Simonizing and another declares that this is a hand car wash, just as it always has been.

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IN TOWN | IN SEPTEMBER: WEEK TWO

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Having developed an opposable thumb, which gave him enormous competitive advantages over other creatures, early man found that he might like to use it to make something to keep his precious digits from snapping off in the cold.

Thus, gloves, the development of which rivals the combination of beef and onions among the major advances of the species.

We moderns take gloves too much for granted, something we may be reminded of only when we lose one in a bitter chill or try to make that fourth snowball barehanded.

But if you spend much time looking in road gutters while walking or driving, you might come to the conclusion that, every few days or so, gloves rain out of some great tradesmen’s van in the sky.

Rawhide work gloves, wool gloves, fancy leather gloves with deluxe fur linings, Gore-Tex mittens — they’re everywhere, it seems.

Photographer Sandy Johanson has taken notice.

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ON DECK: A TRADER JOE’S AND A GARAGE?

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It is perhaps the single most contentious issue in Red Bank: whether the downtown needs a parking garage.

Merchants, in general, say yes. They complain that a shortage of street and lot parking is choking their businesses and undermining broader efforts to capitalize on the town’s sterling reputation as a cultural and shopping destination.

Building a garage that significantly increases the number of parking slots in the central business district is the best thing Red Bank could do to preserve its stature among New Jersey downtowns and stave off threats from Pier Village in Long Branch and other emerging marketplaces, proponents say.

But many residents say no way to a parking deck — not if they have to pay for it with higher property taxes.

Efforts by the Democrat-controlled council to convert the borough-owned White Street lot to a parking deck attracted large, angry crowds in 2001 and 2005. The latter attempt called for a 570-car, $11.8 million structure. Both times, the idea was shelved.

The solution, many agree, is some form of public-private deal in which a developer carries the financial risk and the town gets both revenue and more slots.

Finally, a plan along those lines may be in the works. And it involves a high-profile retailer that has done this sort of thing before elsewhere.

redbankgreen has learned that representatives of Trader Joe’s, a wildly popular chain of specialty food stores with affordable prices, met with borough officials two weeks ago to explore the possibility of building a store with a parking deck above it on the White Street lot.

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BACK TO SCHOOL FOR ARCHITECTS

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Kids aren’t the only ones heading back to school in Red Bank this week.

The nine employees of S.O.M.E. Architects are moving into the former Public School 5 on Drs. James Parker Boulevard.

The firm, having outgrown rented space on Monmouth Street, bought the building from the Community YMCA for $1.3 million in December and began renovations in April.

Among the changes: eliminating a drop ceiling and increasing the size of the windows.

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DROWNING VICTIM IDENTIFIED

Police have identified the Red Bank man who died yesterday while cleaning a residential pool in Rumson as Luis Javier Rojas, of Lexington Avenue, according to the Asbury Park Press. He was 25 years old.

From the story:

Rojas, who is from Mexico City, had been dropped off Wednesday morning at the Somerset Drive residence to clean the pool, according to police. The residents were not home at the time.

Two other employees of the Edgewater Pool Company in Little Silver returned to pick up Rojas later in the morning and found him unresponsive in the pool and called 911, police said. The Rumson First Aid Squad attempted unsuccessfully to revive him.

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COMMUNITY CENTER BACKERS BRING IT

Linda_clarkLinda Clark makes the case for a town center.

The idea of creating a community center at a Red Bank-owned building on the West Side is one that “needs plenty more discussion,” children’s activist David Prown told a crowded Borough Council meeting last night.

Then he proceeded to introduce more than a dozen speakers — including social services providers, volunteers and average Joe residents — who made the case for creating such a center, whether or not it is based in the soon-to-be vacated building at the corner of Drs. Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue.

Some invoked the specter of the recent triple homicide in Newark as a warning of what can happen when kids don’t have the kinds of services that a community center can provide.

A woman who volunteers with the Pop Warner football program lamented an absence of activities to engage boys after the season ends. Several speakers said they favored moving the the Parks & Rec Department to the site from its current offices in a trailer on Chestnut Street to boost program visibility and participation, while others envisioned it as a a clearinghouse of sorts for referrals for everything from healthcare to jobseeking.

What was unmistakable in it all was a sense of a void.

“There’s never that one central location where we can all grow,” Linda Clark, of River Street, told the council. “Even if this is not the one, I think we have a lot of people behind you guys to find that one location.”

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BAUER LEAVES STATE GIG FOR PRIVATE ONE

Virginia Bauer, who rallied Congresss to enact tax breaks for families of Sept. 11, 2001 victims after her husband died in the attack, is leaving her post as state Commerce secretary to take a job with the real estate firm Mack-Cali Realty, according to today’s Star-Ledger.

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The Red Bank resident, then living in Rumson, came into the public eye in the weeks immediately following the attacks. Nearly two years later, she was picked by then-Gov. Jim McGreevey to head the state lottery.

A year ago, she moved to the Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission at Gov. Jon Corzine’s request. Three months ago, she was tapped by Corzine to become a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She joined the port’s board just last month.

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EXITING BENCH, STILL BANGING PAY DRUM

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With just a week to go in his short tenure as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, James Zazzali of Rumson is continuing to lobby for higher judge’s salaries, telling an audience in Paramus yesterday that judiciary pay is “a disgrace,” according to a story in today’s Record of Hackensack.

Reprising remarks he made at Brookdale Community College in February, Zazzali told a gathering at Bergen Community College that, because of lousy pay, “Judges are leaving the bench; that hurts judges, but it also hurts the public. It’s an absolutely abysmal situation.”

The chief justice’s salary is $164,250, according to the Record; associate justices earn $158,500.

From the story:

Zazzali said that New Jersey Supreme Court justices have not had a raise in seven years, despite being the “third [or] fourth” most productive court in the nation. At the same time, he acknowledged that until the state’s budget problems were resolved, raises would be unlikely.

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FAME AWAITS THEM

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Former Red Bank Mayor and state Superior Court Judge Benedict R. Nicosia leads a roster of nine graduates of Red Bank High School (or its successor, Red Bank Regional) into the RBR Education Foundation’s Hall of Fame Friday night.

Slated for induction along with Nicosia is a diverse group: a lingerie manufacturer; a fundraiser; a high school science teacher; a past commander of Fort Monmouth; a designer of race-car engines; an active police captain; a military technology specialist; a former RBR teacher of performing arts; and a fire department volunteer.

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HELP A KID UNDERSTAND YOUR JOB

RiverCenter is looking for some working men and women.

Not for the usual squads of volunteers to help promote the business district, but to share some insights about jobs and the skills needed to do them with students at the Red Bank Middle School.

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The school’s fourth annual Career Day, scheduled for the morning of Friday, May 4, is expected to attract local professionals from a variety of areas, including architecture, culinary arts, nursing and home-building.

But more participants are needed, says RiverCenter Executive Director Tricia Rumola, to help expose the kids to as diverse an array of jobs and careers as possible in a three hours.

We at redbankgreen have participated in recent years, talking about journalism and graphic design while sharing table space with a wedding photographer, a marketing executive, a fine artist, a chiropractor and others.

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MARQUEE MAN

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Andrew Malecki is kind of a hard case for high school guidance counselors and anathema to parents struggling to convince their kids of the value of a college education.

Smart enough to do well in most of the subjects thrown his way, Malecki’s someone who badmouthed high school as an obstacle to his real education and says, in categorical terms, that college is an utter waste of time and money. For himself, he emphasizes — though his critique is broad-brush.

He’s verbally and artistically gifted, unshakably confident, and — less than a year after graduating from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School — doing exactly the kind of cool stuff he dreamed he’d be doing ever since he decided, mid-sophomore year, that no way was college in the cards for him.

Circumstance may someday prove, to others, that Malecki made the right choice in deciding to pursue a career in filmmaking right out of high school. It could even turn out that the teachers who knew him best at R-FH and tried to dynamite him off his chosen path grudgingly agree.

For now, though, his alma mater is more likely to hold a “Bong Hits for Jesus” rally than point to Malecki as a role model.

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McKENNA’S NEXT ACT?

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After a continuous, 18-year slog of borough council meetings, planning board sessions and rubber-chicken dinners from here to Trenton, departing Mayor Ed McKenna is about to find some gaping holes in his schedule.

More fundamentally, at age 56, he may also find himself pondering the question, ‘What do I really want to do now?’

Sure, he can golf from LaJolla to Lahinch until he’s red in the face. But really, is that a meaningful way for a man at the peak of his strengths to spend his time?

Yes, he’s got a successful law practice, but he’s been grinding on that wheel, too, for many years. Besides, would the credit union industry really miss one drop-out attorney?

This is the era of self-reinvention, and the possibilities for a person of McKenna’s skills and experience are almost limitless. Radio call-in host. Lobbyist. No Joe’s barista.

There’s almost too much to choose from. But fortunately for McKenna, the readers of redbankgreen are standing by, ready to offer guidance on his next move.

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IT HELPS IF THE LANDLORD’S AN ‘UNCLE’

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Ten questions for John and Rachel Decker, owners of Graman’s Vacuum & Appliance Parts Co. on Monmouth Street, at the corner of West Street. They live in Tinton Falls.

How long have you owned this business, and who had it before you?
John: We’ve been here for four years. I bought it from Gene Graman—“Uncle Gene,” though he’s no blood relation whatsoever. When I was growing up in River Plaza, Gene was the older guy in the neighborhood who never got married and had all the toys and all the fun: boats, motorcycles, Jet skis, snowmobiles, wave runners. My parents knew him before I was even born.

His shop was in Red Bank for 47 years, and in this location since 1964. He was previously closer to Broad on Monmouth Street. And surprisingly, there was a parking problem then, too.

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A PRIMA FACIE CASE OF HAVING A BLAST

We stumbled upon a terrific event Wednesday at The Woman’s Club of Red Bank. It was the kind of gathering that sharply underscores the borough’s appeal as a cultural hub, one that can compete with the best of them.

Reed Smith, a law firm in Princeton, put together a networking day for its female attorneys and the women at their corporate clients. Fifty women participated. The idea was to give them a chance to get out of their routines, relax and connect on a personal level, says Judy Cristella, an office administrator for the firm.

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Now of course, this big-bucks, high-powered crowd could have headed off to Philly, New York or a hundred other places, but “We decided to do a mini-retreat here in Red Bank,” says Cristella.

Why? Well, just look at Exhibit A—their itinerary.

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UNDOCUMENTED, BUT NOT WITHOUT RIGHTS

Kudos to Michele Sahn of the Asbury Park Press for giving some attention today to the kind of story that often stays below the radar of dailies of that size. In the process, she shines some light on the difficulty that undocumented workers can have in getting paid.

Mexican immigrants Benito Guendulain, 37, and his 19-year-old nephew, Salomon Zavaleta, were in small claims court in Freehold yesterday hoping to be heard on their claim that landscaper Michael Curialle stiffed them for a combined 234 hours of work they’d done for him last month.

From Sahn’s report:

During the morning roll call of small claims cases, [Superior Court Judge Mark A.] Sullivan told the workers that Curialle had not yet been served with the paperwork for their case, but then they recognized him in the courtroom.

Turns out Curialle was there being sued by another party, a landscape supply company.

Sullivan ordered Curialle, Guendulain and Zavaleta to arbitration, which is the usual process for small-claims. But when they couldn’t agree on a settlement, the judge held a hearing.

Guendulain testified that he told Curialle he didn’t have papers to work in the the U.S., and that Curialle hired him on the condition that he try to obtain the papers. Guendulain said he worked two 78-hour weeks for Curialle without any payment, and Zavaleta testified he worked one 78-hour week, also unpaid. Curialle told the judge that the pair did not work for more than four days. He said he paid one $50 and another $200, and when their paperwork came back as fake, he told them they couldn’t work anymore.

Sullivan said he found the worker’s testimony more believable, and ordered Curialle to pay $1,940 to Guendulain and $970 to Zavaleta. That works out to $12.43 an hour.

Guendulain and Zavaleta came to the United States from their native Mexico 10 months ago and have been living in Freehold, Sahn reports. They were accompanied to court by a representative from Casa Freehold, an immigrant-rights advocacy group.

Curialle had argued that he needed more time to bring in witnesses because he hadn’t been served with papers in the case. Sullivan told him that if he has newly discovered evidence, he will be allowed to apply for the judgment to be set aside.

Curialle also lost the other case. He was ordered to pay $2,873.45 to Triple C Nurseries in Marlboro, which claimed Curialle had paid for goods with a check and then stopped payment before the check cleared.