Getting even with the media

There is an old adage, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, warning politicians who go after the press for writing unflattering stories: “Never argue with someone who buys their ink by the barrel.” But apparently New Jersey officials may codify an age-old way to get even: attacking a publication’s pocketbook.
The state legislature has recently resurrected a bill ending the long-standing legal requirement that governments, businesses, and individuals advertise certain types of notices in newspapers so that the public can be made aware of upcoming meetings and the like.
Under current law, each government has to name a publication of record where legal notices concerning meetings, ordinances, and other significant issues must be published. The law also stipulates that on certain other occasions, businesses and individuals must provide notices about actions that might affect a community.
The bill would eliminate this notice for the public and allow government and other entities to simply post on their official websites, thus doing away with the expense and need to meet deadlines.
Since these ads are among the revenue sources for print media, this is one more swipe at an already struggling newspaper industry.
Nearly all municipalities have official websites where they can post notices. But with legal ads in print, you know when and where it was published, and whether or not the public was properly notified. A municipality web posting a notice means they have control over when and where, and whether something was actually posted when they say it was. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. The reason we have media doing these ads is to assure the public of honest notice when needed, and enough time to prepare for, example, a meeting about an issue that affects their neighborhood.
The presumption of the original law requiring public notice is that a free press becomes the check and balance against government abuse. By publishing in a newspaper rather than a government website, the public is assured of impartiality.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg is leading opposition against the bill, calling it “a bad law.”
Is this payback to the press?
The bill, apparently pushed by an increasingly unpopular Gov. Christopher Christie, seems to come at a time when New Jersey’s newspapers are more critical than ever of his actions, both as governor and as a candidate for president. This seems to be his way of striking at the heart of his critics. You have to wonder if this is Christie’s parting blow to the press that has been far from kind to him.
Yanking government ads from small publications is not new. Political parties have done so for decades, hoping to cow their critics by threatening their pocketbooks.
During the trials associated with former County Executive Robert Janiszewski 15 years ago, a small, independent newspaper in Verona had its municipal and other advertising yanked after it disclosed information pertinent to the case. At the time, public officials associated with local government there had ties to the business being investigated in Hudson County. The paper subsequently ceased to publish.
Yanking legal advertising is a convenient tool for striking back at critics, and less onerous than filing legal action such as a slap suit.
A fundraiser for Fulop
Mayor Steven Fulop’s fundraiser last week brought out all the usual suspects in a show of force going into the start of his reelection effort.
If reading the faces of the crowd is akin to reading tea leaves, then it appears that Lekendrick Shaw may have the inside track on Fulop’s ticket for the Ward B council seat.
Shaw was a candidate in a three-way special election to fill the unexpired term of Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal, who resigned last June. Although Fulop picked John Hallanan as a temporary replacement, he and Shaw lost to Chris Gadsden on Nov. 8
Hallanan said he won’t run again, so Fulop has few choices. And since Gadsden had a lot of support from a number of non-Fulop supporters, Shaw may wind up on the Fulop ticket by default.
Rumors suggest that Gadsden may be part of an independent ticket without a mayoral candidate, just candidates for wards A, F, and B.
Ward F Councilwoman Diane Coleman, who officially handed in her letter of resignation from the City Council this week effective Dec. 31, was at the Fulop fundraiser, but not on stage. Coleman will be sworn in as county register in January. Germaine Robinson is reportedly seeking to be named as Coleman’s temporary replacement until next November’s municipal election.
Non-attendees included Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who has yet to suspend his campaign for mayor, County Executive Tom DeGise, and County Clerk Barbara Netchert.
There is a rumor that Nechardt may not seek another term and that she will be replaced by Freeholder Junior Maldonado.
“Currently it’s just a rumor,” Maldonado said. “There’s been talk of Barbara Netchert potentially retiring and not running, and I’ve let it be known that I’d be interested in running for the post if that was the case.”
The rumor also suggested that if Maldonado makes the move, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano would take his place on the freeholder board, something Boggiano said is not true, suggesting he may run for mayor next year.
Councilwoman Joyce Watterman has served as Fulop’s chief cheerleader. One of the underlying themes of the fundraising gala appeared to be an effort to get Barbara McCann elected as Democratic chair for Jersey City next June.
Al Sullivan may be reached at

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