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Q Leona Beldini Is Back Q A Christmas Tragedy Q Urban Exercise Q Lunar Lady



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Jersey City Magazine is published two times a year by The Hudson Reporter Associates, L.P., 447 Broadway, Bayonne, New Jersey 07002, (201) 798-7800, Fax (201) 798-0018. Email Subscriptions are $10 per year, $25 for overseas, single copies are $7.50 each, multiple copy discounts are available. VISA/MC/AMEX accepted. Subscription information should be sent to JCMagazine Subscriptions, 447 Broadway, Bayonne, NJ 07002. Not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts or other unsolicited materials. Copyright ©2017/18, Hudson Reporter Associates L.P. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited.

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Star Power


omen of a certain age took center stage in this issue, quite literally in the case of Leona Beldini, who resurfaced at the Loew’s Jersey Theatre for a Kennedy Dancers gala. Beldini, a former burlesque star, who worked in JC real estate and city government, tells all to JCMag. Marion Johnson, meanwhile, helped astronauts reach for the stars. An engineer with the first NASA moon landing, her experience mirrors those in Hidden Figures, the movie about the unsung AfricanAmerican women math wizards during the early years of space exploration. She is see page 40

Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


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Nightmare RECALLING A TRAGEDY OFFICER ROBERT NGUYEN Photos courtesy of the Jersey City Police Department.



round 11 a.m. on the Friday before Christmas of 2005, a postal truck ran off the road on the 1/9 truck route eastbound in Kearny, damaging the concrete gate that closes the road when the Lincoln Highway Bridge is raised. It also sideswiped the red-and-white warning gate that blocks the road. This seemingly minor mishap had devastating consequences. At the time, Erin Phalon, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), told the New York Times that fixing the gate would take one to two weeks. “This isn’t just a pothole,” she said. The bridge, not far from Port Newark, needed to be raised at least once a day to accommodate ships entering and leaving the port. The NJDOT decided not to close the bridge but to put local law enforcement on call should the bridge need to be raised. According to the Jersey City Police Department, three times over that holiday weekend, officers were dispatched to halt traffic so the bridge could be raised. The steel elevator bridge, which connects Jersey City to Kearny, is what’s known as “vertical-lift.” It is not a drawbridge. Forty-five feet above the water, the vintage bridge works by huge pulleys that quietly lift the center span straight up—horizontally—unlike a drawbridge, which raises the span at an angle in front of waiting motorists.

LIFT THE BRIDGE Sometime before 8 on Christmas night, a tugboat captain heading downriver radioed the bridge operator to lift the bridge. Lt. Thomas Osborne of the Kearny Police Department did not have enough officers to direct waiting traffic. Kearny PD called the Jersey City Police Department, which dispatched Officers Michael Scarpa and Jane Louf to the bridge. Osborne is now retired, but Kearny Police Captain David Feldhan was on the scene that night. “I was a patrolman trained in traffic reconstruction, an authorized accident investigator,” he said. “The fog was very dense. It was the worst job I’ve handled in my entire career.” Two Jersey City police officers, attached to the Emergency Services Unit, had volunteered for duty so that their fellow officers who were married could be home with their families. Officer Robert Nguyen, 30, whose parents are Vietnamese immigrants, attended Hudson Catholic Regional High School, where he played basketball. Officer Shawn Carson, 40, was a track coach at St. Peter’s Prep and a talented runner in his own right. One friend reported that Carson never put on a “fake tough guy act.” Robert Troy, who was Jersey City Chief of Police at the time, told JCMag they both were “involved in their communities.”

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The Emergency Services Unit is an elite squad that handles special weapons, hostage situations, and rescues. “They never know what they’ll be asked to do, from SWAT to psycho calls,” Troy said.

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT People interviewed for this story remembered cold, rain, fog, snow, low visibility, and, according to Troy, “sleet going sidewards.” The officers had been dispatched in their Ford utility truck to deliver two cases of emergency flares to colleagues directing traffic on the bridge. Troy said the truck would also be carrying special weapons, bullet-proof shields, and riot equipment. The flares would alert drivers to the temporary roadblock about 200 feet from the spot where the bridge lifts. New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman wrote that at about 8:15, officers Nguyen and Carson crossed the bridge heading west to deliver the flares to their fellow officers, as well as two Port Authority police officers. Reports noted the later-significant detail that a Spanishspeaking pedestrian had emerged from the fog to alert the officers that he had been robbed. It was apparently while Officer Nguyen, who knew some Spanish, was talking to the pedestrian that the bridge had been “raised behind them” to allow the tug to pass. It reportedly takes only 10 minutes to raise the bridge and lower it back into place. Gettleman’s reporting uncovered the following timeline, according to Jersey City police officials: While Officer Nguyen talked to the robbery victim, Officer Carson placed flares across three lanes of traffic, with Scarpa following and lighting the flares. Officer Nguyen escorted the robbery victim to Louf’s car and then returned to the utility truck. After setting the last flare, Officer Carson also returned to the truck. Scarpa and Louf, along with the two Port Authority officers, knew that the bridge would be raised and not to drive forward but thought that there would be a warning. But, after lighting the last flare, Scarpa looked up and “saw two taillights melting in the fog.” Lt. Tom Comey of JCPD, who was giving press briefings for the incident, said he did not recall inaccuracies in the Times’ reporting, noting “I was careful what I put out.” Deputy Jersey City Police Chief Peter Nalbach later said, “No one knew those two were about to drive off.” He said the bridge made no noise when it went up. Scarpa and Louf and the Port Authority cops ran after the utility truck, yelling for it to stop. Scarpa came within about 40 feet of the vehicle.

CHRISTMAS TRAGEDY From the perspective of Officers Nguyen and Carson in their truck, the roadway simply disappeared beneath them. Had it been a drawbridge, the raised span would have functioned as a huge angled barrier, keeping them from moving forward. The rescue mission to save them— Louf was prevented by her partner from diving into the icy waters of the Hackensack—almost immediately became a recovery mission. Two hours after the accident, Officer Carson was pulled from the truck, which reportedly landed upside down with a smashed windshield in 50 feet of water. The truck’s shotgun, which was locked in a rack, flew “like a spear through the roof,” according to Troy. Officer

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Carson was taken to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced dead. More than 300 police officers from across New Jersey joined the search for Officer Nguyen, some on boats, some on the riverbank. Ironically, according to former Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, “about six months earlier, Nguyen received a commendation from the police department for talking somebody down from that bridge. He was going to kill himself.”

GO WITH THE FLOW In 1997, William “Captain Bill” Sheehan founded the Hackensack Riverkeeper, a nonprofit “steward of the watershed.” A lifelong resident of the Hackensack River area, he’s considered a local expert on the river and its environs. On Dec. 28, Sheehan told The Record, “There is a strong possibility that the poor guy just got swept away in the current, to Bayonne, Staten Island, or … New York Harbor.” The “poor guy” was Officer Nguyen. Meanwhile, back at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, Alan Blumberg, director of the department of civil, environmental, and ocean engineering, was reading Sheehan’s account with skepticism. In a letter to Jersey City Police Sergeant Kevin O’Connell of the Emergency Services Unit and Scuba Team, Blumberg wrote: I checked the records of water currents in the Hackensack River in the area where Route 1/9 crosses over the river. The records of the Hackensack River are: 12/25/05 8 p.m. very slow currents to the south 9 p.m. no current 10 p.m. to midnight, currents becoming stronger to the north averaging about 3/4 mile per hour 12/26 Midnight to 2 a.m., strong currents to the north averaging a little over 1 mile per hour 3-6 a.m., weak currents to the south about a 1/4 mile per hour. My analysis is that Mr. Nguyen would initially remain in the vicinity of the truck and then move north perhaps as much as 4 miles over the next 4 hours. After that the currents would move him back and forth but with a net movement upstream.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD On Dec. 28, Blumberg wrote to Sheehan: “My analysis is somewhat different than yours and I wanted to let you know what I have found.” He provided the above information given to Sergeant O’Connell, adding, “One way to understand that there is a net upstream movement is to consider the salt in the river. The only way for the river to get salty is from Newark Bay to the south. The salt is obviously moving upstream.” Twelve years after the incident, Sheehan recalled a similar scenario. “With an incoming tide, you concentrate efforts upriver; with outgoing, you look further downriver,” he said. “My knowledge of the river is practical, not scientific.” Blumberg’s is decidedly scientific. In his letter to Sheehan, Blumberg explained that Stevens had

Dr. Alan Blumberg explaining how the water interacts with cities. And standing at the spot where the bodies of two men were found floating at Weehawken Cove on the morning of Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

established the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS), an Urban Ocean Observatory, which “provides a wealth of real-time data about tides, waves, winds, currents, temperatures, and salinities in the waters of New York and New Jersey.”

URBAN OCEANOGRAPHY Blumberg told JCMag that he knew Officer Nguyen’s “body would be upstream a little bit, not downstream. In the Hackensack system, the currents at the bottom are upstream, not downstream. The surface goes out, the bottom goes in; it’s called an estuary. I don’t study where the bodies are. I study the currents and systems of the urban ocean.” For Blumberg, who grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, the ocean has been a lifelong passion. “When I started out in oceanography, I studied the deep and coastal oceans,” he said. “But I really wanted to save lives and protect property, so I directed my research to how the water interacts with cities, and how cities interact with water. I like the practical aspect as opposed to theory.” He chose Stevens because he “wanted to work on urban oceans and work with brilliant students.” The Nguyen/Carson incident was the first of many that would involve the practical aspects of oceanography. In 2009, he was involved in identifying the calmest spot on the Hudson for “Sully” Sullenberger to make his emergency landing. Later that year, he helped find the bodies of passengers killed in a plane that collided with a helicopter over the Hudson. In 2014, he helped find the body of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, who fell into the swirling eddies of the East River. And in 2015, he helped determine that a kayaker had murdered her fiancée in the upper reaches of the Hudson.

“The ocean dynamic is intense and controlling,” he said. “You can’t tell the ocean what to do. It’s powerful trying to harness it. It’s exciting for an oceanographer to study those dynamics.” He’s pleased that better water quality has brought more people to the Hudson. “On Weehawken Cove people paddleboard, sail,” he said. “It’s fantastic. You wouldn’t see that 30 years ago.”

RECOVERY On Dec. 29, 2005, Gettleman wrote that a diver “knew it the moment he felt it: There was a hand down there. And as he swam closer and peered through the murky water, he realized he had found Robert Nguyen … in a forest of sunken pylons and chunks of concrete on the bottom of the Hackensack River. It was heavy because he was still wearing his police jacket, boots, utility belt and gun, and the divers struggled to lift him out of the water.” Troy recalled, “Because of the water temperature, he was perfectly preserved and looked like he was sleeping.” Officer Nguyen was 70 feet from where the truck went into the river. On Jan. 3, 2006, Blumberg wrote to Sergeant O’Connell: “Our analysis was that Officer Nguyen would initially remain in the vicinity of the truck and then move slowly north.” Blumberg told JCMag, “I felt really pleased that I could use my brain to help address a sad situation. The family was distraught; they couldn’t have a funeral. It felt good to do what I could to contribute to someone’s wellbeing.” Today, the Shawn Carson Robert Nguyen Memorial Bridge commemorates the tragic Christmas of 2005. —JCM

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ACT THREE from burlesque to city hall and back




he woman who opens the door to her Jersey City Heights home is a modern Benjamin Button: She’s getting younger instead of older. Slim, dressed in black pants and top, her face is becomingly framed in a white pixie. She’s 82. It’s not hard to imagine her 65 years ago, in 1952, when she took to the burlesque stage. She was 17. Framed black-and-white glossies of the “Gem of Exotica” line the staircase and have pride of place in her front parlor. Her Victorian home is an homage to that sparkling era when Vaudeville was still warm in the grave. In our virtual age, the glitz and glitter of high camp can seem as gray and cobwebbed as a set for the Munsters. I’m standing on her front porch on a beautiful July afternoon because Leona Beldini is back in the limelight. On May 11 of this year, she’d resurfaced, making a guest appearance at the Kennedy Dancers Jersey City Follies 40th anniversary gala. At the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre event, she offered a thumbnail sketch of her career in burlesque.

JERSEY GIRL Yes, she was born in Jersey, but not in the “Snookie” mode that the phrase Jersey Girl evokes. The place? The Coppermine Farms. The family? Poor, alcoholic, and abusive. The dream? To get out of Dodge. “I started out with nothing but looks, guts, and a tremendous need to get free,” she says.

We sit in her kitchen at a high table. She suffers from sciatica and shows me a large plastic bag filled with medications to ease the pain. “I might have to lie down on the floor,” she says. As I wade into her backstory, she waves a bejeweled hand at some typed pages. “It’s all there.” She’s accustomed to interviewers—and to blowing them off. But I’m here, I remind her. We soldier on. Soon after completing a modeling course at Grace Downs in New York City, she landed a job modelling coats and suits. She was so successful that a life-size cutout of her towered above Times Square. But what capsized her modeling career is what launched her burlesque career: “At only 5-6 with an hourglass figure, I was not lanky enough for fashion photography.” She may not have been skinny, but she was seductive. In 1952, she found herself on stage at the Hudson Theater in Union City after answering an ad for “Show Girls Wanted, No Experience Necessary.” Almost immediately she was “standing on a pedestal, draped in chiffon.” The whistles and shouts were “intoxicating.” Latin Quarter choreographer Paul Marakoff “had me pick up a phone and put it back 1,000 times just to have fluid arm movements,” she recalls. “The first time he saw me walk across the stage he told me I walked like I had an oil can up my ass.” That, apparently, was a compliment. The strut soon made her a headliner.

She worked Atlantic City’s Gayety Theatre in summers, “exposing as much as possible” when on the beach “to prevent suntan lines, for which we were fined.” Neil Kendall of the Burlesque Hall of Fame says, “She was the classic peeler, a parade stripper who took her time to remove her wardrobe.” She was famous for her Rhapsody in Blue bubble bath routine. Hope Diamond soon was born, traveling from Canada to San Francisco and everywhere in between, “escaping from reality and becoming who I am today.”

SPOUSES AND HOUSES We skim over the highlights: Failed marriages and relationships offset by rewarding parenting. She was a single mother who raised two successful children. Her years in burlesque prepared her for a career in business. “You have to show up on time and be professional.” Owning a beach bar in St. Petersburg, Florida, didn’t do it for her, but owning houses did. She loves houses and owns two, including an 1860 gem in Bradley Beach. She went for her real-estate license and still collects rents on income properties in Jersey City. In fact, as our interview morphs into a conversation, she relaxes enough to open her mail while we talk. It’s exciting mail. She stacks her rent checks like Monopoly money. As the conversation turns to government, she asks my opinion of the current political scene. My answers aren’t important, but the fact that she’s interested in people and what they think says a lot about who she is and what she’s become.

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Photos courtesy of Leona Beldini

Leona took to the burlesque stage as Hope Diamond. A stint on Jersey City’s Rent Leveling Board led to a gig as deputy mayor in the Healy administration. Appointed in November 2004, her job was to represent the mayor at ribbon-cuttings, flag-raisings, and speaking engagements; to officiate at weddings, and work with the Women of Action awards. She served without pay on the city’s economic development agency. Her resume in burlesque and business prepared her well for this workingwith-people job description. She was also the treasurer for Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s reelection campaign.

YOU CAN’T FIGHT CITY HALL The woman sitting across from me at her kitchen table, a little wry, a little distracted, opening mail, surfing the web, and strolling down memory lane is not the woman I saw in newspaper images in 2010, face lined, glasses tinted, bleached and bloated, grim and afraid, clinging to the arm of her bow-tied attorney. In February of that year, she was convicted of bribery as part of a vast FBI investigation into political corruption. By April she was Prisoner No. 30118-50 at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth,

Texas, where she spent 28 months. Back then, she refused an interview. I’d waited seven years to hear her side of the story. The broad outlines of the sting, known as Operation Bid Rig, are well documented. Our own Hudson Reporter won awards for our piece, “Dining with Dwek.” Here’s the deal in a nutshell: In July 2009, a number of highlevel New Jersey elected officials were arrested. Hudson County officials included Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Secaucus Mayor Denis Elwell, former Assemblyman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Louis Manzo, Jersey City councilman Mariano Vega, and Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini. After the arrest, Mayor Healy suspended Beldini from the $66,154-a-year deputy mayor gig.

SOLOMON DRECK This phase of the investigation was known as Operation Bid Rig III. Real-estate developer Solomon Dwek, after being arrested and charged with $50 million in bank fraud, agreed to be a cooperating witness for the FBI. A Hudson County developer introduced Dwek to a slew of public

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officials, mayoral and council candidates, and their sidekicks. Beldini, 74 at the time, was the first of some 44 people arrested to take her chances with a jury. Her trial was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 25, 2010. She was accused of taking $20,000 in shadowy contributions as Healy’s campaign treasurer. Five candidates were running for Jersey City mayor. It was a close race, and Dwek appeared to have deep pockets, with plenty of holes. As part of the sting, Dwek claimed to be building a luxury condo project on Garfield Avenue and was looking for insiders who could streamline the approval process. He was wired by the FBI in meetings which took place in local diners. According to transcripts, Dwek said he wanted a zoning change and did not want his application to go “to the bottom of the pile.” The transcript has Beldini saying, “Well, we can flip the pile.” Authorities alleged that Beldini, in her capacity as Realtor, was angling to be the broker for the condominium project. Dwek states, “You’re my person.” In these soda-jerk meetings, Dwek was offering thousands to the Jersey

Photo courtesy of Kennedy Dancers

With a framed black-and-white glossy of the “Gem of Exotica”

City Democratic Committee and to Healy’s campaign. Beldini is heard to say, “Perfect.”

INNOCENT UNTIL… Beldini retained noted Hudson County defense attorney Brian Neary. (We ran a profile of him in the Winter 2016/17 issue of this magazine.) Neary filed a motion the week of Jan. 18, 2010, seeking to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the government’s investigative tactics were unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Jose Linares was having none of it. The trial went forward, and the rest is history. She was sentenced to three years in prison—she served 28 months— and fined $30,000. In attempting to avoid prison, Beldini told the judge that she was “afraid,” and Neary—who does not discuss his clients for publication— told the judge she was suffering from a number of health problems. Again, no go. She surrendered on April 15, 2012. Back at the kitchen table, Beldini says that the condominium project on Garfield that Dwek was supposedly developing “was too big a project for me. I couldn’t do it.” Beldini says she had worked in a “well-known mom-and-pop real-estate” outfit. “I was thrown under the bus,” she maintains. “People in power should

have protected me. It was a setup. People in government set me up.”

THE BOOK OF JERRAMIAH A few years ago, a ramshackle bar stood at Newark and Sixth in the shadow of the NJ Turnpike overpass. The sign, “Sheila’s,” hung at a rakish angle from the roof. In 2011, Patrick Healy bought it; Healy’s Tavern became a thriving neighborhood watering hole. That’s where I meet his father, former Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy. When I arrive, he’s drinking with a friend and buys me a cold one. Full disclosure: I’ve been known to frequent this friendly pub. “She’s eaten up by the fact that she never took a dime,” Healy says of his former deputy mayor. Healy wants to put the whole Bid Rig III operation in context. “This was a vehicle for Christie to clean up state government,” he says. “Mr. Clean was going to rid the state of corruption, mostly Democrats.” Christopher Christie was appointed to the U.S. Attorney for the district of New Jersey by President George W. Bush, serving from 2002 until 2008. “The media was complicit,” Healy says, claiming they gave the “Hudson County sweep a pat on the back.” I ask if he thinks Beldini got a fair trial. He says that the media fed the jury pool the narrative that “elected

Kennedy Dancers Jersey City Follies 40th anniversary gala.

officials and politicians were filthy and corrupt.” He says there should have been a change of venue. “The publicity went beyond Hudson County to the United States.” I can attest to this. Lawyers in my family were calling from Boston and Denver to ask me about it. “It was a terrible time to go on trial for political corruption,” Healy says. “There was hysteria. It was a media circus. It was like the Salem Witch Trials, like McCarthy and the Communists.”

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY… Healy himself is a criminal defense attorney. At the time, Beldini asked his advice. She could cop a plea or go to trial. Insisting on her innocence, “She wanted to control her destiny and go to trial,” Healy says. In the current political climate, incendiary comments by Donald Trump and his minions have been spun as jokes. Short-lived Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci blew off his profanitylaced tirade to The New Yorker as a joke, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders characterized as a joke Trump’s challenge to cops that they treat prisoners roughly. That’s how Healy sees Beldini’s “top of the pile” remark, noting that she was laughing as she said it, and, “She had no power to grant what he was seeking. She was not on the

Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


for heart problems. All I cared about was that I would not die in prison.” The digs sounded like those in the hit slammer-rama Orange is the New Black. “It was a room with about 12 or 15 cubicles,” Beldini relates. “I have two beautiful homes, and I was living in a cubicle. It was one long room with a bed against a locker.” But, like another high-profile, white-collar inmate, Beldini did good deeds in prison. While Martha Stewart taught her fellow cons how to knit afghans, Beldini was “a mom to so many girls. It was so sad. The kids there were young. They didn’t come from much, and I would try to counsel them.” The three-squares were not much to write home about, either. “I ate very little,” she says. “I’d buy food in the commissary. I lived on tuna fish and hard-boiled eggs. I got through one day at a time. I read 200 books. I read anything I could get my hands on. My daughter would send books; my niece sent magazines.” One of Beldini’s prison mates was another well-known Stewart: prominent defense attorney Lynne Stewart who landed in the slammer for, among other things, providing material support to terrorists, in this case her client, “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted for his part in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Stewart worked pro bono for girls on the inside.


Board of Adjustments. She was in no position to deliver any of that.” Beldini floats the notion that her dapper, high-profile lawyer “did a lousy job. He never prepped me for the judge, and he was grandstanding for himself.” Healy disagrees. “Neary is an experienced, successful lawyer who did the best he could,” he says. “It was an uphill battle, and she was strung up in the media.” Neary managed to get her acquitted of four of six charges; she was found guilty of taking bribes.

LIFE IN THE BIG HOUSE Beldini’s prison term was longer than that of many of the other defendants. “Everybody else worked out deals,” Healy says. “Most gave information to the feds. Leona got 28 months at taxpayers’ expense; they took an individual off the streets, she closed her business, she was in her 70s and on ice for almost three years, and she’s a felon who can’t vote.” Beldini did jail time, he says, for an ethical violation, not a federal one. Prison, Beldini says, was “horrible. It was hard on my family and me. I was hospitalized three or four times

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Diane Dragone, artistic director of the Kennedy Dancers, reports that Beldini was “gorgeous, poised, and professional” in her champagne gown at the Loew’s. The audience was rapt and gave her a standing ovation. “Older gentlemen” wanted to get to know her better. While Beldini told me that “men in politics suck,” that’s not her last word on the “intoxicating” business of politics. Dozens of politicians took the stage that night. Jerry Healy harmonized with Tom DeGise and Billy O’Dea on the 1930s hit, “I Found a Million Dollar Baby.” “I don’t want to be angry anymore,” Beldini says. That’s the Beldini I witnessed—an elegant woman of a certain age, at peace with past, present, and future. A memoir is in the works. She asks me if she should call it “No Experience Necessary” or “Saving Hope.”—JCM


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SCIENCE FICTION? Mini tech city is in our future

Renderings courtesy of Liberty Science Center


March, the Jersey City Council voted to approve the land transfer of about 17 acres necessary for Liberty Science Center’s planned SciTech Scity, a mini-city that LSC boasts is “unique in the world.” The $280 million project will house a K-12 school dedicated to STEM; the world’s first business “optimizer” for 100 science, technology, and engineering startups; a small conference center; and Scholars Village with short-term accommodations for visiting scientists and entrepreneurs, and longer-term residences for STEM college students and people working at SciTech Scity. “We want Jersey City to become one of the East Coast’s premier innovation and STEM education hubs,” said Paul Hoffman,

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President and CEO of Liberty Science Center. “SciTech Scity may be the region’s answer to Silicon Valley.” Liberty Science Center trustee Minal Patel, a Jersey City native, said that SciTech Scity could make Jersey City a destination for science and technology innovators. “The original Silicon Valley was not in California,” she pointed out. “It was in Menlo Park, New Jersey.” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop supports the project. “With an increasingly competitive global market, we must equip our children with the best education and skills possible, with a focus on STEM education,” Fulop said. “SciTech Scity will do just that by educating future generations in innovative ways to leverage data and technology, while also making Jersey City a science research destination and employment hub.” City Council member Jermaine Robinson represents Ward F, where Liberty Science Center is located. He said, “My vision is for the children of Ward F to become astronauts, brain surgeons, and engineers.”—JCM





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Reaching for the

A Jersey City professor recalls the first lunar landing

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arion Johnson had two dueling options as she stood in the careers office at Talladega College in 1967: One would lead to mere existence. The other would lead to life—and a spot in world history. “They needed engineers, and I said, ‘Hmm, I’m not an engineer, that’s not my background. And maybe I shouldn’t.’ But then an angel on my shoulder said, ‘Hey! Maybe you should,’” she says, over crab cakes and fries at Jersey City’s fabled VIP Diner. “So I took my handkerchief and said, ‘Get behind me, devil!’” Johnson filled out the application forms, got hired, and began working in the launch systems branch at the Boeing Company, a lead contractor with NASA to build the Saturn V rocket at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She performed data input for vehicle piece impact trajectories. In plain English, she tested where pieces of a rocket would fall after a launch. You may think you don’t know what the Saturn V is.

But you definitely know the words, “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” uttered by Astronaut Neil Armstrong as he made the first-ever lunar landing, on the Apollo 11 spacecraft July 20, 1969. The Saturn V propelled him and his fellow astronauts into space. “It was a very exciting day,” Johnson remembers. “We were in the console room, and we saw the flight when he landed, and everybody went out of their minds. When he stepped on the moon and made his comment, we literally leaped for joy.” America would not soon forget her role, and those of her colleagues, in helping score a haymaker against the U.S.S.R. in the Cold War. Johnson received commendations in March 1969 for 20 successful impact trajectory runs in 20 attempts. Her name is on the Apollo/Saturn V Roll of Honor, which can be seen in the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute. In June, Plainfield, NJ, (her hometown) honored her for her work. The recent movie Hidden Figures, about three African-American Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


women mathematicians who worked at NASA before Johnson, put their role on the front burner. Johnson isn’t represented in the movie, but her place in that pantheon is secure.

High School with valedictorian honors, Johnson entered Talladega on a full scholarship (which she lost due to poor grades, but worked fervently to regain). She graduated with a mathematics degree before

Johnson grew up in a working-class family in Savannah, Georgia, with three sisters and two brothers. In the Beginning… Johnson grew up in a workingclass family in Savannah, Georgia, with three sisters and two brothers. Their father came home from work each afternoon at 4:11. When he touched down, the kids had better have things in order, working on homework or chores. It was textbook Southern rearing. “You had better be doing what you were supposed to be doing,” Johnson says. “My dad didn’t take no stuff.” She credits her drive to this parenting. She speaks with a slight Southern drawl that stays with you long after she finishes talking, conjuring memories of Uncle Phil’s mom on The Fresh Prince. Her parents “pushed us so we could be the best we could be, and we could be anything we chose to be,” she says. “So even though we came from meager beginnings, you could do what you wanna do. So what’s your job? My job was to go to school, and bring home good grades. They instilled that in us at a young age.” In Johnson’s home, “you didn’t have to go to college if you didn’t want to, but if you didn’t want to go to college, you had to get a job, even if you had to press some hair.” But Johnson wanted to go to college. She loved math. Seventhgrade teacher and mentor Walter B. Simmons bolstered that passion and pushed her. “He asked me at that time, ‘Is this something that you wanna do? Because we need women in this field. We need women in the field of science,’” Johnson recalls. “And you seem to have a grasp for the mathematics.’” After graduating from Tompkins

working with Boeing full time, in the same year.

That Other Challenge A young black woman in the 1960s South faced huge obstacles. With voter disenfranchisement, massive police brutality, and Jim Crow laws, African Americans were target practice for white racists. Not much has changed. Johnson fought back. “A lot of things were still going on,” she says. “I was fortunate to be able to go to college during that time, because a lot of students who graduated high school with me had problems and were put in jail because of the marches. We were in NAACP meetings, sit-ins. We did that, but I was fortunate to not have been arrested.” But that hostile atmosphere did not penetrate Boeing. “We had a diverse group,” Johnson says. “There was still stuff going on outside, but in our workplace, we never had that kind of problem. At that time, we wanted to put a man on the moon. And that’s exactly what we did. We had to work to that end. My counterparts were helpful.” After Boeing’s contract with NASA ended in 1969, Johnson considered her options. “I could’ve remained in the field, but I wanted to do something with my math,” she says. “So what came about at that time? The Computer Age opened up. And I stepped right into it.”

Post-Moon Johnson started working for biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s IT Department in New York City in 1970. “I’ve been able to go from job to job, and I know a lot of young peo-

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ple can’t do that today,” she acknowledges. “Things have dried up.” She retired from Pfizer in 1996. But that retirement didn’t last long. In 2000, she began a full-time teaching position at Jersey City’s Chubb Institute, after teaching at a technical college in Plainfield. Today, Chubb is known as the Branford Hall Career Institute. Teaching was Johnson’s backup plan, but now she’s a full-time computer instructor at the school. “It’s a sorry person who has only one job, right?” she says. “And I love teaching.” At Talladega she’d done some teaching, but at the time the Boeing engineering job held more excitement for her.

Passing the Torch Today, she teaches computer networking and security, networkplus certification, hardware, computer software, computer forensics, applications, and servers. Hidden Figures opened last year. The film tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, who did computer engineering at NASA during the Space Age, before Johnson appeared on the scene. Starring Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, and Taraji P. Henson, who plays Cookie on the show Empire, the film garnered a 92percent average on Rotten Tomatoes, rave reviews, and a SAG Award earlier this year. The exposure has been positive. Johnson’s daughter Tracey posted some of her mother’s honors on Facebook. Branford’s president added a program about NASA during her church’s Black History Month celebration, to honor Johnson. “Everybody just stood up and applauded,” Johnson says. “I came through, and I spoke to the congregation. I felt like Cookie receiving the NAACP Image Award.” That same month, Branford gave Johnson an award for excellence for her NASA work. With retirement looming, Johnson is happy her life’s story included the NASA chapter. “Who would’ve thought?”—JCM

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league where all the projects in Jersey City would play each other. I played for Hudson Gardens.” No question, Casillas was strongly influenced by his father, who was known from schoolyard to schoolyard, gym to gym, in Jersey City. Gordon was able to dribble the basketball like no other and make trick shots that would amaze everyone. “My dad always had a good handle with the ball,” Casillas said. “No one could ever take the ball from him. I learned a lot about playing from Flash. I remember watching him play in an organized game. He was very competitive and a good shooter.” So as Casillas reached his teen years, he aspired to be like his famous father. “I could handle the ball,” Casillas said. “I played guard like him. When I was playing basketball, I was good. For sure, if I stayed in Jersey City, I would have gone to St. Anthony and played for Hurley. It’s what every kid in Jersey City wants to do.”



ruth be told, Jonathan Casillas is convinced he would have been a basketball player if he remained in Jersey City, where the current New York Giants standout middle linebacker and defensive team captain spent the first 12 years of his life. “We bounced around a lot back then,” said Casillas, who is the son of Jersey City courtyard basketball legend Flash Gordon. “The crazy thing is that I wasn’t even interested in football back then. It was all basketball for me.” Casillas had two older siblings who had already established themselves as basketball players: Travis Conyers, who played basketball for legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony, and his sister Erica Holmes, who played basketball at Ferris. Casillas was already playing basketball in the Jersey City Recreation leagues, under the watchful eye of his father, who worked for Jersey City Recreation, as well as the league at the Boys and Girls Club downtown. “I lived on Washburn Street back then, a half block away from Hudson Gardens,” Casillas recalled. “There was a

However, it wasn’t meant to be. Casillas moved with his mother to New Brunswick, and his athletic life took a radical turn. “I was a very skilled kid, so I picked up football pretty quickly,” Casillas said. “My main focus switched.” While in New Brunswick, Casillas joined a youth program called the New City Kids. “We were taught a lot of stuff,” Casillas said. “We learned about the Bible and learned about life lessons. It was good for me. I learned how to care for others, learned how to have a sense of responsibility. I learned a lot of that from my Jersey City youth program. The New City Kids program helped to shape me into what I am today.” Casillas said that New City Kids, which was based then at Five Corners on Pavonia Avenue, but now occupies space at 240 Fairmount Ave., put him on the right track to becoming a solid adolescent and a caring young man. “It’s very much guided by the Bible, with the lessons the Bible teaches,” Casillas said. “New City Kids always tries to give back.” It’s how Casillas became extremely giving of his free time, beginning during his days as a football player at New Brunswick High School, then the University of Wisconsin and eventually a player in the National Football League. “I always want to do things that involve kids,” Casillas

said. “I try to go to the little kids, like ages 7 to 8, to deliver a message to them.” Casillas’s program includes students at Woodrow Wilson School in New Brunswick, but he also deals with students from the Golden Door Charter School in downtown Jersey City. “I stress the importance of education,” Casillas said. “It’s how I got where I am today.” Casillas also worked with the Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick. “Seeing those kids really touches your heart,” Casillas said. Casillas said that the first patient he met was a 15year-old victim of a gunshot wound. “What can you say to him?” Casillas said. “Those kids are just appreciative to see a Giants player. You can tell them a joke and then pose for a picture. They appreciate it.”

LIFE SKILLS Casillas is also involved with the ShopRite food drive and Special Olympics, but a certain program is near and dear to him. Casillas’s main cause is called the Forward Progress Camp in New Brunswick. Every year, Casillas hosts a camp for 200 youngsters that starts with instructional classroom sessions about various facets of life. The camp, the fourth annual, was held in June. “This is my baby, my main charity,” Casillas said. “We talk to the kids about several different things. This year, we had six different life skills courses in the morning.” Casillas had police officers who work in the DARE program talk about drug awareness. Instagram sensation Renny talked about social media and bullying. In the afternoon, Casillas then took to the field for the second part of his camp, football skills, with a little help from Giants teammate Mark Herzlich and Casillas’s former teammate with the New Orleans Saints, Jonathan Vilma, the former New York Jets standout. “I know what it’s like to grow up in certain situations,” Casillas said. “If there’s a kid who is in need of guidance, I bring him aside and talk real talk, like special one-on-one.” Needless to say, Casillas knows the importance of giving back to the community, including the place of his birth and his residence for the first 12 years of his life, Jersey City. “I’m blessed,” said Casillas, who is now 30 and entering his ninth season as an NFL player and his third with the Giants. “I’m not giving away money. I give of my time and my effort. I realized when I played with the Saints that giving of your time in community service is valuable. Especially with kids, they’re glued to everything you do.” Casillas said that he truly appreciates what he has. He knows that the football portion of his life could end at any second, but the philanthropy and generosity will remain.

ish as strong as we would have liked last year and left a lot of meat on the bone. That’s our motivation for this year.” The Giants won 11 games last year, the highest win total in a season since they won 12 games in 2008, taking the Eastern Division title. But the Giants lost in the NFL Wild Card game to Green Bay, 38-13. Casillas registered a career-high in tackles last year with 96, second on the team to Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, who had 125. It’s part of the reason why the Giants elected Casillas as the defensive team captain. “It’s very humbling,” Casillas said. “All these guys receive the highest of accolades, and they chose me to be their captain. I understand the weight of that, the responsibility that comes with it. I understand the Giants pride and the culture. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, help the younger guys out, helping the community.” Giants head coach Ben McAdoo knows Casillas’s importance to the team. “He’s always had a big role with this team,” McAdoo said. “And he’s going to continue to have one this season. He has a lot of experience now. He enjoys paying it forward, giving back to the community, helping the younger guys out. That’s what you want from a veteran leader. That’s what you want from your captain.” As training camp began in August, Casillas seemed ready to get it all going, perhaps having the best year of his career. “I’m home, both literally and figuratively,” Casillas said. “I’ve been living in New Jersey my whole life and I’m acclimated to living here all year round. I love getting the chance to return home to Jersey City. I’m just trying to do all the right things, and now it all feels like second nature.”—JCM

ON THE FIELD Casillas is excited about the 2017 season. “We have a lot of guys, especially on this defense, who have played a lot of football,” Casillas said. “Guys like Snacks (Damon Harrison), DRC (Dominique RodgersCromartie), JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul), (Olivier) Vernon, all of these guys are older and all contributed in a big way last year. I think we have a motivated and confident bunch, from the leadership on down to the players. We didn’t fin-

“I always want to do things that involve kids,” Casillas says.

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Exchange Place Farmer’s Market, Harborside Plaza 5, 185 Hudson St., 3-8 p.m. every Tuesday from May to December.


Farmers Market at Lincoln Park, Bentley and West Side Avenue, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. every Sunday from June to October.


Friends of Arlington Park, Ocean and Arlington Avenue, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. every Saturday from June to October. Paulus Hook Farm Stand, Washington Street by the Korean War Memorial, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. every Saturday from April to December. Van Vorst Park Farmers Market, Montgomery and Jersey Avenue, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. every Saturday from April to December. RJO All-Stars Jam Session, Brightside Tavern, 141 Bright St., 7:30 p.m. every first Monday of the month, If you can play, then come and play.



Jazz at Harborside Jazz, Harborside Atrium, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., every second Wednesday. Karaoke at the Brightside Tavern, 141 Bright St., 9 p.m.-12 a.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday, Every week, the Brightside turns the mic over to you.

see page 36






WHOLESALE PRICES Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


DATES JCM from page 35

New Heights Toastmasters Club, 855 Bergen Ave., 6:30 p.m. every second and fourth Tuesday of every month, (201) 424-9090. We provide a safe and supportive environment where you can develop your public speaking and leadership skills. Participation is optional, but it’s always encouraged. Guests are always welcome to walk in and have a firsthand experience of our club. Geeks Who Drink Quiz Night, 8 p.m., Tuesdays at PJ Ryan’s Squared, 4 Path Plaza, Wednesdays at Pint, 34 Wayne St., and Thursdays at The Corkscrew, 61 Congress St., Geeks Who Drink is a pub quiz with eight rounds of eight questions each, including a music round, an audio round, and a picture round. Free to play, with prizes for the top two teams and bonus prizes throughout the game. Jersey City Slam’s Open Mic and Poetry Slam, Tea NJ, 262 Newark Ave., 6-9 p.m. every second and fourth Thursday of the month, Jersey City Slam invites you all to check out our poetry slam. This slam is an Open Slam, meaning anyone can compete. There is an open mic beforehand open to music, stand-up comedy, poetry, and bar tricks. Liberty Science Center After Dark, Liberty Science Center, 222 Jersey City Blvd., 6-10 p.m. every third Thursday of the month,, (201) 253-1310. Bring your friends to an after-hours adventure at Liberty Science Center. Guests 21 and over can enjoy cocktails, food, music, dancing, laser shows, and more.

Indiegrove Free Coworking Fridays, 121 Newark Ave., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every Friday, (201) 589-2068, Come experience coworking and see why it has become the most popular way for entrepreneurs and independent professionals to work. Midnight Market, Harborside Atrium, 147 Harborside Financial Center Platform, 7:30 p.m.-12 a.m. every second Friday of the month, Join us at Jersey City’s first indoor night market and foodie nightlife event. All food is $5 or less, as well as drinks and the entrance fee. This 21-and-older event is cash only. Visit our website to pre-purchase tickets and skip the line. Hudson County Animal League’s Downtown JC Adoptions, Fussy Friends, 148 Newark Ave., 12-4 p.m. every Saturday. HCAL’s adoption team will be available to introduce you to our fabulous adoptable felines. Bring some joy into your heart and give a deserving cat a fresh start in life. Pacific Flea Antique and Artist Market, 149 Pacific Ave., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. every second Saturday from April to October. Features fine craft, antique and vintage items, live music, curated art shows, outdoor street art, and rotating food trucks. Marketplace JC, Christopher Columbus Drive and Hudson Street, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. every third Saturday of the month. Join us for a fabulous, family-friendly see page 41


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Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


Goliath Threaten s But David is holding his own— for now BY KATE ROUNDS



t’s Saturday afternoon, and your allergies are unbearable. You’re afraid that an over-the-counter remedy might interact badly with other meds you’re taking, and your primary care physician is still down the shore. Enter your local pharmacist. For the past 12 years, Downtown Pharmacy has been serving the Paulus Hook hood. And “serving” is the operative word. The pharmacists behind the counter know you. They can solve that allergy issue, but you can also go home with an oven thermometer and some organic vegetables. Back in the spring, local customers got a scare when it looked like a CVS, slated for 70 Hudson St., might put their beloved local drugstore out of business. The increasing wealth of these areas is attracting large chains. But the folks who live there think of their community as a Greenwich Village, with art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. Here’s the backstory: A city ordinance, passed in 2015 at the request of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Downtown council member Candice Osborne, limits large retail chains in Downtown development areas that

receive tax abatements from the city. Believing that CVS would be in obvious violation, the city refused to issue a Certificate of Occupancy to the landlord. Soon after, however, the city law department claimed that the ordinance may have violated federal law and should be repealed. Downtown Pharmacy co-owner Ariel Zaurov was on edge until a June 7 council meeting, when the repeal came up for a vote. Zaurov was at the meeting, telling council members, “The ordinance was enacted to prevent monopoly and encourage local independent ownership. These businesses do not intend to compete with local stores; they aim to be the only game in town.” He went on to say that independent businesses contribute to the local economy by using “local banks, local ice cream makers, and local vitamin producers.” Luckily for him and his customers, the ordinance was not repealed.

Long Winding Road Zaurov and his partners opened the Essex Street pharmacy in 2005. At the time, he was offering concierge pharmacy services to nearby Goldman Sachs.

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“We very quickly became part of the neighborhood,” Zaurov says. “For many years, we were the only pharmacy, we made a lot of friends, and were involved in the local community.” Though Zaurov lives across the river in Battery Park City, he says, “I spend most of my time in Jersey City. It’s my second home.” Zaurov is a native of what used to be known as the Soviet Union. He came to the United States in February 1989, a year or two before the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was notoriously anti-Semitic. “It was hard for Jews to get into university and get good jobs,” Zaurov says. He was only 15 when he landed in the U.S., graduating from high school in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and, in 1997, from Long Island University’s Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy. He was following in the footsteps of his mother, who was a pharmacist back in the Soviet Union.

Corner Drugstore His first job was at an independent pharmacy in New York City’s West Village. “That’s where I got my first taste of what a neighborhood community pharmacy is about,” he says. And it’s nothing like a chain.

“We’re like a family and treat all customers the same,” he says. “We may not have the big-name resources, but we provide services that you can’t put a dollar sign on. It’s a very personal level, like you’re coming to see your own personal doctor without an appointment.” He emphasizes that of course pharmacists are not allowed to diagnose and do other things that physicians do. “But we can meet you at any moment,” he says. “We know who you are, and we have no ‘floating’ pharmacists. We’re always there, we know your children, we know what issues you have and your life experience. It’s not a generic click-and-ship thing.” You can have a half-hour conversation with a pharmacist, Zaurov says, and it’s free. His pharmacists are also available by email. At various times, he’s had pharmacists who speak Spanish, Korean, and Arabic.

Second Locale Two years ago, Zaurov and his partner opened another Downtown Pharmacy in the Liberty Harbor area. This one’s right at the Marin Boulevard light rail stop in a community that is fast developing. For now, he says, “the grocery items are keeping us going. We jumped into organics, and we have things now on

Downtown Pharmacy Ariel Zaurov


the shelves that are in every supermarket. That wasn’t the case 12 years ago.” The new store is adapting to its environment. “That’s what people want and need,” he says. “It’s a young neighborhood with young families.”

He’s even offering produce from local farmers as well as ice cream and other products made right here in Jersey City. Zaurov has come a long way from that 15-year-old refugee from the Soviet Union. “It’s been an absolutely amazing experience,” he says. “The American Dream come true, and I absolutely love Jersey City. I know a lot of people in the neighborhood. I walk the streets and meet and talk with people. New York City is so big you can get lost. Here it’s like a small neighborhood, where you still feel like an individual.” Which is why he is not yet heaving a sigh of relief. There is still a chance that CVS could sue the city if it does not repeal the ordinance. No city wants to be involved in an expensive lawsuit with a deep-pocketed plaintiff, so there is also the chance that Mayor Fulop and members of the council will tweak the ordinance until it is on the right side of the law. The election for council members is in November. Both David and Goliath will be eagerly watching the results. Zaurov’s concern is not just for his store but for the preservation of Jersey City’s charming character. “Paulus Hook, Van Vorst, Harsimus, I love these neighborhoods,” he says. “Once they’re lost, you won’t be able to bring them back.”—JCM

Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


EDITOR'S LETTER JCM from page 11

“Prep didn’t just help me on my path to excellence – it was my path to excellence.” – Dimas Sanchez, ’16

That’s why it’s

Fall Open House | Sunday, October 1 | 1-4 p.m.

Saint Peter’s Prep New Jersey’s Jesuit High School Since 1872

144 Grand Street | Jersey City, NJ 07302 |

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now a professor in Jersey City. Hannington Dia sat down with her at the VIP Diner. At the other end of the spectrum, we asked Nikkie Zanevsky to tell us all about the challenging sport of Parkour, which uses the urban landscape as its playing field. Downtown Pharmacy’s threat from CVS is a real David and Goliath tale. Owner Ariel Zaurov talks about the importance of independent stores to our Jersey City hoods. Our intrepid husband-andwife team of Tara and Max Ryazansky went on location with Oh Honey apiary. Translation: They braved the beehives to get our story about keeping bees and making honey in Jersey City. A couple of books are making news this fall. Jersey City’s Val Emmich just published a debut novel, The Reminders, and David Goodman’s Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 First Street takes a look back at the famed artist colony that was demolished in 2007. This is the time of year when folks come back from the beach, head back to school, and get back to business. Look for apples and pumpkins in our many farmers markets and enjoy brilliant leaves, brisk air, and gridiron afternoons.

DATES JCM from page 36

outdoor market in historic downtown Jersey City. We bring together amazing makers and collectors, chefs, and entertainers to create a gathering where you can taste, discover, enjoy, and—most importantly—spend time with friends, family, and neighbors.

OCTOBER 5-8 Seventh Annual Golden Door International Film Festival, 6-11:30 p.m., goldendoorfilm Jersey City plays host to Golden Door, a film festival that is open to all who purchase tickets to any of the various events and screenings or an All Access Pass. Enjoy a weekend of indie films, parties and industry seminars. If you are in the industry, this is your opportunity to network and meet distributors. If you are a filmgoer you will have the chance to catch great films before they are released to the public and to meet the actors and filmmakers behind them.

14 Jersey City Art & Studio Tour, Grove Street PATH Plaza, 12-6 p.m., Join the HDSID & Artist & Maker Market on the Plaza for the 2017 Jersey City Art & Studio Tour. Music kicks off at noon and Artist & Maker Market will be showcasing artists, makers and creators of all disciplines Rocky Horror Picture Show at Harsimus Cemetery, The Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery, 435 Newark Ave., 7:30-10 p.m., What could be better than an interactive showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Having it take place in an actual cemetery! The movie will be accompanied by a live theatrical performance…and of course audience participation (led by “The Home of Happiness”) will be encouraged! Get dressed up and bring some toast! Harvest Festival, City Hall Plaza, 280 Grove St., 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Fall is here and so are the beautiful colors of the season. Join us for the ultimate celebration with our Harvest Festival at City Hall Plaza. We have a fun event planned for the whole family with pumpkin decoration, face painting, music for kids and more.

15 150th Anniversary of St. Michael Church, St. Michael Church, 252 Ninth St. and Casino in the Park, 1 Lincoln Park, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. This year, Saint Michael Parish celebrates 150 years of serving the greater Hamilton Park neighborhood. Saint Michael’s was founded in 1867 to serve a rapidly expanding population of see page 45

Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •




BAMBINO CHEF 213 Newark Ave. (201) 333-9090


ene Gonzalez has the best title ever: Founder, Creative Director, and Chief Bambino Chef. All those handles apply to her position at Bambino Chef, the business she founded in 2008. In some ways, her journey to Jersey City is typical. She and her husband, both working in finance and living in Manhattan, wanted to find more space and less chaos in which to raise three children. But Rene’s story is unique in that she is a native of Azerbaijan. A multicultural bent and a taste for food, fun, and the flavors of the world found their way into her life’s work. In finance, she says, “I did my work diligently, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I’d cooked since I was a little girl and made everything from scratch.” She and her husband—who still commutes to Manhattan for his finance gig—drove all over Hudson County looking for the perfect place to live and work. When she saw Jersey City, she says, “I loved it, and I told my husband we should be here. He felt the same way.” And the rest is history. “My whole thing is creative and healthy cooking with children,” she says. “I wanted to create a space for kids to come and cook and make all the mess they want, using different ingredients, learning about other cultures, and bonding over food.” The experience, of course, is more than just making fantastic things like cupcakes, brownies, quesadillas, salads, sushi, fajitas, falafel, and Mexican cake with pumpkin seeds. Through cooking, Rene says, children “gain confidence, sharpen communication skills, and get better at math and science.” Kids between the ages of 3 and 13 participate. The little ones take mini bambino classes. “They make simple versions but still

Rene make amazing things,” Rene says. Rene’s instructors are local. “Small business is the heart of the economy, and I try to outsource locally,” she says. “I love working with the teachers.” The kids also learn the value of community service, making sandwiches for local shelters and helping to deliver them. Rene always asks the kids what they want to be when they grow up. “I’m so curious,” she says. “They’re full of ideas and so passionate. So many say

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they want to be chefs, and they understand how tough it is to be a chef. It’s not the easiest industry.” Many of them watch cooking shows. So does Rene, revealing that she’s partial to Nigella Lawson. “She brings love and a nurturing feeling to the kitchen,” Rene says. Sound familiar? That philosophy is the heart and soul of Bambino Chef. “I always want our children to come to our kitchen and feel loved,” Rene says. “It’s so important to feel appreciated and special.”


(left to right) Jennifer, Roy, Stephen, and Suraj

SNEAKER ROOM 410 Central Ave. (201) 798-0658


uraj Kaufman is the Imelda Marcos of sneakers. The former First Lady of the Philippines reportedly owned 3,000 pairs of shoes, though she claimed it was closer to 1,000. Whatever, this kid from the JC hood claims that at one point he had about 30 pairs of sneakers. But when he was growing up in the projects in the Marion section of town, he couldn’t afford sneakers. Asked about his current title, he says, “Founder, Owner, Everything” of the Sneaker Room. Here’s the origin story: He opened his first store on Brunswick Street in 2006, a tiny 350-square-foot operation that tanked after two years. “There wasn’t a lot of profit,” he says. “I was buying sneakers for $150 and selling them for $200.” After that, he says, “I worked for someone else at a sneaker store and learned the ins and outs of the business aspect of it.”

In 2010, he opened a store with a partner in Montclair. “My partner and I had different opinions,” he says, “and we split up.” The partner stayed in the Montclair store, and Suraj opened a store at 267 Central Ave. He soon outgrew that one and opened the current 3,000-square-foot space at 410 Central Ave. Suraj’s mother died of colon cancer in 2006. When she died, she left him one framed piece of Nike stock inscribed, “To Suraj, a piece of Nike you won’t wear out. Love, Mom.” When his mother was dying at home, she told him, “The hospice took over your sneaker room.” By that time he’d acquired those 30 pairs of sneakers. That’s how his store got its name. Suraj was shaped by his mother’s community spirit. When she died, he says, she was remembered “as a member of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Rosary Society and a dedicated volunteer of 28 years.” “I love the sneaker store,” he says, “but it’s the philanthropy and charity aspect that’s the most important part. Anybody can open a successful business, but giving back is the real heart and accomplishment.” He’s donated to holiday toy drives, the

Boys and Girls Club, turkey drives, breast cancer awareness, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and hosted events for the local community. He’s wrangled celebrities, such as Jadakiss, Jim Jones, Victor Cruz, and Justin Tuck to make appearances. The Giants Steve Weatherford bought backto-school sneakers for kids. Suraj’s youngest son raised $2,500 for charity with a lemonade stand. The Sneaker Room partners with Bambino Chef (see page 42) to make and deliver sandwiches to homeless shelters. “At Thanksgiving, I help make and serve the meals,” Suraj says, emphasizing that he doesn’t want to just donate; he wants to “serve the people.” He speaks at careers days, using himself as an example: He didn’t go to college, but he also didn’t give up. Suraj has become successful enough to move to the suburbs. One day, he was reflecting on his sprinkler system, recalling that when he was a kid they “opened a fire hydrant in the projects.” “I’m not trying to leave a business,” he says. “I’m trying to leave a legacy. You’re judged by what you give back and how you touch people’s lives.”

Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •



(left to right) Steven Cuccinelli, Joe Castagna, Issa Salloum, and Moh Mansour

WONDER BAGELS 331 Central Ave. (201) 659-5300


ronically, this bagel story starts with two Italian guys from Hudson Catholic. They were in the class of 1975, on the football and basketball teams, the first to win the Hudson County Basketball Championship. A whiff of nostalgia seems to permeate this school. “Every year for the past 30 years, maybe more, we’d meet in a restaurant the Thursday after Thanksgiving,” relates Steve Cuccinelli. “We get anywhere from 18 to 25 guys, a big group from the classes of ’73, ’74, ’75. They all show up to laugh and talk about memories; it’s hilarious, only men, no wives or girlfriends.” He says that three or four years ago, he stayed after the dinner with his pal, Joe Castagna. “Joe lived in the Marion section of Jersey City,” Steve says. “He was a tight end on the football team, and I was a tackle.” As they were catching up on what had transpired during the previous year, they got on the subject of owning a business. Joe mentioned his love of Wonder Bagels, and Steve was able to set up a meeting with Issa Solomon, owner of the chain. Though there are five shops in Jersey City, Solomon pointed out that there wasn’t one in the Heights. “I was born and raised in the Heights, at Congress and Webster,” Steve says. His family owned the Congress Tavern, which is still there but under a different name, the Corkscrew Bar and Grill at 51 Congress. A little ancient history: Forty-two years ago, the bar allowed only men, the drinking age was 18, there was sawdust on the

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floor, and a beer and a shot cost a quarter. Those were the days! OK, back to the present. Joe and Issa searched all over the Heights for a location and finally decided on 331 Central Ave. between Lincoln and Griffith. It opened on July 15, 2016. Joe is the manager and runs the place. Steve is Issa’s partner, and Joe is Steve’s partner. Steve still works in finance, and Joe, who is retired from the Jersey City Health Department, where he was an inspector, gave up working at a company in Woodbridge. Issa told Joe that everybody wanted to open a store but nobody wanted to work. “I’ll work,” Joe said. A year later, Joe admits, “I’m exhausted,” but the rewards are worth it. He’s making double the money he once did, but it’s also “seeing people light up when they get a rainbow bagel. The bagels are great and the food is good. The chocolate chip cookies are to die for.” “It was a dream come true,” Steve says, “two guys from high school who came up with the whole bagel store idea in the Heights.” Steve, who lives in Rutherford, stops by the shop on weekends. “Going back to Jersey City every weekend, to the neighborhood where I grew up, is invigorating and exciting,” he says. Owning and running a business has its own special appeal. “It’s the satisfaction of seeing people come for fresh orange juice and hand-rolled bagels,” Steve says. “It’s the conversation that Joe has with people. Old friends come in, and there are new faces in the Heights. The Heights is the next downtown Jersey City.” Like many evolving neighborhoods, there are a lot of little kids. “There are baby carriages on Saturday morning,” Steve says. “I give the kids a cookie if they’re good to their parents.” Like Joe says, those cookies are to die for.

DATES JCM from page 41

first- and second-generation working-class Irish Catholics. Today the pews are filled with families representing every continent but Antarctica. We will mark the milestone with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, Oct. 15 at 10:30 a.m., to be followed by a Gala Brunch Reception at Casino in the Park 12:30-4:30 p.m.

21 The Ghost of Uncle Joe’s, The Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery, 435 Newark Ave., 12:30 p.m., The Ghosts spoke with us and they asked for the following bands to be resurrected at this year’s Ghost of Uncle Joe’s: Duran Duran, The Go-Go’s, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Superchunk, The Pretenders, The Killers, Bloc Party, The GetUp Kids, Rites of Spring, New York Dolls/MC 5, NWA, De La Soul, Pat Benatar, Sleater Kinney, Billy Idol, Sha Na Na, Run DMC. Suggested donation $10.

25 Halloween Parade 2017, Hamilton Park, 4-6:30 p.m.

28 JC Halloween Spooktacular, Harborside Atrium, 4-8 p.m., A family Halloween costume parade and party.

29 Spooky Terminal, Central Railroad of NJ Terminal, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Join us as we transform the historic

Central Railroad of NJ into The Spooky Terminal. Located in a one-of-a-kind venue overlooking the gorgeous Manhattan skyline in the heart of Liberty State Park. All aboard! There will be fun activities, bouncy house, costume contest, and more. $20.

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31 Halloween Family Bash, Newark Avenue Pedestrian Mall, 3-6 p.m. Have a ghoulishly good time this Halloween. There will be face painting, a bouncy house, music, popcorn, and candy. Halloween Event at Van Vorst Park, 4-8 p.m.


Imagine Your Life

Jersey City Veterans Day Parade of Heroes, The Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery, 435 Newark Ave., 12-3 p.m., Honor our veteran heroes at the Third Annual Jersey City Veterans Day Parade of Heroes. Watch with prime views right on Newark Avenue from the Harsimus Cemetery viewing stand in front of the gates. Wizened Wizards, Liberty Science Center’s MakerLab, 222 Jersey City Blvd., 10 a.m.-12 p.m., maker-weekends. In this three-class series, you will build your own wizard wand using 3D design and see page 49

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Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


Oh Honey For JC beekeepers, life is busy but sweet



ine Pahl starts her day like she always does: by stirring honey into her morning coffee in place of sugar. “I use honey for everything,” Pahl says as she pulls out a mason jar full of homemade granola, sweetened with honey, of course. “I use it a lot for baking. I’m always finding new recipes.” Pahl has more honey than she could ever use because she and her husband, Darius Plavinskas, run a beekeeping venture called Oh Honey. The couple balances beekeeping with raising a 10-year-old. Pahl is a psychoanalyst with a private practice in Manhattan, as well as a research scientist, while Plavinskas has a construction business in Manhattan and works as a visual artist. Their beautiful home in Jersey City Heights is full of unique features like reclaimed cathedral windows and custom concrete countertops, but the most interesting feature of all has to be the stacks of colorful hive boxes buzzing on their rooftop. Today Plavinskas arrives home from the couples’ Upstate New York property, where they have more hives. He’s spent the last few days there preparing to harvest honey. A beekeeper’s job changes with the seasons. Late summer into fall is the time to extract honey, but he is careful to leave enough behind so that it can nourish his colony through the winter. Some beekeepers remove all the honey from their hives, which means the bees die over the winter with nothing to eat. They purchase inexpensive new bees each spring instead of maintaining their colony. Some bee farms opt to replace the honey with sugar water so that the bees survive on that through the winter. “It’s like giving them junk food,” Pahl says, adding that Oh Honey doesn’t do it that way. “We don’t steal all of the bees’ honey; that’s what makes it sustainable beekeeping.” Oh Honey is also a treatment-free operation. “It means that I don’t treat the bees with any chemicals, medications, or antibiotics,” Plavinskas says. Very few commercial apiaries avoid using these things to combat diseases and mites. Looking for a label that says treatment-free will mean purer honey than an organic label. Plavinskas says organic honey isn’t easily regulated because there’s no way to wrangle bees into pollinating only certified organic plants.

Darius practices “sustainable beekeeping.”

Pollinating the Planet Five years ago Plavinskas started just like any urban hobbyist: by mail-ordering bees that come shipped in a box. He was inspired to try beekeeping to help the environment. “Bees are one of the most important creatures in our environment,” Plavinskas says. “Two-thirds of our food comes from pollination.” We’re reliant on bees for survival. “They’re amazing creatures,” he says. He started with two or three hives. By the next year he had 50. Now Oh Honey has more than 200 hives in various Jersey City locations and Upstate. “He does it extraordinarily well,” Pahl says. “He really just has the hand for it.” Instead of ordering more bees, he breeds them. Plavinskas says beekeeping is an art. “It’s not like you can learn from a book and go by the letter; it doesn’t work like that. You have to have that knowledge in the back of your head, but then you have to go and learn from the bees because they will show you what to do.” Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •



Tine creates cosmetics and tinctures with products from Oh Honey’s bees.

Up on the Roof Plavinskas climbs the stairs of his home to check on his hives. He adds some scraps of burlap to a smoker contraption and squeezes the bellows. Smoke pours out and wafts toward the stacked boxes. Pahl says that smoke is supposed to calm the bees. Plavinskas fearlessly walks over to the teeming hives, without his mesh hooded beekeeper suit. He says he gets stung nearly every time he opens a hive, but it doesn’t bother him much. “I’ve only been stung once, and it’s because I picked one up!” Pahl says. She tried to move a bee so that no one would step on it, and it repaid her kindness by stinging. Pahl doesn’t work as a beekeeper. Her role in Oh Honey is creating cosmetics and tinctures with bee products like wax and propolis, the waxy material used to maintain the hive, along with local herbs. Oh Honey provides more than just honey and bee products to the community. Plavinskas works with Animal Control and the Jersey City Fire Department whenever they receive a bee-related complaint. In spring, bee swarms will often travel away from their hives scouting a location to start a

new colony. People freak out when a cloud of bees attaches itself to a tree or building. “You cannot call an exterminator to come and kill it; it’s illegal to kill honey bees,” Plavinskas says. That’s where he comes in, sometimes with the help of the fire ladder, to grab the bees and re-home them in a bee box. One of the hives that he’s checking on now came from a Jersey City treetop.

Condo Combs Next, Plavinskas heads over to the Liberty Harbor building at 30 Regent St., a condominium on the waterfront between Paulus Hook and Van Vorst Park. On the roof of the stately building with the Art Deco motif a bee colony thrives. Kira Dudley, who works in events and PR for Liberty Harbor, was drawn to Oh Honey. She thought that Plavinskas and his beehives could form a partnership with Liberty Harbor and manage hives for them on its rooftop. “We liked that his stuff is sustainable and that he’s from Jersey City,” Dudley says. “We like to support our community.” Now two bee colonies enjoy harbor views from the ninth floor of the building.

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This fall Plavinskas will harvest honey for Liberty Harbor and hold a presentation for residents about the importance of bees. “We’re looking forward to tasting the honey too,” Dudley says. “We like to call Darius the bee whisperer.” Plavinskas first met Dudley a year ago when Oh Honey had a vendor table at Liberty Harbor’s block party. Events and farmers markets are another big part of Oh Honey’s mission. Plavinskas bottles honey and sells it along with Pahl’s cosmetic offerings. The couple are regulars at the Riverview Farmers Market in Jersey City Heights, where Pahl says all of the vendors’ children play together like one big family. The market is a unique opportunity for Jersey City shoppers to enjoy honey that is as local as it gets.—JCM

DATES JCM from page 45

printing, then learn to create electronic circuits that will make it glow. Bloxels: 8-Bit Video Games, Liberty Science Center’s MakerLab, 222 Jersey City Blvd., 10 a.m.-12 p.m., Pair up with a partner to design video game characters, create levels of play, and combine them all into an original game using Bloxels.

11 Honoring Our Heroes Musical Tribute, Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery, 435 Newark Ave., 1-3 p.m., Honor our veteran heroes at the Veterans’ Day Military & Musical Tribute, a free public event sponsored by AT&T at the Historic Harsimus Cemetery.

18 Jersey City Craft Brew Fest, Harborside 3 Atrium, 1-9:30 p.m., In the spirit of Oktoberfest, a traditional German celebration of beer and countrymen will be held with over 150 styles of craft beer featuring many NJ breweries. Guest will enjoy unlimited craft beer samples paired with live entertainment, food and interactive games.

Protecting the rights of the injured and their families in Jersey City and throughout the state since 1929.



Chatham | Jersey City | North Bergen | Sea Girt () - |

Saber Smithing, Liberty Science Center’s MakerLab, 222 Jersey City Blvd., 10 a.m.12 p.m., Create an intergalactic-battle-worthy glowing saber using our programming tools and 3D printer. In the third and final session, Saber Guild Corellia will send its best warriors to train you in the ways of saber combat.

18 Artist & Maker Market’s Happy Holiday Market, Grove Street PATH Plaza, 4-8 p.m., Last-minute gifting is inevitable. Artist & Maker Market is back for the holidays in conjunction with the farmers market. Locally made jewelry, candles, specialty food items, and more.

21 Artist & Maker Market’s Happy Holiday Market, Grove Street PATH Plaza, 4-8 p.m., Last-minute gifting is inevitable. Artist & Maker Market is back for the holidays in conjunction with the farmers market. Locally made jewelry, candles, specialty food items, and more. HDSID’s 20th Anniversary/Holiday Party, City Hall, 280 Grove St., 6-8 p.m. Join us in celebration of HDSID’s 20th anniversary. This will be an anniversary and holiday party in which all are invited. Catering by Taqueria Downtown Catering Company. RSVP to

Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •





ou’ve seen them in commercials: young, super-coordinated, superfast uber-athletes, jumping from building to building as they navigate the streets and infrastructure of an urban landscape. Well, there’s a name for it, and just regular folks are doing it, right here in Jersey City. It’s called Parkour. One practitioner is Nikkie Zanevsky. She’s 32 and has lived in JC for more than six years, arriving by way of Ukraine and New York City. So, what the heck is Parkour? “It seems like a simple question,” Zanevsky acknowledges, “but different people define it differently. It’s evolved into how to get from point A to point B with just your body and the environment as efficiently and creatively as possible.”

Eleven years ago a YouTube video turned her on to it. “I watched the video and had a revelation that, yes, I as an adult can do these movements,” she says. “Children like to go out in the playground and jump around, but typically it’s not acceptable for adults in our society. “Fitness class is fun,” she says, “but it feels like you have to do this exercise to be fit and stay in shape. Parkour has a different motivation. It’s like going out to the playground with a friend.”

THE GENESIS Zanevsky started doing Parkour with a group in New York City. Teenage boys and young adults in their 20s and 30s are a prime demographic for Parkour. “But we want to cultivate a community that is more welcoming to all ages, genders, and races,” Zanevsky says. She envisions an age span from kindergarten to folks in their 60s, the

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way Zumba and bar classes popularized dance for the average person. At 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, Zanevsky has a very athletic build. The bod comes just from Parkour. She does no weight training. Parkour was invented by a Frenchman who was influenced by the movements in military-style training. It involves crawling, balancing, swinging, jumping, vaulting, and climbing. “Both urban and natural environments are great for Parkour,” Zanevsky says. “I like training in both, but there is more variability in the natural environment. In the urban environment there are right angles. When you touch a wall, you can predict how it will respond to movement. In nature, with trees and rocks, there is more opportunity to slip. It’s an extra challenge.” In New Jersey, she hikes near the Palisades, which has “great rocks.” Though Manhattan provides the best urban environment, Zanevsky trains in

“Children like to go out in the playground and jump around, but typically it’s not acceptable for adults in our society.” — NIKKIE ZANEVSKY Hamilton Park and the downtown waterfront in Jersey City. She and her boyfriend found their way to Jersey City like a lot of folks do. They were looking to buy. “We realized we could afford Jersey City way better than New York,” she relates. “We really liked the neighborhood feel of it and could only afford a box in New York.”

RULES OF THE ROAD “You can train anywhere, in public spaces or private property,” Zanevsky says, “but you always want to be respectful of the environment and leave it how you found it.” Unlike standard sports, Parkour can be adapted. After trial and error, “I found a training style that works for me,” Zanevsky says. “That’s a testament to the fact that it doesn’t Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •


have to be just one thing. You adjust to your ability and comfort level.” Zanevsky says that a lot of people in their 30s and 40s, and especially women, think they have to go into the gym and get fit before starting Parkour. “I want to convey that that’s not true,” she says. “You learn Parkour through Parkour. The class is adjusted for beginners. If something seems intimidating, you come to class at your level.” The male-to-female ratio is improving. When she first started, she was often the only woman in the group. Now 30 to 40 percent are women. “A huge improvement,” she says, “but it varies by communities, which have to foster a comfortable environment.” Zanevsky’s day job is marketing for an educational company. She sees promoting Parkour as a marketing issue. “I try to do two things,” she says. “I try to be visible as a woman teaching and doing Parkour in co-ed spaces. And I go out and train by myself, and I want other people, men and women, to normalize the idea.”

A SPORT FOR ALL SEASONS Zanevsky trains outdoors every season of the year. In fact, she says it’s dangerous to train in a gym where there are soft surfaces. You have to get used to the unpredictability of the outdoor environment. Two ideas, she says, are relevant to the average person: One is that “you are not doing these moves just because they look cool. It’s awesome to learn to climb a wall so that you can do something for yourself or to help another person.” The other, she says, is that doing Parkour gives you a new view of your world. “You see the urban environment in a whole other dimension,” she says. “A wheelchair ramp is not just a wheelchair ramp, and a wall is not just a wall. It’s more interesting.” In the summer, Zanevsky went part time at her day job, so that she could explore teaching Parkour classes in Jersey City. That person crawling, climbing, jumping, vaulting, or swinging through the streets of JC? She could be you. —Kate Rounds Nikkie is offering a free workshop. Visit for a free class on Nov. 28. You may also email and follow @nikkie.zanevsky on Instagram.

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jersey city




Jersey CITY Magazine ~ FALL | WINTER 2017 | 18 •



M ovement and

Jersey City musician and actor writes his first novel



ollowing a successful singing, songwriting, and acting career, Val Emmich, a 10-year resident of Jersey City and New Jersey native, says he woke up one day and said to his wife, “I’m going to write a novel.” Emmich’s debut novel, The Reminders, takes its two lead protagonists on a journey through the overlapping themes of love, loss, family, and friendship. Though he’d abandoned others, this novel grew out of a Home Depot incident involving his 20-month-old daughter, and a 60 Minutes segment he’d watched that evening. “My daughter had fallen at Home Depot, and I thought why not tell a story from a little kid’s perspective? The same night, the 60 Minutes segment featured an uncommon condition called HSAM—Highly Auto biographical Superior Memory— which enables those who have it to recount every detail of any particular day, whether they want to or not. “Less than 50 people have this condition, one of whom is the actress, Marilu Henner,” Emmich says. “It can be a lonely, alienating feeling when others can’t remember what you can.” In the novel, 10-year-old Joan Lennon Sully has HSAM. Gavin, a gay actor, former musician, and dear college friend of the family, is struggling to overcome the loss of his partner, Sydney. The protagonists speak in alternating chapters. The two bond. Gavin mentors Joan in a songwriting contest. In return she recounts every encounter with Sydney in vivid detail, so that Gavin can collect more memories to help him heal. The novel is set in the Jersey City Heights, home of Joan’s parents, Paige and Ollie. Streets and landmarks in Jersey City, Hoboken, and New York City will resonate with local readers. Ollie’s music studio, packed with books, guitars and works in progress, also features posters of a college band, Awake Asleep, Emmich’s actual band from his Rutgers University days.

“I always grew up around music and books,” Emmich says. “It was like a library in the house.” His grandfather was a concert pianist in Russia, and Emmich’s sisters were in the church choir. Emmich took piano and sax lessons in elementary school until switching to songwriting and guitar at age 15.

He realized early on that music would be one of “his vehicles to communicate.” “Songwriting offers an immediate, visceral, tactile dimension,” with the audience’s reaction visible immediately, he says, and writing prose “lets you get immersed,” though you are alone most of the time and can’t see your reader’s immediate response. “Songwriting makes me want to write more prose and vice versa,” he says. He calls himself a “hybrid” who loves both. Acting, he says, intertwines with his other passions, but these days acting keeps him away from his family, so he tends to pursue it a lot less than he once did. Emmich, now 38, also drew the illustrations that appear throughout the book. “All my favorite books had illustrations, and I thought they would give us more insight into how Joan sees everything,” he says.

Music and Movement Emmich is partial to the word “dance.” A dress dances while Joan and her mom are in a store. A flame dances when a cigarette is lit. An artist dances in joy in her bedroom when she hears some good news. “I just used this vocabulary because my older daughter loves to dance and was dancing as I was writing this book,” he says. “Even before we can speak, we are able to recognize music and start dancing, and to me that just shows how intrinsic and instinctive any art form is.” Like the author, Joan discovers the power of music and movement early on. “I want my song to make people want to dance or cry,” Joan says. “Dance to forget and cry to remember.” She longs to be remembered because most people don’t have her superpower memory. With her song, “Leave the Past Behind,” she will never be forgotten, just like John Lennon, her favorite musician. Emmich says he chose The Beatles for Joan’s inspiration because they’re a “symbol of lasting remembrance” and that they had “more to teach than music itself.” Gavin tries to teach Joan the beauty of letting the moment happen as they add music to their lyrics for the contest. (To hear the song, visit

Life’s Questions Answered Will Joan win the songwriting contest? What will Gavin do with the new memories of Sydney? The book also raises questions about pursuing your passion as a professional or just as a pastime, about how to reclaim your life after loss, and what is most important in life and art. “It’s a constant balancing act doing what you love versus spending time with your loved ones,” Emmich says. Lennon and McCartney’s “Two of Us” has a lyric that speaks to this novel: “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” Though no sequel is in the works, the book has been optioned for film. In his free time Emmich likes to cook. He says he “is happy when he gets to create.”—JCM

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Safe Haven What to do with kids when the dust settles

The Haven Respite Center hopes to restore young peoples’ confidence in themselves. Photos courtesy of the Haven Adolescent Respite Center BY TARA RYAZANSKY


ersey City resident Amy Albert was inspired to create Haven Adolescent Community Respite Center (HACRC) while working as a public defender in Brooklyn in 2016. She still works as coordinator of the Brooklyn Adolescent Representation Team at Brooklyn Defender Services. “I would see young people being arrested and put through the system for things that involved fighting with their families,” Albert recalls. “I would talk to the families and often hear, ‘I didn't know what to do, so I just called the police.’” She says that these calls were often made by parents who lacked resources and hoped to receive help like social services. She thinks that police involvement could cause tension to escalate when they investigate to find out who

was the primary aggressor in the fight. “It breaks down a family when you try to find who is at fault,” Albert says. Teens often end up arrested and scared. “They would be put in a 24-hour hold with people who had substantial charges and who were often much older,” Albert says. Even after release, teens could be kept out of their homes if a family member was granted an order of protection.

Where to Go? “I see kids in Jersey City sitting on stoops all the time,” Albert says. “I know that sometimes they’re not just hanging out. Sometimes they have nowhere else to go.” When talking to her brother-in-law, Steve Gernant, about this problem she learned another side of it. Gernant, a Patterson firefighter and former Jersey

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City EMT, often saw firsthand what happened in family fight situations that didn’t lead to criminal charges. “They would call the EMTs really just because they didn’t know what else to do,” Albert says. Gernant, who now works with Haven, told her this would lead to an emergency psych evaluation. “When they weren’t mentally ill to the point of needing hospitalization they would be released back into the same situation,” Albert says. “Eventually they could end up getting kicked out of the house and on the streets.” Albert has observed that a lot of families don’t have the tools to deal with conflict, especially families with teenagers. She was tired of seeing these young people on a path that could eventually lead to homelessness or prison. “I couldn’t stand by and watch this situation and not get involved,” she says.

Enter HACRC “We decided to create what we’re calling a respite center,” says Albert, whose board includes Vaibhavee Agaskar, Jamie Powlovich, Jennifer Allen, Larra Morris, and Paul Bellan-Boyer. BellanBoyer cofounded Safe Streets JC along with Kara Hrabosky. HACRC, with the support of Hudson County, is in the closing phase of purchasing a Roosevelt Avenue building. It’s a one-family home where Haven will run their programs in the downstairs area while keeping the upstairs a teen-only space for kids to stay while family fights cool down. “Haven is a place where kids can stay for up to 90 days voluntarily, so that both they and their families get a rest, and we can put services in place to help them get along better,” Albert says. Haven holds events called Cook, Eat, Talk where participants do just that. Each week 10 teenagers, ages 14-17, meet at Saint John’s Lutheran Church to learn kitchen skills, share meals, and have a discussion led by a social worker. One menu featured Asian-style turkey burgers. Albert says one of the most positive parts of the experience has been watching kids get excited about learning something new. “Part of what we hope to do is restore young people’s confidence in themselves and in us,” she says, explaining that these events will help form a bond between Haven and the teens. “In gentrifying neighborhoods, there’s this dynamic of upper middleclass people, mostly white, walking by these young men of color who they ‘otherize,’” she says. “I hope that Haven brings back community.”

This spring, Haven held a series of five conflict-resolution classes called STRIVE which works with individual young people and their families to help them safely resolve conflict. Haven selected participants from its Cook, Eat, Talk meet-ups. “I spend a lot of time doing mediation work,” Albert says. “Sitting down, figuring out challenges, and negotiating conflict, that’s how kids end up going home successfully. It’s not just about giving kids a break. It gives a family the resources so they can do better next time.”—JCM centrespitecenter

Moms, Murals, Mediation Haven is also helping to build community for young mothers. It runs a peer group called Young Mothers Support Group for moms ages 14-24. “The idea is not so much that we lecture young women about how to be good moms,” Albert says. “It’s that they get support.” Meetings are held at Covenant House Drop In Center and include pizza sponsored by 2 Boots, and free onsite babysitting. Cook, Eat, Talk participants are designing a mural for the Roosevelt Avenue space where all of these programs and more will be held this coming fall. Albert hopes to hold an art opening to showcase the adolescents’ work to the community. Haven recently threw its first gala; Albert was pleased with the turnout of community supporters.

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Book cover courtesy of Fordham University Cover photo by Edward Fausty

Photos by Elaine Hansen

Artists as Urban Adventurers A new book chronicles the life and death of 111 First Street


2007, a legendary JC building known only by its address, 111 First St., was demolished. Heritage and history lovers mourned because it once housed one of Jersey City’s iconic factories, the P. Lorillard tobacco company. Artists mourned because many were living there in low-rent studios, with jury-rigged plumbing and electricity. The structure was much photographed and nostalgically evoked by the pioneers who “discovered” it, braving drafty winters and illicit digs to live the life they wanted to live. The artist colony was also a case history for urban planners who’d watched artists in city after city—from Boston to Austin—recover industrial communities, only to be priced out by high-end developers and high-rise condos. It was a story waiting to be told. As it happens, an urban planner form Fordham University was itching to tell it.

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David Goodwin’s Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 First Street was published in early October, 2017, by Fordham University Press. Goodwin, a native of upstate New York, moved to Jersey City in 2005 from Philadelphia, where, he says, they “did a good job reclaiming space and reshaping it for housing businesses and art.” So he was surprised to witness, in 2007, the demolition of 111 First. “It was unusual,” he says, that they “tore down a post-industrial structure of that size with that pedigree. I was perplexed. It could have been rehabilitated.” In the Fall/Winter 2009/2010 issue of this magazine, we ran a pretty comprehensive story about the fate of 111 First. Goodwin started his research there to get a summary of the issue for a graduate school dissertation. Goodwin, too, cited noted urbanist Richard Florida, who believes

Photo by Elaine Hansen

Photo by Elaine Hansen

Photo by Edward Fausty

Meet the Author Oct. 29: Riverview Farmers Market, 498 Palisade Ave, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 25: Virile Barber & Shop, 510 Jersey Ave., 6 p.m. (201) 685-7036

that amenities attract creative people to a city, which stimulates economic growth. “Jersey City seemed ignorant of the theory, because the opposite happened,” Goodwin says. He soon knew that the 111 First saga was more than a paper; it was a book. “The story itself is fascinating,” he says. “The destruction of the Lorillard building was a microcosm of changes Jersey City was undergoing from the late 1980s to 2000, and are still ongoing.” He sees the demolition of the old factory as a “pivotal moment.” The city “took the wrong direction.” 111 First “could have refashioned itself as a center for culture and creativity in the arts, an element that’s still in Jersey City and why I’m living here. If it had developed sensibly, it could have anchored the arts in Jersey City. ” He compares the Powerhouse District to Brooklyn’s successful DUMBO area. “DUMBO is bigger, but it has the same age and type of buildings on the waterfront. With the right developer 111 First could have been a wonderful building.” Goodwin chose to write a book about JC’s legendary artists’ colony because “it’s a universal story in a lot of ways. Creative people are the pacemakers, the first to move in, and the first to be pushed out.” Jersey City native Helene Stapinski, author of Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History and Murder in Matera, blurbed the book, noting, “In the end, the story is a true tragedy. Goodwin questions the place of culture and history in a living city and in the process, carves out a piece of both for the reader.” Jonathan LeVine of Jersey City’s massive Mana Contemporary arts center said, “This in-depth exploration of the varied people, politics, and economic forces serves as a fascinating discourse on how gentrification in urban areas can happen and all the drama that unfolds as a result.” Left Bank of the Hudson is a cautionary tale. “Artists’ groups in other communities can look to this story and see what not to do and how to prevent it from happening where they live,” Goodwin says. “At 111 First, they lost their homes and work spaces and the building itself was torn down.”—Kate Rounds

Photo of David Goodwin by Jeffrey Vock Photography

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LU T ZE Biergarten



he first time I visited this scenic outdoor beer garden, it was late spring. The place was new, and customers seemed thrilled to be imbibing al fresco on a warm, almost-summer evening. When I visited again for this photo shoot it was the penultimate day of August, and fall was in the air. Could Oktoberfest be far behind? Lutze is everything you would expect in a beer garden. There is no indoor space. It has beautiful, heavy wood tables in an area squared off with hanging lights. Other options include sitting in the shade at tables with bright yellow umbrellas or on

your own in colorful Adirondack chairs. But one thing that Lutze has that no other beer garden in Jersey City or Hoboken has is stunning views of downtown Manhattan. As you sip your cold beer, you can hear the waters of the Hudson lapping against the shore. And speaking of beer, Lutze offers a moderate selection of draft and canned brew. One thing I liked is that the beer menu isn’t ginormous. Sometimes, too many options can be overwhelming, sort of like standing in the dental floss section of the drug store. On draft is everything from the very popular Fat Tire Amber Ale to

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the German Weihenstephaner, Flying Fish Hopfish IPA, Alagash, or the friendly, just-right Radeberger lager, which I ordered. It was cold and smooth, with just a bit of a bite. You could also choose from three wines, red and white sangria, frozen margarita, pina colada, or Lutze lemonade. The food and drink is self-serve from four stands that line the garden. They look sort of like New England clam shacks or even food trucks. On offer are crab cakes, raw bar of oysters or peel-and-eat shrimp, pulled pork, sliders, bratwurst, bacon mac and cheese, and sausage. I ordered the perfect



accompaniment to a cold beer: a warm, salted pretzel. This one came in four shareable portions. Big jars of mustard were on hand, but I took mine straight up. The pretzel guy said they came all the way from Long Island. Check the website for Happy Hours, Taco Tuesdays, Wine Down Wednesdays, and Boozy Brunch on weekends. Other events include shows on a big screen as well as various fundraisers, tributes, and parties. The Lutze is kid-friendly and dog-friendly, and even weather-friendly unless these get too wild. We visited on a gorgeous Wednesday evening. The Lutze is right in the middle of Newport. Its inviting outdoor space, with everything from weeping willows to gleaming highrises, soon began to fill with nearby workers as well as moms with strollers, and yes, a couple of friendly hounds. Prost!—Kate Rounds

Lutze Biergarten | 3 Second St.


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was a big Hamilton Park night. Hamilton Inn and Hamilton Pork are owned by the Gondevas brothers, Michael and John. The restaurants are right next to one another, so we stopped in to both on a beautiful evening in mid-September. I’d been to Hamilton Inn many times and always loved the food, the drinks, and the ambience. It occupies the corner of a leafy street, and in fair weather, diners eat outside at the few tables that line the sidewalk. Inside, a gorgeous bar runs the span of the entire space, and there’s a wonderful feel of old wood, natural light, and neighborhood cheer. One thing that’s changed since my last visit is the beer list, with more craft offerings and some fruity numbers like Ballast Point Grapefruit

Scupin and Austin Pineapple Cider. I chose Sixpoint Brewery’s The Crisp on draft, a traditional New York lager. In fact, there were quite a few local beers from New York and New Jersey. You’ll also find a nice selection of cocktails, wines, and spirits. Manager Justin Janosko greets us and makes our life really easy. He’s holding a handwritten list of things he thinks we should order. Word of advice: Trust the manager when it comes to menu recommendations. Justin did not steer us wrong. First up, truffled egg pizza. This is a manageably sized crispy pizza with pancetta, spinach, and mozzarella. The thing that makes it different are the two sunny-side-up eggs that greet you like big friendly breakfast eyes. But don’t be alarmed. Give it a try. The combo is brightly different.

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As we eat, instrumental jazz and Frank Sinatra play softly in the background, giving the place an air of casual sophistication. As we proceed through the menu items, you’ll see that the word “truffled” pops up a lot. It just means any food cooked, garnished, or stuffed with truffles. The truffled egg pizza was followed by potato and goat cheese pierogies with truffled sour cream and caramelized onions. This was a hearty appetizer lightened by the addition of caramelized onions, their sweetness a perfect complement to the heavier potato, cheese, and sour cream. My favorite dish as the evening progressed was the Grain Bowl. This was a hefty serving of quinoa, baby kale, cucumber, tomato, feta, pickled onion, kalamata olive, and lemon vinaigrette. You can add ahi tuna,


Hamilton Inn 708 Jersey Ave. (201) 839-5818

hangar steak, grilled chicken, or salmon. Ours came with a beautiful light but crispy grilled salmon. This dish offers the perfect combo of greens and protein for a really healthy entrée. Last up was steak frites. This grassfed organic hangar steak came with maitre d’butter and truffled—there it is again—fries. Red meat eaters rejoice. It was juicy and tender with a mound of thin and crispy fries, topped with shredded cheese. Justin picked the perfect combo for any diet or food preference. But there’s a lot more, including a raw

bar, a large sandwich selection, two more salads, four more entrees, cakes, pies, specialty coffees, herbal teas, and after-dinner drinks. Bringing the kids? There’s a kids’ menu and highchairs. Weekly specials include happy hours, liquid lunches, weekend brunches, wine-down Sundays, and lobster shindigs. The owners leave you with this message: “We created this place for you. Enjoy the menu on your own terms, eat simple, eat sustainable, eat good food with no strings attached.”—Kate Rounds

Hamilton Pork H

amilton Pork has become synonymous with to-die-for food and Southern hospitality. As soon as you walk in, you’re welcomed with broad smiles by friendly staff dressed in plaid, a welcome change from the often jaded mood of some urban eateries. This Texas-inspired BBQ restaurant, where the meat is slow roasted for a minimum of eight hours inhouse, is a block away from lively and charming Hamilton Park. Once a Vespa dealership, the restaurant has maintained an open layout design, with dim, calming lighting and exposed brick walls. Visitors can choose a stool at the bar, made of an old shipping container, for a nice cold beer or specialty cocktail; a wooden booth; familystyle picnic table; or outside seating in the back patio. For bourbon lovers, I recommend the Smoke Show, which will really mellow you out after a tough day or long week. Think of it as a Southern take on a classic Manhattan, made

with angostura bitters, smoked maple, and Bulliet bourbon. The patio, surrounded by a tall picket fence with hanging flower boxes, is a quiet oasis from the hustle and bustle of the park and the street in this high-energy hood. I began my feast with the meat sampler, three selections from eight options, including brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, turkey, jalapeno cheddar sausage, pulled chicken, lamb belly, and pork belly. I chose pork ribs, turkey breast, and jalapeno cheddar sausage, with sides of jalapeno corn bread and classic slaw. The fall-off-the-bone ribs were tender and juicy. The turkey breast was lightly seasoned and smoked. The ribs and turkey paired beautifully with homemade BBQ sauce as well as sweet Asian Kung Pow sauce. You can order Kung Pow wings as an appetizer, something I will definitely do next time I visit. The jalapeno cheddar sausage and jalapeno corn bread added a little

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kick without overpowering the other flavors. Next I ordered two tacos, one pescado and one philly. The fish taco is made with crispy cod, pico de gallo, salsa, and a chipotle crema on a corn tortilla. The philly taco is made with brisket, grilled onion, jalapeno, and homemade queso on a flour tortilla, both garnished with a bright pink and green watermelon radish served on a silver tray reminiscent of school lunches. Other taco options include chicken, brisket, shrimp, gyro, pork, avocado, brussel, and cubano. The mac-and-cheese, served in a small cast-iron dish, is composed of elbow pasta, queso and cotija cheese, topped with bright red paprika. It was creamy, filling, and perfect for chilly winter nights. Hamilton Pork also offers a variety of sandwiches, including a Mexican brisket burger or spicy chicken sandwich, as well as appetizers, salads, and sides.


Happily stuffed to the gills, I still can’t resist dessert. I try the coconut cream pie, made with a thick sweet graham cracker crust, topped with toasted coconut shavings, as well as the churro waffle ice cream sandwich. Wow! I now see why this ice cream sandwich is a Hamilton Pork favorite. These huge waffles, which taste like churros with crunchy cinnamon sugar on the outside, have a soft doughy center. Between the two waffles were several scoops of caramel ice cream made by the local Milk Sugar Love Creamery & Bake Shop a block away. My one regret is that I did not have room for more. Next time. —Marilyn Baer

Hamilton Pork 247 10th Street (201) 957-7245

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DINING OUT HUDSON HALL 364 Marin Boulevard | 201-659-6565 Hudson Hall is a neighborhood Beer Hall and Smoke House, highlighting old world classic décor and style with large communal tables. The menu focuses on Eastern European (and American) flavors derived from the age-old skills of smoking, pickling and fermenting, applied expertly to meats, fish, cheeses and vegetables. Its charcuterie, seafood, salads, sandwiches and platters are paired with a select list of over 80 different craft and imported beers served on draught or in bottles, Old and New World wines, and cocktails.

IBBY’S FALAFEL 303 Grove St. | (201) 432-2400 One of downtown’s most popular eateries, Ibby’s Falafel has been serving Jersey City since 1996. The menu consists of original Middle Eastern cuisine made with authentic ingredients, along with new and innovative additions—the falafel that made falafel famous. Ibby’s offerings are one hundred percent halalcertified. Open seven days. Catering available.

LORADELLA’S FAMILY PIZZERIA 126 River Drive | (201) 963-4900 Loradella’s is a family owned and operated pizzeria offering delicious pizza by the slice, Italian comfort food, and great games all under the same roof. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a delicious Italian meal in our spacious dining room. Call in an order for delivery, take out, or host your child’s birthday party with a makeyour-own-pizza activity and an arcade.

RUSTIQUE PIZZA 611 Jersey Avenue | (201) 222-6886 Welcome to Rustique Pizza! The Rosiello family warmly invites you to wake up your taste buds with our delicious food in the casual, friendly atmosphere of our dining room. If you’d rather enjoy your meal at home, we offer free delivery or the option of picking up your entrées or pizza. Our bread, dough, and mozzarella are made fresh daily in-house, ensuring satisfaction each time you dine with us.

TORICO 20 Erie Street | (201) 432-9458 Torico Homemade Ice Cream is Jersey City’s destination for ice cream and desserts. While classic flavors are popular, Torico’s specialty is unique homemade flavors that reflect its founder’s love of the tropical tastes of Puerto Rico. Over the last 46 years, Torico has become a local institution. It also offers ice cream social packages, custom ice-cream cakes, pies, pints, and mini-scoop samplers to take home.

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Jersey City Magazine  
Jersey City Magazine