Looking Back At The Year That Was

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Today is the final day of 2010, a year many will be happy to put behind them. Though officials are touting signs of economic recovery, for too many unemployed workers they’re not coming soon enough.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate stood at 9.2 percent in November, which is an improvement over the 10.1 percent rate reported for December 2009. But according to national statistics, there is still an average of five unemployed workers for every job opening.

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Chris Christie

Gov. Chris Christie was the most prominent figure in the state during his first tumultuous year in office. He inherited a sizable budget deficit from Jon Corzine, and immediately angered some by slashing state aid to schools, NJ Transit and hospitals.

The current fiscal year budget brought more pain, with more aid reductions for schools and municipalities. Many were forced to lay off teachers, police officers and other public employees.

The governor publicly feuded with the state’s teacher’s union for most of the year. An error in a rushed application made necessary when Christie decided to scrap a compromise with the teacher’s union cost New Jersey $400 million in federal Race to the Top education funds.

Christie also turned down $3 billion in federal funding for the ARC Tunnel, a massive public works project that would have doubled rail capacity between New Jersey and New York City. He cited concerns about the likelihood of cost overruns.

The federal government is requiring New Jersey to repay $271 million that had already been spent on the project before its cancellation, though half of the money could be set aside to fund future New Jersey transportation projects. Christie is planning to fight the bill in court.

While the governor is a very polarizing figure, nearly half of New Jersey residents have a favorable opinion of Christie. His efforts in campaigning for Republican candidates in the Congressional mid-term elections raised Christie’s profile at the national level, causing much speculation that he could seek the White House eventually.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama’s controversial health reform law and the nation’s continuing economic doldrums hurt Democrats in November – Republicans took control of the House of Representative and nearly won a majority in the Senate as well.

Obama continued to disillusion his supporters by breaking a campaign promise when he agreed to extend Bush-era tax cuts for Americans making more than $250,000 per year. The deal, which preserved tax cuts for poor and middle class Americans and extended unemployment benefits, also drew criticism for weakening Social Security by temporarily reducing its payroll tax.

In addition to the discouraging jobs numbers, Americans are also beginning to see the need to worry about the size of the federal deficit. Greece and Ireland both needed multi-national bailouts this year when they could no longer re-finance their growing national debt.

The web site WikiLeaks distributed hundreds of thousands of government documents, many that are classified, that revealed details about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and other diplomatic relations. While the U.S. government considered indicting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for espionage, readers of Time Magazine voted for him to be the magazine’s person of the year. (Time’s editors instead selected Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for the honor.)

The enduring images of the summer were of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest in history. It will be years before the full environmental effect of the disaster can be calculated, and it brought new attention to the debate over offshore drilling and the reliance on fossil fuels.

On Jan. 12, A 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook Haiti, devastating the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. More than 230,000 were confirmed killed in the quake, one of the deadliest on record. New Jersey residents made donations, held fundraisers and volunteered their time to help survivors of the disaster.

Rahway Public Schools students raised over $4,000 for the American Red Cross International Disaster Relief Fund through the Hearts for Haiti project organized by Rahway High School English teacher Elizabeth Graner Jotz. Pictured, several students of Haitian descent join Rahway High School Principal Paula Braxton outside the main office, where several hundred paper hearts sold during the fundraiser were on display during the month of February. (Photo courtesy of Rahway Public Schools)

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his college roommate allegedly posted a video online said to show Clementi kissing another man. The sad event gave momentum to New Jersey lawmakers’ efforts to pass anti-bullying legislation at the state and federal levels.

Two local cities will have new mayors taking office to start the new year. Rahway Mayor James Kennedy and South Amboy Mayor John O’Leary decided to end long terms in office and chose not to seek re-election.

Former Union County Freeholder Rick Proctor will take office in Rahway. In South Amboy, Councilman Fred Henry was certified the winner of the election; however, there were still court challenges to some ballots pending when this issue went to press.

Former state Assemblyman Neil Cohen was sentenced to prison for possessing child pornography, while former Assemblyman and Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas was convicted on federal and state corruption charges.

In 2010, we lost many notable figures in politics, sports and the arts. Among them were statesmen Robert Byrd and Ted Stevens, health care activist, author and attorney Elizabeth Edwards, author J.D. Salinger, actors Peter Graves, Lynn Redgrave, Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper, Rue McClanahan, Tom Bosely and Leslie Nielsen, former baseball stars Bobby Thomson and Bob Feller, Hall of Fame baseball manager George “Sparky” Anderson and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

As 2010 comes to a close, we wish our readers health, happiness and good news in the year ahead.


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