Looking Back At 2013

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Roselle Mayor Jamel C. Holley, far left, presided over the wedding of Marsha Shapiro, second right, and Louise Walpin. The newlyweds were joined by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, second left, Steven Goldstein, founder and former executive director of Garden State Equality and Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

Roselle Mayor Jamel C. Holley, far left, presided over the wedding of Marsha Shapiro, second right, and Louise Walpin shortly after midnight on Monday, Oct. 21. The newlyweds, two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that won same-sex couples the right to marry in New Jersey, were joined by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, second left, Steven Goldstein, founder and former executive director of Garden State Equality and Sen. Raymond Lesniak. (submitted photo)

For some people, 2013 was a good year. A pair of court decisions cleared the way for same-sex couples in New Jersey to be able get married. Some people who were unable to obtain or afford health insurance coverage are now able to, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Minimum wage workers got a raise to start the new year thanks to New Jersey voters.

But for others, the struggle got more difficult. Legal Services of New Jersey found that the number of people in New Jersey living in poverty was at a 50-year-high. More than a year after Hurricane Sandy, some people still haven’t been able to put their lives back in order.

Congress saw its approval rating drop to an all-time low of nine percent in a November Gallup poll, which is hardly surprising considering what’s been going on in Washington.

While lawmakers were able to reach a last-minute compromise agreement to America from going over the “fiscal cliff,” avoiding general tax hikes and spending cuts that were set to take effect at the beginning of 2013, partisan differences kept lawmakers from accomplishing much of anything.

The low point came in October, when conservative Republicans forced a partial shutdown of the federal government that lasted for two weeks in a failed attempt to force Congress to defund the Affordable Care Act.

President Barack Obama didn’t fare much better, with Politifact recognizing his repeated statement, “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it” as 2013’s “Lie of the Year.” While the Affordable Care Act has helped people without insurance obtain coverage, it also resulted in millions receiving cancellation notices because their policies did not meet the law’s new standards. The president even issued a rare apology for his misleading statement

Technical issues plagued the roll out of the federal health care insurance marketplace in 2013, but this year will be the true test of the Obama administration’s signature initiative as Americans determine how their new coverage works for them.

In New Jersey politics, Gov. Chris Christie dominated the news again. While there never seemed to be any doubt that Christie would be re-elected, he didn’t manage to pick up that many more votes than he received in 2009 and he didn’t help Republicans make significant gains in the Legislature.

Christie’s personal popularity remained high, and many expect him to be a contender for the GOP nomination for President in 2016. It’s too soon to tell if things like December’s George Washington Bridge lane closure investigation will tarnish his brand.

The other big story in New Jersey politics was the special Senate election called as a result of longtime U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death on June 3. With popular Democrat Cory Booker as one of the contenders, Christie opted to hold a separate election for the remaining 15 months of Lautenberg’s term instead placing it on the general election ballot.

As a result, New Jersey had statewide elections in September (the special Senate primary), October (the special Senate election) and November (the general election), with voter confusion and election fatigue likely contributing to record low turnouts.

Booker defeated little-known conservative Republican Steve Lonegan by just over 10 percentage points, leaving a number of Republicans considering a run against him this year.

New Jersey’s same-sex couples will remember 2013 as the year they won the right to marry. On Oct. 21, New Jersey became the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriages after a judge ruled that the state’s civil unions did not offer those couples equal treatment.

Paving the way for the New Jersey court decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional on June 26, allowing legally-married same-sex couples to receive benefits and privileges that had been limited to heterosexual married couples.

Here are some other significant events from 2013:

January

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat on Jan. 24.
  • On Jan. 28, Gov. Chris Christie rejected the Legislature’s attempt to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $8.50 per hour, with future automatic yearly increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

February

  • PSE&G announced a 10-year, $3.9 billion plan to strengthen its electric and gas systems against future severe weather conditions.
  • Pope Benedict XVI resigned on Feb. 28, becoming the first to do so voluntarily since Celestine V in 1294. 

March

  • Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected the 266th pope on March 13, taking the name Francis. He is the first pope from the Americas.
  • Kenneth Armwood was sworn in as a Middlesex County Freeholder on March 22, filling a vacancy left when Christopher Rafano stepped down to become a state Superior Court judge.

April

  • Three were killed and more than 200 injured when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly set off two bombs during the Boston Marathon on April 15.
  • Say Watt?, a robotics team made up of students from Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies, J.P. Stevens High in Edison and Metuchen High School, competed at the FTC World Championship in St. Louis from April 24-27 and won the FIRST Responders Award.
  • Former Elizabeth school board member John Donoso and Board Attorney Kirk Nelson were charged with covering up a false application filed by Donoso’s wife for the federally-funded free school lunch program on April 30. They were indicted Dec. 9.

May

  • Amid a flurry of criticism led by the director of the Local Finance Board who was appointed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, Charlotte DeFillipo announced that she would step down as the executive director of the Union County Utilities Authority and not seek another term as chairwoman of the Union County Democratic Party.
  • Former Carteret High School Vice Principal Nicholas Sysock, a Rahway resident, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography on May 9. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison in August.
  • Clark was stunned by the May 12 murder of township resident Joseph Galfy Jr.. Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, 24, a minor internet celebrity known as “Kai the Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker” was arrested, but has pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.
  • Gov. Chris Christie referred to climate change issues as a “distraction” from the effort to rebuild the New Jersey shore in the wake of Superstorm Sandy during an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer.

June

  • Longtime Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow retired and was replaced by former federal prosecutor Grace Park.
  • Edward Snowden tipped off the world to the extent of U.S. government surveillance operations on June 6, before seeking asylum in Russia.
  • Former Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph C. Spicuzzo pleaded guilty to participating in a jobs-for-cash bribery scheme on June 25. He was sentenced to nine years in prison in September.
  • Perth Amboy Superintendent of Schools Janine Caffrey angered some families of graduating seniors by changing the time of the high school commencement ceremony from evening to morning just weeks before graduation day, making it difficult for working parents to attend.

July

  • Union County residents turned in 1,010 firearms during a two-day gun collection event at churches in Elizabeth, Linden and Plainfield.
  • Stevie Kopas, a former Perth Amboy resident who used to write for the Atom Tabloid, published her first novel, “The Breadwinner,” a tale of how the struggle to survive in a post-zombie apocalypse world changes people.
  • Union County dedicated a building at its Public Safety Complex in Westfield in honor of disability advocate Colleen Fraser, an Elizabeth resident who was killed on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Teresa and Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice, two of the stars of the Bravo television show “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” were indicted for fraud on July 29.
  • Linden received a federal grant to save 12 firefighter jobs that were on the cutting block due to budgetary constraints.

August

  • Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that bans the use of controversial therapeutic practices intended to change the sexual orientation of minors – popularly referred to as “conversion therapy.”
  • New Jersey amended its medical marijuana law to allow more people to benefit from the program, but Gov. Christie removed a provision that would have made it easier for severely ill children to gain access to the drug. 
  • Christie also vetoed a series of bills aimed at curbing gun violence, including a measure to ban .50-caliber weapons that he had earlier supported. The expensive, high-caliber weapons are commonly used as sniper rifles by military and police forces and have rarely if ever been used in the commission of crimes.

September

  • The Elizabeth Public School District opened two new schools where students are all provided access to tablet or laptop computers for classroom instruction.
  • The federal Government Accountability Office released a report saying that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey acted without properly seeking public input when it raised tolls on five Hudson River crossings in 2011.
  • Rahway’s City Council named Samson Steinman mayor after Rick Proctor abruptly resigned from the position on Sept. 10.
  • Union Township’s train station was dedicated in honor of the late former Congressman Bob Franks on Sept. 24.
  • Middlesex County residents turned in 1,844 firearms at a two-day gun buyback event at churches in New Brunswick, Old Bridge and Perth Amboy.

October

  • The Perth Amboy Board of Education placed Supertinendant Janine Caffrey on administrative leave for the third time since she was hired.
  • Longtime Middlesex County Freeholder Stephen J. “Pete” Dalina died on Oct. 5 at the age of 83. Charles Kenny resigned from his seat on the Woodbridge Council to fill the vacant seat in November.
  • On Oct. 10, Sayreville High School teacher Jaclyn P. Melillo was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting two 16-year old boys on separate occasions.
  • Union County officials broke ground for a new family court house in Elizabeth on Oct. 17.
  • Former Linden Mayor John T. Gregorio died of leukemia on Oct. 25. He was 85.

November

  • Councilman Thomas Lankey defeated incumbent Edison Mayor Antonia Ricigliano and two other challengers in an acrimonious mayoral election.
  • More than 4,500 people with outstanding warrants turned themselves in during a four-day Fugitive Safe-Surrender event at a Jersey City church.
  • Middlesex County College student Steven Ferraro was celebrated as the one millionth recipient of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
  • The state Senate confirmed Gov. Christie’s appointment of Judge Faustino Fernandez-Vina to the state Supreme Court. He is only the second of Christie’s nominees to be confirmed.
  • Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record, devastated parts of the Philippines and Vietnam, killing thousands, on Nov. 8. Union and Middlesex county residents joined in a nationwide effort to send donations to help the recovery effort.

December

  • In a runoff election, Councilwoman Angela Garretson defeated incumbent Hillside Mayor Joseph Menza.
  • Gov. Chris Christie’s two top-ranking employees to the Port Authority resigned as the Assembly Transportation Committee investigated the unannounced closure of two lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September.
  • New Jersey caught lottery fever as the Mega Millions jackpot reached $636 million in the Dec. 17 drawing. Two $1 million tickets were sold in the Garden State, but the jackpot winners were purchased in California and Georgia.
  • Officials announced that single-seat ride service from New Jersey to Manhattan would debut on NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line in March 2014.
  • Gov. Christie and Democratic lawmakers reached a compromise on the Tuition Equality Act to allow New Jersey residents to pay the cheaper in-state tuition price at state colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status. Democrats had also hoped to allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for state financial aid, but Christie vetoed that part of the legislation.

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