CYAN YELLOW MAGENTA BLACK
Letters to the Editor
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By Michael S. Goldberger
A Civil Action:
Making a Case for the Little Guy
One Popcorn, Poor • Two Popcorns, Fair • Three Popcorns, Good • Four Popcorns, Excellent
David B. Corbin
The Westfield Leader
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It ranks among the ultimate fantasies. Even before the Hebrew David scored a knockout against the Philistine Goliath, storytellers exulted in tales of the little guy prevailing against the omnipotent oppressor.
Thelatestdramatic volleyintheneverending struggle is A Civil Action, about real-life attorney Jan Schlichtmann’s Quixotic prosecution in the 1980s of two giant corporations.
Thisisn’t yourusualcourtroomdrama. Based on Jonathan Harr’s nonfiction bestseller, it doesn’t enjoy the simple convenience of black and white conclusions or easily discernible heroes and villains.
Writer-director Steven Zaillian’s poignantly absorbing muckrake comes equipped with a jaundiced and philosophical eye; the savvy script cynically cautions that not all tales of valiant conflict result in clear victory.
You’ll have to read between the lines to spot the good guys. And although shot in color, A Civil Action specializes in sardonic shades of gray when it comes to matters of truth and justice. Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall’s noirish tone matches the mood.
At the center of this realistic account is John Travolta as Schlichtmann, jowly, overconfident and full of pluck. A highend ambulance chaser (a new Porsche attests to his success), his lucrative personal injury practice has made him a broadcasting celebrity.
Voted one of Boston’s 10 most eligible bachelors, citizen Schlichtmann revels nightly in his popularity whilst imparting his winning mantra over the airwaves.
So, it only stands to reason that this self-congratulating attorney is hardly being altruistic when he finally decides to represent the eight bereaved families in Woburn, Massachusetts, whose children have died of leukemia — presumably from water tainted by a local tannery.
It just so happens that the alleged offenderisa subsidiaryofBeatriceFoods and W.R. Grace. Opining to his partners with no little amount of braggadocio, the yuppie lawyer chuckles at the thought of those deep corporate pockets, barely changing the tenor of his speech when he notes the “theatrical” appeal of the case’s several dead children.
He is the hideous poster boy for every lawyer joke. But that’s going to change slowly, cautiously, dramatically, and credibly. (As of this writing, Mr. Schlichtmann is now preparing to represent a new set of mourning parents in Toms River, New Jersey, in a similar case.)
If you didn’t think you would ever see John Travolta’s name in the same sentence with the word thespian, here it is. The once-upon-a-time teen idol carries the film throughout, powerfully imbuing the searing depiction with the full sense of importance it deserves. He is aided and abetted by a fine cast, equally appreciative of the story’s critical meditations.
John Lithgow is an uncertain force to be contended with as the judge, a mercurial metaphor for the fickle wiles of jurisprudence; he may or may not be in the corporate defense’s pocket.
William H. Macy and Tony Shaloub fit comfortably as Schlichtmann’s longsuffering partners, injecting just the right amountofbalance andcomicrelief.Their loyalty is tested when the expensive case escalates into a money-spending competition that threatens to decimate the company coffers.
But the best supporting performance is Robert Duvall as Jerome Facher, arrogant defense counsel extraordinaire for W. R. Grace. The embodiment of old money, he is Schlichtmann’s legal and cultural antithesis. Class warfare is tacitly declared.
Whereas Travolta’s populist mouthpiece plies his egomania by holding court on the radio, Duvall’s judicial Brahmin enjoys an attentive audience of elite law students from the vantage point of his endowed chair at Harvard.
Added to the already antagonistic mix, a seething battle of egos ensues when the blue blood threateningly informs the younger man, in no uncertain terms, that he will never allow him to put the dead children’s parents on the stand. But how can he stop him?
The sarcastic beauty of Zaillian’s astute soul-search is that these apparent opposites are really cut from the same
bolt of soiled cloth. Facher tries to drive home this point in a great scene that takes place in the humbling sweep of the courthouse hallway.
While the jury is in deliberation, he offers a half-hearted settlement and delivers a hard-boiled soliloquy that sums it all up: everyone but the vanquished has a vested interest in the system. Play ball.
But Schlichtmann isn’t buying. He is no longer the shark we met at the beginning of the movie. He is a man with a mission. And while his character evolution may still not qualify him for fullfledged redemption, there’s no denying thathis humanitarianeffortstrulyamount to A Civil Action.
* * * * * A Civil Action, rated PG-13, is a Touchstone/Paramount Pictures release directed by Steven Zaillian and stars John Travolta, Robert Duvall and William H. Macy. Running time: 113 minutes.
THE BIG APPLE
New York is definitely a big league city (Yankees, Mets, Giants and Knicks) and,assuch,deserves abigleague“appleation.” At the core of “The Big Apple” idiom is one of the early centers of jazz.
According to Safire’s Political Dictionary, Cab Calloway defined apple as the “big town, the main stem, Harlem.”
Safire indicates that in a 1976 interview with this great jazz band leader, “Mr. Calloway explained further that The Big Apple, the name of a Harlem night club in the mid-30s, was a mecca for jazz musicians.”
The Big Apple “handle” did not fall upon the city on the Hudson until the mid70s. At the time, the New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau, tiring of the “Fun City” nickname, reached down into the deep barrel of New York’s history and culture and pulled out this appetizing name for the greatest city on earth.
One question remains to be answered: If you can make it there, why in heaven’s name would you want to make it anywhere else?
Let’s Make 1999 the Year New Jersey Finally Stabilizes Property Tax Rates
Year in Review 1999: Local, county and state officials worked aggressively this year to finally address some of the highest property tax rates in the nation.
We hope this will be our lead paragraph when we publishourannual synopsisattheend ofthisyear.As our local municipal and school board officials begin the task of preparing their budgets, the effort to stabilize, if not bring down, property taxes is more essential than ever.
One thing we think is a priority, though, is quicker submission of aid figures to towns by the state. This is needed so governing bodies have a better grasp on the amount of funds they will have for capital improvements over and above what is needed for the daily operations of municipal government.
One of the biggest complaints we continually hear from elected officials is that state aid is declining. It is herethatweare encouragedbyGovernorChristine Todd Whitman’s $1 billion school tax rebate program.
The program, NJ SAVER — short for School Assessment Valuation Exemption Relief — is in addition to the Homestead Rebate program which provides $324 million in property tax relief.
UndertheNJ SAVERproposal,propertytaxpayers will receive what amounts to a 33 percent discount (by the fifth year of the program) on the amount of taxes they pay on the first $45,000 of assessed value of their homes. These checks will go directly to an estimated 1.9 million homeowners.
Westfield homeowners pay, on average, $7,000 a year in property taxes — 64 percent of which goes to support the local school system.
With Westfield taxpayers paying around $2,500 for every $100,000 of assessed value of their home, the Governor’s plan would mean a rebate of around $700. State Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco of Scotch Plains has said the rebates will cut the school tax burden by roughly one-third. We like the concept of having the checks go directly to taxpayers rather than to our elected officials.
Inaddition,the Governor’sPropertyTaxCommissionrecommendseducational impactfeeswhichtowns could charge developers to share the cost of school expansion made necessary by more residential units. The commission also favors joint purchasing, consolidated administration and shared business operations.
The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) has asked the state to increase the proportion of education costs funded by the state to 50 percentofthe total,anincreaseof 10percentoverthe current rate. The NJSBA proposal, along with placing what it defines as “reasonable” limits on school budget spending, would lead to long-term control over school property tax rates. In terms of seniors who face the real prospect of being taxed out of their homes,the NJSBAproposesthatthe statepickupthe difference between what a senior pays and the total tax bill.
Also, aid to municipalities will be tied directly to therate ofinflationundera plandevelopedbySenator DiFrancesco. The Senate President’s plan would requirethatany increaseinaidgo directlytotaxrelief and not towards more spending.
While half of the Westfield municipal budget is supported bypropertytaxes,88 percentofthetown’s school budget comes through property taxes.
With Union County Manager Michael J. Lapolla given his “marching orders” by the Freeholders to deliver another cut in the county tax rate, it is time for schooldistrictsand municipalgovernmentstofollow that lead.
Our concern is that any tax relief plan is simply not passing thebuckfromproperty tostateincometaxes. We believe the proposals by the Governor, Tax Commission and the NJSBA have a lot of merit. We believe, though, that more effort, especially in our schooldistricts, needstobedone tofindotherrevenue streams. Perhaps by sharing a grant writing specialist, districts could look for programs that could generate additional funds for existing educational programs.
The NJSBA notes that $210 million of taxpayer dollars each year is spend on utility costs. Districts could join together and pool their energy rates under the “government aggregation” portion of the proposed state legislation to deregulate New Jersey’s electrical and natural gas industry. With towns and county governments doing the same, we hope that significant savings can be achieved — savings that will be passed on to taxpayers.
WiththeGovernorand Legislatureleadingtheway, we believe that New Jersey must work to stabilize, if not lower, the burden placed on taxpayers — both property and income. We encourage our elected officials to work diligently to achieve this goal.
Letters to the Editor
DWC Chairman Corrects Story On Privatizing Trash Collections
Thank you for your coverage of an important downtown and community issue in The Westfield Leader’s article under the headline: “Privatizing Collection at Receptacles Aimed at Cleaning up Downtown” in the January 7 edition. The reporter covers the basics. However, has some of the particulars incorrect.
1. The Town of Westfield has been reviewing different methods for more efficient delivery of services for several years. Efficiency means increased services for the same or less expense. This review has been under the overall direction of our Town Administrator Edward A. Gottko.
2. The Downtown Westfield Corporation and its predecessor, Westfield MainStreet, both have lobbied for the past five years for privatization of the trash pick up for street canisters in the town’s special improvement district, along with several other cost saving and efficiency building programs for delivery of services.
3. The DWC and the Department of Public Works (DPW) have a good working relationship. The DWC board and I both have great appreciation for the terrific job that the DPW workers do both in our downtown and throughout our community. The article misquotes me in stating that the job done currently by the DPW employees is “inefficient.”
My statement to the reporter was that “through scale of operation, and sole focus on trash pick up, that the private
Town Can No Longer Ignore Health Problems Associated With Geese Editor’s Note: The following letter was addressed to Mayor Thomas C. Jardim and the Westfield Town Council with a copy furnished to The Westfield Leader.
* * * * * I am writing on behalf of the Friends of Mindowaskin Park to request your attention to the issue of the overpopulation of Canada geese residing in the park. Our board members have received many, many complaints about goose droppings in the park.
People tell us over and over that despite our best intentions, hard work and splendid results, they can no longer enjoy the park due to the unhealthy and unavoidable condition of the grass and paths. We cannot ignore this quality of life issue, and therefore we have made it one of our top priorities for 1999, along with our campaign to restore the crumbling overlook on East Broad Street.
Our research has revealed that the only way to decrease the population to an acceptable level will entail a combination of tactics. These include vegetation management, targeted fencing, repellents, and use of trained dogs. There is no one single solution that will work on its own, but a combination will work if undertaken properly and followed through.
One responsible town employee will need to become familiar with the research and accountable for enacting the plan.
One crucial fact that we have learned is that no plan has any chance of success unless we first stop feeding the geese. We have tried to educate people that feeding the geese and ducks is ultimately damaging to the fowl, as it raises the bacteria level of the water.
This feeding has also discouraged the geese from their natural migration. However, our signs and speeches have little effect. In order to discontinue feeding the geese, we must have a town ordinance that makes feeding of waterfowl a misdemeanor, with fines for persistent violators.
Countless Westfield citizens have told us they have had enough of this disgusting predicament in Mindowaskin as well as other town parks. Passage of this ordi
nance is the necessary first step. If you move quickly we can actually do something early this spring to bring the park back to a condition we can all remember, when you could actually lay out a blanket and watch a concert. Please help us make a difference.
Susan Debbie The Friends of Mindowaskin Park
Town Should Be More Considerate In Addressing Compost Odors
I live on the 700 block of Tamaques Way. Around the middle of November an obnoxious odor began to permeate the air from the conservation center on Lamberts Mill Road. It was especially bad around 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. In the morning when I went out to get the newspaper, I wish I had a gas mask. I was sure that other people would complain. Since then my bronchitis has worsened.
In the middle of December I called the Westfield Board of Health to discuss the problem, and I was told no one else had complained. After that I called the Department of Public Works and was told they would look into it. When the odor didn’t stop, I called the Union CountyRegionalEnvironmentalHealth
Commission, I was told the odor was not toxic and given more excuses.
In The Westfield Leader of January 7, there was an article about Freeholder Linda d. Stender taking students to tour the Union County compost conservation facility. This is where Westfield’s leaves are eventually transported. The article quoted Union County Director of Public Works as saying, “Special equipment is used to turn leaves so the bacteria that turns the leaves into compost doesn’t die.” He added that the county monitors wind direction and stops turning leaves if it blows toward nearby apartments. Apparently, Westfield is not as considerate.
Janice W. Lawyer Westfield
Misdelivering of Mail Makes Resident Feel Like Voluntary Mail Carrier
firms could provide a more cost effective and expanded service to the district.”
I also discussed the role played by the decreasing nature of staffing levels in our town departments, and how privatization of street trash pick up might allow the DPW to retask these valuable employees to other assignments that could benefit the town.
I ended my phone interview with the reporter specifically mentioning the fine performance of the actual DPW employees, currently doing street pickup downtown. These DPW workers have given us good feedback and input for the purchase and design of the new canisters that will be put in place throughout the district.
4. The other person not interviewed by the reporter, and who deserves credit for helping to move this effort forward was First Ward Councilman Greg McDermott whofacilitatedseveralmeetings between the Town Administrator, head of public works, and the DWC to accomplish greater financial efficiency for our tax dollars, by attempting to deliver services by a new and more effective method.
Once again I take this opportunity at the start of this new year to publicly thank our DPW, and the other town employees; Police, Fire, Board of Health, Recreation, etc. who all deserve our thanks for doing the wonderful job that they do in keeping our town running efficiently, keeping it clean, beautified, and working for our safety!
A great example was my personal experience on December 31. The DPW came out within an hour after a call went into the Police dispatch. This was on New Year’s Eve when I called with the problem of a sewer back up here on East Broad Street.
That yellow DPW truck was a great relief to see, out on East Broad, with two DPW employees opening man hole covers and attempting to resolve the condition in the cold of the evening on New Year’s eve. Thank you!
Joseph Spector DWC Chairman
Today, I went to the post office to purchase 1 cent stamps. I recognize that even at 33 cents, mailing a first class letter is still an inexpensive and efficient way to correspond.
Ironically, when I returned home and retrieved my mail from my mailbox, I once more became an unpaid, unofficial member of the postal service. There was a letter in my box addressed to my nextdoor neighbor.
Receiving mail addressed to other people has become a regular and increasingly annoying occurrence at my house. I am fond of my next door neighbors and I do not mind redelivering their mail to them, but I do not think this should be happening once, twice, and even three times a week.
This volunteer work that I do for the postal service has been going on for several months. It is now quite common for me to receive mail for people who do not even live on my block!
I usually leave these letters in my mailbox for the letter carrier to take away. I can only hope that if any of my mail is misdelivered it somehow finds its way to my door.
I know of one specific case when I did not receive two letters from my daughters’ school. When this occurred in September, I completed a complaint form at the Fanwood Post Office. I indicated on that form that I would like to be contacted by telephone about this matter. I have not yet received any telephone inquiries from the post office.
My purpose in writing this letter to
The Times (besides venting my frustration) is to urge anyone else who is expe
riencing this problem to also complain to the Fanwood Post Office and, perhaps also to write a letter to The Times.
Surely, this problem can be solved, but the Fanwood Post Office has to know that I, and all the other unpaid mail carriers, are not satisfied customers.
Angela Rotondi Lubash Fanwood Participants Thanked
For PBA Toy Drive
The members of the Scotch Plains Policeman’s Benevolent Association wish to thank everyone who contributed to the annual Toy Drive.
This year’s annual Toy Drive could not have been possible without the supportandkindness ofthelocalbusinesses and newspapers that assisted in advertising the drive to the community, and to them we extend our sincere appreciation.
The generosity of the public was overwhelming. The gift depository that was stationed in the Police Department lobby was filled many times over. Special thanks to Sears in Watchung andTheChildren’sMiracle Network in Fanwood for their assistance.
New toys and games were placed in large gift boxes and delivered to local churches and several other local organizations that had lists of underprivileged children.
We’re sure that the toys and games made many less fortunate children with families and children without families a little brighter this holiday season.
Patrolman Dave Luce Scotch Plains
Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Continues Its Fine Representation of Township
As the new Mayor of Scotch Plains, I have been receiving invitations to many events. On January 9, I had the privilege to attend the annual dinner and installation of officers of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad. What an amazing group of people. I had the privilege of installing the new officers. They are a fine representation of the citizens of the community, and I know that they will continue to do an excellent job.
What really impressed me was the number of calls the Squad makes every year.They generallyaverageabout1,180 calls. One thing everyone should remember is that the Squad is all volunteer. They are not getting paid to do this work. We are very fortunate to have such a dedicated group of men and women who would give of their free time to be able to serve our community.
Harold Hill has served the Rescue Squad for 41 years and logged a total of 10,769 calls. Harold Hill’s father was a founding member of our Squad and I know that he would be proud of Harold’s accomplishments.
Daniel Sullivan, the immediate Past President of the Squad has served for a total of 29 years and has logged 8,599 calls. With individuals such as Harold and Dan, we should all feel very safe.
Not only do we serve the citizens of Scotch Plains, but we also provide aid to
other communities. We have assisted Fanwood, North Plainfield, South Plainfield, Watchung and Westfield with 25 calls during 1998. It has been our privilege and pleasure to be able to assist our sister communities.
The Rescue Squad is composed of people of various ages and backgrounds. They work in all fields. Some of them are full time police officers in our community. Others are doctors, clerical workers, and varied professions. We have a large number of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) on the Squad. This demonstrates a high level of commitment to excellence among our members.
Because the Rescue Squad is volunteer, they receive very little funding from the Township. They hold a fund drive every year to raise money for the things they need to perform their tasks. The Rescue Squad provides an invaluable service to this community. They need our support. When your envelope comes in the mail, please support them generously. Your life or the life of someone you love may depend on it.
I would like to thank the Squad for the fine job they have done in the past, and I look forward to their continued success in the future.
Geri Samuel Mayor of Scotch Plains
First Night Was A Hit For Former Resident
We traveled from the Berkshires to Westfield(myhome town)forFirstNight. We had heard that it was a class act and truly it was.
Each feature we visited was in itself quite nice and together made a beautiful and meaningful tribute to what it was all about.
So manytownspeople,includingwhole families and those of us from out-oftown, turned out to enjoy it all.
All of the planning and effort was obvious, especially the smiling and helpful volunteers. Thanks so much.
Elizabeth Wheatley Cohen, Pittsfield, Massachussetts