Municipal and school board elections dominate year
2022 in Bayonne was largely defined by the campaigns and the May municipal election. Mayor James Davis declared his candidacy for mayor at the very start of January. Already announced as a mayoral challenger was now-former City Council President Sharon Ashe Nadrowski. A third candidate Doctor Mitchell Brown also ran for mayor with no council running mates, only launching his shoestring campaign the month prior to the election in April.
Ashe-Nadrowski and her ticket of council running mates challenged incumbent Davis and most of the sitting City Council who ran with him except for Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace, who was booted off Davis’ ticket and did not seek re-election.
Ashe-Nadrowski and Brown, absent Davis, debated key issues in the city in the first debate. However, they ditched the second debate that Davis actually showed up to, an interesting moment amid the campaign.
Election themes included the increasing price of water bills, political contributions,
She came close, but ultimately failed to unseat Davis and the council. Ashe-Nadrowski was less than 100 votes away from forcing Davis into a runoff, but he held strong
Ashe-Nadrowski and her team of candidates lost to Davis and his slate of now-City Council President and Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll, City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez, retired police officer and now-City Councilman At-Large Loyad Booker, Jr., and now-Second Ward City Councilwoman Jacqueline Weimmer.
Residents bid adieu to Ashe-Nadrowski and Gullace in June, although both have said they will remain active in the community, and the new City Council was sworn in alongside Davis in July. Since then, the new council led by La Pelusa has taken a different approach to a number of issues, from public comment to officials answering questions.
In 2022, the Bayonne Board of Education also had an election in November. Three incumbent Trustees opeted not to run for re-election, including Denis Wilbeck, who unsuccessfully ran for an At-Large council seat in May, and Lisa Burke and Jan Patrick Egan, who both ran under the previously mayor-endorsed “Together We Can” ticket.
One Trustee, Hector Gonzalez, ran for re-election. He was appointed in January after the resignation of the first elected Black Trustee in the city, iconic musician David “Doc” Watson, because he moved out the city. Gonzalez’s seat was up for re-election for a term of one year to complete the remainder of what would have been Watson’s term. However, he ran for one of the three seats up for election for three years.
In addition to Gonzalez, two others on his “Together We Can” slate won in November among nine candidates in total, including former Trustee Mary Jane Desmond and NJIT biomedical engineering student Miriam Bechay, who won the one-year term. The fourth seat was won by Saverio “Sam” Maggio the Davis-endorsed “Voices for Progress,” his first endorsement in years and a departure from his endorsement of “Together We Can” in the past.
The aftermath of the elections
Former Business Administrator Melissa Mathews was not reappointed, instead offered her old position of clerk back. She resigned before she could not be reappointed, however, her gender discrimination lawsuit is still very much active.
Replacing her is now-former City Attorney and now-Business Administrator Donna Russo. Director of Municipal Services Gary Chmieliewski, who was appointed in the wake of former Director Tim Boyle’s resignation after he allegedly illegally recorded a conversation with Matthews and other city employees that he was not apart of, was not reappointed also.
Replacing Chmieliewski is Bayonne Health Department nurse Suzanne Cavanuagh. However, those appointments did not come without controversy, although they have been busy with other matters in their respective roles since.
William Sampson, whom Davis endorsed to replace former Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, was sworn in to represent the 31st Legislative District in the state General Assembly.
Residential redevelopment on pause
Early in the year, redevelopment was paused amid the current boom. In February, Davis declared a halt on all redevelopment and the financial agreements that supported them amid the campaigns for the municipal election.
Davis said the pause would last as long as it took to conduct a study of recent redevelopment to determine if the units that have been constructed are being occupied. The study was contemplated by the new council since taking power in July, and officially authorized by the council at their meeting that month.
The Planning Board approved a new vocational technical school on the grounds of Bayonne High School. The facility will be constructed using an approximately $10 million grant at the site of the tennis courts in the center courtyard are of the school.
The Planning Board also approved plans for the school district to purchase the former St. Andrew’s School and the associated convent for approximately $6 million. The district plans to move the Central Office from Bayonne High School to the convent, and reactivate the school there after ongoing renovations to both buildings.
Even amid the pause, some redevelopments received Planning Board approval. This included: the next phase of the Silk Lofts redevelopment, for an 18-story and six-story building to be constructed on Avenue E across the street from each other, which seemingly prompted the pause. By July, the new council had authorized the commencement of the study.
The city has approved redevelopment plans for a number of sites.
This includes the Gamal Group East site, slated for multifamily residential with ground floor commercial at Avenue A and Gertrude Street after it received council and planning board approval. This is on the east side of Avenue A, while the other side has not yet had a redevelopment plan approved for it yet. However, it was a source of controversy as the land owner and former Zoning Board Commissioner Ehab “Jimmy” Gamal was looking into a 16-story high-rise cold storage warehouse at the site, but has withdrawn that application and not yet decided what will go on the west side.
Other redevelopment projects
One project that made a wave in the city was plans approved to construct a six-story senior and supportive public housing building with 40 units on Oak Street. There will be 20 units of senior and supportive housing for adults with disabilities each.
However, the project was not well-received by all. Residents in the area have decried the plan over the height, use, and allegations that the land still needed to be remediated. Homes that previously occupied it were previously leveled in order for the ground to be remediated, which the city says it since has been. Regardless, the plan is moving forward unabated, with the city meeting informally with residents in recent months to explain the details.
The former Holy Family Academy at 239 Avenue A continues to undergo renovations in preparation to become the new location of the federal Head Start program in Bayonne, currently located at 21 West 8th Street in a historic masonry building. Once renovations are complete, the Head Start will open there.
The convent for the former Catholic High School will become the new home of the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation, currently headquartered at 555 Kennedy Boulevard, 557 Kennedy Boulevard, and 7 West 9th Street. The city purchased the school and convent in 2017 for $2.5 million with the intention to consolidate the BEOF and sell the other three buildings.
However, the BEOF is still awaiting for additional federal funding to complete the interior renovations of the school. And more money is needed to renovate the convent for the BEOF headquarters, which is even harder to come by.
After the Head Start moves out of 21 West 8th Street, the Bayonne Housing Authority wants to move there. The BHA is negotiating a purchase, with a measure to do so introduced to the council at its December meeting.
Art scene develops in Bayonne
The Bridge Art Gallery ayt 199 Broadway closed after its last show known as “Protective Spirits” by Heather Williams. The gallery expanded to Wilmington, Delaware with plans for a satellite location in Kearny, leaving the Dollhaus II at 23 Cottage Street as the only gallery in the city.
Although the gallery was leaving, The Bridge Arts Festival it helped host did not. It was run instead in conjunction with Angelique Jackson-Belle, President of the Bayonne Youth Center, keeping the annual arts tradition alive albeit with a new name of the Bayonne Arts Festival.
A gallery that specializes in “outsider” art typically by artists without professional training, the Dollhaus II was also still in limbo itself, faced with closure after pink mannequins displayed on the storefront were brought to the city as improper signage. When the city looked into the gallery, they claimed it was not allowed per the zoning of the building, which contradicted the actual history of the site as an office and showroom through the landlord’s family.
The hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on the matter had been pushed off throughout 2021, but was finally up for a hearing in September after the Zoning Board had made it clear in July that if it would not be heard then it would be dismissed. Gallery owner and curator Emma Louise, who said she was ready to go from the start, rallied public support and eventually was granted a zoning certificate to stay open at the site at 23 Cottage Street.
Up until the hearing, the Dollhaus II was closed for some months. However, throughout the year, the art gallery was still able to hold an array of shows featuring different artists from the area including: Marina Marchand, Bee Heim and Simone Lubrani, Brain “Soigné” Wilson, and SlaughterDK to name a few.
In addition to the Dollhaus II, the Bayonne Public Library also occasionally hosts art exhibits. They are typically historical in nature and in conjunction with the Bayonne Historical Soceity.
Other zoning woes avoided
In addition to the Dollhaus II, another staple of the community also faced closure due to a potential rejection of a zoning-related matter before the Zoning Board. That was for Saints Peter and Paul Church on West 28th Street, which celebrated the 100-year anniversary of its parish in 2022. However, the subdivision to sell a home on the church property and correct the boundaries of lot lines was granted, allowing the parish to sell one of the homes to fund the existence of the church.
The board did, however, vote down a variance that would have allowed the construction of a four-story 20 unit multifamily residential building at 73 and 77 West 32nd Street. The site is currently home to two single-family homes. It eventually became a campaign issue leading up to the municipal elections, with both sides taking a stand against it, and the Zoning Board narrowly voting it down 5-4.
Amid the pause on residential redevelopment, the city went forward with a number of industrial and commercial redevelopments. This included approving a major motion picture studio at the former Texaco site at the terminus of Avenue A near the Bayonne Bridge.
Officials touted the nearly $1 billion project as an investment into the city, with the studio set to become the city’s largest taxpayer in the future among other givebacks. Grading work to raise the long-dormant site has already begun, with construction set to break ground in 2023.
In the meanwhile, officials and industry insiders alike, such as Bayonne native and prolific author George R.R. Martin, have given rave reviews to the under construction studio. Now the city is preparing $65 million in redevelopment area bonds to support the project, with plans for 1888 Studios to hold job fairs for residents on opening.
For whom the bells toll again
The city of Bayonne has officially put the bells of the old St. Joseph’s Church to reuse in a new bell and clock tower in Fitzpatrick Park. The bells were saved during the demolition of the church for redevelopment, and are now a reminder of the Slovak community that originally commissioned them.
The bells were refurbished in Ohio before returning to Bayonne. While the tower was anticipated to be ready to unveil come October, there were some delays when it came to wiring leading to its postponement. However, the ceremony was eventually held in December.
Getting ready for recreational adult use cannabis
The city restricted the location of where the cannabis establishments can open, limiting their locations to along the Route 440 commercial area, and completely overhauled its existing cannabis ordinance. The city later further restricted the locations, removing a portion of Avenue A near First Street that was included in the zone where cannabis establishments could open.
Bayonne also joined other municipalities in banning law enforcement from consuming cannabis. This includes even when they are off the clock, which officials said was because they couldn’t test for it accurately.
You get a ban, they get a ban, everybody gets a ban
This year, a theme among municipal ordinances passed, at least since the new council took control in July were bans.
The council adopted an ordinance banning the raising of farm animals in the city after complaints of an unsightly chicken coup and rowdy rooster in two neighborhoods. However, this was put on hold for months and reworked after what is thought to be the last coming pigeon keeper in Bayonne pleaded to have the birds exempt, which they were under the final ordinance.
Another ban passed by the council was on the carrying of firearms in public buildings, schools, and parks. While initially put on hold due to questions by former law enforcement officers on the council, including former Hudson County Sheriff Perez and former Bayonne Police Officer Booker, but was eventually passed with revisions to exempt retired, off-duty, and extra-duty officers from the ban.
The new council also introduced a new rule limiting the time of public comment to five minutes. While residents decried the change, officials said the measure was instituted by the previous council but never enforced.
Meanwhile, when Ashe-Nadrowski was City Council President, she tried to have an ordinance adopted that would expand public comment, allowing it on introduced ordinances too. However, the ordinance was shot down 3-2, with only her and Gullace voting for it.
Taking care of feral cat colonies
After years of trying to get a program off the ground to address Bayonne’s feral cat colony problem, the city finally established a trap, neuter, and release program in conjunction with the Health Department and Animal Control.
In October, the council adopted an ordinance adding in a section for the TNR under Animal Control in the municipal code. The ordinance delineated the program further, and discussion ensured with residents during the public hearing over the immense need for it.
Another resolution was passed modifying the contract with NJHS regarding the TNR program. Since it officially launched in November, the city has been urging residents already taking care of feral cat colonies to register them with the city.
Black Excellence in Bayonne
2022 was a year filled with Black excellence in Bayonne.
In June, Black in Bayonne raised the Pan-African Flag in front of City Hall.
Black in Bayonne ended the year strong with a massive undertaking to feed those facing food insecurity on Thanksgiving. Known as “Give Thanks Bayonne,” this year the event expanded to include a Community Feast at the Bayonne Community Museum at 229 Broadway.
The Bayonne Branch of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) re-elected Donald Byrd III.
In June, the organization held the first Juneteenth Celebration in the city, which was colloquially referred to as “the Blackest weekend in Bayonne.”
And in _, the NAACP hosted its 95th Annual Freedom Fund Dinner.
Other groups such as The Skee’s Way Foundation also contributed to Black excellence in Bayonne.
Bridges planned for Bayonne
The $2.6 million project is funded by municipal bonds, the state’s infrastructure bank, and some nearby redeveloper contributions.
In order to have the new bridge put in place in the new position, several wires and poles needed to be moved which the city needed various approvals to do. The time it is taking to install the new bridge became an issue for residents and candidates alike ahead of the 2022 non-partisan municipal election back in May.
A mandated safety course had to be completed before any more progress could be achieved, officials said in August. Every entity involved had complete the safety course to remove and relocate any and all wires on the existing bridge.
As of October, the safety course had been completed, and the specifics are being worked out to move the wires. At the time, the city was still awaiting Conrail’s approval to continue, according to Department of Public Works Director Tom Cotter.
As of December, the legal hurdles preventing the project from moving forward have now been crossed and the city can proceed, according to Coffey. He told BCN hat the old bridge will be taken down by the middle to the end of January of 2023.
Another pedestrian bridge is planned from the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY) to the South Cove Commons Shopping Center. The council approved a resolution in October authorizing the submission of grant to support the construction of the bridge.
As for the pedestrian bridges over Route 440, one would cross the state highway from the 34th Street Light Rail Station to MOTBY. The project is in design, expected to go out to bid for construction soon, with another pedestrian bridge planned over Route 440 at 22nd Street.
Tragedy strikes the peninsula
In June, tragedy rocked the city when two twin brothers, 19-year-old Bayonne High School alum and University of Miami student Chu Ming Zheng and 16-year-old BHS junior Jack Jiang, drowned at the Lincoln Community School pool despite three lifeguards being on duty. Following their untimely deaths, the family of the late teens has filed $100 million tort claims, the first steps in filing a lawsuit, against the board and other related entities over the drownings claiming they were preventable.
Officials and students held a moment of silence and offered condolences for the late brothers at the June meeting of the Board of Education. In the wake of the tragedy, students and friends held a vigil in memory of Zheng and Jiang.
While the investigation is ongoing, the pool remains closed. However, this has prompted residents and member of the Scarlet Aquatics Mermaids and Stafish swim team that uses the pool to ask the board to reopen the pool so they can continue to use it as opposed to pools at St. Peter’s University and New Jersey City University in Jersey City.
Remembering them always
In 2022, the city also mourned the loss of a number of residents, including former Bayonne Community News Arts and Culture Columnist June Sturz, Otto Weber, Bayonne Police Captain Paul Jamolawicz, Bayonne Police Sergeant Robert Skalski,
The city also commemorated a late resident and former Bayonne Housing Authority Chairman with a plaque at the plaza named in his honor. The dedication ceremony to commemorate Ludovico “Ludo” Nolfo was appropriately held at the plaza that bears his name at Back Bay Gardens, a BHA building.
Gardens at the bottom of the stairs at Stephen Gregg Hudson County Park in Bayonne, the county unveiled new gardens. They are dedicated to Cherie La Pelusa as well as all other local victims of COVID-19.
Supporting Ukraine in Bayonne and abroad
Bayonne, with one of the higher populations of Ukrainians in the area, as well as Jersey City, has supported Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. The Ukrainian Chorus “Dumka” of New York performed a benefit concert at Bayonne High School in March, at the time calling for a U.S. instituted no-fly zone over the country.
That same month, the city also blocked out Putin’s name on the 9/11 Teardrop Memorial in the city. A Ukrainian refugee was looking for a host family in Bayonne to finish high school, with searched being aided by Weimmer. It is not clear if a host family was ever found.
COVID-19 and other viruses
This year, in contrast to 2020 and 2021, was not focused as much on COVID-19, even though the virus continues to spread.
In April, the city ended its weekly COVID-19 updates. The videos, usually featuring Mayor James Davis, tracked the active number of virus cases and hospitalizations in the city.
Cases were again on the rise, however, come May. But Davis returned for a COVID-19 update to let residents know the city was doing okay amid the statewide increase.
As cases continued to climb, Davis urged residents to help mitigate the spread of the virus. He urged common sense
Throughout the year, vaccine eligibility continued to expand. The city continues to periodically offer vaccines, although it has closed its dedicated site at the cheerleading room in the Rich Korpi Ice Rink at Bayonne High School.
Meanwhile, the city also began to deal with other viruses that rose in prominence throughout the year like monkeypox. As 2022 came to a close, a surge in influenza and the RSV virus also caused hospitalizations to increase.
Coach Dwayne Williams controversy
Former Bayonne High School Head Football Coach Dwayne Williams filed a lawsuit against the Bayonne Board of Education. He alleges a hostile work environment, retaliation, defamation, and violations of his free speech, as well as a loss of economic advantage and breach of contract.
Torello, who had in the past alleged the PAL needed additional funding to stay open, addressed the council in September that the PAL had its Community Development Block Grant funding hadn’t been awarded yet, that the amount had been cut the most of all non-profits that had applied, and that it was political since he ran on a council slate with Ashe-Nadrowski against Davis.
The PAL was eventually awarded an additional $8,000 in CDBG-CV funds to hire those two additional teachers for homework help.
The wind turbine is still broken. The last time the city gave an update, officials said they were engaged in lengthy negotiations with the manufacturer over who is responsible for repairs.
While security was increased at Bayonne schools following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, there were a number of incidents throughout the year that all ended up being duds. From false bomb threats to students falsely stating they have a gun, there were a fair share of shelter-in-places, which will likely continue amid a national trend of violence in schools.
The bronze statue of Chuck Wepner was finally erected in Bayonne. Wepner himself joined city officials to unveil the statue that commemorates him, the “Real Rocky” and “The Bayonne Bleeder,” at Dennis Collins Park at First Street. Local business owner and friend of Wepner Bruce Dillin raised funds privately for years through elaborate fundraisers to have the statue built, sculpted by his neighbor _ for free. After his last fundraiser, enough funds were raised to bring the statue to Bayonne, where just months later it was dedicated by the city.
TEDxBayonne held its first TED Talks in Bayonne in 2022, to much success. Now, the 2023 iteration of the conference is accepting applications for speakers.
Daniel Israel, Staff Writer for the Bayonne Community News and The Hudson Reporter, won an award from the New Jersey Soceity of Professional Journalists for his arts and entertainment coverage of the Dollhaus II zoning situation.
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