Friday, May 12, 2017

The Record's crappy local reporting helps feed voter apathy in two spring elections

The sample ballot sent to the homes of registered voters before Tuesday's non-partisan City Council election in Hackensack. Today, the Record's Local news section greatly exaggerates the number of votes cast for candidates on three competing slates.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with the total number of voters on Tuesday, and the total vote for each of 15 candidates, including mail-in and provisional ballots. 

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

In two major articles on voter apathy, The Record of Woodland Park today refuses to examine its own role in low turnout for spring school and municipal contests (Page 1 and Local news front). 

And Hackensack reporter Rodrigo Torrejon greatly exaggerates the number of votes cast for three slates of candidates in Tuesday's Hackensack City Council race (1L).

"He doesn't know what he's doing," one city official said of Torrejon.

Less coverage

In the past 20 years, The Record's editors have streamlined coverage of school elections to the point where the paper rarely discusses issues or reports details of the proposed budget.

Nor does the paper explain to readers that thousands of dollars in property taxes go to support education, whether you have kids in school or not.

Torrejon's predecessor on the Hackensack beat, reporter John Seasly, didn't even bother to cover the 2016 school election in Hackensack, where nine candidates vied for three board seats and 44% of each resident's property taxes go to support the schools.

This year, Torrejon failed to report on the issues in the April 25 school election or discuss any details of the proposed school budget and tax levy.

He also didn't go beyond listing the four candidates' names, providing no biographical details.

Nor did he report that the Zisas were backing Team Hackensack, whose three candidates prevailed, just as they did in 2016.

Only 341 residents, including those who sent mail-in ballots, approved the $81.2 million tax levy on April 25 (to support a $109 million budget).

The vote against was 209, including 25 mail-in ballots. 

In reporting the results, The Record told readers for the first time the owner of a Hackensack home assessed at $241,342 -- the city average -- will pay $5,109.69 in school taxes.

Council election

Two major articles on Hackensack's non-partisan municipal election appeared last Saturday, three days before the vote.

Basically, Torrejon listed the two challenging slates' charges, exaggerations and lies about the incumbents' record, and then printed the Labrosse Team's response.

He actually quoted one opponent calling the city's ambitious downtown redevelopment plan "irresponsible."

Saturday's coverage also was the first to reveal the role of the Zisa family in supporting one of the slates, even though they signaled their bid to once again turn Hackensack into Zisaville more than a year ago.

On Tuesday, only 3,861 voters went to the polls in Hackensack, where 22,732 people are registered to vote, according to the county superintendent of elections.

Mail-in ballots were sent in by 267 voters and 15 provisional ballots were counted -- for a grand total of 4,143 voters, according to the City Clerk's office.

In a non-partisan election, candidates don't run under party labels.

Each voter picked 5

Each voter was allowed to pick five candidates from among the 15 on the ballot, so the highest vote-getter was Mayor John Labrosse with 1,944 votes, including 110 mail-in and 6 provisional ballots.

He led his team -- Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino, Councilmen David Sims and Leo Battaglia, and planner Stephanie Von Rudenborg -- to victory.

The other candidates' vote totals (with mail-in and provisional votes in parentheses) were:

Canestrino, 1,852 (including 108 and 6); Sims, 1,933 (109 and 7); Battaglia, 1,757 (92 and 6), and Von Rudenborg, 1,779 (101 and 7).

All will be sworn to four-year terms on July 1.

The Record's Torrejon reports "unofficial results, not including provisional votes, show that the Labrosse Team ... received 9,233 votes total" (1L and 3L).

Although that may be accurate, Torrejon is including up to five ballots cast by each voter, and he does the same for the two other slates.

Losing slates

Former Councilman Jason Some was the top vote-getter on the Hackensack United for Progress slate, backed by the Zisa family political machine, with 1,365 ballots, including 111 mail-in and 5 provisional votes.

The head of the Zisa ticket, school board Vice President Lara L. Rodriguez, got a total of 1,313 votes, including 113 mail-in and 3 provisional ballots.

Their running mates' totals are:

Michael Williams, 1,267 (including 102 mail-in ballots and 4 provisional votes); Carlos Merino, 1,222 (101 and 4); and Rommy Buttafuoco, 1,195 (102 and 4).

With a total of 1,094 ballots (including 64 mail-in and 4 provisional votes), the top vote-getter on the third slate, Hackensack Strong, was Councilwoman Deborah Keeling-Geddis, whose term ends on June 30.

Here are the totals for her running mates:

Rich Cerbo, son of a former mayor, 879 (including 58 mail-in and 5 provisional ballots); Angelica Carfi-Mendes, 864 (58 and 5); David Dungey, 826 (53 and 4); Rafael Del Rosario, 802 (56 and 3).

The Record's Page 1 story today also refers to school elections in Cliffside Park, Fairview, Garfield, Oakland, Passaic and Totowa.

Comment on The Record

A reader of The Sasson Report who is a lawyer and a Democrat had this to say about The Record's story on the Hackensack election:
"Victor -- some comments on the Hackensack election: 
"1.  What were the people who wrote and laid out the article in today's paper smoking?  
"First of all, they say that there was split opposition and that is why the Labrosse ticket won.  There is always the argument that in a three-way field that the two losing sides cancelled each other out, but this is not the case here. 
"The Labrosse slate got 45% and the other two split 55%, with about 35% to Zisa and 20% to the others. If Labrosse had gotten 10% of the other slates, he would have won. One would have to assume that the third slate was to a degree anti-Zisa.
"2. Why and for what reason is there a map of the Hackensack election districts in the paper today -- it only fills space? You cannot read it and it means nothing.  The council members were not elected from districts. 
"3.  I read the Democrats' letter and two points are evident:  
"a.  It is in violation of state election law. I believe that any political mailing must have a line saying "paid for" along with the name of the treasurer of the pending entity. There is nothing here. There is also no return address and I believe that that is also required.
"b.  I note that 10 of the signers are lawyers and they have 'Esq.' after there name. Why is a lawyer better or more knowledgeable than anyone else?  When I am involved in a charitable organization or activity I do not put 'Esq.' after my name. 
"Further, having someone identified as a lawyer in this letter does more harm than good. One can only assume that the people are supporting this ticket with the hopes of a payback or a job.  Some of them were. This is clearly not clear thinking."

He ended his comment this way: "The only thing accurate about the letter is the jackass at the top."