Month: February 2019

Walk to Washington: If perception is reality, Murphy’s economic vision has problems

Here’s the bad news for the governor’s economic development team.

A random, totally unscientific poll by ROI-NJ reporters working their way through a crowded, noisy train lovingly known as the Walk to Washington showed that the top business and political leaders in New Jersey do not feel Gov. Phil Murphy has made New Jersey a pro-business state.

The worse news? One responder said they didn’t even think the governor’s team is trying.

“I object to the premise that the governor even wants to make this a pro-business state,” the person said. “Look at all the new rules and regulations he has passed and wants to pass. Tell me that is even slightly pro-business.”

And so it went, up and down the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce train to D.C., the ultimate networking party.

In the final count, 92 percent of the more than three dozen responders said some form of “No” to the following question:

“Every governor thinks they are pro-business. Do people outside of the New Jersey perceive the state that way?”

“No,” was a popular response.

“Not by a long shot,” was another.

“Are you kidding me?” was popular, too.

Everyone asked for anonymity.

And the reason is good news for the governor — and a reason there hasn’t been more of a public outcry.

“No, you can’t quote me,” one person said. “I do a lot of business with the state and I need to keep it.”

File photo
The EDA’s Tim Sullivan is optimistic about Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan for the state economy.

One person was willing to be quoted: Tim Sullivan.

As the CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Sullivan is one of key people front and center in the state’s fight to attract and promote business.

Sullivan said he understands the concerns.

“It takes time to change perceptions,” he said. “It requires consistency and it requires doing some marketing and telling our story well.

“We’ve got to tell the story better inside the state and outside the state through our partner, Choose New Jersey.”

Sullivan feels the state is getting the tools it needs to fight back.

“I think we took a big step forward when the governor announced his economic plan in October,” he said. “And we have the reauthorization of some of the incentive plans coming up. I think that will be a real opportunity to explain our vision and how we need to make the investments that we need to make.

“There are things like infrastructure, workforce and higher education — and, to be honest, education at all levels, including K-12, that we need to address.

“We have the world’s best talent, we just have to tell that story better.”

Sullivan sees hope. In fact, he said, he has seen it.

“The further away from New Jersey you get, the easier it is to make the case about New Jersey,” he said. “If you go to Europe and Asia, they see that New Jersey is a great place to be because of both our location and challenges, current challenges notwithstanding.”

Riding along the Northeast Corridor, the optimism wasn’t as high.

“The taxes and all the new regulations are crippling,” one person said.

Another was more biting — or, at least, more willing to use the governor’s messaging against him.

“When they said ‘stronger and fairer,’ he obviously wasn’t talking about small business,” the person said.

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More By Tom Bergeron

Walk to Washington (Poll Edition): We asked, you told us … N.J.’s biggest business problems, biggest competition — and new Republican leader

We’re not Patrick Murray of Monmouth University. But we play him whenever we go on the Walk to Washington.

That’s right, it’s time for the results of the totally unscientific ROI-NJ train polls.

The questions were asked by ROI-NJ reporters on the train from Newark to Washington, D.C., during the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual networking ride.

With that, our results — along with a quote. (And the margin of error is as big as you want it to be.)

All answers — and quotes — were on background.

Question No. 1: Which of these four issues most negatively impacts businesses in the state?

  • Personal taxes (How expensive it is for you and your employees to work here): 32 percent;
  • Business taxes (Rules and regulations such as minimum wage, paid sick leave, etc.): 32 percent;
  • The pension problem: 32 percent;
  • Transportation infrastructure: 4 percent.

The comment: “The impact the cost of living in the state has on the ability to attract and retain talent is far greater than anyone realizes. Anyone who doesn’t have to hire people, that is.”

Question No. 2: Which state is our biggest competition regionally?

  • New York: 67 percent;
  • Pennsylvania: 33 percent.

The comment: “Why would anyone want to live or work in Pennsylvania?”

Question No. 3: Which area is our biggest competition nationally?

  • Tennessee/Florida: 56 percent;
  • Florida/Texas: 44 percent.

The comment: “We lose companies to Tennessee; we lose people to Florida.”

Question No. 4: Who is the most powerful and/or influential Republican in the state?

  • Assemblyman Jon Bramnick: 32 percent;
  • State Sen. Tom Kean: 24 percent;
  • Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli: 16 percent;
  • Former Gov. Chris Christie: 12 percent;
  • State Sen. Steve Oroho: 8 percent;
  • Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi: 4 percent;
  • Unknown: 4 percent.

The comment: “Can I say (Senate President) Steve Sweeney? And it’s not just the sensible approach he has to solving our budget problems. He could get a group of Republicans to join him faster than anyone else.”

Question No. 5: There have been many studies on how to solve New Jersey’s economic problems — and almost all of them are introduced and then put away. Is it time to implement something along the lines of the Byrne-Healey recommendations or Sweeney’s Path to Progress, no matter how much tough love they might impose?

  • Yes: 95 percent;
  • No: 5 percent.

The comment: “We have to do something. Really, we have to do something.”

Read more from ROI-NJ:

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More By ROI-NJ Staff

Hispanic chamber, lender craft program for alternative small business loans

The Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Jersey City-based World Business Lenders announced a new partnership to provide a new model for small business loans.

The microlending partnership would set a precedent in the state, and is being launched in tandem with efforts to pass legislation that would define the new alternative lending model.

The draft legislation, a copy of which was previewed by ROI-NJ, looks to define alternative business loans, interest rates, repayment and loan terms, non-bank lenders and what defines a small business that would qualify.

The goal is to protect small business owners, particularly in minority communities, from loan sharks online.

“Basically, the online (lending) arena is the Wild West,” said Luis De La Hoz, chairman of the chamber.

“There are people that are doing things responsibly and people that are not.”

The partnership intends to operate responsibly, he said, and target small business owners who are denied by banks, he said.

WBL, a capital distribution platform, would operate off guidelines the chamber sets in order to approve or decline loans.

Even if the business owners are declined, the chamber will help them build up credit either by providing a credit-building loan or help them with greater financial education and building up their business plan.

“The idea is that we help them to scale or build capacity in order for them to get access to a larger amount of money (from banks) or different financial services,” De La Hoz said.

“But it’s necessary to have this regulated because (of online lending). If you borrow from an online lender, you can pay as much as 60 percent interest. If they cannot qualify for a 7 or 10 percent interest rate, just imagine paying that high. We can offer them an alternative, but the need is so big that, if we are able to do many things, we can, in the future, do more for our own community.”

There’s been a well-documented gap in access to capital for minorities, and microlending efforts have emerged to fill that gap.

Traditionally, friends and family have been filling that gap.

“It’s a more formal agreement on the friends and family, with an institution,” said chamber CEO and President Carlos Medina.

De La Hoz said it’s a risk that is higher than what financial institutions go for.

“They offer loans to people with no credit or with bad credit, and with no collateral. Those are the types of things a regular bank doesn’t want to consider,” he said. “But, people show capacity and show really good projects, but nobody is helping them.”

Medina said the chamber also might create a separate grant to help businesses with payments if they are in a bind.

“We hope to have better work outs than a bank would have, but we also hope we can have grant moneys to help for payments if (a business) is going through hard times,” he said.

“Banks are going to love us because we are going to help them with their declined and graduate them to a bank.”

WBL is investing $100,000 of its own money, and is helping to funnel the private funding from chamber sponsors to the chamber members who most need the help.

Doug Naidus, CEO of WBL, told ROI-NJ the goal of the partnership would include eventually seeking more government support financially.

“We’re currently distributing private capital, which is expensive,” Naidus said. “For example, we will borrow money from a hedge fund to lend it on to a business, so you could imagine, even in a fair and transparent way the rates are still very high. We want to radically reduce interest rates and cost. The way to do that is to either connect government capital, or sponsor capital—large banks that are looking to support social initiative—to the borrower base.”

And the idea is to operate as a non-profit.

“We will produce a loan at the actual cost to produce (and distribute),” he said. “Only for members of the chamber and this state at this point. As the money is distributed, we are producing the loan application and package, we are producing the underwriting, we are delivering it to the chamber investment committee…and they will decide how much money ultimately, and under what conditions, they will lend. “

This sets Hispanic Chamber members up to be the recipients of the lowest cost loans anywhere in the nation.

“Unfortunately, the communities that are most negatively impacted by illiquidity, and there’s two negative impacts—number one you don’t have the money you need, or you get it from a loan shark — that tends to follow a socioeconomic basis, and because of the issues we have as a nation, that tends to follow ethnicity,” Naidus said.

The state has also been pursuing similar efforts, such as those by Gov. Phil Murphy in pursuing an Evergreen Fund, which would mix state and venture capital funding to help startups in the state.

In addition, the Economic Development Authority, which has been holding a series of meetings with business and bank leaders to determine how to inject greater capital into the small business community in the state.

EDA CEO Tim Sullivan said he does not see the two as conflicting efforts fighting over state dollars.

“Depending on whether it’s a pilot program or other things, I think we can figure out a way to accommodate all things at once,” he told ROI-NJ.

“Those two are not mutually exclusive.”

In addition, Sullivan said, the more that the private sector helps in finding solutions to the lack of access to capital problem, the better.

Naidus said he hopes legislation will be introduced this year in the state, and efforts have been made at the federal level as well.

“We have a former Congressman on our board, Congressman Ed Towns…so we’ve been working for years at the federal level to effectuate law and have had some challenges along the way, so we decided to bring it to the state level last year,” he said.

“Through that, we were introduced to this chamber as well as other chambers. The chamber’s members are the very borrowers that need the access to capital.”

The other two chambers who are currently in talks with WBL are the African American Chamber of Commerce and newly created Veterans Chamber of Commerce.

Read more from ROI-NJ

More By Anjalee Khemlani

Winter Weather Advisory In 5 New Jersey Counties: Patch PM

Share-worthy stories from the New Jersey Patch network to talk about tonight:

Winter Weather Advisory In 5 New Jersey Counties

Schools could close or delay openings. Snow headed to New Jersey could make for a messy Friday commute. Here’s what to expect.>>>Read more.

Top Rutgers Cancer Surgeon Charged With Filming Women In Bathroom

The chief of surgery at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey has been charged with secretly recording 26 women in the bathroom.

NJ Schools: ‘Momo Challenge’ That Encourages Suicide Resurfaces

New Jersey officials say they believe the Internet challenge that allegedly has been exposed to students has resurfaced – even as some argue it’s a hoax.

Family Mourns NJ Mom Of 2 Who Died Of Addiction

A GoFundMe was set up for the 2 young children of Elizabeth Joan Meyler, 40, of Bernardsville who died after a long battle with addiction.

NJ Postal Worker Runs Over 2 Others With Her Car In Kearny: Cops

The woman ran over two other postal workers during a dispute, police said.

Also Worth a Look Today

Across America

Patch PM shares a few of the day’s must-read items from our New Jersey network. Thank you for reading.

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Dad, Son Die In Crash, Paramus Man’s Story Wins Oscar: Top News

A lot happened in and around Bergen County this month: A father and son were killed in a horrific DWI crash, “Green Book,” a story about a Paramus man’s trip through the deep south in the 1960s, won best picture at the 91st Academy Awards, and a middle-schooler got violently ill after eating a drug-laced “gummy bear.”

Here is a look back at the top stories from the past week.


Massive Fire Consumes Marcal Paper Plant In Elmwood Park

BERGEN COUNTY, NJ — A massive multi-alarm fire consumed the Marcal Paper plant in Elmwood Park Wednesday night. The seven-alarm fire was at first contained to the warehouse along River Road,… Read more


Man Charged With Death By Auto, DWI In Wayne Gas Station Crash

WAYNE, NJ — The intoxicated driver who killed three people after crashing into a Route 23 gas station Tuesday… Read more


Dad, Son Killed In Triple Fatal Wayne Crash Were ‘Inseparable’

WAYNE, NJ — Jon and Luke Warbeck were inseparable. They went camping, fishing, and rode all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes together. Tragically, they died together on Tuesday, victims of what… Read more


‘Green Book,’ Movie About Paramus Man, Wins Best Picture Oscar

PARAMUS, NJ — In a shocking best picture win, “Green Book,” which chronicles the life of the late Frank Anthony Vallelonga Sr., aka Tony Lip, a Paramus native, won three Academy Awards at the Oscars… Read more


Woman’s Kids Find Stalker Behind Couch In Bergen Home: Cops

BERGEN COUNTY, NJ — A woman and her two kids came home to find her ex-boyfriend in their Upper Saddle River home hiding behind a couch, police said. Scott Disarno, 36, of Union City was charged… Read more


Man Charged After Pot ‘Gummy Bear’ Made Fair Lawn Girl Sick: Cops

FAIR LAWN, NJ — A borough man was charged in connection with a marijuana “gummy bear” that a borough teenager ate and got violently ill from, police said. Jeffrey Klein, 48, was charged with… Read more


‘Sopranos’ Actor Opens Eyelash Boutique In Franklin Lakes

FRANKLIN LAKES, NJ — A former “mobster” has turned away from that life and is embracing eyelashes. Deka Lash provides custom, semi-permanent eyelash extensions and other services. It opened… Read more


‘I Can’t Breathe Without Her,’ Mom Of Wayne Girl Who Died Monday

WAYNE, NJ — Halainah Grace Napolitano was a straight-A student. She loved art, musical theater, and dancing. Napolitano loved all kinds of dance: Ballet, hip-hop, tap, and jazz. She was a student… Read more


Decorated Army Capt., Ridgewood Native Andrew Caswell Dead At 35

RIDGEWOOD, NJ — Army Capt. Andrew F. Caswell, a village native and decorated Army veteran who served several tours of duty overseas, died Tuesday. Caswell,… Read more


Rt. 17 Closed For Hours

Route 17 was closed in both directions for hours Monday due to downed power lines in Saddle River. The highway was closed just after 4 p.m. near Allendale Avenue, according to 511nj.org, the… Read more


Email: daniel.hubbard@patch.com

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Arrest Made In Cold Case Of Mahwah Worker’s Murder

MAHWAH, NJ — A man has been charged with murder in the 2003 death of a man who worked at the FedEx facility in town.

Felipe Campos, 40, of Middletown, New York, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of James Keating, New York State Police announced Wednesday.

Keating, of Warwick, New York, was found dead in his home on Feb. 3, 2003, police previously said. At the time of his death, Keating, 55, was a “model employee” who worked at FedEx’s Mahwah station for 15 years, police said at the time of his death.

A co-worker called police and asked them to check on Keating when he failed to show up for work.

Police said Keating’s front door was open, and he was found inside his home, stabbed to death.

Campos was identified as a suspect in Keating’s death “after an extensive investigation” by New York State Police. He was arrested, charged, and remanded to the Orange County Jail. The investigation is ongoing.

Keating’s family offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Keating’s murder, police said.


Email: daniel.hubbard@patch.com

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Oradell Student Earns Perfect Score On ACT

ORADELL, NJ —Riley Kiernan did something that very few kids ever do: Get a perfect score on the ACT.

Riley Kiernan of Oradell, a junior at Bergen County Academies, earned a perfect score of 36.

The ACT is a three-hour exam consisting of English, math, reading, and science, sections, along with an optional writing section. Of the 2 million members of the class of 2018 who took the exam, just 2,760 earned a perfect score, or about two-tenths of 1 percent of students.

“We were pleasantly surprised at all of this,” said Kiernan’s mother, Jane. “We just thought, ‘oh great, we’re so proud. But then we were contacted by the school, and we got a letter from The Princeton Review, and we found out just how rare it is.”

Kiernan is taking the SAT next week for the first time, with no prep work beforehand. He took the PSAT “on a whim” and got a 1420, his mom said.

“If it’s standardized, he’s going to knock it out of the park,” Jane Kiernan said.

Kiernan has a strong interest in computer science and programming, his mother said.

According to The Princeton Review, the company that creates and administers the ACT, students who earn a 36 have likely mastered all the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in first-year-college courses in the core subject areas.

“Your achievement on the ACT is significant and rare,” ACT CEO Marten Roorda said in a letter to Kiernan. “Your exceptional scores will provide any college or university with ample evidence of your readiness for the academic rigors that lie ahead.”


Email: daniel.hubbard@patch.com

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Big Changes To NJ Tolls, Roads Possible To Fix Budget Woes

New Jersey is looking at all sorts of ideas to try to fix its budget woes – particularly its pension system. And what they decide could ultimately impact your commute.

The Murphy administation this week took what could be a first step toward developing a plan to leverage major state assets to stabilize the state’s severely underfunded pension system – and it could lead to changes in the toll system that could have you paying more to drive on New Jersey highways.

Indeed, some lawmakers say it could lead New Jersey down the path of adding toll lanes to highways other than the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

Here’s how:

  • The New Jersey state treasurer issued a “Request for Qualifications” to hire a state asset financial Advisor to find savings from state assets to help fund the state pensions and benefits.
  • The advisor will examine various state assets and, perhaps, put them out to bid. Those assets include: property, buildings, roads or other improvements, transit facilities, rights of way, air rights or other development rights, naming rights and infrastructure such as airports, bridges, water facilities, ports, parks and recreational facilities.
  • State officials say they want to minimize the burden to taxpayers by maximizing state assets that might otherwise sit idle – a concept championed by a bipartisan legislative taskforce called the Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup.
  • The Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup issued a report last year that a continuing revenue stream could grow if New Jersey adds HOT – high occupancy toll lanes – to federal interstates.

Republicans criticized the plan to leverage major state assets, saying it could lead to a “fire sale of assets” that could lead to a change in management of New Jersey highways and, ultimately, new tolls and toll increases.

“New Jersey is not for sale. There is a better way,” Senator Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, said. “We don’t have to resort to gimmicks that failed under (former Gov. Jon) Corzine.

“Someone should remind Governor (Phil) Murphy that his Democratic predecessor’s proposed 800-percent toll hike caused a public outcry unlike anything we had seen in years. It was widely criticized by legislators on both sides of the aisle, and for good reason.”

But Jennifer Sciortino, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Treasury Department, said her office is “simply exploring ideas right now, and any assertions otherwise are baseless.”

“The RFQ we issued is looking for advisors who are willing to think outside the box to find solutions to help minimize the burden to taxpayers by maximizing state assets that might otherwise sit idle – a concept championed by a bipartisan legislative taskforce,” she said.

The Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup, the bipartisan legislative taskforce Sciortino was referring to, said in its report that the transfer of major assets such as the New Jersey Turnpike system into the state pension system would “generate new revenue streams” and could reduce the unfunded liability by $15 billion to $18 billion.

“Unlike previous proposals to sell the Turnpike to a private operator authorized to institute massive future toll increases, putting tollroads into the pension system would maintain public ownership and allow tolls to remain at areasonable level,” the report said.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said the Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup also recommended:

  • Development of an inventory of state assets for potential transfer into the pension system
  • Development of legislation to enable the state to transfer assets into the pension system, including a procedure for local governments to dedicate local assets in lieu of pension contributions.

“We look forward to working cooperatively with the Administration to implement the legislation that will be needed to achieve savings, as we did two years ago when we worked with the last Administration to cut the unfunded pension liability by putting the New Jersey Lottery into the pension system,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland.

Sweeney noted that the New Jersey Lottery transfer lowered the unfunded liability in the pension systems for teachers and state workers by $13 billion.

“I am gratified to see the governor adopt one of our major recommendations, but this is just one part of a comprehensive solution to our state’s fiscal crisis,” Sweeney said. “We will be facing a $4 billion budget shortfall in less than four years unless we act quickly to adopt the full range of the Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup’s recommendations, including development of a hybrid pension system for new public sector hires and those with less than five years of service, and a shift from Platinum-Plus to Gold-level healthcare plans.”

Pennacchio called for “a fiscally-responsible alternative” to Murphy’s plan.

“New Jersey has the highest property taxes, the nastiest business climate, and one of the worst public pension debts in the country. Unless we get spending under control now, this state will continue to free-fall without a parachute towards a full economic collapse,” Pennacchio said. “Instead of having a fire sale of our assets, let’s look at responsible ways to solve our fiscal crisis. Racinos in Yonkers have sent back more than $1.5 billion to New York State. New Jersey should be next.”

As an alternative to selling off state assets, Pennacchio called for bringing racinos to the Garden State. His proposed constitutional amendment, SCR-27, would authorize slot machine gambling at New Jersey horse racetracks.

“Why would the governor even consider selling off state assets, when there are other solutions on the table? A one-time fire sale is not a long-term solution,” Pennacchio added. “Raising taxes and tolls will only force more businesses and commuters out of the state. Bringing racinos to New Jersey is an innovative way to help fund the state pension.

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NJ Schools: ‘Momo Challenge’ That Encourages Suicide Resurfaces

New Jersey school officials are warning communities that the “Momo Challenge,” the Internet game that encourages suicide, has resurfaced – even as some argue that the whole thing is a hoax.

Authorities warned the Glassboro and Oaklyn schools this week that the “Momo Challenge” is once again appearing on the Internet, and children may have been exposed. “Our children have been buzzing,” said Rich Taibi, principal of the Bullock School in Glassboro.

The New Jersey Crisis Intervention Team, a county-based collaboration of law enforcement and mental health professionals, also asked parents this week to “please take the time to read and speak to your children. We here at CIT-NJ know of several people (who have) come across this and much more.”

Indeed, school districts across the country are saying that their students are also talking about the dangerous game’s reemergence. Police in Radnor, Pa. are alerting parents to the disturbing trend on Internet videos that target children.

“They (children) are curious about what they have heard, and are a little scared,” said Taibi. “As parents, educators and board members, it’s important for us to be aware and informed so that we can reassure our kiddos.”

Police also have issued warnings to parents on social media after the popular WhatsApp challenge resurfaced. A northern California mother says her family fell victim to the game, telling CBS Sacramento that her 12-year-old daughter with autism was encouraged to do dangerous things by the character. “Just another minute, she could’ve blown up my apartment, she could’ve hurt herself, other people, beyond scary,” Woods said.

Experts and charities, meanwhile, have warned that the “Momo Challenge” is nothing more than a “moral panic” spread by adults. The Samaritans and other charities say there is no evidence that the game has caused any harm, according to The Guadian.

According to a news release issued by Radnor police, the challenge is the same as you’ve head: A scary doll figure with an ominous voice targets children’s websites such as YouTube Kids. The figure comes on the screen after the seemingly innocent video begins playing.

Then the figure talks about the “Momo Challenge,” which attempts to have children commit more and more increasingly disturbing acts, including suicide, according to Radnor police.

Brick and Barnegat educators have also warned parents to be aware. Brian Latwis, the Barnegat suprintendent, has urged all parents and guardians to become aware of the challenge and their children’s use of social media.

Many became aware of the challenge last year when Brick school officials also sent out an alert warning parents to monitor their children’s social media usage. First-graders thre were apparently discussing the game, which can be found on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Here are five things to know about this dangerous social media game that’s described as cyberbullying:

  • The Momo Challenge is directed at children and young adults. The “challenge” features a frightening avatar who asks the child to perform various tasks, and provide photos as proof. The “Momo” threatens those who do not perform the tasks.
  • The tasks can escalate to serious violent acts, including self harm and suicide. At least three deaths in September were being investigated in connection with the challenge in other countries.
  • In Brick Township, a student at Warren H. Wolf Elementary shared descriptions of the challenge with first-grade classmates last year and allegedly had acted on some of the directions from the challenge, the Asbury Park Press reported. In a letter to district parents, Brick Schools Superintendent Gerald Dalton said the Momo Challenge “is just one example of dangerous ‘games’ through social media that has a negative impact on students and their social interactions.”
  • The origin of the Momo Challenge isn’t exactly known and some believe it to be urban legend, The Washington Post reported. “People are claiming what Momo is and what Momo does, but not that many people have actually interacted with the account. Finding screenshots of interactions with Momo is nearly impossible and you’d think there’d be more for such a supposedly widespread thing,” ReignBot, a famous YouTuber, is quoted as saying in a recent report by the publication.
  • The challenge has prompted international warnings, including from police departments in India, Mexico and Spain. In the United States, officials in Florida have posted warnings about the game. It has been banned in Pakistan.

A Denver Channel published this report on the Momo Challenge in October. Some of the images and details may be disturbing:

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Ventanas in Fort Lee Sets Grand Opening Date





Openings:

Ventanas in Fort Lee has been long in the making, but then it was also a lot in the making. The restaurant, which quietly soft-opened just over a week ago, is 7,000 square feet with three co-mingling seating areas—the requisite bar and dining areas plus a specially dedicated “Tapas Lounge.”

Ventanas is the brainchild of restaurateur Alexander Duran (Son Cubano) and David Burke, with a menu showcasing the under-explored world of Asian-Latin fusion (there’s a strong influence of Asian flavors in Cuban cuisine thanks to late 19th century Chinese immigrants). Chefs Andrew Riccatelli and Ricardo Cordona (of Son Cubano) developed the menu, which features fusion-forward flavor combinations like Pastrami Smoked Salmon Arepas and Salt and Coffee-crusted Whole Red Snapper.

Ventanas will go full-on nightlife come Friday and Saturday nights (think bumping music, room to dance), and will eventually offer both room and poolside service to the two residential towers that comprise the gleaming urban playland that is the Modern. The “Grand Opening” will be held on Thursday, March 14. Ventanas at the Modern, 200 Park Avenue, Fort Lee; 201-583-4777

—It wasn’t long after Capital Craft opened in Green Brook in 2016 that they made the ranks of New Jersey Monthly‘s 25 Best New Restaurants of 2017. Two years later, they’re opening a second location, this time in East Hanover on March 1. It won’t be an exact facsimile, though; they’re still (or newly, anyway) looking for an executive chef to oversee the transition to “this new high volume location” (in the home of a former Macaroni Grill in the East Hanover Plaza). You can expect similar emphasis on that happy place where carefully curated craft beer and wine/cocktail/spirits lists meet creatively modernized pub food. Capital Craft, 138 Route 10, East Hanover; no phone yet.

In the Works:

Double Tap Brewing in Whippany was aiming to be open by now—or whatever their definition of “early 2019” is—but delays are part of the business and now Double Tap seems to be timed to open sometime in warmer weather. Rumblings online say, possibly, summer 2019. Meanwhile you can keep up with the brewery via their Facebook page, where they recently posted one of their brewer’s wins at the 2019 Homebrew Alley competition. Double Tap Brewing, 50 Parsippany Road, Whippany; no phone yet.

—Mega-portion chain Metro Diner is opening its first location in New Jersey in East Brunswick, a 4,500 square foot space in a shopping center that will be big enough to accommodate 130 people at a time. Expect aforementioned large quantities of diner staples with fun twists and some regional flare. Metro Diner, 298 Route 18, East Brunswick; 732-704-7587

Closed and In the Works:

The Ketch on Long Beach Island was recently sold, and the new owners are planning on replacing the 30-ish year old Beach Haven standby with a totally new concept, ruffling enough local feathers to merit an online petition. The new owners are the Tide Table Group, an established restaurant group with names like Mud City Crab House and the Black Whale Bar & Fish House under their umbrella, which helps if they plan on transforming the longtime shore and nightlife hub into a 60s and 70s-themed Shore nostalgia spot. Karl Badoff of Parker’s Garage & Oyster Saloon (also a Tide Table restaurant) will helm the kitchen. The building itself is historic, the former home of the storied Acme Hotel (supposedly a former favorite stomping ground of Babe Ruth). The new space will open sometime in May. Bird & Betty’s, 2nd Street on the Bay, Beach Haven; no phone yet.

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