Rest in Peace, Labor Leader Tiran Billups

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 819 President Tiran Billups of Newark has died, InsiderNJ has learned.

His cause of death was complications arising from the coronavirus.

Leader of the biggest ATU local in the state with over 2,000 members, he was running around in the early stages of the virus in New Jersey, trying to protect his members.

He spent around 60 days in the hospital fighting for his life.

“Tiran was a fighter who left a legacy of fighting not only for workers’ rights but for civil rights,” said ATU International Vice President Ray Greaves. “He always gave all he could to better the lives of his members and workers. He would never back down from a fight for them.”

NJ’s 10th Medical Cannabis Dispensary Opens its Doors in Elizabeth

New Jersey’s oft-beleaguered medical cannabis program got a big boost today when a new dispensary called Zen Leaf opened its doors in Elizabeth, Union County.

Nearly 10 years ofter NJ legalized medical marijuana, Zen Leaf becomes only the 9th dispensary in a state that’s home 9,000,000 people.

Jeff Brown is NJ’s Deputy Health Commissioner in charge of NJ’s medical cannabis program.

“There are currently 77,000 patients enrolled by the Division of Medicinal Marijuana,” Brown told InsiderNJ. “The opening of Zen Leaf Elizabeth represents the 9th operating dispensary in New Jersey, and will bring new products and a much needed new access point to patients. Zen Leaf is the second ATC to start dispensing from awards made at the end of 2018, with the remaining four expected in the coming months. ”

NJ’s medial cannabis legislation was signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine and stood up by Governor Chris Christie, a notorious hardliner on drug policy.

NJ’s byzantine regulatory climate reflects Christie’s reticence to liberalize NJ’s pot laws. NJ’s current Governor Phil Murphy has taken steps to expand NJ’s program including lowering application fees, phasing out the medical marijuana sales tax, and expanding who qualifies.

NJ’s list of qualifying conditions includes the following ailments:

  • AIDS/HIV diagnosis.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/ALS  (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Pain
  • Dysmenorrhea
  • Glaucoma
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, (incl. Crohn’s disease)
  • Intractable skeletal spasticity
  • Migraine
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Opioid Use Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Seizure disorder, including epilepsy
  • Terminal illness w/prognosis of less than 12 months to live
  • Tourette Syndrome

Another dispensary in New Jersey should 1) lower the price and 2) ease congestion at the other sites. NJ where patients often report long lines and wait times.

“Department is committed to continuing to expand the medical cannabis market, even in these unprecedented times,” Commissioner Brown added.

Morris County’s Merkt Still Laboring in Politics in New Hampshire

Former New Jersey Assemblyman from Morris County Richard A. Merkt of Westmoreland officially filed this morning as a candidate for the New Hampshire House of Representatives in its Cheshire 1 district, consisting of the towns of Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Walpole, and Westmoreland.  He is the first candidate in the district to file for the November election.

Once a candidate on an unsuccessful assembly ticket with Chris Christie, Merkt said his campaign is focusing on Cheshire County’s need for new voices in the State Capitol because the county is currently, as he described it, “the forgotten corner of New Hampshire.”

“November 2020 marks a critical choice for Cheshire County voters,” said Merkt, who ran unsuccessfully for New Jersey governor in 2009, the same year he retired from the Assembly, amid very sour atmospherics with his former running mate, who would go on to win the statewide general election that year.  “Residents tired of high taxes and little return on their tax dollars will at last have an opportunity to elect new voices who will put their interests first.”

NJ Spotlight: COVID-19 Fatalities Likely Thousands More Than Official Toll

Three months after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in New Jersey, the official death toll stands at 11,880 — but it is likely that thousands more have died from the virus or underlying conditions exacerbated by the pandemic.

Read the report here.

Feds Finally Mop up ‘The Janitor’

There were rumors about a jam-up for years and today they proved right.

Tommy Bertoli (above, left), the former hard-nosed North Bergen agitator and thorn in the side of the Sacco machine turned tough guy for the reform team in Jersey City, finally ate those charges.

They used to say that in World War II, every platoon had a brainy college boy technically in charge and a gruff street guy sarge who actually ran the show. In a way, that was was what Bertoli was for Steven Fulop: the sarge who ran the search and destroy missions in multiple elections, going back to The Kid’s ward races and then his forays into locking down th school board.

But to Bertoli, ever the secular Hudson pol who reveled in every chance on the campaign trail to get his hands greasy, the only analogy he sought was “janitor,” fitting for one on terminal boiler room duty with a campaigns and elections stake in public property.

At the time, some of the rumors about Bertoli’s legal troubles surrounded the aftermath of those same conversations that led elected officials to back the 2013 reelection campaign of Governor Chris Christie. Supposedly Bertoli – or his cloest allies – were involved with those close to the Christie Campaign, who sought Hudson and Bergen electeds nailed down on the 2013 endorsement front for Christie’s reelection. There was a communication breakdown somewhere. Fulop was supposed to back Christie (the governor attended his swearing-in ceremony), or so someone thought. But the new mayor (with 2017 gubernatorial aspirations) stayed out of it; the best he could finally do in a nonpartisan election in an overwhelmingly Democratic town was to simply remind people that he was a Democrat, while refusing to wholly individually back doomed challenger Barbra Buono. Team Christie wasn’t happy about it.

Councilman Morshed Backs AC Mayor Small in Democratic Primary

Renee Baskerville and Sean Spiller of Montclair.

Montclair Mayoral Candidate Baskerville Files Challenge to Results

Montclair mayoral candidate Renee Baskerville filed a challenge to the May 12th election results.

The candidate received 5,250 votes or 48.85% ofthe votes cast, to 5,445 votes or 50.66% of votes cast for cerified winner Sean Spiller.

More votes than the 195 vote margin separating the two, remain uncounted, Baskerville notes in her challenge.


“In this ease, the balance of equities overwhelmingly favors plaintiffs. As has been demonstrated, law abiding, actively engaged voters in the Township must be given the benefit of the doubt when “stuff happens,” e.g., the Post Office fails to put a postmark on a batch of ballots filed toward the end of the filing period, presumed to have been timely filed; the Pose Office closes four hours early because of insufficient staff the day before the final balloting at a time when it publicly noted its inability to meet normal service delivery requirements for the type of mail involved in this case (2-5 days); and when for some inexplicable reason, amid COVID-19, the most extraordinary public health and economic circumstances in our lives resulted in the State postponing every election in the Months of March, April and June, but not the May 12th election.

“This trial balloon illustrated many shortcomings of the broad-scale mail-in gffly balloting compromised the franchise of more than a few Montclairions who wanted to exercise the franchise badly enough to go to great lengths to protect themselves, their families and neighbors badly enough to complete and timely post their ballots, only to have more than a few returned as late as the date of this filing, notifying seasoned voters that their ballots were being returned because of questions about their signature. The New Jersey Legislature did not intend for its statutes to be applied in a manner that would prevent otherwise valid mail-in ballots from being counted. This Honorable Court is vested with certain inherent powers beyond those conferred upon it by N.J. S.A 19:29-I, et seq.

“And it must set aside any legal but inequitable action suggested by a statute or Executive Order, if as in this case, the outcome to do otherwise will be to cause irreparable—the most aggreges harm that can be visited upon a citizen in our participatory democracy, is to trammel the right to vote: to take action which is illegal or inequitable in order to carry out the will and mandate of the people.”


Marable Files for a Recount in Orange

At-Large Orange council candidate Ed Marable made it under the deadline last Friday to file for a recount in an election he lost to Weldon Montague III by 17 votes.

A judge will decide on June 10th whether his request is appropriate and if the recount will proceed.

A former councilman looking to get back on the governing body, Marable made his request for a recount specifically of Orange’s South Ward, which he believes was disproportionately impacted by VBM troubles.

Marable - Election Matter


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