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Breaking news & local stories from Camden City, Berlin, Laurel Springs and more

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    Activists, congressmen and a homeowner have tried for several years to get a home where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived in Camden on the list of national historic places

    0 0 looks at the can't-miss dual meets, quads and county and conference tournaments for the week of Jan 15-20, 2018

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    Did the top teams maintain their slots?

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    See what the biggest girls basketball games across N.J. are this week.

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    The measure will increase the pensions of former Camden Mayor Dana Redd -- a Democratic ally of Gov. Chris Christie -- and some other elected New Jersey officials.

    On his final full day in office, Gov. Chris Christie on Monday signed a controversial bill into law that will increase the pensions of former Camden Mayor Dana Redd -- a Democratic ally -- and some other elected New Jersey officials.

    Christie made no statement on the measure, which was one of 150 he took action on before he's set to leave office Tuesday. His office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

    The Democratic-controlled state Legislature fast-tracked the Democratic-sponsored legislation in the final weeks before a new set of lawmakers were sworn in and Christie finished his eight-year tenure.

    The new law (S3620) allows some politicians to re-enroll in the state's Public Employees' Retirement System after being kicked out because they switched positions.

    Christie: You'll miss me when I'm gone

    Though lawmakers have not specifically said the bill was written to benefit Redd, the former mayor -- a Democrat who left office after eight years Jan 1. -- is the the most notable beneficiary. 

    Redd is an ally of some of the state's top Democrats, including state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and south Jersey powerbroker George Norcross III.

    Christie, a Republican, had a longstanding bipartisan alliance with Sweeney and Norcross, and the three often worked with Redd on initiatives to improve Camden. 

    Christie signed the bill just days after Redd was hired as CEO of the Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors -- a job that pays an annual salary of $275,000.

    The new law would allow her to triple her pension if she stays in the job for three years, according to a report by Politico New Jersey.

    Lawmakers also never specified how many other elected officials would benefit from the measure, though they said it would also affect state Assembly members James Beach, D-Camden, and Ralph Caputo, D-Essex.

    The state Senate passed the bill 23-9 last month and the Assembly voted 41-19 to pass it on the final day of the lame-duck session. The 41 votes is the lowest number it needed to head to Christie's desk. 

    Christie signed the measure even though he has railed against past governors and elected officials for adding debt to New Jersey's ailing public-worker pensions system.

    The state's pension liability is more than $90 billion -- among the largest in the nation, and Christie made it a big part of his final State of the State address last week.

    Democratic leaders argue the cost to taxpayers is minor because the law affects a small number of officials in a pension system where more than 80,000 are enrolled.

    The bill essentially changes a 2007 law that mandated all newly elected officials be placed in a less generous "defined contribution" pension plan similar to a (401)k.

    Incumbent elected officials at the time were allowed to stay in the traditional pension system, as long as they kept the same office -- with the exception of lawmakers who moved between the state Senate and Assembly.

    Thus, when Redd -- then a state senator and Camden councilwoman -- was elected mayor in 2010, the pension she had been collecting since 1990 was frozen at a little over $92,000.

    The new law would grandfather in those who held office continuously since July 1, 2007, allowing them to re-enroll in the system as long as they have served at least 15 years in elected office with no break in time between switching positions. 

    It also would allow them to make their enrollment retroactive to the date they first took elected office. 

    Brent Johnson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find Politics on Facebook.

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    Around two dozen people gathered outside of the century-old 'Castle on the Hill' Monday afternoon to protest its demolition.

    Attempts by alumni and local organizers to save a century-old high school in Camden have thus far failed, and officials say a wrecking ball is destined to hit the structure. 

    But some in the community are hoping that a final push, and a new governor, can change the fate of the iconic and beloved "Castle on the Hill." 

    The demolition of Camden High School was announced in September, just months after the last graduating class walked in June. A date for the razing has yet to be set. 

    While the building had fallen into some disrepair, many with close ties to the school say it is worth saving. Around 20 people were there around noon on Monday, which marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to send a message to Gov.-elect Phil Murphy: Stand up and save the school. 

    "How many kids get to walk into a castle for school?" Mo'Neke Singleton-Ragsdale, a 1991 graduate of the school who sent her four sons there as well, said Monday afternoon, addressing a group sporting the school's purple and gold colors. "I'm not giving up until a wrecking ball hits the school." 

    Many said they advocate for keeping and repairing the current school not just because of its history and grand appearance, but because they worry the deals and decisions made by an appointed rather than elected school board don't reflect the community's needs and desires. 

    Why being historic probably won't save Camden High from the wrecking ball

    Activists with the group, Friends of Camden High, are working with with members of the Camden County NAACP, South Jersey Women for Progressive Change, South Jersey Progressive Democrats and others to ask Murphy to both restore community voting for school board positions and designate the school as a landmark, pushing for a renovation rather than reconstruction. Currently, the mayor appoints members of the city's school board.

    An alumna who graduated in 1980, Vida Neil, said she also has concerns that a four-year closure of the school will encourage students to enroll in charters, and eventually cause the school's population to drop, further impacting the city's public schools. 

    She also said she believes the old construction is of a higher quality than what a new contractor will build, and called the decision to build a new structure "blatant racism," explaining that nearby towns have been able to repair and keep its original school building from 1910, and Camden should be able to do the same. 

    "It means everything to me," she said, gazing up at the castle. 

    But supporters of the demolition argue that keeping a building for nostalgia purposes is wasteful, and that a new, streamlined and modern design will both prove more economical and better able to support students in a city that have long struggled with poverty and lower graduation rates. Officials have unveiled a plan for a $133 million campus in the castle's place that would include the current high school population as well as magnet schools, raising the student body capacity from 700 to 1,200.  

    Still, the organizers see the move as a hasty decision that ignores their voices. Both federal and county lawsuits were filed seeking an injunction on the demolition, but judges dismissed both as of December, Matthew Litt, an attorney involved with the case said Monday. 

    So organizers have resulted to grassroots tactics. They passed around petitions Monday, and several said they planned to make calls to Murphy's office on Tuesday, which marks his first day on the job.  

    When the gathering had grown to around 20 people just a few minutes after noon, two Camden County Police Department vehicles pulled up outside of the school. An officer stepped out and said he was responding to a report of a fight. 

    Gary Frazier, an organizer with the Green Party and co-vice president of the party's Camden County chapter, expressed his outrage at the officer, saying that there was a fight taking place -- but that it was a fight to save the school. 

    "This is what we talk about because of the things they use against people of color," he said in an interview later, explaining how difficult it is to gather in communities of color without rousing suspicion. 

    The officers left the scene without issue and the rally continued peacefully. 

    Dan Keashen, a spokesman for the Camden County Police Department, confirmed that police had responded to a formal report of a fight. 

    He also emphasized the city's commitment to protecting peaceful protesters. 

    "We'll always ensure that people's constutional rights of protest are being preserved," he said. "We're there to preserve the citizens rights, their god-given right to do just that."

    And organizers like Darnell Hardwick, president of the Camden County NAACP, are holding out hopes that their voices will be heard by the new administration -- they're just not sure if that will happen the building is in crumbles. 

    "We hope that with the new governor coming in, we'll have an ear," he said. 

    Amanda Hoover can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find on Facebook

    Have a tip? Tell us.

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    Who stole our attention on the hardcourt this week?

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    This new, single-day season of "The Crown" awards the title of pension queen to Camden's former mayor.

    You could say that the king for a day, Chris Christie, picked his queen for a day during his final 24 hours as governor. That would be former Camden mayor Dana Redd.

    Don't worry about Redd having to wear a heavy crown, like Queen Elizabeth II, who recently complained about that and her carriage's horrible ride in recalling her coronation. Redd will be well compensated later for her troubles. 

    On Monday, Christie signed what has been dubbed the "Get Dana Redd a Better Pension Act." It's even worse than we imagined while this clunker was making its way through the lame-duck Legislature.

    You see, Redd was just hired as CEO of the Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors, a job that pays a state-pension creditable $275,000 a year. For what, we have no idea. This hybrid board was created as a consolation prize when the so-called "Rowan-Rutgers merger" was called off in 2012. The board's charge, we thought, was to set policy for medical institutions (presumably with their own CEOs or deans) that the schools were to administer jointly.   

    Now, Redd's frozen pension -- which Christie's John Hancock just thawed -- will triple if she hangs on to her new gig for three years, according to Politico New Jersey. To rub more salt into taxpayers' wounds, the Politico story indicated that Redd was hired Friday during a 14-minute Rutgers/Rowan board meeting where only its chairman -- Jack Collins, a former Assembly speaker -- was physically present.

    Until Friday, the worst thing about the legislation was that it allowed Redd to rejoin the defined pension system after having to endure contributing to a 401(k)-type retirement plan when she became mayor. At that time, she had already qualified for a pension based on a $92,000 top salary. The 401(k) requirement came with her mayor's title, and was based on a reform intended to curb spiraling officials' pension costs. 

    Redd's mayoral salary was $102,000, so, until last week, her pension increase would have been relatively small if Christie had signed the bill. Our main objection in a previous editorial was the process: Here was another hurry-up, end-of-session rush job, engineered by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and others, to revive a bill that failed miserably three years earlier. 

    One sentence in that editorial was downright prophetic, if we say so ourselves:

    "And, who knows what pension-padding public job she'll claim next if she's back in the Public Employees Retirement System?"

    Now, we know. 

    We still don't know how many other elected officials who switched offices after the 401(k) law came in will benefit from the largesse of Sweeney and friends. 

    We're not surprised that politicians conspired with other politicians to feather their own retirement nests. But we are surprised at how willingly Christie signed the bill, since the action makes ring hollow every word he's ever uttered about the need for public pension reform.  

    As recently as last month, Christie warned decisively about the need for further "difficult reforms" to save the pension system, beyond the landmark changes that he and Sweeney collaborated on in 2011. 

    It's no wonder that every beat cop, every firefighter, even every well-compensated teacher, steams as Christie and friends continue to treat politicians as a specially protected class. The pity is that we really do need further state pension reforms. Christie, in approving Dana Redd's Monday coronation, makes riding down that path even bumpier than Queen Elizabeth's coach.

    Send a letter to the editor of South Jersey Times at

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.

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    For three Skyland Conference members of the New Jersey Wrestling Top 20, Tuesday, Jan. 16 is moving day.

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    A former state champion re-classified this week to highlight several weight-class changes

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    Who shined in the past week on the basketball court?

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    Which N.J. hockey teams are currently the state's best?

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    See who the top stat leaders are in each girls basketball category on Jan. 17.

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    See which players are at the top of each statistical list early in the season.

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    He is known for running several successful restaurants in Philadelphia and Collingswood.

    A well-known chef and restaurant owner was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to 20 years in prison after admitting he and his ex-girlfriend conspired to record themselves engaging in sexual activities with children.

    Alexander Capasso, 44, of Collingswood, took a plea deal in June, two years after he sent sexually explicit photos of at least one of the two children he admitted photographing to undercover FBI agent, according to U.S. District Court documents.

    Capasso is known in the culinary scene in and around Philadelphia. He operated Blackbird Dining Establishment and West Side Gravy in Collingswood between 2007 and 2013 and was a former partner in Crow & Pitcher in Philadelphia, which has since closed.

    The U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey said in a statement Wednesday that Capasso and his former girlfriend, Audubon nurse Janine Kelley, 36, began dating in 2010.

    Authorities allege in court documents that after he told Kelley he was interested in sexual conduct with children, she and Capasso recorded or photographed each other doing sexually explicit things to a girl and a boy who were both under 10.

    The mother of one of the children gave a statement in court Wednesday, calling Capasso a "monster" and saying that her daughter still recalls what was done to her, according to

    Kelley pleaded guilty in August of 2016 to the same charge as Capasso: conspiring to engage in the sexual exploitation of the children. She faces a sentence of between 15 and 30 years when she is sentenced Friday.

    In their online and text message conversations, Capasso allegedly told the agent he was looking forward to abusing the daughter he was expecting soon.

    In court Wednesday, Capasso apologized for his actions and denied ever abusing his own three children, according to

    As part of his sentence, Capasso will have to register as a sex offender and be under supervised release for the rest of his life.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find on Facebook.


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    Take a look at how your team stacked up in the latest rankings.

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    Folks have long been delighted by informal photos and videos - like those on 'Candid Camera.'

    This week's collection of vintage photos depicts New Jerseyans captured in candid images. We have posted candid photos for the past few years and they have proven to be quite popular among our audience. But, we are not charting new territory here; folks have long been delighted by informal photos and videos.

    According to the Archive of American Television, "Candid Camera" was the first and longest-running reality-based comedy program in TV history. It evolved from a radio program called "Candid Microphone."


    The archive notes that "the format of the program featured footage taken by a hidden camera of everyday people caught in hoaxes devised by the show's host Allen Funt. He and his crew had to contend with burdensome equipment that was difficult to conceal. The cameras were often hidden behind a screen, but the lights needed for them had to be left out in the open. Would-be victims were told that the lights were part of 'renovations.'"

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    "Candid Camera" ran from 1949 through 1967 and again -- using the original format and some variations such as "Candid Camera Goes to the Doctor" -- from 1974 through 1993. In many ways, it was the precursor to today's reality programming. But, it maintained one principle many of its offspring can't claim -

    Candid Camera never scripted a single segment in its history.

    Here's a gallery of candid moments from New Jersey, as well as links to older galleries you'll enjoy.

    Vintage photos capturing candid slices of life in N.J.

    More vintage candid photos from N.J.

    Vintage photos of celebs from N.J. when they were young

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    The new governor seemed to echo critics' knocks on the state Economic Development Authority's generous tax-break packages. Does he think they need to go away?

    New Jersey's recent $5 billion love tap to nudge toward Newark for its second North American headquarters was likely on the minds of most who heard Gov. Phil Murphy say this during his inaugural speech Tuesday:

    "A stronger and fairer New Jersey creates tools for small businesses ... and women, veteran, and minority-owned businesses ... to thrive instead of delivering massive tax breaks to a handful of select and connected big corporations that don't need them in the first place."

    Former Gov. Chris Christie recently signed off on the $5 billion incentive package for Amazon that sailed through the lame-duck Legslature. With another $2 billion proposed by Newark, the incentives could reach $7 billion.

    During his campaign, Murphy talked up New Jersey for Amazon HQ2. He was quoted as saying, "No state in the union is better suited to be Amazon's new home than New Jersey. Period. Full stop."

    But Murphy has been generally inscrutable about the Amazon incentives, perhaps because trashing them outright would suggest that he's willing to walk away from tens of thousands of jobs and billions in investment. 

    It's quite possible that Murphy's remarks Tuesday had less to do with the special case that is Amazon than the billions in incentives that are already flowing under existing programs like Grow NJ, administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

    Grow NJ, targeted to distressed cities, is seen as the savior of Camden by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Democratic power broker George Norcross III and others. But critics see it as the state's biggest symbol of corporate welfare.

    An NJ Advance Media tally of the 10 most expensive pre-Amazon "big deal" subsidies, found that three were for firms moving to or expanding in Camden: $260 million for Holtec Industries (moving from Evesham Township); $264 million for Camden's EMR Eastern to build a metals recycling plant there; New Jersey American Water Co., $164 million to relocate from Voorhees Township.

    Ten-year tax-break packages handed out in Camden under Grow NJ reached more than $1 billion as of last spring. Other big names include Subaru of America, The Philadelphia 76ers, even an office tower to house Norcross' insurance firm. In sum, they're a Who's Who of the connected and the corporate big guys.

    Another controversial NJEDA package, while much smaller at $12 million in credits, delivers South Jersey Gas headquarters from Folsom to Atlantic City, to the consternation of the Folsom and Hammonton mayors.

    Could it be that these were the "selected and connected big corporations" about which the new governor spoke? Left-leaning groups with which Murphy is aligned, notably New Jersey Policy Perspective, have put these handouts in their cross-hairs for years. They cite potential revenue losses and high public cost of each brand-new job. 

    The business-savvy website, citing an unidentified "insider," reported in November that Murphy might propose eliminating the NJEDA altogether, perhaps as a trial balloon in an attempt to force better accounting on the value of the incentives and how many new jobs they actually created.

    The governor soon needs to make clear where he stands. Many of the Camden projects we see taking shape now would not have happened without the NJEDA jump-start. Eliminating the agency in midstream could well kill some progress. But calls for improved economic justification of each project, as well as a limit on "poaching" jobs for distressed cities from their nearby suburbs, are well within reason.

    Send a letter to the editor of South Jersey Times at

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.

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    Who are the top forwards from the class of 2018?

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    Breaking down how N.J. natives are faring in college hockey this season.

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