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Biden honors friend, former Rep. William J. Hughes, at Stockton awards

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — As a congressman, William J. Hughes spent 20 years representing South Jersey’s 2nd District, and in that time, made a huge impact in the region.

His legacy was honored Thursday evening by family, friends, colleagues, a former vice president and the policy center named for him at Stockton University.

The biannual William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy Honors are awarded for professional excellence and a commitment to public service, civility and bipartisanship. The center promotes research, analysis and policy solutions.

Presenting Hughes’ lifetime achievement award at Stock-ton Seaview Resort was former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Bill Hughes, you’re a good man,” Biden told his old friend, who joined him in Congress in the 1970s.

Former VP Joe Biden to present Lifetime Achievement Award to ex-Congressman Hughes

The two would sometimes ride the train together to Washington, D.C., from Wilmington, Delaware. Before that, Biden was a presence in Hughes’ first campaign.

“He became one of my heroes early on,” Hughes, 85, said in an interview last month, noting Biden’s work to clean up the rivers in Delaware. “I remember his ads very clearly, and that was before the environmental movement was as strong as it is today.”

When he ran for Congress, Hughes asked Biden to be one of his first guest speakers at a fundraiser. Biden said he had the “good sense” to campaign for Hughes, and for 20 years, they were not only partners in Congress, but they became friends.

“I’m known for riding Amtrak,” Biden said. “You do a lot of business on that commute, but a lot of the time Bill and I just spent talking about our families, getting to know one another.”

Biden talked about the many legislative accomplishments the two men achieved in the House and Senate, including passage of a ban on ocean dumping and major anti-crime laws. He also talked about Hughes’ integrity.

“It’s a privilege to honor a man without whom I know we wouldn’t be here because there would be no Hughes Center,” Biden joked, adding that he is not sure his career in the Senate would have been successful without Hughes either.

Far better, he said, is that through the Stockton Policy Center, Hughes’ legacy will continue to inspire good public service.

“It’s only through consensus and cooperation that the U.S. will continue to function,” Biden said.

On Thursday night, Hughes, who served three years as the ambassador to Panama under President Bill Clinton, was humble and proud.

“I have loved every bit of the work I’ve done over those years,” Hughes said, thanking Biden for his words. “I remember fondly my years on Capitol Hill.”

Hughes, a resident of Ocean City, came to the area from Salem County and served 10 years as a prosecutor before pursuing public office. He and his wife, Nancy, have four children, several grandchildren and a great-grandchild. While many of his family members came to celebrate, Hughes was sad to report that Nancy was not able to attend.

“She is certainly here in spirit,” he said.

To Biden, Hughes said he and many others miss him being in office.

“You sound more and more presidential,” Hughes said, drawing a resounding applause.

In addition to Hughes, Stockton also honored the late state Sen. Jim Whelan, who died unexpectedly this summer. New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney presented Whelan’s wife, Kathy, with his Excellence in Civic Engagement Award.

“Jim Whelan wasn’t just a big guy, he was a giant,” Sweeney said.

Other honorees include U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th; state Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington; Montclair State University Professor of Political Science and Law Brigid Callahan Harrison, a Stockton alumnus; and recent Stockton graduate Maryam Sarhan.

Shabazz talks social justice, education success at New Jersey teachers' convention

ATLANTIC CITY — Taking a cue from recent events, the state’s largest teachers union this week began a conversation on what it means to be an educator in the current social and political climate.

Author and activist Ilyasah Sha-bazz was the first of two guest speakers this year at the 163rd New Jersey Education Association Convention in Atlantic City, themed “Standing Together: Social Justice = Education Justice = Student Success.”

“I always tell my students, you can’t complain unless you’re doing something about it,” Shabazz told NJEA President Marie Blistan during her appearance, which attracted hundreds of teachers Thursday morning.

Thousands of teachers expected at 163rd NJEA convention in Atlantic City

Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz and is known for advocating for women’s and girls’ empowerment. Her appearance, which included a student panel discussion, touched on issues from gender identity to race to women’s empowerment.

Shabazz said she encourages students to be informed, speak up and hold leaders accountable. For educators, she said, it is important to educate equally and not exclude one group of students.

“It doesn’t matter, complexion,” she said. “What’s most important: right, wrong, truth, justice.”

Shabazz said children today have a luxury in being able to access and share so much information, and they are using it.

“It speaks to their humanity,” she said.

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The student panel included six Bergen County students from different backgrounds, races and genders.

Shabazz asked the students what they thought their teachers should know.

Conor Murray, who hopes to pursue a career in journalism, said he wants teachers to relate topics and lessons to current events and real-world experiences. Student Devin Raphael, who identifies as non-binary, talked about using language cues that can unintentionally alienate students, such as “girls” and “guys,” and suggested more inclusive terms like “y’all.”

Dean Conors, who said he has struggled with his own identity as a mixed-race teen, said teachers should know the impact they have on a student’s identity.

“As an educator, you are the very first people, besides a family member, that students will go to to understand who they are and who other people are,” Connors said.

On the convention floor, the NJEA set up a large booth to encourage participation in committees related to sexual orientation and gender identity, urban education, and minority leadership and recruitment.

Former VP Joe Biden to present Lifetime Achievement Award to ex-Congressman Hughes

Elementary school teacher Marie Corfield, of Hunterdon County, said educators deal with social justice issues daily, especially in schools with diverse populations. Acknowledging a lack of diversity in faculties — which are dominated by white women, according to federal data — Corfield said adding diversity to the workforce will help improve student outcomes.

“It’s huge,” she said. “When (students) come in and see someone standing in front of the classroom that looks like them, they feel connected.”

The teachers convention continues Friday, when the featured speaker is Mike Kuczala, director of instruction for the Regional Training Center, an educational consulting firm based in Randolph.

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A ceremony Friday afternoon will honor New Jersey Teacher of the Year Amy Andersen, American Sign Language teacher at Ocean City High School, as well as NJEA Hipp Foundation grant recipients and this year’s Award for Excellence recipient, Patricio Molina.

Ocean City students' recycling app takes first place in STEAM Tank competition

ATLANTIC CITY — With an app that helps people learn about recycling, two Ocean City Intermediate School fifth-graders received a first-place award in the statewide STEAM Tank competition Thursday during the annual New Jersey Education Association Convention.

Isabella Kenny and Daphne Brozyna, both 10 and from Ocean City, said they hoped to help solve what they saw as a problem in their school. They designed a mobile-phone application that mimics the popular game Minecraft, but its players can only use recyclable material to build. This way, they said, students learn what they can and can’t recycle.

“It was really exciting (to win) because we never really tried any competition before,” Brozyna said.

Local all-girl teams stand out at STEAM Tank Challenge finals

Brozyna said they were inspired by a teacher who stands by the trash and recycling bins at lunch to remind students what can and cannot be thrown in the bins.

“We wanted to help,” she said.

STEAM Tank, in its second year, is a statewide science, technology, engineering, art and math competition sponsored by the New Jersey School Boards Association and the U.S. Army. In January, as part of their school’s OC Life 21 Club, the two girls developed the idea under the direction of computer science teacher Maureen Baldini. In May, they were one of 193 applicants to this year’s STEAM Tank.

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Brozyna and Kenny competed as finalists last month at the NJSBA Workshop in Atlantic City. They were among several students from local school districts, including Egg Harbor Township, Little Egg Harbor Township, Cumberland Regional and Atlantic County Institute of Technology.

As part of their prize for the elementary school division, the girls were awarded $2,500.

Baldini said that while she was there to assist, her two students developed and designed the app themselves. Now, she said, the Cape May County Utilities Authority is interested in helping to make the app become a reality.

In addition to Ocean City students, two groups from Cumberland Regional High School took home third- and second-place honors in the high school division.

Atlantic County leader cries foul after Chris Christie names new casino regulator

Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday he was appointing former Cape May County Sheriff James Plousis as chairman of the Casino Control Commission, replacing current Chairman Matt Levinson.

Levinson, the son of Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, has been the chairman and CEO of the commission since 2012. He did not respond to a request for comment.

But Dennis Levinson said Thursday the reason his son was not reappointed was Atlantic County is suing the state over its share of the payments in lieu of property taxes, or PILOT, that Atlantic City casinos are locked into for 10 years.

“This is how it works, and it’s not a big surprise,” the elder Levinson said of New Jersey’s government under Christie. “If you go along with everything they want, they take care of you.”

Calls to Christie’s spokesman were not returned Thursday.

Plousis, is currently the head of the N.J. Parole Board. He has also served as the U.S. marshal of New Jersey, after being appointed by then-president George W. Bush. Plousis could not be reached for comment.

Levinson and Christie have been sparring since spring, when Christie backed off a handshake deal to give Atlantic County 13.5 percent of the PILOT.

Instead, the county has received 10.4 percent of the payments, which is $4 million less than what the county expected to get each year from the casinos. The lesser percentage raises the likelihood of tax increases for county taxpayers in municipalities outside Atlantic City, something that has angered mayors.

Despite the smaller percentage, the county is still receiving more money than it did from the same properties last year, according to previous reports.

The county will receive nearly $12.5 million from the casinos included in the PILOT program. That’s about $518,000 more than the $11.9 million the county got from those same properties in 2016.

The county was promised the 13.5 percent from Christie during a press conference in 2015. The state backed off the promise in the spring, claiming the county did not “step up to the plate” in helping the city during its financial crisis.

But Levinson said the county offered to collect trash, provide meals on wheels, and buy the city’s municipal utilities authority for $100 million.

“(Matt) was collateral damage in this, and we expected it,” Levinson said. “But Matt told me (before the lawsuit was filed) that he would be disappointed in me if I didn’t do what I believed was right for the county.”

The commission, described as somewhat of a judicial panel, has up to three members appointed by the governor of New Jersey and is in charge of licensing New Jersey casinos and their key employees.

The members serve five-year terms and can only be removed for cause. By law, no more than two commissioners can be of the same political party, according to the commissions website.

Matt Levinson’s term as chairman expired in August, but he has remained on while a new chairman was appointed.

Levinson was re-nominated by the late Sen. Jim Whelan in February, but he never got a hearing in the state Senate and was not appointed by Christie.

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer 

D. LEVINSON County Executive Dennis Levinson speaks at press conference against racism in the Virginia incident. “A statement by various religious, governmental and other leaders against the horrific incident in Charlottesville, Virginia.” at City Hall in Atlantic City, NJ Wednesday Aug 16, 2017. (The Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer)