A former chief lending officer of First Choice Bank (U.S. 1, April 4, 2007) has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the Small Business Administration to secure a loan. Prosecutors said he gave false information about the creditworthiness of the loans.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement that James Bortolotti, 51, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton federal court to one count of knowingly making false statements for the purpose of influencing the action of the SBA.
According to Carpenito, while serving as the chief lending officer of the bank, which prosecutors did not identify in the press release, Bortolotti became aware of a Small Business Administration lending program to incentivize lenders, including banks, to loan money to small businesses by providing a 75 percent SBA-backed guarantee on loans. When a lender applies an SBA guarantee on a loan, the lender must disclose information related to the creditworthiness of the small business. Prosecutors said the bank hired a consulting firm to help the bank apply for SBA-backed guarantees.
Prosecutors said that in 2012, a consultant from the firm submitted an application to the SBA for a guarantee of approximately $3.75 million on loans totaling approximately $5 million made to a small business located in Robbinsville. The application contained false information related to the creditworthiness of the business. Bortolotti knew the application contained false information but reviewed and signed the application on behalf of the bank, prosecutors said.
A private equity firm, ACON Investments of Washington, has acquired Pine Environmental Services of Windsor. Pine is said to be the largest independent provider of environmental test and measurement equipment solutions in North America. As part of the transaction, the management team of Pine will be significant shareholders alongside ACON.
“We are delighted to be partnering with ACON to leverage their networks across our markets and beyond to help drive Pine’s growth,” said Greg Rzonca, CEO of Pine.
“Pine’s national footprint, broadest EHS equipment offering, value-added services, and strategic focus has made it the market leader in its industry. We are excited to partner with the Pine management team to accelerate future growth both organically and through accretive acquisitions,” said Mo Bawa, partner at ACON.
Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Pine rents environmental test and measurement equipment, non-destructive testing equipment, and continuous emission stack testing equipment from 38 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Pine Environmental Services Inc., 92 North Main Street, Windsor Industrial Park, Building 20, Windsor 08561. 609-371-9663. www.pine-environmental.com.
Systech International, a Cranbury-based maker of packaging for pharmaceutical companies, has agreed to be acquired by Illinois-based Dover Corporation. Dover is a global manufacturer of equipment and components, specialty systems, consumable supplies, software, and support services.
Systech will become part of Dover’s Markem-Imaje unit, which is in the product identification and traceability business.
Systech specializes in anti-counterfeiting packaging used in pharmaceutical products and is expanding to cosmetics, wine and spirits, and medical devices.
“Integration with Markem-Imaje will boost Systech’s R&D capabilities and support our ambitious technological innovation agenda. The acquisition will also enhance implementation scale, accelerate innovation and help to better serve both our global client base and our partners,” said Ara Ohanian, Systech’s CEO.
“Our solutions are complementary, and the combined offerings will strengthen our brand promise of delivering authentic, safe, and connected products across the supply chain, from manufacturing to the consumer’s hands.”
Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2020.
Systech International, 2540 Route 130, Cranbury Campus, Suite 128, Cranbury 08512. 609-395-8400. Ara Ohanian, CEO. www.systech-tips.com.
Vyome Therapeutics, a Princeton-based biotech company developing therapies for inflammatory diseases, has appointed Craig Tooman as COO and CFO.
“It is with great pleasure and excitement that we welcome Craig to the Vyome team,” Venkat Nelabhotla, CEO and president of Vyome Therapeutics, said in a statement. “Craig is a seasoned industry executive with many years of experience as a biopharma CFO, during which he created and built companies and led the raise of over $5.5 billion in capital. This wealth of experience building life sciences companies and leading successful financing initiatives, including IPOs and mergers and acquisitions, will prove to be invaluable.”
Before joining Vyome, Tooman was CEO of Aratana Therapeutics, a pet medicine company. He also founded cancer drug company Avanzare Medical and was an executive at several other drug companies in the course of a 25-year career.
“Vyome’s locally acting, next generation drug candidates represent an exciting and promising new approach to treating inflammation-driven diseases of unmet need,” Tooman said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work alongside the exceptional leadership team at Vyome, as well as help shape the company’s strategy as it continues improving current standards of care for inflammatory diseases.”
New Jersey Economic Development Authority , 36 West State Street, Box 990, Trenton 08625. 609-858-6700. Tim Sullivan, CEO. www.njeda.com.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority has expanded its Angel Investor Tax Credit Program effective January 1.
The program offers a refundable tax credit against New Jersey corporation business or gross income tax for qualified investments in an emerging technology or life sciences business with a physical presence in New Jersey that conducts research, manufacturing, or technology commercialization in the state. Businesses must have fewer than 225 employees to participate in the program, and at least three-quarters of those employees must work in New Jersey. The program began in 2013.
“Increasing the benefit investors receive for injecting capital into young companies is an important step in positioning New Jersey as a leader in innovation,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement.
Over the summer Murphy signed legislation expanding the program. Changes to the program include an increase in the tax credit from 10 percent to 20 percent of a qualified investment, with an additional five percent bonus available for investments in a business located in a qualified opportunity zone, low-income community, or a business that is certified by the state as minority- or women-owned.
George F. Mason Sr., 80, on December 19. He was the owner/operator of George Mason Building Contractors in Trenton.
Neil Pirozzi, 87, on December 20. He developed residential and commercial real estate, such as Langtree Estates.
Annabelle Joy Block Temkin, 90, on December 25. She and her husband, Abraham, were the proprietors of M. Temkin Store Fixtures, a restaurant supply business on South Broad Street in Trenton.
Paul Vincent Walker, 66, on December 16. He owned and operated USB Merchant Services in Hamilton.
Daniel A. Harris, 77, on December 26. He was a professor emeritus of English and Jewish studies at Rutgers and published three volumes of poetry.
Donald C. Thiel, 96, on December 31. He taught in the Princeton Regional Schools for 35 years and was technical director at the Lawrenceville School’s Periwig Club. He was also a long-time volunteer firefighter in Princeton and Montgomery.
Hon. Mark E. Litowitz, 90, on January 9. Over his long legal career he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Trenton. In 1967 he became a judge of worker’s compensation, eventually becoming the Chief Judge of Compensation for the state for more than 20 years. In 1990 he was appointed director of the state Department of Workers’ Compensation. After retiring he joined the law firm Hill Wallack in Princeton.
Robin Hugh Cunningham, 77, on December 28. He worked in finance and investing for a time before retiring from corporate life to begin a second career as an entrepreneur, where he helped found several start-ups. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 13, he began a career in advocacy for the mentally ill in 2000. He was a national trainer for NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program, wrote a series of blogs for about living with mental illness, and gave numerous interviews and presentations on the subject. He also co-founded Cure Alliance for Mental Illness, a social activist network for mental illness research. In 2016, he created Sphere Initiative and Sphere First to improve experiential health through research and innovation.
Gaetano Martorana, 85, on January 6. He was the co-owner and operator of Brothers Deli in Ewing, retiring in 2010 after 22 years.
Affordable housing is in short supply in New Jersey. And affordable housing that’s accessible for seniors is even harder to find.
“The increase in the aging population coupled with the lack of affordable and accessible housing in New Jersey has left many older adults wondering how they will be able to age in their own communities,” says Melissa Chalker, executive director of the Trenton-based New Jersey Foundation for Aging.
Chalker’s organization is holding a free forum on senior housing on Thursday, January 16, at 8:30 a.m. at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at 50 College Road East in Princeton. Panelists include Christine Newman of the AARP, Courtney Christensen of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Jenny Dunkle of the Stockton University School of Social Work, Arnold Cohen of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, Katie York of Lifelong Montclair, Maria DiMaggio of the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, and Lisa Blum of Homesharing. For more information, visit www.njfoundationforaging.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Affordability is just one of the housing issues that seniors are dealing with, Chalker says. “Some are facing affordability issues. Some older adults are in situations where they may have a little more resources, but maybe where they live, they are having trouble downsizing from a larger home to a smaller home. They may have accessibility issues in terms of stairs and that sort of stuff. Others have need of some assistance at home and don’t need the full level of care provided by a skilled nursing facility.”
Government agencies at the state, county, and municipal levels all have programs aimed at addressing these various needs, Chalker says. But a major hurdle for seniors to access them is information. “There are great housing programs that the state offers, but they all sit in different departments or divisions in state government,” she says. “People are looking for information, and there’s not one place they can go get it. There is not one person overseeing or coordinating those programs.”
The NJFA published a report in 2018 advocating several policies to help seniors. One of the recommendations was to create a cabinet-level position in state government to organize and coordinate all the senior programs.
In addition to all the state agencies, there is a maze of municipal governments to navigate. For example, Chalker says, suppose you’re an older adult looking for housing and you live in a certain town and you qualify for low income or moderate-income housing. You would have to go to each individual apartment building and apply to their list to be accepted. Better organized towns such as Princeton have their own information clearinghouses, but what if you are open to moving to a neighboring town? “There is no communication between the towns in terms of housing stock available and how to apply. That is an issue that is difficult for people,” she says.
The New Jersey Foundation for Aging was founded in 1998 by four county offices on aging that saw the need for a statewide organization not tied to government that could be a nonprofit advocate for older adults. “We saw the writing on the wall,” Chalker says. “We saw greater longevity and knew there would be an increase in the older adult population in the coming years.” In addition to doing advocacy work and running a blog and website, the NJFA produces a half-hour long TV program called “Aging Insights” that runs on YouTube and on 70 municipal TV stations across the state.
One of the organization’s most significant achievements was the creation of a new data point for policymakers to use. Most people are familiar with the cost of living index, which surveys the price of various goods in order to estimate how expensive it is to live in a given place. The NJFA created a measure called the Elder Index that includes costs that seniors are likely to have including Medicare, specialized senior transportation, and other expenses. Beginning in 2015 the Department of Human Services was required by law to produce an elder cost index and use it for planning and information purposes.
Chalker grew up in Hamilton, where her father was a Mercer County Sheriff and her mother worked in daycare. She has degrees in social work from Alvernia and Rutgers universities and worked in case management before joining the NJFA as a program manager in 2008. She was made executive director in 2018.
Chalker says that policies designed to benefit seniors usually end up helping the general population as well. “The issues facing older adults are the same issues facing everyone in your community,” she says. For example, she says, everyone needs affordable, safe housing. “It’s a high-cost state, and we have a lot of factors that contribute to that.”
The organization’s 2018 report makes 10 policy recommendations:
Increase funding available for affordable housing for seniors: The report specifically calls upon the state to restore a $600 million annual contribution to an affordable housing trust fund, which was siphoned off to other purposes by the Christie administration. This would help the significant percentage of seniors that spend more than 38 percent of their income on housing, well above the recommended amount of 30 percent. According to the report, since seniors are paying too much for housing, many seniors are left short of funds for food and medical care.
Increase the number of rental subsidies available for seniors: The report notes that New Jersey is the most unaffordable state in the nation for a senior to rent an apartment, but that the current State Rental Assistance program only serves 4,000 people.
Establish a NJ Statewide Housing Director to coordinate housing programs: “Currently affordable housing programs are part of several different agencies in state government creating “silos” in which each agency handles its own housing programs. A dedicated position and office at the cabinet level could normalize eligibility criteria, standardize application forms, centralize housing lists, and coordinate entry into programs to make it easier for seniors to access affordable and appropriate places to live,” the report says.
Facilitate a statewide Affordable Housing Needs Assessment: A comprehensive assessment of statewide data would help with planning.
Establish a one-stop system for those seeking affordable housing: A one-stop office would help seniors apply for housing efficiently rather than going from housing development to housing development and joining multiple waiting lists while applying to multiple agencies for subsidies.
Develop and implement innovative Housing First supportive housing pilots: The pilot would allow low-income seniors to remain in their current apartments as long as possible by providing funding for unit modifications and supportive services. It would apply to people who are homeless, institutionalized, or housing insecure.
Promote policies that allow seniors to age in place: This would include a tax credit for retrofitting existing homes and requiring new units to use universal design standards in order to create more housing available to seniors.
Advocate for a cap on each homeowner’s annual property tax assessment: This would be based on a percentage of the senior’s income, along with implementing a flat homestead exemption without means testing.
Provide incentives for landlords. Landlords should get a tax break for not raising the rent too much so that seniors can stay in their current apartments.
Reintroduce the Municipal Volunteer Property Tax Reduction Act, which would allow seniors to do volunteer work in municipalities in exchange for a reduction in property taxes.
Like others at this time of the year, I’m making a fresh resolution to get out and get healthy by resuming my habit of taking walks.
And while a stroll through the neighborhood is good, I prefer those walks that mix my interest in regional history.
That includes one of my regular walking spots, Roebling Park in Hamilton Township. It’s a tract of county-owned property on the rim of the Abbott Marshlands — formerly Trenton-Hamilton-Bordentown Marsh.
Though it is less than four miles from downtown Trenton and behind rows of suburban homes, the park is a landscape of marshes, streams, small lakes, woodlands, and wildlife. Except for some power lines through a meadow region, it is generally undeveloped.
The signs starting at the intersection of Broad (aka Route 206) and Park streets in Hamilton Township lead to a gravel road entrance and a stone house that happens to be the oldest building in the region, the Watson House.
Built from rocks found in the Delaware River in 1708 by one of the area’s early settlers, Isaac Watson, the house was owned by the family into the first part of the 20th century. A series of owners and renters led to the building’s abandonment and planned demolition. It was saved, however, by the Daughters of the American Revolution during the 1976 Bicentennial. Owned by the county yet maintained by the DAR, the building is open the second Sunday of the month from April through June, and September through November. It is as Colonial as one can get.
Yet as old and historic as the Watson House is, it is just a kid compared to what’s farther down the path, where there is a picnic grove with a small monument designating the area as the Abbott Farm National Historic Landmark in Hamilton Township.
The National Park Service calls Abbott Farm “one of the country’s most famous archaeological sites.”
Gregory Lattanzi, an archaeologist and assistant curator in the New Jersey State Museum’s archaeology and ethnology bureau, says it “is probably the only site that had continuous native presence from about 10,000 to 11,000 years ago to contact period [when Europeans first arrived in North America]. While it is a national landmark, not too many people are aware of the significance of that site. It’s always outside of the radar. It’s like the best-kept secret in New Jersey.”
Abbott is Charles Conrad Abbott, a medical doctor and author who devoted himself to archaeology and natural science.
An abundance of Native American artifacts in the Trenton region fueled his interest, and in 1872 he wrote the article “The Stone Age in New Jersey” for the American Naturalist. A more developed article followed three years later in a Smithsonian Institution publication.
Abbott shared his ideas with other archaeologists and geologists, including the influential anthropologist Frederick Ward Putnam of the Peabody Museum at Harvard. Through Putnam, Abbott’s Trenton sites became the focus of a 20-year field research program, attracting leading American and European scientists.
Another archaeological research investigation began in the 1930s. It was led by the New Jersey State Museum’s Dorothy Cross, who wrote extensively about the site and collected artifacts on permanent exhibit at the State Museum — about a 15-minute drive from the site.
Another more obscure park entrance on Sewell Avenue connects visitors to history of a more recent vintage — evidenced by the magical presence of a grand beaux arts styled stairway leading from the brush on the bluff to the lot.
The reason is that in 1907 an amusement park opened in the area that is now known as Spring Lake. The area above the bluffs is residential now, but from Spring Lake, the ornate concrete staircase that once allowed park visitors to descend to the promenade around the lake can still be seen.
It is the remains of the entrance of a White City Amusement Park, built in 1907 by a trolley company that created picnic grounds and park as a profit-making venture — for admission and increased ridership. The area got its name because all of its buildings were painted white, following the fashion of the time.
Abandoned by 1930, traces of the park remain in a kiosk where there is a display with images showing women in long white dresses and men in suits walking near flume rides and boats. It also remains in the ruins appearing in the woods — most noticeable in the late fall and winter.
So where’s the Roebling connection? The Broad Street Civic Association, with assistance from the Roebling family, gradually acquired more than 300 acres of the land, including White City Park. When the BSCA sold the lands to the county for $1, the county named the park John A. Roebling Memorial Park. The sale also specified that the land would be a wildlife refuge designated for passive recreation.
Open all year Roebling Park generally provides a getaway from the everyday and is generally safe despite occasional encounters with individuals marching to a different drummer and even building structures across waterways. But the combination of deep history and observing wildlife is a winning one.
It was the church-white sign in the Princessville Cemetery on Princeton Pike that caught my eye: Brearley House. And while the sign is a respectable size, it can easily be missed while passing from Interstate 295 toward Princeton. But if you slow down and take the dirt road, you’ll find yourself on another path through history and nature.
Princessville owes its existence to the building of the Princeton Kingston Branch Turnpike. It was chartered in 1807 and connected Trenton to Kingston on what is now Princeton Pike. It was also part of a highway that connected New York City and Philadelphia. In 1808 a Princessville Inn was built to accommodate overnight travelers. A Methodist church stood just south of the Princessville Inn. In 1843 the inn’s owner, William Mershon, donated nearly an acre of property to the church to use as a cemetery.
“The first recorded burial dates to 1846,” states a history available on the Lawrence Township website. “The local African-American community received permission to utilize the cemetery for burials, some in unmarked graves, which continued into the 1920s. In 1890 the Chapel was moved and the African-American families living in the area built a small church (Mount Pisgah A.M.E.) of their own on Lewisville Road. The local African-American community received permission to utilize the cemetery for burials, some in unmarked graves, which continued into the 1920s.”
Today there are approximately 60 graves, including several black Civil War military veterans.
Follow the road by foot or vehicle for about a half-mile and you arrive at the Brearley House. The Georgian brick house was built in 1761 for James Brearley, a farmer and member of a prominent and politically engaged family that lived in the home until the early 20th century.
Eventually the house was abandoned and neglected and eventually became a target for development. However, the township secured the building, created a partnership with the New Jersey Historical Society and the Lawrence Historic Society, and launched a renovation project that brought the building’s interior and exterior back to how it looked when it was built.
The house is open with free tours on the third Sunday of every month, 2 to 4 p.m., and the first Saturday of the month, March to October, from 10 a.m. to noon. The grounds are open and there are picnic tables available. Free. www.thelhs.org/1761-brearley-house
At the rear entrance of the house there is a path that offers entry to the Lawrence Hopewell Trail. Turn right and you’ll follow past the office park clustered around Lenox Drive and then over Princeton Pike. But a turn to the left leads you into the woods. A sign there welcomes you to the Brearley-Great Meadows Trail, a one-third mile path that leads to the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park whose trail is part of the National Recreation Trail System.
The shaded and simple walk features a small bridge over a stream, a deck with benches to view the meadows, and a bench at the juncture where the trails meet to relax and gaze at the canal. Built in the 1830s, it is a 70-mile engineering marvel running from Bordentown to the Raritan River in New Brunswick (with a feeder canal starting near Stockton and running south to Trenton) that fuels the region.
You can also look at the dirt road without street lights or telephone wires and imagine being in the Colonial era. A turn to the right leads south toward the Route 1 overpass and then toward Trenton. A turn to the left leads to Port Mercer and Princeton. Since the right trail leads toward the highways, the leftward road tends to be quieter and takes more steps to return to the 21st century. In warm weather, fish and turtles are easily spotted. Deer and herons are more noticeable in cooler weather with deer sometime taking a swim across the canal.
And while it seems remote, it isn’t. During the week you meet daily walkers or joggers from the office park, bicyclists use it to ride from Lawrence to Princeton, and families, groups, and couples are often encountered. Yet it’s never crowded.
It is enjoyable, simple, and relaxing — like a small vacation.
Lambertville Canal and Wing Dam
Another favorite walk starts in Lambertville, heads south from the city along a strip of land along the canal, passes emblems of the past, slowly leaves civilization behind, and then offers one of the most spectacular views of the Delaware River.
The entrance is hidden in plain sight — right off Bridge Street by a small bridge over the canal. Okay, finding parking may be a problem, but there is a parking area behind the Lambertville Inn that connects to the towpath along the canal — where a vital train line that connected towns along the Delaware River once ran.
Some of the sites seen include the remains of a lock that let barges move between the canal and the Delaware River.
Also of interest are the abandoned passenger train cars, remains of the unsuccessful late-20th-century effort to restart train passage. While a few cars have been incorporated into the Lambertville Inn as restaurant spaces, two other decaying ones silently greet passersby along the walk — with one serving as the canvas for graffiti artists. Although that car’s entrance is chained to discourage visitors, it is easy to take a peek inside and imagine the ghosts of the many passengers who depended on the car to carry them through life.
Further up are the unglamorous but necessary Lambertville Sewage Buildings and a weir where the canal water roars through and leaves behind branches and logs.
After passing a series of old but functioning buildings that back onto the canal (and open to Route 29), the path becomes tree-lined, quiet, and less traveled, affording an opportunity to relax and slow down the pace.
Then about a half mile across from a bench on the right is a path leading down a bluff toward the river. Fraught with gnarled tree roots and rocks, it invites only the intrepid to enjoy its reward: the wing dam.
Built in the early 1800s to feed the canal and power Lambertville paper mills, it is now regulated by the Delaware River Basin Commission based in Trenton.
A combination of stone and concrete, the dam extends from both sides of the river in a chevron formation with an opening to let the water race through. Although often submerged after high waters resulting from heavy storms, the dam is usually slightly above the water line and provides visitors with the opportunity to walk close to the surface and into the center of the river.
There you can stand — or sit — with water running under foot and hear only the musical sound of the moving water. Look south and gaze at the white-capped water rushing over rocks and around small islands, then notice the river arching to the left and Bowman Tower on top of its mountain to the right.
Turn around and gaze at the silent traffic glittering in the sun as it travels across the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge and the 19th and early 20th century buildings of both towns seemingly out of a vintage Bucks County painting.
The experience — especially in the summer — is like walking into a postcard and then realizing the beauty and history under your feet.
Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, is the state official most directly responsible for fighting hate crimes.
Unfortunately there is plenty for her to do. According to a report released by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on January 13, there were 944 “bias incidents” last year in which people were harassed or hurt because of their identity. This figure represents a 66 percent increase from the year before, the largest since the state began tracking hate crimes in the 1990s.
Wainer will speak about anti-Semitism in a speech on “The State of Hate in New Jersey” on Thursday, January 16, at 7 p.m. at the Adath Israel Congregation at 1958 Lawrenceville Road. For more information, visit www.adathisraelnj.org or call 609-896-4977.
One of the worst incidents took place last month in Jersey City when a man and a woman shot and killed four people in a rampage that targeted a Kosher grocery store. Authorities said the couple also built a bomb that could have killed people 500 yards away had it detonated. The murderers were members of the Black Hebrew Israelites.
“The data confirms that incidents motivated by bias, prejudice, and hate are rising,” Apter said in a press release. “We encourage anyone who has been subjected to bias-based harassment or discrimination at work, in housing, or in a place of public accommodation to file a complaint with DCR, where remedies can include equitable relief and compensatory damages. And we are working closely with the entire Task Force to finalize a list of comprehensive recommendations on how to prevent and combat bias, prejudice, and hate among children and young adults. If anyone was not able to join one of our listening sessions but has ideas or recommendations for how to prevent or combat bias, we encourage them to please submit written comments to the Taskforce.”
Apter has been director of the Division on Civil Rights since 2018. She was previously a counsel to the attorney general, advising on civil rights and immigration, where she helped New Jersey’s legal effort to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Earlier in her career, she worked for the ACLU, where she worked on well known civil rights cases such as the Colorado bake shop that refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple getting married, and the Trump Administration’s decision to allow employers to opt out of providing coverage for female employees to access contraception as part of their health benefits.
Apter’s speech is part of a program at the Adath Israel Congregation called Mosaic. The Mosaic series of cultural events, which include art, performance, and thought, is meant to bring in members of the community who aren’t necessarily Jewish, and encourage Jewish and non-Jewish communities to learn from one another. (Lawrence Gazette, September 27, 2018.)
Ethics has become an important topic in the context of artificial intelligence. How much trust should we have in the reliability of AI systems? Can we rely on AI systems to act ethically? There are some notorious examples of bad decisions and bad behavior of some AI systems. For example, there have been problems with computer vision systems mis-classifying people with dark skin, and some chatbots have generated hate speech. (U.S. 1, March 13, 2019.)
Many AI systems are guided by the choice of “training data” that may be used in the initial setup of the system. If we are not careful about the data that is used to train AI systems, we might be training these systems to be unethical to the detriment of their users and the general public.
The Princeton ACM/IEEE will host a panel on AI and ethics with four experts in the field. The free meeting will take place Thursday, January 16, at 8 p.m. at the small auditorium of the computer science building at Princeton University. For more information, visit www.princetonacm.acm.org or call 908-285-1066.
The panel will begin with four short talks. Robert Krovetz will provide an overview and focus on how these issues relate to natural language processing. Rebecca Mercuri will talk about AI and elections, Lauren Maffeo will discuss bias in AI datasets, and Casimir Kulikowski will address AI and clinical responsibility. The short talks will be followed by discussion among the panelists and with the audience.
Krovetz is president of Lexical Research, a company doing research and development in natural language processing. Krovetz managed and developed a successful technology transfer project for the NEC Research Institute. He was a senior research scientist at Ask Jeeves and principal natural language engineer at CodeRyte. Krovetz received his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Mercuri is well recognized for her many decades of research and advocacy in election technology. She and her company, Notable Software, provide forensic investigations and expert witness services, including for contested elections, criminal defense, and intellectual property matters. Mercuri received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.
Maffeo is an analyst at GetApp, where she explores the impact of emerging tech like AI and blockchain on small and midsize business owners. She has worked in the past as a freelance journalist covering tech trends for the Guardian and the Next Web from London. She has also helped organize Women Startup Challenge Europe, which was the continent’s largest venture capital competition for women-led startups. She holds an MSc from the London School of Economics and has studied the effects of artificial intelligence in business at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Casimir Kulikowski is a professor of computer science at Rutgers. He has worked in pattern recognition, AI and expert systems, and biomedical and health informatics for 50 years. He is a graduate of Yale and the University of Hawaii.
The Association for Women in Science of New Jersey is holding an entrepreneurship challenge event that will award $5,000 for the best business plan. Second and third-place winners will receive $2,000 and $1,000 respectively. The deadline to register for the contest is Friday, January 31, and contestants will present their pitches on Friday, February 15.
The goal of the contest is to encourage women to establish entrepreneurial ventures. To participate, the team must be led by a female STEM professional who lives in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania, and the company must be located in one of those states.
The business plan should be no more than two pages and cover the team, the problem, your solution, competition, growth strategy, and a revenue model and financials. For more information or to apply, visit www.awisnj.org or e-mail email@example.com.
In this week’s Winter Wellness special section, starting on page 10, Dan Aubrey takes readers on a walk through area trails and parks that are connected to both nature and regional history.
One such walk follows the Lawrence Hopewell Trail to the historic Brearley House, just off Princeton Pike. But there is far more to the trail than that. On view through January 31 at the headquarters branch of the Mercer County on Route 1 in Lawrence is an exhibit of photographs from the trail by Susan Jacobsen of Ewing, who says of the trail, “I’m a visual person, and I saw the beauty in it. It’s interesting how the trail would change all the time, even from one day to the next. I love seeing it in different seasons.”
The possible takeover of Westminster Choir College (WCC) by Rider University is not a done deal.
Rider University’s attempt to impress upon the public that moving WCC students, in the fall of 2020, to Lawrenceville is the end of the story, is part of a misinformation campaign to get the public to believe that nothing more can be done to keep WCC in Princeton.
This is not a lost cause and it is not a done deal. On the contrary, there are currently three different lawsuits challenging Rider’s legal rights to grab WCC for monetary purposes.
These suits will take a few years to resolve, cost a lot of money, especially to Rider, which is losing money on it every year, and when it is resolved WCC may be an empty shell, unless the Princeton public will unite to support keeping WCC in Princeton.
If the public wants to keep WCC in Princeton it needs to write letters to the editors of the local papers. The public should communicate their wishes to the mayor of Princeton and to each member of the Town Council as well as to the president and members of the Princeton Board of Education.
Rider’s latest step is not what they originally wanted to do i.e., sell WCC, the college, and its property. That did not happen, and Rider is stuck and is trying to get its money anyway it can, even if it will cause the demise of one of the best choir colleges in the world.
Any elected Princeton official who encourages Rider to continue this destructive path, by showing interest in buying WCC’s property, is in effect aiding and abetting in the destruction of this jewel of Princeton.
If the public will rise to the occasion Rider may finally realize that there are no buyers to the property and will be willing to negotiate a settlement that will leave an independent WCC in Princeton.
With their colors and patterns and creative innovations, quilts are art that provide comfort and warmth. At the same time they tell stories: of the people who made them and the people who used them. Even the fabric — its dyes, its weave, its patterns — has stories to tell.
Take, for example, Juandamarie Gikandi’s family quilt. Made in the “Sunbonnet Sam” pattern — the male version of Sunbonnet Sue — it depicts a boy in overalls seen from behind peering through a fence. The circa-1940s quilt was made by the Princeton resident’s Great Aunt Mittie, who lived to be 104.
Gikandi’s grandmother — Great Aunt Mittie’s sister — was born in Arkansas in 1910 and subsequently brought to Massachusetts as a live-in domestic in the 1930s. When she reached age 65 and became eligible to collect social security, Gikandi’s grandmother traveled to Arkansas to bring back her birth certificate. She returned to Medford, Massachusetts, where Gikandi was born, bringing the Sunbonnet Sam quilt with her. “It is one of my most treasured possessions,” Gikandi says.
She recalls the quilt, during her childhood, at the foot of her sister’s bed. “It was an item of comfort,” says Gikandi, who inherited the heirloom. Although about 80 years old, the quilt, made from leftover garments and love, is stuffed with cotton. Not batting, as most quilters would use today, purchased from a craft or sewing store; but real cotton bolls, lumps and all.
“My family picked cotton,” says Gikandi, who retired from teaching social studies at Princeton High School in 2010. “The family owned lots of land. My grandmother sharecropped and told stories of picking cotton. You were paid by the weight, and so they’d leave sticks in to weigh more.”
The quilt is one of many that will be on view in “If These Quilts Could Talk,” an exhibition of locally produced African-American quilts at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie from January 17 through April 19, with an opening reception Sunday, January 19. Both the Princeton Sankofa Stitchers, of which Gikandi is president, and the Bucks County-area Friendly Quilters will be exhibiting contemporary quilts.
Although she has thought about quilting since childhood, Gikandi, who learned to sew from both her grandmother and mother, a financial aid administrator who raised five children, only took up the practice about 10 years ago. At that time she had enrolled her 12-year-old daughter — now a Kenya-based journalist for Public Radio International — in a quilting class and got hooked, teaching herself from books and patterns. In that time span she has completed about 70 quilts, many given as gifts to friends and family members. “I expect them to be snuggled under and used,” Gikandi says.
Each of her six children went to college with a quilt, each got another quilt when they graduated, and her oldest daughter got a star quilt when she completed her Ph.D. “When you give a gift of a quilt it lasts forever,” Gikandi says.
With her husband, Simon Gikandi, a Kenyan literature professor and postcolonial scholar who is the Robert Schirmer Professor of English at Princeton University, she has traveled to Ghana and taken batik and other textile workshops. These weave their way into her quilts, along with her collection of African fabrics. She describes her style as modern traditionalism.
Princeton Sankofa Stitchers Modern Quilt Guild was formed in 2015 by a group of African American women — Gikandi, Mada Cole-Galloway, and Paulette File — who began getting together to quilt and share information about the craft, toting sewing machines on carts to monthly meetings.
Members of the group chose the name Sankofa Stitchers to reflect the guild’s identity as a group that works with African and African-American fabrics, designs, and cultural experiences. “Sankofa” is translated as “look, seek, and take,” used by the Akan people of Ghana to represent the idea of reaching back to the past to acquire knowledge that has been lost in order to make progress in the present. Sankofa is represented visually either by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth, or with a stylized heart shape.
Sankofa Stitchers believe learning from the past serves as a guide in planning and securing a strong future. The group’s motto is “Each one, teach one.” Initially the group met in the home of its founding president, but as its membership grew the group moved its meetings to Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton; one of the members, Jane Wyche, is the minister of the church, and two other members attend the church. Wyche, who has been quilting since she was four years old, does what she can to meet the demand for new quilts among the babies born into her congregation.
In 2018 the group helped start a Girl Scout troop near Shiloh Baptist Church, teaching the Scouts to sew, cook, and make small quilted objects to donate to community organizations. Sankofa members sewed flannel baby blankets and baby quilts for local charities and made wash-cloth-based personal hygiene kits for Womanspace.
Each meeting includes a show-and-tell of a recently completed work. Gikandi describes herself as a “quilter stalker,” haunting such places as Jo-Ann’s Fabrics to find quilters who are reflecting the African-American cultural experience.
For the exhibition, Mada Cole-Galloway, retired from teaching at Lawrence Township Middle School, created “Morse Code Ubuntu Hidden Messages.”
Ubuntu is a Southern African term describing a philosophy that refers to acting in ways that benefit the community. Such acts could be as simple as helping a stranger in need, or much more complex ways of relating with others. Cole-Galloway says she first learned of the term when she heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu use it. “He explained how we as humans need to treat each other with respect,” she says. “So I decided to take Morse Code to create messages related to Ubuntu: spirit, humanity, respect. We are all dependent on each other.”
Ora Brown, a retired labor and delivery nurse, started quilting three years ago when she was recruited to the group. Her quilt, “Brown Bags,” refers to the practice during slavery of holding a paper bag up to a person’s face and “if it’s darker than your skin it means you work outside in the fields; if it’s lighter you work inside the house.”
Paulette File, a retired stay-at-home mother who volunteers for Arm in Arm, a nonprofit support organization, has sewn since childhood but “thought of quilting as something old ladies do.” She met Gikandi in a stained glass class at Princeton Adult School and has been a quilter ever since.
Gail Mitchell, a retired educator and poet — her book “Makers and Keepers” has just been published by Moonstone Publishing in Philadelphia — is known locally for her quilt tribute to Princeton’s Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood that hangs permanently at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts. A retired fourth- and fifth- grade teacher of English as a Second Language in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Schools, she first discovered her passion for quilting in 1989, using it as a teaching aid.
Her quilt “Tribute to President Obama” grew out of her experience attending the Democratic National Convention and includes the signatures of Senator Corey Booker and other New Jersey politicians.
Gikandi either hand or machine pieces her quilts and sends it out to a “long armer” to professionally do the quilting with a special long-arm machine. “They are artisans in their own right,” she says. “A quilt (top piece, batting, and backing) is not a quilt until it is quilted. Quilting enhances the pattern.”
“Ode to Gee’s Bend with a Little Bit of Mother” is Gikandi’s tribute to the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, whose tradition that goes back to the 19th century when African-American women pieced together strips of cloth to keep their families warm in unheated living spaces that lacked running water, telephones, and electricity. They developed a distinctive style, noted for improvisation and geometric simplicity, and have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among other major museums.
Gikandi’s eye can also be seen in her home, furnished with African antiques and African and African-American art, including prints from Jacob Lawrence’s Great Migration series to the Obama “Hope” poster. “I see these as bookend opportunities for African-Americans,” she says of the works.
Her dining room wall is a tapestry of African story quilts, gifts her husband brought back from his travels. Gikandi has worked with other guilds, such as Sisters in Stitches Joined by the Cloth, has collaborated with refugee artisans to produce a community quilt, and attends quilting retreats. She even secured a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to create an archive of African-American quilts at www.njdigitalhighway.org. At this stage in her life, Gikandi says, she enjoys the community in quilting, adding that her quilting groups are a kind of family.
“Sometimes I wake up and want to sew,” she says. “I dream patterns and fabric, and go into my space” — she has a quilting studio with numerous shelves filled with African textiles organized by colors — “and take scraps of fabric and play. From the ‘crumbs’ I make a larger fabric, or I take big pieces and cut it up into smaller pieces to be sewn together. It’s my creative outlet, very therapeutic and Zen-like. This is my writing, I write with my fabric to tell my story.”
If These Quilts Could Talk, Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion, Cadwalader Park, Trenton. Opens with a free reception on Sunday, January 19, 1:30 p.m., and remains on view through April 19.
The project also includes the following series of programs, all starting at 1:30 p.m.:
Sunday, February 2: Underground Railroad Quilts lecture by Cassandra Stancil Gunkel.
Saturday, February 8: Improvisational Quilting workshop led by Rose Miller.
Sunday, February 16: Quilt Arts and Culture lecture by Gail Mitchell.
Saturday, March 7: Adinkra Stamping workshop by Cassandra Stancil Gunkel.
Sunday, March 29: Improvisational Quilting workshop led by Mada Coles-Galloway and Juandamaire Gikandi
Saturday, April 19: Closing reception with quilters talk and community quilt unveiling.
The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m., Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. Free. 609-989-3632 or www.ellarslie.org.
The Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey has had the good fortune to work with visiting musicians from some rather venerable professional ensembles. And none are more highly regarded than the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Thanks in large part to a friendship with violinist David Kim, Philly’s concertmaster since 1999, YOCJ has performed with, and learned from, a number of the orchestra’s principal personnel. Kim himself has appeared with the YOCJ Symphonic Orchestra three times, playing concertos by Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, and Mendelssohn.
This year YOCJ’s Winter Concerts will be especially noteworthy in that, not only will the guest artist be a true rarity in the field — a female orchestral percussionist — but the music she has selected was written by one of the most successful of all living composers, who also happens to be a woman.
Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto will be performed by Angela Zator Nelson, Philadelphia’s associate principal timpanist since 1999. Nelson was the first female timpanist ever hired by the organization. In fact, she is only the second woman ever to be appointed to such a position by a major American orchestra.
Higdon, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, has consistently appeared on the League of American Orchestras’ ranking of top-10 most frequently performed living American composers. Her Percussion Concerto earned her the first of her two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Composition.
The work will be featured on the evening portion of YOCJ’s Winter Concerts, which will be presented in two parts on Sunday, January 19, at the College of New Jersey’s Kendall Hall in Ewing. (The snow date is January 26.)
An afternoon concert, at 3 p.m., will feature the YOCJ Wind Symphony, directed by Brian Woodward, in works by Steven Reineke, David R. Gillingham, and Edvard Grieg; the YOCJ String Preparatory Orchestra, directed by Phillip Pugh, in works by Arcangelo Corelli, Grieg, and Bela Bartok; and the combined Pro Arte Orchestra and Wind Symphony, again directed by Woodward and Pugh, in works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonin Dvorak.
Nelson will join the YOCJ Symphonic Orchestra for the evening concert at 7 p.m. On the evening program will be John Williams’ “The Cowboys Overture” and Franz Liszt’s “Les Preludes,” with the orchestra conducted by John Enz. In addition the YOCJ Saxophone Choir, directed by Jordan Smith, will perform Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus,” Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and a selection from “Symphony for Saxophones” by Steven Dankner.
All tickets will be honored at both concerts.
Higdon’s Percussion Concerto was written on a joint commission from the Philadelphia Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, and Dallas Symphony. The work served as a showpiece for soloist Colin Currie. In 2005 Nelson played in the percussion section for the concerto’s first performances, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.
“Having performed it before, I have some sort of grasp of the piece,” Nelson says. “Jennifer is really great. She really thinks about each person that she’s writing for. It’s a nice touch. Not only did she think about writing for Colin Currie, but I really think that she envisioned our percussion section as well. It makes it personal.”
In her program notes for the work, Higdon writes, “When writing a concerto, I think of two things: the particular soloist for whom I am writing and the nature of the solo instrument. In the case of percussion, that means a large battery of instruments, from vibraphone and marimba … to non-pitched smaller instruments (brake drum, wood blocks, Peking Opera gong) and to the drums themselves.
“Not only does a percussionist have to perfect playing all of these instruments, but (s)he must make hundreds of decisions regarding the use of sticks and mallets, as there is an infinite variety of possibilities from which to choose. Not to mention the choreography of the movement of the player; where most performers do not have to concern themselves with movement across the stage during a performance, a percussion soloist must have every move memorized.”
“I remember loving the piece,” Nelson says. “I am glad I have the opportunity to play the solo role in this performance. What Jennifer did really well in this concerto is to highlight the percussion section as well as the soloist. It got very positive feedback from audiences. It’s just a very exciting piece.”
Often described as a “neo-romantic” composer, Higdon was born in Brooklyn in 1962. She spent her first 10 years growing up in Atlanta. Then her family moved to Tennessee. Higdon’s father, painter Charles Higdon, always went out of his way to ensure that his children were exposed to the arts. She is now on the faculty of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music.
Originally Higdon trained on the flute. It was at Bowling Green State University that her teacher, Judith Bentley, suggested that she try her hand at composition. Despite a late start, Higdon made such progress that she was accepted to Curtis as a student. There her instructors included David Loeb and Ned Rorem.
Another one of her contacts from Bowling Green was the conductor Robert Spano, who went on to become music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Spano has remained a loyal friend and champion.
Higdon was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto in 2010. She is the recipient of two Grammys for Best Contemporary Composition: for her Percussion Concerto, in 2010, and her Viola Concerto, in 2018. She has also been recognized with awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, American Academy of Arts and Letters (twice), Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Meet-the-Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, and ASCAP.
She has served as composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Fort Worth Symphony. Her biggest hit, “blue cathedral,” has been performed more than 400 times.
In common with Higdon, Nelson, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, received ample encouragement and guidance from her parents and teachers.
“I started as a pianist, when I was 6,” she says. “I moved over to percussion in middle school because the band director asked if I would be interested in learning the mallet instruments. From there I took lessons on both and just found percussion to be much more exciting. I also found playing with an ensemble more enjoyable than playing alone as a pianist.”
Once she found her love, Nelson aimed high. She attended Northwestern University’s School of Music. Among her teachers was Patricia Dash, the first female percussionist in a top-five orchestra (the Chicago Symphony), whom Nelson describes as “a real trailblazer.” She also studied with James Ross and marimba virtuoso Michael Burritt.
Then she went to Philadelphia to obtain her master’s degree in performance from Temple University. There she was taught by Alan Abel of the Philadelphia Orchestra. When Abel announced his retirement she was ready to seize the opportunity. “I was studying with him when the auditions occurred, and I won his spot,” she says.
The process began as a blind audition, with musicians playing from behind a curtain, to ensure that first impressions were formed on a wholly musical basis. “The preliminary round, which for my audition probably included about 80 applicants, that was blind,” she says. “The semi-finals were also blind. Then the final round is when the curtain comes down and the committee can see who’s auditioning.”
It was the orchestra’s music director at the time, Wolfgang Sawallisch, a respected conductor in the twilight of his career, who was perceived as somewhat of a traditionalist — a solid interpreter of the core, dead-white-male-dominated, Central European classics — who had the foresight to hire her.
“I have him, along with the committee, to thank for being forward-thinking in hiring a female,” Nelson says. She is now in her 21st season with the orchestra.
Higdon comments by email: “I have worked with Angie on several occasions. She is a composer’s dream performer because she cares so much about conveying my intentions for the music. I know that she’ll make the solo part very exciting. I can’t wait to see what she does with the cadenza.”
YOCJ was founded by Portia Sonnenfeld in 1978 as a preparatory orchestra for the Mercer County Symphony Orchestra (now the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra). More than 200 elementary through high school students make up the orchestra and its performance groups, including two levels for strings, advanced symphonic orchestra, and small ensembles for brass, percussion, and woodwinds. Auditions for new students are held in January, June, and September. The next auditions will be held on Tuesday, January 28.
Nelson will return to conduct an interactive masterclass with YOCJ students at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North on Tuesday, April 7. The class will be free and open to the public.
She certainly has ample teaching experience. She taught at Temple University for more than 10 years, beginning in 1999, right after she secured her orchestra position. But she had to give it up after the birth of her twins in 2011. “I just couldn’t fit everything into a schedule anymore,” she says.
Working with the youth orchestra has allowed her to share her passion for new music while inspiring young performers to achieve their best.
“John Enz asked me to find something to play with the ensemble,” she says. “He asked for me to find something new, something exciting. Looking through the repertoire, Jennifer’s was the piece that just kept sticking out. Even at the Philadelphia Orchestra, when we play one of her pieces, it’s a true event. Her music is always very exciting, very accessible to the audience.”
At a recent rehearsal Nelson was back in the percussion section, playing side by side with the students. “I am eager to bring that experience of learning one of her pieces to a youth orchestra,” she says. “I thought by giving them this experience, and by working with them, that they would learn what new music sounds like and how exciting it can be.”
Nelson performs regularly with the Network for New Music and the Philadelphia Orchestra Percussion Ensemble. She participated in the premieres and recorded the first five sets of “American Songbooks” by Pulitzer Prize-winner George Crumb.
She and her husband, percussionist David Nelson, make their home in Media, Pennsylvania. They enjoy working as a duo, performing recitals and educational concerts for both children and adults.
“I’m lucky and blessed that I did the right practicing at the right time and I wound up with the right teachers in the right area for my audition,” Nelson says. But that luck never would have roosted without a perch to land on. Nelson’s good fortune came about through hard work and good timing, but it was all built on a foundation of support from those who cared.
Both of her parents, elementary school teachers — her mother an amateur musician who took piano lessons and sang in a church choir — recognized musical potential in their children. Nelson’s brother is now a professional trumpeter who teaches at the Denver School of the Arts. Her sister majored in flute performance. “Music was definitely encouraged in our house,” Nelson says. “Both my parents encouraged me. They were always very supportive.”
Never underestimate the influence of supportive parents and encouraging teachers. Thanks to both, Higdon and Nelson were able to scale their passions to the top of their respective fields.
Winter Concerts, Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey, Kendall Hall, College of New Jersey, 1900 Pennington Road, Ewing. Sunday, January 19. Wind and Preparatory String orchestras, 3 p.m. Saxophone Choir and Youth Orchestra with guest artist Angela Zator Nelson, 7 p.m. $20 to $25. www.yocj.org.