Publisher sues mayor for throwing away newspapers
NEW JERSEY–A weekly newspaper in Elizabeth filed a lawsuit in federal District Court in Newark in early October against the town’s mayor, claiming that he removed and destroyed copies of the paper.
The newspaper claimed in court documents that Mayor J. Christian Bollwage has personally taken and destroyed papers and has also instructed city employees to remove copies. The mayor’s chauffeur once removed a substantial number of the papers from a store, the suit contends. In December 1994, a custodian in city hall confiscated the papers from a vendor, according to the suit.
In January 1995, the mayor allegedly took copies of the paper from a public library and discarded them. He then asked the library’s board of trustees to stop displaying the paper prominently, but the board refused, according to the court papers.
Bollwage issued a statement that does not address the charges but questions the credibility of the paper itself. “The Elizabeth Reporter is a political publication and does not represent a source of legitimate news,” the mayor’s statement said. “Instead the publication is nothing more than a camouflage for political candidates and office holders and serves as their political mouthpiece.”
By publishing unsigned editorial letters and articles that are political advertisements, Bollwage’s statement continued, “The Elizabeth Reporter manages to repeatedly distort the issues in our community, thereby affecting the public’s ability to assess information and to make choices.”
The mayor’s statement also calls the lawsuit absurd and politically motivated.
Bollwage’s spokesman would not comment on the specific charges in the paper’s suit.
The paper’s editor, Sam Arena, said The Elizabeth Reporter is an independent newspaper that was established in September 1993. Arena said that a group of volunteers was prompted to begin publishing the paper after seeing “imbalanced coverage” of a dispute between Bollwage and a local non-partisan organization called “We the People” in other local media.
“We felt Elizabeth needed a voice for all different views,” said editorial staff member Jim Garvin. The Elizabeth Reporter, according to Arena, is not a paper for the non-partisan group.
Arena said that in addition to the mayor’s statement, Bollwage has said that since the paper is free, he is not doing anything wrong by taking it.
The paper’s front page lists a cost of 25 cents for the publication but Arena said that the paper is given to businesses and individuals and “it is up to them if they want to sell it.”
“We’re trying to get him to stop confiscating the paper and to quit harassing advertisers,” said Garvin, “If people do not want to read our paper, let them decide that.” (The Elizabeth Reporter, Inc. v. Bollwage; Media attorney: William Volante, Newark)