NJ Hall of Fame Still Stuck in the Mud

Five years after its first star-studded induction ceremony, the New Jersey Hall of Fame is in limbo. Final voting for this year’s class of inductees has yet to take place and the annual induction ceremony, typically held in early June, has been indefinitely delayed.

Asked last week about the Hall of Fame’s status, Wayne Hasenbalg, president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which oversees the Hall of Fame, said that a public vote on this year’s contenders will take place “soon.” Hasenbalg confirmed earlier reports that there would be no gala induction ceremony this June. Instead, a scaled-down induction will likely take place in the fall.

A series of committees are rethinking all elements of the Hall of Fame, from the nominating process and induction criteria to the lingering possibility of a permanent home for the institution. “An entire relook is being done,” said Hasenbalg. “Six months from now it will probably be a new Hall of Fame.” The committees report to former football Giants star Bart Oakes, chairman of the Hall’s 13-person board of commissioners.

Since its first induction ceremony in 2008, the Hall has honored entertainment giants such as Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep; historic figures like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein; and major names from the worlds of literature, sports and business. But some of the inductions have been questionable—such as actor Michael Douglas, who happened to have been born in New Jersey but never lived here for any length of time. Even worse, some major figures have been snubbed, seemingly for a variety of reasons, most notably the poet Allen Ginsberg and singer/actress Whitney Houston, who was memorialized at last year’s induction ceremony.

The induction ceremonies, held annually at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, also have been a mixed bag, juxtaposing the occasional superstar appearance with sometimes-awkward acceptance speeches on behalf of long-dead historic figures. Springsteen has appeared twice—for his own induction with the inaugural class of 2008 and in 2010 to induct Danny DeVito.

Candidates for induction are chosen in a multistage process involving a voting academy, the board of commissioners, and a final public vote. A list of candidates for 2013 induction went out to the voting academy (including this writer) last September. The potential inductees included Houston, her cousin Dionne Warwick, Tom Cruise, Bill Parcells, Derek Jeter, John McPhee, Governor Tom Kean and President Grover Cleveland. The voting academy was charged with narrowing down the long list of candidates to 10 nominees in each of five categories for the public vote. But the voting academy results have not been revealed.

The Hall of Fame is proceeding with plans for a mobile museum; Hasenbalg says it is “a few months from launching.” Curriculum is being developed for the museum, which will be housed in a 53-foot expandable trailer-truck. The truck will visit schools around the state with informational displays about the Hall’s dozens of inductees.

The stated purpose of the New Jersey Hall of Fame is “to honor citizens who have made invaluable contributions to society and the world beyond.”

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