Friday, March 31, 2006

H.I.T.S.: Court reinstates Chief Santiago.. Seniors on fire over perceived slights.. Charlotte's story on Web thanks to Dan.


Police Chief Ed Santiago was reinstated yesterday by order of Superior Court Judge John Pisansky, who ruled the City's case was without merit. One observer remarked, "If I were to be vulgar and politically incorrect, I would say the judge bitch-slapped the City, but I'm not and I won't." Neither are we, and neither will we...

The rebuke is the stuff of this morning's news, which you can find on CLIPPINGS. You will want to pay particular attention to Bernice's perspective. There will be a lot of speculation about what this means for the position of chiefs of police statewide. But for Plainfield the more important questions may be what this means to the reorganization announced by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on March 22...and what the Mayor's misadventure will cost the taxpayers since the Chief is now seeking monetary damages. But of course you knew that?... fallout of the Chief's being put on leave was the spotlight put on the Administration's attempt to promote the wife of PBA president Andre Crawford to a position in the 9-1-1 staff for which the Chief said she was not qualified. Word in the street is that Mrs. Crawford will not get the position after all, and that the job will be posted as civil service regulations require...

If you go anywhere near the Senior Center, better wear your heat-resistant firefighting outfit. The Seniors are on the warpath, and they are not shy about telling anyone why. First is the issue of the proposed new Senior Center, with the Administration lurching from one mishandled communications opportunity to another...and then there is the outrage over what is perceived as an unprecedented attempt by the Administration to control programming at the Center...

...the specific flashpoint coming over a proposed school board candidates forum. Seniors issued invitations to all the candidates for a standard-issue candidate forum, just as they have done countless times before. Only this time, they report, they have been told their forum will not be allowed...on the orders of Mayor Robinson-Briggs...

As for the proposed new Senior Center, the Administration has introduced the watchword of increasing ratables and brought to the table, so sources on the Seniors' construction advisory committee say, a concept of building an age-restricted apartment tower on the East Front Street site, with parking on the ground floor and space
on the second floor for the Senior Center. As an idea, it certainly deserves to be scrutinized...

However, one senior with a sharp eye for detail has already pointed out that the most similar example to this in recent times was the mixed-use conversion of the old Tepper's building into the Horizons project, which has a 30-year tax abatement -- so much for the "ratables" argument... and of course we'll need more ratables if the taxpayers have to shell out for monetary damages to the Chief...

...a few other flies in the ointment include the $300,000+ already spent on plans for a Senior Center which would be thrown into the discard pile, and the fact that the East Front Street property was assembled in part with funds from the Freeholders and HUD's community development block grants for the specific purpose of acquiring the land to build a center. Question: Will the City have to return those funds if we don't keep the promises which were the basis of the funding?...

Sorely Missed Department, Communications Division: A good number of the forty or so mid-level managers have mentioned to me how much they already miss the monthly Executive Team meetings that Norton Bonaparte initiated when he was city administrator. It was a simple idea, a monthly meeting of department and division heads in which progress was noted on long-term initiatives and general management issues were discussed. The process led to better communications throughout the administration, as well as to opportunities to collaborate which might not have been apparent without the interaction. Continuation is not currently on the administration's agenda...

Charlotte DeFilippo, got her BIG story in the Ledger this past Sunday, and it's a good one. But it took days of nudging from me before the Ledger finally posted it online on Wednesday. You can check it out here...but you would have wanted to look at the print edition anyway, if only for the priceless photo of the Union County Dem chairperson holding court at her King Street home...most interesting thing, NO minority people at the fabled table....

Reading the fine print: Council Agendas. Has anyone else noticed some of the fine print in Clerk Wyatt's agendas recently? Under the various listings for 'communications received,' there is a newly noticed comment: None submitted by agenda deadline. (It used to read just 'none submitted.') And then the public comment section contains the following: "The amount of discussion on any single subject...will be limited to three (3) minutes." Am I reading this right? The entire time allotted to public comment on a single subject is three (3) minutes? Also noted: Corporation Counsel recenlty had an item for more money for tax appeal counsel -- but without a dollar amount? Was this just an oversight?

With my ear to the ground, my shoulder to the wheel, and keeping an eye on the fine print, I'm signing off for now...

[Tomorrow: More on The Ray and Dan Show.]

-- Dan Damon
Keyword: H.I.T.S.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Courier blowing smoke in LetterLand? - Declines to post Hervey piece

A long letter from Joan Hervey, local gay activist, appeared as a Speaking Out piece in the print edition of Wednesday's Courier, as I noted in yesterday's CLIPS. I emailed Joan early yesterday morning, telling her it was not online and suggested they might put it up if she contacted the editor. She did, and I am reprinting the exchange below, as well as the text of her letter, which she kindly supplied. (Remember, first email is the bottom one.) I find it interesting that Joan got the response she did when on Sunday, March 12, the Courier published a Speaking Out piece by former mayor Rick Taylor, "Dear Mr. President: Help this disabled veteran," which still can be seen online here. Go figure.
From: Courier News - Letters to the editor []
Sent: Wednesday, March 29, 2006 1:05 PM
To: Plainfield Area Equality
Subject: Re: THANKS SO MUCH FOR PRINTING: Domestic Partnership inPlainfield

At this time only smaller versions of Letters to the Editor are reserved for online space. Speaking Out letters will only appear in the paper.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Plainfield Area Equality"
To: ,
Cc: "'Plainfield Area Equality'"
Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2006 12:17:26 -0500
Subject: THANKS SO MUCH FOR PRINTING: Domestic Partnership in Plainfield
Hi, Thanks SO much for making my letter a Speaking Out piece! I really appreciate it! Would you please do me a favor and post it to your website too? It will get MUCH wider exposure if it goes on the Net. Thanks again, and if I can ever help you out, please just let me know.
Plainfield took small but vital step to equality


I would like to thank the Courier News for your editorials supporting the Plainfield City Council’s passing of Domestic Partnership benefits for employees of the city. The Courier has been very supportive of equal rights and fairness for our LGBTI citizens.

However, one point of clarification is in order. In a couple of editorials, you have stated that Domestic Partnership offers “most of the legal benefits of marriage”. While for now, it is the best we have, it is far less than true equality.

The most obvious shortcoming is that each county, municipality and school board has to agree to grant the benefits, sometimes very reluctantly. If someone works for an entity that has not yet passed the resolution, they have to go to that city council, freeholder board, or school board, and petition them to comply with the law, and grant the benefits. You may remember the Laurel Hester case in Ocean County. How degrading and insulting was it for that poor dying woman to have to beg and plead for the benefits that she had worked 24 years for, like any other employee? She was repeatedly rebuffed by a cold and unfeeling Freeholder board, until finally the pressure was so great, from the LGBTI community, from friends and co-workers of Lt. Hester, and then from their state legislators, that they capitulated, just a couple of weeks before she died.

Further, unless one happens to be employed by a progressive and forward thinking company, it is necessary for any employee to go and request personally that their employer change their insurance policy to one that will provide the benefits. So, basically, one has to go, hat in hand, and say “I’m gay, and I’d like to protect my partner. Please sir, may I have some benefits?”. It is degrading and dehumanizing under the best of circumstances. And the value of the benefit for the partner is subject to federal income tax, unlike the benefits to a spouse.

The rights themselves are limited to the following: hospital visitation, medical decisions, funeral decisions, limited rights of inheritance, and the medical and pension benefits, IF they are agreed to by the employer. Better than nothing, but we are aware of a number of cases where a hospital has refused to recognize the partnership and not allow one partner in to see their dying companion. And in at least two cases that I know of, the funeral director refused to allow the partner of the deceased to make the final arrangements. Again, it’s always up to someone else to recognize and grant the benefits.

All that being said, I do want to thank the Plainfield City Council, for their courage and commitment to fairness, and most especially Councilman Rashid Burney, for taking the lead on this resolution. I would also like to thank our mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, for her support, which she has demonstrated from the beginning.

I am very proud that Plainfield has been added to the list of municipalities that support equal civil rights for all her citizens. But in the bigger picture, it is just an incremental step towards true equality.

Joan E. Hervey is the founder of Plainfield Area Equality

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Domestic partner benefits

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Council President Blanco attacked by Dan? - Dan explains himself.

Yesterday, I received an email from a mutual friend of mine and Council President Blanco's, a portion of which I cite below, with my reply following. (If the writer wishes to grant her permission, I will post the complete message later.)

Dan, Regrettably, I am writing to ask you to remove me from your blog email list. I have enjoyed our friendship for these past few years, and I enjoy reading the blog and appreciate the work that goes into it. However, I am extremely disappointed by the attacks on Ray and the current council that have come from you recently.

Dear Friend,

I always welcome comments about the blog, and want to thank you both for the comments and the kind words of appreciation about the work involved. What you wrote has made me review what I have been doing with the blog in relation to the Council and Council President Blanco.

In the months since I started Plainfield Today in November 2005, I have made 105 posts to the blog. Many, many of them mention Council activity in a flat-out descriptive news-reporting manner. Only one was critical of the Council, and that for the way the Council treats the Mayor at agenda sessions

Of all those 105 posts, there have been 3 where I discussed Council President Blanco.

One was to refer people via a link to his blog to the positive comments he had to make recently about students of excellence from the Plainfield public schools. I am a great champion of public schools.
I am a product of a three-room public school. I was there the night he presented the councilmanic resolutions to PHS students Shemika Brooks and Andrew Asare. They richly deserve the commendation, and Ray as well for bestowing it.

The other two mentions have been in the context of public policy matters on which I think we have an honest didfference of opinion: changing the Council meeting night schedule, and confirming the Mayor's cabinet without the interviews I believe are essential to due diligence. In both these matters, I attribute the leadership on the issues to Council President Blanco since he did not speak against either. In fact, in the matter of the meeting changes,
Council President Blanco gave quite a lengthy explanation and defense of the change.

I have only a voice. Council President Blanco and the Council have power. The meeting schedule -- whether I think rightly or not -- has been changed by the Council. So be it. The Mayor's cabinet has been confirmed by the Council. So be it.

Now, as to your complaint of my 'personal disloyalty' to
Council President Blanco: I certainly appreciate any kindness Council President Blanco has shown me as a friend, and have always said so to him.

At the same time,
Council President Blanco has always said he would not be where he is today politically were it not for me.

We had known each other and been neighbors for years, and he had not taken part in local political life since his rough treatment
in being excluded from the expected chairmanship of the Democratic City Committee many years ago. The incident in which he was deprived of that expected chairmanship is, I am told, also the one over which Assemblyman Green's predecessor, Angela Perun, left the Democratic Party.
  • It was I who approached Council President Blanco several years ago about whether, as a resident and a media professional, he would serve on a blue ribbon panel to look into a film production company's proposal to develop Park-Madison.
  • It was I who interested Mayor McWilliams in appointing Council President Blanco to that panel, and who introduced Council President Blanco to the mayor.
  • It was I who suggested Council President Blanco should consider running for public office as a New Democrat, both to Council President Blanco and to then-chairman Al McWilliams.
Council President Blanco and I have worked hard and well together. We have had reason to celebrate together. We have had reason to be disappointed together.

I see no reason for that to change just because
Council President Blanco is now an elected official.

However, there has been a change.

Council President Blanco is not only Ray, the friend and neighbor. He is also Council President Blanco, the public servant.

Blanco is an elected official, responsible to all the residents for the leadership he exerts, and especially so since he is Councilman-at-large citywide. And not only a citywide elected official, but the President of the Council.

As Council President,
Councilman Blanco has power to shape the Council's agenda and direction, appoint its committees and exert a tremendous influence over the direction the community takes through tending its fiscal and legislative needs.

But this is America, and America is a democracy. We are allowed to see things differently, are we not?

Residents have a right to speak their mind about their elected officials actions, have they not?

I happen not to see eye-to-eye with
Council President Blanco on the issues I mentioned above. I don't consider expressing my difference of opinion an act of 'personal disloyalty' as you say. Rather, I see it as being loyal to what is important for Plainfield, as I see it.

In that, I do not differ from people like Helen Miller, Phyllis Mason, former Mayors Rick Taylor and Harold Mitchell, or anyone else that speaks up about the Council and its actions.

Council President Blanco has a bully pulpit from which he can -- and does -- express his views to the press and the public, every week, and soon that bully pulpit will include every home with cable.

Should I have no voice?

Readers are most welcome to comment on this matter. Use the 'comment' link below. If the writer gives me permission to publish her email, I will add it in full to this post and provide a fresh link. -- Dan

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Council, Blanco, free speech

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sharpe leaves lessons -- and questions -- for us all

As Sharpe James, Newark's legenday political powerhouse, leaves the stage without suffering the probable loss of another political contest, we are witnessing one more sign of a tectonic generational political shift.

The lesson? Though he did it with his signature theatrical flair, Sharpe knew when it was time to go. And he did.

With the passing of the giants of the civil rights era and those political pioneers who first took the reins of cities whose populations had become mostly minority by the 1960s and 1970s, new leadership and new questions emerge.

The real question is whether the new leadership -- Cory Booker in Newark, others in other communities -- will have what it takes to move our cities into a healthy, revitalized position in the 21st century.

Will these new leaders have the vision necessary to mobilize all the resources needed -- taxpayers, the business community, and investors?

Will these new leaders have the savvy to negotiate the difficulties that will arise on the path to progress?

Will these new leaders have the grit to stick to their guns through thick and thin, or will they give up and give in as the road gets bumpy?

Will these new leaders blaze a path forward for the mostly Democratic cities, and finally shed the paternalistic relationship forced on them by Democratic leadership elites stuck in a 19th-century machine-politics mold?

Sharpe gets to sail into the sunset as a Senator and an elder statesman.

The rest of us can watch and wait...or join the fray.

But the past is definitely the past.

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Politics, Democrats

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sharpe withdraws: In his own words...

Breaking news from the Ledger blog
"In James' own words ..."

March 27, 2006

Mr. Robert P. Marasco
City Clerk
City of Newark
920 Broad Street
Newark, New Jersey 07102

Attention: Honorable Members of the Newark Municipal Council

Dear Mr. Marasco:

As an opponent of dual office holding, I will not be a candidate for re-election in the 2006 Newark Municipal Election and hereby request that my name be removed from the ballot. I also wish to publicly thank the 10,000 loving and caring Newark citizens who signed my petition of nomination.

When I took office in 1986 as Mayor, Newark faced a $40 million budget deficit and had to borrow money to balance its municipal budget. Newark also had wide spread abandoned properties and vacant lots. It also had an image problem. Even more distressing, laid-off police officers were standing at Broad and Market Streets handing out flyers depicting Newark as “fear city. . . a bankrupt city. . . one without leadership.” On January 25, 1986, The New York Times editorial asked, “Who can lead Newark?” (see exhibit 1)

I am pleased to report that under my leadership, working with the Newark Municipal Council, Newark has a budget surplus in excess of $400 million in dedicated accounts to ensure that it is used for job creation, economic development projects and property tax relief for the benefit of all citizens, extending to the year 2010. I would like to believe that under my leadership Newark has climbed the rough side of the mountain and has become a renaissance city with pride, prosperity and progress. Newark is now a destination city with planned programs and economic projects that will surface over the next decade.

Since becoming Mayor of this great city, we have hired a record number of police officers.. .more than 1,600. We have not laid-off a police officer in twenty years. Most recently, on March 3, 2006, we graduated a new class of recruits to address gangs and violence in our neighborhoods. On March 31, 2006 a class of fire recruits will graduate
to become Firefighters and in April 2006, we will place another class of police officer recruits in our academy.

In 1986 we initiated a most successful implosion program, bringing down all of our failed public high-rise housing projects namely Columbus Homes, Hayes Homes, Otto Kretchmer, Archbishop Walsh and Stella Wright. Citizens are now fighting to get into our state-of-the-art townhouses. Former HUD Secretary, Henry Cisneros, speaking at the United States Conference of Mayors meeting in Seattle, Washington, stated “if you want to see good public housing, visit Newark, New Jersey.”

We have built affordable housing in every ward and neighborhood. Society Hill at University Heights won the Harvard University Dively Award for being one of the best examples of urban housing sites in America. We have improved our infrastructure, built new train stations and added ten new hotels paying occupancy taxes as well. We have brought back neighborhood supermarkets, movie theatres, skating rinks and aquatic centers. We have refurbished the JFK Multipurpose Recreation Center, the Rotunda Pool, our parks, museum, library and our downtown YMWCA to name a few.

We are proud to have assisted the Newark Board of Education with money, land, plans for a new office building, the construction of new schools and the addition of new swimming pools. Added to this, thousands of students have been given the opportunity to attend colleges and universities of their choice because of the privately funded “Ready Scholars Program” that I introduced in 1986 with the support of Ray Chambers. Also my AsheIBollettieri/City (ABC) Tennis Program with the late Arthur Ashe further assisted students to achieve academically and socially. (See Exhibits)

IDT and the International Institute of Research and Public Health moved to Newark. MBNA built a new headquarters in Newark. Malcolm X Shabazz High School and the Ironbound community have new state-of-the-art athletic facilities. We are attending events at what was once called the “impossible dream” to build in Newark. . .the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). We are watching minor league baseball in our state-of-the-art Bears/Eagles Riverfront Stadium. Families can dine at our new [HOP restaurant and a host of other quality restaurants. We can shop at our new Home Depot on Springfield Avenue.

Yes, a new Newark has emerged from the ashes of the rebellion in 1967. Please see the enclosed DVD containing my “2006 Slate of the City Address” outlining some of our progress. Also enclosed is an incomplete “James Report Card.” (see exhibits 2 & 3) No other city or mayor in the history of New Jersey can speak of a $400 million surplus for property tax relief Newark is healthy, well and primed to continue to be the leading city in New Jersey under the right leadership. Such leadership should demonstrate genuine love for the citizens and genuine love for the City of Newark and not merely spout rhetoric or perform publicity stunts.

For thirty-six exciting years (1970-2006), twelve years as a South Ward Councilman (1970-1982), four years as Councilman-at-Large (1982-1986) and twenty years as Mayor (1986-2006), I received and gave heartfelt love to the wonderful citizens of Newark, who became my extended family. No publicity stunts. No false, undeserved, unwarranted or self-serving media driven support. In fact, I had no media support whatsoever, even when deserved! And, no outsiders controlled us. We were from Newark, for Newark and loved Newark. We had the courage, vision, knowledge and strength of character to achieve against the odds and the paid political naysayers.

We have made Newark a better place and our progress is real and permanent. As pointed out in my “2006 State of the City Address”, and supported by an article in the January 2006 Kiplinger’s Magazine, property values in Newark have reached an all time high under my leadership. Homes purchased for a mere $40,000.00 are now selling for over $400,000.00. And remarkably we have one of the lowest water and property tax rates in New Jersey. We are a transportation, entertainment, service and college town with over 40,000 students walking our streets everyday and Berkeley College will soon open a campus in Newark.

Perhaps these are the reasons why two recent polls have Sharpe James defeating his closest challenger 60 to 30 percent, with 10 percent undecided. Newark in 2006 is a much better place with more ongoing visible progress than the Newark of 2002. These same polls revealed that my closest challenger had been invisible, inactive, a “no show” at community events and living out of the city since 2002. More importantly, owning no property in Newark and paying no taxes in Newark further eroded his support in the residential areas, and especially in my South Ward base.

Therefore, as we prepare for 2006 through 2010, there are serious issues before us in municipal government. Let us not be blindsided by “false” issues of change, simply for the sake of change. Mayor Frank E. Rodgers in the neighboring City of Harrison, served as Mayor for forty-eight years (1947-1995) with no questions of change, simply for the sake of change. He also served one term in the State Senate from 1979-1983. It has never been a question of how long one has served, but how well that individual has served.

We should not change from experienced leadership to leadership void of experience; or, from a proven record of service to one of no record of service; or, from having balanced twenty consecutive municipal budgets to one having never balanced a budget, simply for the sake of change. This false issue is desperate rhetoric that attempts to hide one’s shortcomings (no record to run on).

And then there’s the false issue of age. My hero, United States Senator Frank Lautenberg will run for re-election at age eighty-four (84) and will be ninety (90) years of age at the end of his winning term. Ronald Reagan won his first presidential term at the tender age of seventy-six (76) and served two full terms in office.

Change and age factors are targeted, self-serving political rhetoric that seeks to avoid comparison to my record in office, having moved Newark from “urban blight to urban bright,” having improved the quality of life and opportunities for all citizens, having fueled a true renaissance in New Jersey’s largest city and being named Mayor of the Year (2002) by the New Jersey Conference of Mayors. My record versus a highly paid outsider (out-of-town campaign fundraisers) with no administrative experience, a poor legislative record as Central Ward Councilman (a ward he lost to James in 2002) and owned by investors seeking municipal land and contracts.

The citizens of Newark, as revealed in the polls previously mentioned, did not accept this theme or premise of “change and new leadership” while offering only “for hire” community activists, convicted felons or disenchanted, disloyal or renegades from the James Administration. While being paid to run, how old, how new or how competent are members of my opponent’s team?

Thus, with the absence of any real change, reform or leadership in the offering by my previously defeated opponent, I wish to make known my real reasons for not seeking re-election in 2006.

As heretofore publicly stated, I am opposed to dual office holding whereas the State of New Jersey is not brain damaged to the point that one person must serve in two elected positions. There is an abundant supply of individuals possessing the talent, intelligence and creativity to serve in public office without the necessity of one person occupying dual elected offices.

I was selected and elected to the New Jersey Senate to spare Newark the possible use of “Senatorial Courtesy” to thwart the ongoing renaissance occurring in Newark. However, if you recall, when I was sworn in on June 21, 1999, I introduced Senate Bill #2030 which would have ended the practice of dual office holding in cities with populations of 100,000 or greater (see exhibits 4 and 5). In these large cities, mayors, council members and any other elected officials of Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth and Paterson would not be able to serve as elected county officials or members of the state legislature. Unfortunately, the GOP controlled the state house and the legislature under then Governor Christine Todd Whitman, refused to support the Bill or even bring it to the floor for a vote. Today there are many new versions of my bill both in the Senate and the Assembly.

Nevertheless, my position has not changed and has grown even stronger from pragmatic experience and observations. Therefore, as stated after the 2002 municipal election, I will not be a candidate for Mayor in 2006.

There are many precious moments during my long tenure in municipal government that I will cherish for a lifetime, including the many wonderful people and places that have shaped my life. One of those moments occurred the night my wife and I were overnight guests of President & Mrs. Bill Clinton in the Lincoln bedroom of the White House.

I think also of the many, many supporters and observers who candidly state, “Sharpe, you can ‘t walk away from power. You are perhaps the most powerful African American politician in New Jersey. Sharpe, there is no way you will not be a candidate in 2006. No one simply gives up power. You can‘t do it. You still have that fight in you. Let’s win the sixth term and then retire! Let’s drive your opponent out of Newark forever.”

Yet, if any one thing stands out, it is that it was never about recognition, title, fame, power or winning. I never dreamed or wanted to be an elected official. I always thought of being a career educator. However, because I was a community activist (President of the United Community Corporation, Area Board 9 and President of the Weequahic Community Council), I was asked by the citizens of Newark to partake in the 1970 Black and Puerto Rican Convention. Thereafter, I was “selected and elected” by the citizens of Newark. Perhaps this is why ninety percent of the people who meet me on the street today still affectionately call me by my first name. . . “Hey, Sharpe”. . . as opposed to Mayor.

Finally, and most importantly, I wish to thank members of the Newark Municipal Council for their invaluable guidance, cooperation and assistance in improving the quality of life and opportunities in Newark for all citizens. Promises made should be promises kept and we made a “Sharpe Change” in Newark as promised heretofore in 1986.

Our Newark today is not a perfect city nor is it a city without problems, but it is a city with a marvelous future unfolding.

I now look forward to continuing to represent Newark and Hillside as State Senator in the 29th Legislative District. With heartfelt love and all the best wishes, I remain

Respectfully yours,

Sharpe James
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Plainfield Today endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

TW3: March 20 - 26, 2006

Mondays, PLAINFIELD TODAY is a digest of Plainfield-only news from the past week: That Was The Week That Was -- or TW3 -- with links to the online stories.


Murder again topped the news in Plainfield this past week, with Murder No. 3 taking place in broad daylight on Friday morning, March 24. Police and EMT units were summoned to Green Brook Park Drive about 10:30 a.m., where Michael Gregory, 41, of Dunellen was lying in the road. He was pronounced dead shortly after being medevaced to University Hospital. An unidentified woman was also shot. The Courier and Ledger both reported in full in Saturday's edition -- though the Ledger scored a scoop with the IDs of the suspects -- Jeremy Watson, 19, of Plainfield was charged with murder and Shariff Raymone, 25, of Roselle as his accomplice. The Courier chimed in with the arrests on Sunday. Police say the crime was drug-related and that the parties knew each other.

The murder occurred just hours after the Elm-West Tenants Association held a public meeting to discuss crime in the area, and to hear from school board candidates.

Union County Crimestoppers had announced earlier in the week a $5000 reward for information about the murder of Robert Cody on March 14, which was the second murder of 2006.

On Thursday, a Union County jury convicted Timyan Carbell, 25, and John Calhoun, 26, of the murder of Paul Lecaros, 17, who was riding home with his parents after closing their bar, La Bamba, on April 3, 2004. The pair will be sentenced May 19.

Vonetta Sterling, 25, of 912-914 Putnam Avenue was arrested at her residence for drug possession. A DORA order (Drug Offender Restraining Order) was issued, barring her from being present in the area again.


MIA in Sunday's Ledger: The BIG story on Charlotte DeFilippo, Union County Dem chairperson. Hope we can count on that one being posted online later...but you do want to look at the print edition anyway...most interesting thing, NO minority people pictured at the fabled table....

Council Business: As Bernice pointed out in her Plain Talker piece, the Council had a busy agenda this past week: confirming the Mayor's cabinet, adopting a new Council meetings schedule, providing for domestic partners' medical and pension benefits, new Council rules of order, and two youth-related measures -- one providing liaisons to boards and commission for community service credtits, the other to advise the Council on youth-related issues. A full plate indeed, and passed without much fuss, as Bernice also noted -- except for the new rules of order, which drew comment from long-time activists Joe and Dottie Gutenkauf and Sandy Gurshman.

Bernice also quotes resident Mike Robbins as speaking out sharply about the tendency to think that legislation is the answer to problems of crime and violence, after comments by resident Ruby Wyatt, who recently lost a nephew to gun violence, drew many speakers to the mike.

The Courier and Ledger, predictably, gave the lead to the
domestic partners' benefits actions, with the Courier giving the action a thumbs up in its Saturday roundup editorial. Never a hint it would be a good thing -- on principle -- for other Courier communities to do...

My rant was that the Council, in confirming the cabinet without interviews, had sidestepped the established tradition of interviewing proposed cabinet members in exectuive session as part of their due diligence and obligation to minimize risk to the City of accepting unexamined candidates.

: On Tuesday, Mayor Robinson-Briggs announced a reorganization of the Police Division. The story was picked up by both the Courier and the Ledger, with the Courier editorializing that the 'new' plan should be welcomed in its Thursday edition. As the plan gets a closer look from observers, it is sure to generate more comment.

The new Senior Center was also on people's minds this past week. As Bernice noted, the Administration was to present its proposal to the Seniors' Building Committee in a meeting Friday afternoon. I'm sure more will follow as news from that meeting seeps out. But one reader raised an interesting question to me: Since the Senior Center is funded by the taxpayers, aren't all meetings -- including those of its Building Committee -- subject to sunshine and OPRA requirements? Meaning that the meetings themselves must be open to the public, and that records of discussions and actions taken must be available -- in writing -- to those who request them. It's an interesting question.

On Saturday, a letter from Earl Canady appeared in the Courier, claiming there is 'no money' for a new Senior center. This is the 2nd letter in recent weeks from Mr. Canady. In this one, he is dead-out wrong: As I reported on February 11, the $4.3M is in the bank and the city's account number for the funds is # C-04-55-822-001-901. Inquiring at the Senior Center, I learned that Mr. Canady is not a member or a regular attendee. So..... what's up, Doc?

Schools: The big news as I saw it was the attempt by a slate of candidates -- the CLR team -- to sneak a fundraiser into the Washington Community School without paying rent or the obligatory liability insurance rider. A deal was eventually worked out where they would indeed pay rent for the space and pony up for insurance, but in my opinon 1) the affair doesn't pass the 'smell test' and 2) a City permit should have been required. I say that since it was an advertised event, open to the general public, with an admission price, held in a public building, a circumstance that would require approval from public safety officials: police and fire chiefs, and the public safety director.

On Friday, I had a conversation with City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, who said she had been informed by one of the organizers that since a permit was not required by the school district, a permit was not required from the City either. The Clerk said that that indeed is the arrangement. However, I am sure that it holds for school-sponsored events. Someone has to explain to me how the school district can sponsor a School Board candidate fundraiser. Without Jesuitical casuistry.

Sunday's papers noted per-pupil costs in Central Jersey and Union County schools. Plainfield's spending is noted as above the state average.

Last Friday's Plainfield Today: "H.I.T.S.: Candidate fundraiser: no permit.. Council pokes public in eye.. Chamber eyes biz growth.. PCTV-74...where are you?"

Last Monday's Plainfield Today: "TW3: March 13 - 19, 2006"
..... Jerry Green's 'police chief' bill... Executive raises at City Hall... Cabinet confirmations...Domestic partner benefits... Murder No. 2... more...

Stories that may bear lessons for Plainfield

..... - Abbott Schools: Ledger Editorial: "Better-off parents should pay for child care"
..... - Bond Refi: "Middlesex County refinances bonds for $680,000 savings over 20 years"
..... - Budget issues: "Auditors releases findings on E. Orange school budget irregularities"
..... - Commerce Bank: "Plan board OKs drive-in branch, despite condo owners objections"
..... - Development: "Gritty Hoboken neighborhood yields 1000 new homes, visions of more"
..... - Eminent Domain: "Long Branch homeowners dig in against threat of eminent domain"
..... - Guns 'n Gangs: "Anti-violence volunteers get results on the street"
..... - Historic Buildings: "Montclair man who razed a piece of history stirs strong opinions"
..... - Historic Districts: "NYC Council Poised to Intervene on Enclave's Landmark Status"
..... - Harassing Goverment Employees: "Angry builder sentenced to jail, probation and fines"
..... - Homeless Prevention: "County official Wheeler-Hicks gets 7 years for swiping aid"
..... - Eminent Domain: "Bloomfield, after legal battles, will postpone building condos"
..... - School Violence: "Montclair 7th-grader arrested in box-cutter incident at school"
..... - Police: "In a Shift, New York Says It Will Add 800 Officers"
..... - Police - Chief without tenure?: "Roseland renews chief's contract"
..... - PSE&G: "State's Expert says if plants are sold, PSEG deal works"
..... - Public Access Cable TV: "Union Twp. changes add to content, quality"
..... - Public Access Cable TV: "Video on Westfield school budget now on local channel"
..... - Public Records - Editorial, CN: "Proposals go too far in name of security"
..... - Public Safety: "Sheriff blasts SA chief for disparaging Newark's safety"
..... - Real Estate 'steering': "Firm Steered Home Buyers, Group Says"
..... - Records: "Judge bars as 'unreasonable' a fee for council minutes on floppy"
..... - Schools: "Los Angeles Mayor Sees Bloomberg School Reforms as Model"
..... - State budget impact - SL: "Local leaders expect property taxes to soar"
.......... - CN: "Local municipalities weigh budget constraints"
..... - Town Clock: "Readington dedicates town clock in front of library"
..... - Tax Revaluation: "North Plainfield tax revaluation to be discussed by GOP"
..... - Televised Council Meetings: Joan Whitlow: "Newark Council: Can the camera"
..... - 'Transit Villages' - CN: "Mayor unveils transit village dream"
............... - "Dunellen envisions downtown transit village"
..... - Videotaped Council meetings: "In West Caldwell, it's 'let's go to the videotape'"
..... - Young Black men: "Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn"
..... - Zoning Guidebook: "New Book Breaks the Code (That's the Zoning Code)"


Long-time community activist Phyllis Mason passed away early Saturday morning. I am told a memorial service is being planned. Will post obituary and details when announced.

Chamber of Commerce: "Business group to discuss growth"
Heritage Internet Cafe: "Family aids in realization of business dream"
Hollis Tribute: "Ex-councilwoman to be feted at Richmond Towers Saturday"
Library - Amateur Photo Contest: "Plainfield waiting for its postcard closeup"
..... - Library holds amateur photo contest to add to history-rich postcard collection
Women's Health Fair: "City offers free health screenings to women"


Letter to Editor, CN: Sandy Spector: "Make a difference with Plainfield GOP"
Obituary: "Robert O. Cody, lifelong resident" - The young man who was gunned own last week on Liberty Street

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: TW3

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Murder No. 3: Arrests have been made...

Still having hassles with Comcast... - Dan

Long-time community activist Phyllis Mason passed away early Saturday morning. I am told a memorial service is being planned. Will post obituary and details later.

MIA in today's Ledger: The BIG story on Charlotte DeFilippo, Union County Dem chairperson. Not to worry, you can count on that one being posted online later...but you want to look at the print edition anyway...most interesting thing, NO minority people at the fabled table....


Murder No. 3 - CN: "Arrests made in Plainfield shooting" - ahhh, but scooped by the Ledger

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Crime, murder

Friday, March 24, 2006

Murder No. 3: In broad daylight

Plainfield saw its third murder of this new year of 2006 in broad daylight this morning in Green Brook Park.

A man and a woman were found shot, lying in the middle of the road, just off the West End Avenue entrance to the Park.

The Courier News reported police and emergency medical personnel on the scene at
10:30 a.m.

The man, I am told, was shot in the head, and succumbed to his wounds. The Courier identifies him as Michael Gregory of Dunellen, age 41. A woman companion was also shot, and lost a lot of blood. The woman has not been identified.

Drugs are suspected in the shootings, and suspects have been detained.

Read more in tomorrow's Clippings and Plainfield Today.

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Murder, crime, drugs

H.I.T.S.: Candidate fundraiser: no permit.. Council pokes public in eye.. Chamber eyes biz growth.. PCTV-74...where are you?


School board candidates fundraiser update: As of 2:15 p.m. Thursday, no application had been made for a permit for the fundraiser by candidates Claudette Lovely-Brown, Lisa Logan-Leach and Reno Wilkins scheduled for this evening at the Washington Community School. The rules are very clear: this is an advertised public event with an admission fee, using a public facility. A permit is required, to be signed off on by the police and fire chiefs as well as the public safety director. I remember being at a school election fundraiser that WAS shut down. It was at Questover, a
private residence next door to former Coucilor Malcolm Dunn's home. It was an invitation-only reception which had not been advertised to the general public. In other words, it should have been exempt from the permit requirement. Nevertheless, it was peremptorily shut down in full swing. Now I for one am not going to snitch on this evening's fundraiser, and if it goes forward without a hitch, we can just line this experience up with that of Flor Gonzalez' attempt to have a rally recently in support of police chief Ed Santiago -- a clear exercise of First Amendment rights -- only to be refused by Public Safety Director Hellwig. He apologized to her later and publicly, but you might be forgiven if you wondered whether two sets of books are being kept here... [original post is here]

Council meetings: Now that the Council sees fit to stick its thumb in the eye of the church-going public, its meetings are expected to shift to the new schedule in April. I will post the revised meeting schedule to PLAINFIELD EVENTS once the list of dates is available. Meanwhile, one wag has suggested that the day which falls between Tuesday and Thursday be renamed Wensonsday, which in the English-language style of contracting words could become Wensday -- has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?...

...speaking of the Council, there was some rustling in the underbrush when Council president Ray Blanco got ink in the January 25 Courier as "the first member of the governing body to earn a certificate of completion from a Rutgers University program for elected officials." It's a TKO: Councilors Cory Storch and Linda Carter also took the courses, Storch having completed the series. When contacted as to whether she had also taken the courses, Donna Vose, former 2nd Ward GOP councilor, said "Well, of course I took the courses that were offered, but in those days [the early 90s] there was no such thing as a 'certificate' for completing the courses." In the press release which apprised the media of his accomplishment, Blanco also said, "I believe it is my duty and responsibility to the citizens of Plainfield to learn how to govern efficiently and ethically..."

...Governing efficiently, like making the trains run on time, has always been a challenge for government leaders, but under
its leader, our Council has risen to the challenge with the adoption of new and comprehensive rules of conduct for Council meetings. The 28 pages of rules of conduct have been met, as you would expect in Plainfield, with heated comment. Bernice reported on the concerns of residents Joe and Dottie Gutenkauf and Sandy Gurshman. If this tickles your funny bone, you can check out Councilor Burney's website to see if he posts the new rules. Meanwhile, I am offering the Gutenkaufs and Sandy Gurshman the opportunity to forward their comments to me for posting on PLAINFIELD TODAY. It's about openness in government...

and last week was Sunshine Week, wherein media across the nation campaign for openness and transparency in government -- you know, sunshine laws covering meetings and freedom-of-information laws covering access to government records. Not with a bang, but a whimper is basically how you could characterize the Courier's participation, "quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass, or rats' feet over broken glass in our dry cellar
" as Eliot said. The Ledger seemed to be MIA altogether.

...while we're on openness, the city's public access channel PCTV-74 appears still inaccessible. The phone rings without end and without answer...and several visits have yet to turn up the physical presence of 'Tony.' Meanwhile, I was corrected by several who watch the channel -- the cable guy I am not -- that in fact the programming from the day of Rebecca Williams' summary firing is still running, unchanged except for a cursor appearing on the screen -- which, I am told, is a tell-tale mark of human intervention by someone not sure of what they were doing...

...and speaking of MIA [missing in action], the invitation I received on March 14th for yesterday's Chamber of Commerce meeting on 'Business Growth and Redevelopment' listed the city's new director of Public Works and Urban Development, Jennifer Wenson-Maier, as a headlined guest, along with representatives of the Union County Economic Development Corp. (UCEDC) and the Economic Growth & Tourism Commission, in the state's Commerce Department. Without explanation, Wenson-Maier was replaced by city administrator Carlton McGee. Longtime Plainfield resident Fleeta Barnes, representing the state, gave a detailed overview of programs available. The meeting was well-attended -- 50 plus participants -- and attendees enjoyed a light breakfast and plenty of networking at Jeff Dunn's Incubator building on Park Avenue. Challenge to all by president Donna Albanese: summarize your business proposition in seven words when introducing yourself. It was a valuable exercise and almost everyone tried to meet the goal -- some bringing belly laughs and applause from the crowd...

'Now it's do-si-do your partner...and swing the corner gal...' Have you noticed the construction work at one of Plainfield's 'corner gals' -- the YWCA? Well, it's worth a special trip up Church Street to get a peek. The YW's long-awaited Early Childhood Center is rapidly moving along. The new addition is at the rear of the landmarked 1926 YWCA building at East Front and Church Streets, and is part of a multi-year capital improvements campaign which also included the renovation of the theater space on the building's second floor... When I first came to town, the YWCA was going through a crisis of sorts, having a greatly diminished membership and out of touch with its base. It was often compared unfavorably to the YMCA, with its thriving health club and reputation for stability. Under the leadership of a renewed and strengthened Board, and its executive director Jackie Glock and her excellent team, the YW has turned the corner: its co-ed health club is booming, membership has grown and the capital projects are adding much-needed program space for the community. Ironically, it is now the YM which some say is in crisis...
'Now it's do-si-do your partner...and swing the corner gal...'

Thursday, March 23, 2006

School Board candidates' event raises red flags

UPDATE: As of 2:15 p.m. Thursday, no application had been made for a permit for the fund- raiser by candidates Claudette Lovely- Brown, Lisa Logan- Leach and Reno Wilkins scheduled for this evening at the Washington Community School. The rules are very clear: this is an advertised public event with an admission fee, using a public facility. A permit is required, to be signed off on by the police and fire chiefs as well as the public safety director. I remember being at a school election fundraiser that WAS shut down. It was at Questover, a private residence next door to former Coucilor Malcolm Dunn's home. It was an invitation-only reception which had not been advertised to the general public. In other words, it should have been exempt from the permit requirement. Nevertheless, it was peremptorily shut down in full swing. Now I for one am not going to snitch on this evening's fundraiser, and if it goes forward without a hitch, we can just line this experience up with that of Flor Gonzalez' attempt to have a rally recently in support of police chief Ed Santiago -- a clear exercise of First Amendment rights -- only to be refused by Public Safety Director Hellwig. He apologized to her later and publicly, but you might be forgiven if you wondered whether two sets of books are being kept here... [original post below --Dan]
You'd think people would have figured it out by now.

Plainfield is just too small for the word
not to get around. So what's the word?

Word is that the fundraiser planned by the Committee to Elect CLR for this Friday evening ran into a few snags -- of a legal and administrative sort. But that may be the least interesting part of the story.

The Committee to Elect CLR is the joint committee for school board candidates Claudette Lovely-Brown, Lisa Logan-Leach (a current board member) and Reno Wilkins. Word also has it the team is being backed by one of Plainfield's real estate powerhouses, well-known for the style of food served up at his big events.

In any event, the shindig had a full-page ad on the back page of the Courier's COMMUNITY section on Wednesday. Billed as a "meet & greet fundraiser," it is slated for the Washington Community School.

That's the first hitch.

A fundraiser for candidates in a public building? You may be excused if your ethics radar is going off. But wait! There's more! Word has it that the team expected to use the facility for free, and to be covered by the school district's liability insurance without having to pony up any of its own.

How could this be, you say? One of the candidates is a current board member, and it seems there is a provision for board members to use school facilities for recreational, entertainment or cultural activities if they are not otherwise scheduled. But a fundraiser for school board candidates? It just doesn't pass the smell test.

Want more? The local school board has a policy that such uses need Board approval 30 days in advance of the event. All school board members get a copy of the Board policies at the beginning of their term, so surely they know the rules? Seems the organizers didn't go through the hoops, and it looked like permission might be denied.

Somehow, after some rumored night-time phone work, it seems a way forward opened for the Committee to Elect CLR, sort of like the parting of the Red Sea.

Word is a deal to RENT the premises was worked out -- $300/hour is what I hear, which would work out to maybe $1200 including set up and clean up time. Then there's the insurance rider -- last time I checked, a $1M liability rider on a policy for a one-day event ran around three hundred dollars. And the cost of the full-page ad in the Courier, another $250-$300.

Oh, and don't forget the cost of the food. So now we're looking at in the neighborhood of $1800, excluding the food. That means the break-even point -- at $25 per person -- is 72 tickets, before the food. And then we can start counting money for the campaign?

Well, yes, after figuring in whatever donation is being made to the school's 'Books, Bed and Beyond' program, according to the ad.

I remember the time when $1800 was all that was spent on a successful school board campaign,
start-to-finish. And that would be raised in a few meet-and-greets in private homes, with donated food. How times have changed.

One person familiar with campaign expenses suggested to me that this wouldn't be much of a fundraiser, with the high overhead.

That may not necessarily be so. Remember I said the ruckus over getting the building may be the least interesting part.

What's really interesting is how money gets into a campaign. The trick is in this case is that the ticket price is $25, which is under the ELEC's contribution radar. That means that no individual donor information need be collected or reported for these small amounts. Which means an event like this provides a perfect vehicle for abuse of the system.

If a person (or persons) wished to, they could exceed the contribution limits by simply paying for the tickets and distributing them free. Of course, the campaign committee would have to collude by disguising the true source of the money.

But hey, this is Plainfield! Surely that wouldn't happen here? You may want to check the ELEC reports when filed to see how big a deal this fundraiser turns out to be.

There is still one last little wrinkle: fundraisers are required to have a permit from the Clerk's office, signed off on by the Police Chief, the Fire Chief and the Director of Public Safety. Without one, the event can be shut down, as has happened before. It's before hours, so I won't know about that till later today (Thursday), but I'll be checking.

Is this really a good foot to get off on for people who want us to entrust our children's future to their care? You tell me.

The CLR team's slogan is 'a new era in Plainfield education.' Speaks for itself.

Keep it in mind when you go to the polls on Tuesday, April 18th.

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: School board, elections

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Senior Center piece coming...

The writer called in sick, but is hard at work on a Senior Center piece...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Council abdicates - or capitulates? Administration conforms.

ABDICATION or CAPITULATION, that is the question.

In the matter of the appointment of the city's department heads, the charter calls for the 'advice and consent' of the Council to the mayor's nominations.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs declined to make her nominees available for interviewing by the Council in executive session back last December, as has been the standard practice for dog's years.

There was a lot of buzz at the time about why they were not interviewed and word in the street was that they would be brought on in an 'acting' capacity once the new mayor took office. Word in the street got it right, though people were still perplexed about why.

The 90-day 'acting' period passed quickly ('time flies when you're having fun'), and the administration awoke to the smell of coffee days before the appointments were to expire -- so abruptly in fact that the mayor made an appearance at an agenda-setting session to ask verbally for full confirmation of her cabinet.

May we infer from Councilman Storch's remarks on the subject last night (reported elsewhere) that the Council never got to sit down in executive session with the proposed cabinet just to discuss the cabinet?

The Council bluster of last fall that we had a 'strong-council' form of government seems to have gone the way of the March winds before the gentle April showers.

I never held for that 'strong-council' stuff anyway. I come from the school that says 'barring their being outright crooks or incompetents, the mayor's nominees should be confirmed with celerity.'

Interviewing the candidates in executive session provides the opportunity for the Council to do its due diligence and minimize the risk that the city is going to be embarrassed by the appointments somewhere down the road.

But not to interview the candidates at all before confirming them? That means the Council either abdicated its responsibility or capitulated to the administration, either way g
iving the administration carto blanco.

Will we ever know which it was? Probably not. We will survive, but with a Council whose luster is somewhat tarnished.

On a more positive note, the agenda for last night's Council meeting indicated the Clerk's office had received written communications from the administration regarding the appointments.
Conforming to statewide practice is a good thing, since the only form of communication the State of New Jersey recognizes in governmental matters is written.

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Council, written communications