Tuesday, October 31, 2006

League of Women Voters forum Wednesday


(A Detroit LWV rally, ca. 1920. Wayne State University Library.
Plainfield's chapter organized at the same time.)

The League of Women Voters candidate forum will take place Wednesday, November 1, at 7 PM in the Plainfield Public Library's Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room.

Come out and take part in this voter service offered by the Plainfield chapter of the League for over 80 years.

Ask your questions about matters of importance to the community and hear what the candidates have to say.

City Council seats and candidates are --

Democrat: Harold Gibson
Republican: Deborah J. Dowe
Independent: Robert F. Edwards
Democrat: Rayland Van Blake
Republican: Arlington Johnson
WARDS 2 & 3
Democrat: Rashid Burney
Republican: Angela L. Perun
-- Dan Damon

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Caboose hooks up and leaves

Train enthusiasts gathered round to say farewell to Jim Clarke's 1945 Erie railroad caboose last week.

PT dropped by to catch some pictures and chat with Jim, who is planning to move to Monmouth County.

Moving the caboose was an impressive feat. It sat on rails at the end of a long drive on the western edge of the Clarke's property and was screened from the street by stand of trees and shrubs.

The riggers essentially put the caboose in a sling and it was then hoisted aloft so that the tracks on which it rested could be dismantled.

After that, the rig was backed under the caboose and it was gently set down and secured for its trip to Port Murray in Morris County, where its new owner is located.

Jim is co-owner of Railpace, an enthusiast magazine. Stroll on over and browse around!

Jim Clarke and his 1945 Erie RR caboose

View of the crane

The caboose takes flight

Crew dismantles tracks beneath suspended caboose

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, October 30, 2006

With local race a snoozer, will Menendez suffer in Plainfield?

Blog-posting difficulties drove me from the house yesterday -- thankfully -- but you know politics didn't take a holiday. Went out and enjoyed the Mystery Mansions tour -- great job by the VWB crew!

On the tour, I ran across some workers putting up
Menendez and Dem Council candidate signs and handing out materials for the local Dem slate of Van Blake, Burney and Gibson as well as those REALLY BIG Menendez doorhangers.

These were NEW DEMS, you should know. No other Dem workers were spotted in the area.

So, with one week to go...how ARE things going?

PT monitored the pundits and papers over the weekend, snagging the following observations --

On Saturday, Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, an online content partner of the Congressional Quarterly, reported --
"In New Jersey's U.S. Senate race, a new Rasmussen Reports poll shows Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Tom Kean Jr. (R) in a tie at 43% each.

"A New York Times poll earlier this week also found the race tied.

"Key finding: 'What’s truly amazing about these numbers is the fact that Menendez can’t pull away despite the deep Blue nature of the state. By a margin of 54% to 36%, New Jersey voters prefer Democratic control of the Senate. But Menendez attracts only 74% of those who want Democrats running things.'"
That last sentence should be troubling for Dems charged with getting the vote out.

At 4 PM on Saturday, Congressional Quarterly posted its overview of competitive Senate contests, with this to say on the Menendez/Kean race --
No Clear Favorite
New Jersey Robert Menendez (D)
Vote for winner in 2000: 50 percent
"Menendez benefits from the Democratic lean of a state that hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1972. He may need that edge to pull through. After 13 years in the House, he has had only a few months to establish himself as a statewide incumbent — in January, Democrat Jon Corzine tapped him to fill the seat he vacated to become governor — in the face of a GOP barrage portraying him as a corrupt urban “boss.” He also faces the problem of a challenger with a better-known name: Tom Kean Jr.’s father was a popular two-term governor. Kean wears his dad’s mantle as a GOP moderate. But Menendez brands Kean as callow and shallow, unable to spell out his views despite some efforts by Kean to distance himself from Bush. The challenger does support the Iraq War, however."
Over at Political Wire on Sunday, the good folks were busy slicing and dicing the New Jersey race somewhat differently --
"Though two recent polls show New Jersey's U.S. Senate race tied, a new Research 2000 poll gives Sen. Bob Menendez (D) a six point edge over Tom Kean Jr. (R), 48% to 42%.
"Key findings: 'The poll found the electorate sharply split by gender. Women preferred Menendez 52% to 37%, while Kean had a three-point edge among men. Kean also held a five-point lead in South Jersey, while Menendez had a 10-point lead in the more populous northern part of the state.""
The Research2000 citation led PT to the Bergen Record Sunday story ("Menendez has a narrow lead, but it's Kean N.J. trusts"), whose headline neatly captures the differences between North and South Jersey on Kean and Menendez. Guess who has more votes?

Having more votes does not, however, mean an AUTOMATIC win, as the New York Times warned (
"A Race That Could Tip the Balance") --
"With little more than a week before the midterm elections, the battle between Mr. Kean and Mr. Menendez remains one of the tightest races in the country, although New Jersey’s electoral history would seem to favor the incumbent, even if he was named to the job last year after Jon S. Corzine traded his Senate seat for the governor’s mansion.

"A New York Times/CBS News poll released on Thursday revealed just how close the race is. In the poll, 38 percent of voters surveyed said they were supporting Mr. Menendez and 36 percent said they were backing Mr. Kean. With a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points, Mr. Menendez’s lead remains statistically insignificant.

"Adding even more uncertainty to the outcome is that 19 percent of voters said they were still undecided and more than a third of each candidate’s supporters said they might change their minds before Election Day."
On Sunday, Times correspondent Peter Applebome weighed in with his Jersey diner observations --
"In New Jersey and elsewhere, we’re defined almost completely by what we’re not (Rove-ian right-wingers. Liberal whack jobs) rather than by what we are.

"What that means for the United States Senate race in New Jersey is no big secret. So on the one hand, we have Helen Dluhy, who scrunches up her face and gives the thumbs down sign when asked about Senator Robert Menendez, in her view, yet another ethically challenged Democrat. 'Every time you read the paper there’s something not kosher about him,' she said.

"And on the other we have Stephen Hynes, who voted as recently as 2000 for a Republican, Bob Franks, when he ran for the Senate against Jon S. Corzine, but has no interest in giving the Republican candidate, Thomas H. Kean Jr., a look this year. 'I think the Republicans have moved so far to the right that people who might have considered Kean won’t do it now,' he said. 'I’m voting for Menendez because I want the Democrats to take the seat.'”
Gov. Corzine was also overheard on TV Sunday morning worrying that the effect of the Kean ad bliltz may be to DISCOURAGE Dem voter turnout.

BOTTOM LINE? As PT has been saying for weeks now, it's all going to boil down to the ground war -- also known as KNOCK AND DRAG -- getting the voters out.

There are plenty of indications that just relying on the Dem base in New Jersey may not hack it.

So the Dems have had to develop a two-pronged strategy -- getting INDEPENDENTS to vote Dem and SQUEEZING EVERY VOTE POSSIBLE OUT OF THE HEAVILY DEM CITIES.

A note on the Ferguson / Stender House race (also see the coverage of their debate yesterday in today's CLIPS) --

Chris Bowers, over at MyDD, has been watching the HOUSE RACES. By his reckoning, sixty some are in the single-digit range -- including New Jersey's 7th Congressional District, where Linda Stender and Mike Ferguson are duking it out.

(Plainfield was carved OUT OF this district last go-around, but many know both Linda and Mike and are following the race closely. Our current district's representative, Frank Pallone, is an expected shoo-in.)

"Currently, like pretty much everyone who isn't named Karl Rove, I forecast Democrats to take control of the House. This is based on a huge amount of data, including district-by district polls showing Democrats ahead by around 20-25 districts right now (see Pollster.com and Electoral-Vote.com).
"However, what keeps me up and night, what still fuels my desire for continued and unrelenting activism, and what still gives credence to the worries in the back of my head are the polls from over fifty House races are currently showing campaigns within the single digits.


"This might be the most fluid election situation we have seen in America in decades. As many as sixty House races will be decided by a very slim margin. In other words, these races could all very well come down to things like GOTV [ get out the vote] operations, election infrastructure, or even what the weather is like on Election Day."

That last sentence holds for both the Senate and House races.

Meaning -- LOCALLY -- the ball is in the Plainfield Democratic City Committee's court.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Mystery Mansions house tour is Sunday


The Van Wyck Brooks Historic District's 2006 Mystery Mansions house tour is tomorrow, Sunday, October 29, 11 AM to 4 PM.

Eleven stops are featured -- including the 'haunted' 1880s carriage house on Field Avenue and a front porch reception at The Pillars bed-and-breakfast.

$20 per person or $5 for the haunted house only.

Tickets available at Swain Galleries, East 7th & Watchung, or Dairy Queen, 1367 South Avenue. Day of the tour, tickets are available at 935 Central Avenue.

Information: (908) 757-1464.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Development as Russian roulette?


As Mayor Robinson-Briggs' administration squeezes the development trigger in rapid succession, the thought occurs to PT how similar the development game is to Russian roulette.

As everyone knows, one of those cylinders packs a terminal punch -- but which one is it?

And keep in mind that the ONLY player in this game is the City -- unless you count the TAXPAYERS, who have a chance of being the losers.

Three out of the four redevelopment projects being contemplated have HOUSING as a major -- make that THE MAJOR -- component.

How good a bet is that at the moment?

Thursday's Ledger carries a story ("Home sales, prices keep sliding") with the following information--
"Nationally, existing home sales, which generally account for 85 percent of total home sales, dropped 14.2 percent in September compared with a year ago and the median price of a home fell 2.2 percent, to $220,000.

"IN THE NORTHEAST (PT's emphasis), sales of existing homes fell 13.4 percent year over year, while the median price of a single-family home in September was more pronounced, falling 5.1 percent, to $259,000."
Today's New York Times brings similar news about the NEW-HOME CONSTRUCTION market segment --
"The Commerce Department reported yesterday that the median price of a new home plunged 9.7 percent last month, compared with September 2005, falling to $217,100, the biggest such drop since December 1970."
The story also details 'hidden' factors -- such as 'sweeteners' that don't affect the sticker price -- which mask the REAL SLIDE in the market.

Everyone understands the housing market is cyclical. The question is: Where are we in the cycle?

The market is definitely softening -- wise builders are trimming their sails (see Hovnanian story and PT's take) -- but how far will it deflate? And how long will it be until a recovery sets in? Three years? Five years?

Let's review this revolver chamber by chamber.


The Capodagli Property Company LLC of Pompton Plains presented a concept overview to Council a week ago Monday (as reported by Bernice) and was slated to be conditionally designated the developer of the site at the Wednesday meeting. The designation resolution was withdrawn without explanation at Wednesday's meeting.

The firm's general counsel made the pitch and explained they intended to do the project in several phases, moving on to the next as each was built out and sold. The 352 one- and two-bedroom market-rate units would be offered in the $300-$350,000 range, the Council was told.

(One gauge of the possible viability of Capodagli's plans will be how long it takes Faith Bricks & Mortar to sell its newly renovated 4-bedroom, 2½ bath units near 7th & Watchung, for which it is asking $350,000.)

Unasked -- and therefore unanswered -- questions include whether the developer doesn't have the wherewithal to do the whole project at once? Or whether Capodagli figured buying out the PMUA might be time-consuming and possibly contentious, thus better left out of the discussion at this point? Or whether the firm figures it wants to see just how long this down-cycle in the housing market is going to last before it puts any more eggs in the basket?

The other interesting elephant-in-the-room is the fact that George M. Capodagli and any firm he is associated with is DEBARRED from public contracts for a three-year period ending April 19, 2007. Does that cover this project? And did it cover his work in Rahway -- awarded under Ms. Wenson-Maier's leadership as that city's Council President?

Beside these questions and issues, there is the matter of the PMUA's response to what may be regarded as an UNWARRANTED INTRUSION into its own plans for a portion of the area in question. For which it has the PLANS and the

Meanwhile, the PMUA is showing signs of feistiness with regard to City demands for reviews of improvements it has made at Cottage Place and Richmond Street. You'll want to watch how this one unfolds. As PT recalls, the last time the City tangled with the PMUA in a courtroom, the judge dismissed the City's case WITH PREJUDICE. Which amounts to a judicial bitch-slap by PT's lights. Is more of the same in store?


The Seniors have pushed for years for a new Center. The McWilliams administration worked with Jayson Williams and a local architect and the Seniors' building committee to develop plans for a new Center.

Property was acquired for the project and a portion of last year's BANs was set aside SPECIFICALLY for this project.

The new Administration set aside all that work when Mayor Robinson-Briggs came into office. Assemblyman Green announced nearly at once that the project was being converted from a mixed-use Senior Center/commercial development to a combined Senior Center with CONDOS above.

Once again, market-rate units in the $300-$350,000 range -- where do these numbers come from? Central casting?

How good are the chances the project is in the cards for the NEAR-TERM future?

The developers here are the Fishman brothers and pals -- through their DORNOCH operation.

PT was told at the time that they made a very smooooth presentation to the Seniors back on July 11, citing their work in Asbury Park, the Savoy (under way) in Rahway and the Palisades in Paterson. But they have something of a checkered past.

Although many remember the Fishmans as wanting to tear down Asbury's 'Tillie the Clown,' perhaps more important is the finagling that went on over getting the redevelopment agreement in the first place, as reported by AsburyPark.net back in 2002.

What kind of a deal has to be bracketed with a decision NOT
"to have principals in the waterfront negotiations take an oath to affirm that they didn't do anything wrong along the way."
And MOMENTS after the development deal is approved the Asbury Park administrator resigned, to plead guilty two days later to extorting $64,000 in the neighboring town where he was mayor.

Not only was there a great cloud over getting the deal launched, INCLUDING catching the Fishmans in CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS about the mare's nest of corporate entities they control and what each does and its relationship to the whole deal, Asbury Park eventually had complaints about how pokey the actual development was once it got under way.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The skeleton structure on the waterfront, a leftover of failed 1980s development, was to be demolished as part of the new deal. The new deal was inked in 2002. The structure was scheduled for demolition before Memorial Day 2004. It was finally demolished in the summer of 2006. See photo above of the Asbury Partners sign. Pokey.

Meanwhile, the Fishman brothers and pals were offering to come to the rescue of Paterson's Mayor Torres with a deal on an assemblage of property liens that is now reckoned to have brought the city near to financial ruin.

Aside from all the bells these stories should be setting off in the heads of our chief deciders, PT worries that the deal won't be able to fly as MARKET-RATE -- yes Council, KEEP ON DEMANDING those market studies! -- and will be converted to ALL subsidized units. Somebody needs to PROVE THESE THINGS CAN BE SOLD AT FULL FREIGHT. Or else the Council risks being BAMBOOZLED.


Little has been heard of the progress on the North Avenue proposal, but the clock is ticking.

As Bernice pointed out in the Plain Talker, at its August 23 business meeting, the Council
"...recommends to the UCIA that Landmark Development Corp. be conditionally named the designated redeveloper of the North Avenue Historic District. Landmark proposes a new entertainment plaza and 415 residential units while retaining the ornate facades of the district’s 1880s buildings."
Once again, we have HOUSING. It's central to the TRANSIT-VILLAGE concept which is all the rage these days. And PT believes NEW HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES DOWNTOWN will be key to a downtown resurgence.

But, again, we need to know there is a REASONABLE EXPECTATION, based on MARKET RESEARCH that there will be buyers IN THE CURRENT MARKET CLIMATE. Is that too much to ask?

Of course, Landmark Development's task is NOT made easier by the question of expanding the North Avenue redevelopment area. By the rules, the area is 'spozed to be designated AFTER A STUDY, and only then followed by a PLAN. Has this sequence gotten gummed up with regard to this project? Stay tuned.

As soon as the Latino property owners and merchants began to organize to insist on a role in these plans about to affect their investments, Assemblyman Jerry Green showed up.

Visiting up and down the block on a recent weekend, the Assemblyman passed out his private business card, telling -- so PT has been told by those who got the 'treatment' -- all who would listen that he was a partner in the development project.

Hmmmm. Isn't this kind of what John Lynch was doing?


Though AST, the designated developer of the former Marino's parcel on West Front Street (across from the Drake House), has kept a low profile, it is the developer with which the City at least has some prior experience.

Of a mixed sort, if you recall Bernice's reportage on Bill Nierstedt's letter to AST and PT's essay on the unfinished business with the Union County office building on the Park-Madison parcel and PT's accompanying photo essay.

Nevertheless, there are some positives here --
  • This is a devil we know...

  • Everyone agrees a supermarket is needed;

  • There is NO housing component to this project.
So, what's not to like?


Eternal vigilance is the price of successful development.

Developers have plenty of reason to want to rejigger deals -- ranging from ever-changing financial and marketing situations, to changing costs of materials and unexpected surprises when ground is actually broken (remember the North Avenue road construction project overruns?).

Will the developer DELAY the onset of a project? Will the developer ask for relief from taxes, permits, or other fees -- either associated with OWNING the property or doing CONSTRUCTION? Will the mix of subsidized and market-rate housing shift -- toward ALL subsidized?

And what should the City's reaction to such situations be? Where should lines be drawn? By whom? When should the City bend, and when should it hold firm?


The promise of TRANSIT-VILLAGE and SMART-GROWTH development is supposed to be that New Jersey's older communities are to be made more attractive as places to live and work by making or remaking the downtown space in a way that is not only attractive ON ITS SURFACE (read: new and penny-bright), but good for the LONG-TERM BENEFIT of the community.

Everyone is aware that we must be more concerned and careful of the environment. Which means our construction should 'rest lightly' on the environment -- be clean, energy-efficient, and ready for high-technology capabilities. Buildings should be well-designed, solidly built and use quality materials with top-notch constructions techniques.

Would you be surprised to learn that corners could be cut here? And costs shaved? What should the Adiministration -- AND THE COMMUNITY -- demand here?

What good would it do if ten years down the road, these new projects had to be declared IN NEED OF REDEVELOPMENT themselves because they had become obsolete before their time?

The cathedral builders built for the ages. Should we not insist at the very least that our developers build for A FEW DECADES?

Six chambers. Are there any deadly surprises waiting?

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Three rumors and a fret

THREE RUMORS AND A FRET -- Rumor 1: City Hall was abuzz yesterday with word of a MAJOR MAYORAL MELTDOWN between Her Honor and City Administrator Carlton McGee, who will be out the door in just one more week. About what? Who knows? Rumor 2: Tyshammie Cooper, McGee's handpicked choice to the fill the vacant Finance and Administration director's chair will NOT be coming to Plainfield. That means TWO TOP SLOTS to fill -- AGAIN, IN LESS THAN A YEAR. Hmmmmm. Rumor 3: U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie is said to be ready to turn his BENEVOLENT GAZE toward Union County after the November election. Will there be any sleepless nights in Plainfield?

THE FRET? -- Take a look at the photos below.

PT's interest was piqued with Margaret Lewis' letter
to the editor ("Burned eyesore still stands in city") in Monday's Courier about the burned-out house at 1220 Salem Road on the corner of Whittingham Terrace. Is she not right to fret after six months?

What HAVE her Council people done? What IS the City doing?

1220 Salem Road

Main Entry

Hazardous Structure Placard dated 4/20/2006

Rear of home

Garage, unsecured

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Faith Bricks & Mortar condos a tour de force


View of 209 East 7th Street during construction

Faith Bricks and Mortar held an open house for the public at its newly completed project at 209 East 7th Street this past Friday.

In this 10th project, FB&M renovated a dilapidated Victorian multi-family across the street from Swain Galleries into two four-bedroom, two and a half bath CONDOMINIUM units, with new electrical, plumbing and heating systems. AND closets galore!

For years, many thought of this project as 'Sally's folly' -- the reference being to Sally Beckwith, for many years FB&M's executive director and for whom this project is her crowning achievement, even though she 'officially' retired a couple of years ago.

Always leading with a smile,
Sally was unsinkable and unstoppable when it came to the '209' project. She convinced the agency's board it was workable. She wore down city officials who doubted the project was viable. She lobbied, haggled and persisted. And she wrung an outstanding project out of a situation in which very few others had any confidence in the beginning.

PT would like to think of Sally's role in this project as analagous to her skills as a theatrical director, in which her job was to see the potential in the play AND the cast and push, plead and cajole to get the max from the perfomers. All within an allotted time and on budget.

This project stands as a monument to the vision and leadership of Sally Beckwith and the whole community should take pride in its sucess.

NOW, the group needs to SELL THE UNITS, which PT was told will be offered through normal real estate channels at $350,000 for each unit. For more information, to schedule a viewing or pass along the name of a prospect, call FB&M executive director Evelyn Leverett at
(908) 756-5774.

There will be a REALTORS' OPEN HOUSE this Thursday, October 26, 10 AM - Noon. If you're a real estate professional, you will NOT want to miss this one!

A selection of photos from the Open House is found below.

(DISCLOSURE: Dan was a founding member of FB&M and its second president. The organization grew out of the response of Plainfielders to the 1991 Rodney King beating, as a result of a meeting called by the Rev. Margot Campbell-Gross, minister of the First Unitarian Society, who became the founding president. During Dan's term, the group finally was able to launch its first two projects -- on Arlington Avenue and West 3rd Street.)

The entry on Open House day

Looking across the common foyer

One unit's living room

The kitchen in one of the units

Executive Director Evelyn Leverett answers visitor questions

Board member Barbara Wallace indicates how spacious the rooms are

An ample parking area is provided

View toward Crescent Avenue church

View of East 7th Street

View toward the YMCA

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Of political whiskers and Plainfield

(Click on image to enlarge or print.)

Two weeks to go and Menendez has yet to break away.

As you can see from Friday's PoliticsNJ chart above, the Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll has them still at a statistical dead heat. The closely-watched nonpartisan Cook Report has it in the 'tossup' column once more, though on Sunday Charlie Cook seemed to change his mind somewhat.

The stars were out this weekend for both candidates, as covered by both the Ledger ("Sens.Clinton and McCain rally in N.J. for Menendez and Kean") and the NY Times ("Tight Race Draws Political Superstars"). The Courier only picked up the AP feed ("Political stars show up for Kean, Menendez").

PoliticsNJ's 'Wally Edge' column pointed out Menendez' apparent -- dare PT say it? -- flip-flop on whether he supported Joe Lieberman or Ned Lamont when he spoke before a Jewish women's forum at MetroWest last Wednesday. As one of the comments on the post mentions, Lieberman supporters evidently read it as SUPPORT for Joe, and posted Menendez' comments as such on their blogs.

Actually, it seems to have been a flip-flop-flip as Menendez apparently tried to wriggle out of looking like he was simply pandering for the suburban Essex Jewish vote. An elected official pander?! Mon dieu!

The NY Times article ("A Nod to Lieberman [for a While, at Least]") illustrated the attempt to spin the news.

Paul Mulshine was even less charitable in his Sunday Ledger piece ("Menendez lacks good liar's skills"), outright calling Menendez a liar and detailing exactly how the matter went down -- both at the MetroWest forum and in the Senator's spin on it to the NY Times afterward.

As for Kean, Mulshine says, he didn't LIE (he's too inarticulate) but he sure PANDERED --
"A cynic might note that Kean, in his presentation, pandered to the audience on the question of Israel every bit as much as Menendez did. This is certainly the case. But Kean didn't lie. He lacks the skill to do so. Kean is so inarticulate that even telling the truth is difficult for him. But that may well turn out to be an attribute in a race against Menendez."
Meanwhile, Sunday's Ledger carried a Tom Moran piece ("Like father, unlike son") in which he pointed out that Kean Junior walks a darker side of the street than his father, pointing out that Kean Senior drew up short of calling Menendez crooked, only saying that he comes from a "politics of corruption." Christopher Christie might be pardoned if he thought about how people who live in glass houses should be careful throwing stones as he read THOSE remarks.

Not that Menendez' supporters were asleep at the switch. Plainfield's own Dottie Gutenkauf blasted Kean Junior in a letter in Sunday's Courier.

Also on Sunday, Tim Russert had Bob Novak, Charlie Cook, David Broder and John Harwood among the guests on his Meet The Press (complete transcript here).

As they measured up the chances for Dem or GOP success in races nationwide, the focus settled on New Jersey as a key race (key sections
underlined) --
MR. NOVAK: They need six. The, the races that really are, are quite competitive and decisive will be Tennessee, Virginia...

MR. RUSSERT: And Missouri.

MR. NOVAK: ...and Missouri.

MR. RUSSERT: And if they won all those, it’d be seven.

MR. NOVAK: That’s right. Those, those three, three states are, are extremely close and I would say right now, in all three of those, I would give the edge right now to the, to the Republicans. I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on it. I, I think very—New Jersey’s very interesting because Menendez has proved a very poor candidate, a very unstable candidate. And if he can survive, appointed senator in that state against Tom Kean Jr., that, that will mean this is really some Republican—some Democratic year.

MR. HARWOOD: In all three of those states, one of the key dynamics is the rural turnout vs. the big city turnout. And in Tennessee, is there a hidden white vote against an African-American candidate?

MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, if the Democrats ever won six seats, which would mean control of the Senate, but then lost New Jersey, how would they feel that Wednesday morning?

MR. BRODER: They would be very upset with Governor Corzine for the choice that he had made on the appointment of that—of his successor.

MR. RUSSERT: Charlie Cook, you scrubbed these states, these numbers. Looking at those seven Senate seats, tell us about them.

MR. COOK: Well, I think Pennsylvania, Santorum; Mike DeWine, Ohio; boy, they’re just way, way, way, way, way down. Boy, it’s really hard to see them, them make it up. Burns, I think Burns is going to lose, but the margin isn’t nearly as wide as the first two. Chafee, that’s—it’s closer, but Chafee is behind. You know, I think it’s more likely than not Democrats pick up that one. That gets you to four.

And next is—OK, what happens next. Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri, gosh, it’s, it’s really close. Maybe McCaskill ahead a tiny bit more than behind, but it’s close. Then as John said, those rural areas help—how bad—how far are they going to go for Republicans. Tennessee, absolutely right. I mean, Ford’s been ahead, but it’s been closing. Corker pulling up. Virginia, George Allen is up a little bit, but I think if a feather landed on his head, it’d probably knock him out. And New Jersey, two weeks ago, I thought Kean, the Republican, was going to win. Now, Menendez has pulled back up and Republicans don’t have the money, ironically, to, to spend to really compete in New Jersey."
Then there is the SILVER SPOON factor, as a Ledger story ("Class emerges as battle line in race") pointed out on Sunday.

Though Menendez has far more money to spend in the closing two weeks, can it be that the SILVER SPOON will be the SILVER BULLET?

Which all boils down to the NUMBERS, as PT has been saying for weeks.

And it's likely to be the URBAN numbers that will make the difference.

So, the heat is still on the Dem machines in New Jersey's cities to drag those voters to the polls.

And if it's a win or a loss by a whisker, will that whisker be Plainfield's?

-- Dan Damon

Note: Workers from Plainfield's Dem HQ showed up Saturday to ask to place signs in front of PT's house. Signs for the local candidates were offered, but no offer was made to place a Menendez sign.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Drake House officially reopens today


After being closed for months for extensive renovations and complete repainting of the exterior, the City's Drake House Museum officially reopens today.

The house is open as part of the 'Four Centuries in a Weekend' program from Noon to 5 PM today.

A slide show presentation at 2 PM will illustrate the renovation work undertaken.

Programs today are FREE and open to the public.

Funding for the project came from the NJ Historical Commission through a grant administered by the Union County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, the McCutchen Foundation, the Plainfield Foundation, the Union Foundation, the E.J. Grassmann Trust, the Pond Foundation, the New Jersey Cultural Trust Fund, the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission and the City of Plainfield.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Transportation exhibit & reception at Library today


Mack Touring Bus, 1920s.

Walk, ride, or taxi on over to the Plainfield Public Library today for the opening of Plainfield On The Move, an exhibit of 200 years of transportation in New Jersey.

The opening and reception is from 11 AM - 2 PM today in the Library's Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room.

Plainfield's own rail entrepreneur, Gordon Fuller, will be the guest speaker.

'M' Door handle, Mack Building, West Front Street.
The Mack Corporation made everything from trucks to tank parts
in its Plainfield plant from 1911 to 1961.

The Mack Building entrance, as it looks today.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, October 20, 2006

YWCA Early Learning Center dedicated

After years of planning and hard work, the YWCA dedicated its new Early Learning Center on Thursday, October 18.

A crowd of friends, supporters, board members and staff gathered for tours of the new facility, a brief dedication ceremony and a time of refreshments and socializing.

Congratulations and remarks were delivered by Assemblyman Jerry Green, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and North Plainfield Mayor Janice Allen (a self-confessed 'YWCA girl').

The new center is unique in Plainfield in offering 24x7 services. For more information, contact the Early Learning Center at (908) 756-3500.

Center Director Renee Abdullah outlines the Center's mission

Youngsters enjoy an after-school session

Working together

Reading - the foundation of success

Exciting colors and thoughtfully organized classrooms

Infants from 6 months up are accepted

Spacious and attractive spaces are age-grouped

Parking is steps away from the Center's dedicated entrance

The City could do more, however, to help the neighborhood's appearance

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

McGee bombs at Council

After City Administrator Carlton McGee's swan song performance at City Council last night, maybe Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs should thank her lucky stars he is leaving for Atlanta.

[It's not true that PT goes out of his way to find fault with the Administration. This Administration seems capable of shooting itself in the foot even if the gun has been taken away. Witness last night's Council meeting, which I almost decided not to go to. The fix is in on the East 3rd Street redevelopment -- or so PT thought-- and the proposed budget has been around for a few weeks now, so what was to go for? Plenty, it turns out.]

At the request of Council President Rayland Van Blake as part of the budget hearing, McGee gave a brief narrative overview of the budget which has to be the low point in PT's many years of following the annual budget games. PT was dumbfounded. What kind of an overview only talks about the EXPENSE side, and has nothing at all to say of the INCOME side. You know, the side that comes out of the TAXPAYERS' HIDES.

But let's not get sidetracked -- the budget hearing was only the APPETIZER. The MAIN COURSE was far more interesting.

That would be the PUBLIC HEARING at the second reading of Ordinance MC2006-32, the adoption of a REDEVELOPMENT PLAN for the East 3rd / Richmond / Cottage Place tract.

This is the tract that was the subject of a presentation at Monday's agenda-setting session, previously discussed by Bernice HERE and PT HERE.

Four PMUA commissioners were in attendance -- Chairperson Carol Ann Brokaw, and Commissioners Dave Beck, Nat Singleton and Alex Toliver. Also present was Larry Thul, president of Thul, Inc., a Plainfield family business success story for 93 years.

Thul was first to the microphone.

He had TWO QUESTIONS: Will the developer be purchasing the ENTIRE TRACT at one time or LOT BY LOT as the project phases unfold; and Supposing the developer CANNOT SELL the condos, will he be able to ABANDON THE PROJECT? -- in other words, what protections will the present property owners have?

Council President Van Blake invited Administrator McGee to respond, which he did.

In rambling remarks that were so condescending the audience gasped, McGee lectured one of Plainfield's most successful businessmen about the role of risk in achieving the American dream. This from a person about whose successes as a businessman we know very little, if anything at all. People throughout the room were mouthing disbelief to each other throughout McGee's remarks.

When he concluded, Council President Van Blake, in an even tone that did NOT mask his evident displeasure, said, "With all due respect, Mr. McGee, I appreciate your response but you didn't touch on EITHER of Mr. Thul's questions."

Commissioner Toliver followed with an impassioned admonition to the Administration, the Council and the audience that 'this is no place for condominiums, up against the railroad tracks...'

Next up was Ms. Brokaw, the PMUA chairperson. She seconded Mr. Thul's concerns, which are also those of the Authority, which is NOT ONLY a property owner, but has PLANNED ITS OWN DEVELOPMENT of the area in question for several years.

In fact, Brokaw bristled at the notion that the area was rundown -- a precondition of declaring it 'in need of rehabilitation' -- and noted that the PMUA had invested at least $2M in its properties to date, on behalf of consolidating its headquarters and operations and IN BENEFIT OF THE PLAINFIELD TAXPAYER.

In response to her question about when the PMUA and the City would be able to get together to discuss plans for the area -- which had been a recommendation of the Planning Board -- McGee said the opportunity would come when the CONTRACT (meaning the REDEVELOPER'S AGREEMENT) was up for discussion. This created a minor hubbub in the room as people realized he was REALLY saying there would be NO meaningful discussion until it was TOO LATE. [An aside: We learned on Monday evening that Ms. Wenson-Maier -- apparently acting on her own initiative? -- had not acted on the Planning Board recommendations that a) the redevelopment area be expanded, and b) that the PMUA be included as a party to further discussions. The recommmendations, she said were "ON HOLD."]

Commissioner Singleton then came to the mike with TWO FURTHER QUESTIONS: Where did this plan suddenly come from? and Who is the negotiating agent -- the County, the UCIA, the City? As he was about to step away from the mike, he said, "Oh yes, thirdly I want to thank you, Mr. McGee, for INSULTING Mr. Thul and DISMISSING his business' 93 years in Plainfield OUT OF HAND.

The room erupted in applause.

Among several other speakers was Robert Wilson, community activist and Latin American Coalition board member, who responded to McGee's suggestions the developer would not put the City in a predicament by warning the Administration and the Council that we had just such a developer in the recent past. And that that developer went to a bank and BORROWED MONEY ON PROPERTIES HE DID NOT OWN, leaving the City in a difficult position.

[PT recalls the developer -- AND that they were INTRODUCED to the Administration of Mayor Al McWilliams by ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN. PT also recalls talk that their behavior in borrowing on the properties they did not own was so egregious that a prosecution for fraud was being considered by the County Prosecutor. Whatever happened?]

The ordinance to rezone the parcel on which the new Senior Center is to be built COULD NOT BE INTRODUCED, owing to there only being four Councilors present (Burney, Carter, Gibson and Van Blake. Storch is out of the country on business. Davis and Simmons were not present.). Five yea votes are needed for zoning changes. This means it will not be considered until the next Council meeting, after the Election hiatus. The Dornoch delegation, who had sat patiently through the whole meeting, rose and left after it was made clear the ordinance could not be introduced.

In one further surprise, Council President Van Blake announced early in the meeting that the resolution CONDITIONALLY DESIGNATING Capodagli as the redeveloper for the East 3rd Street parcel had been WITHDRAWN. Presumably by the Administration. Yet ANOTHER false start?

Commentary in the hallway outside the meeting was so salty that PT blushes at the thought of repeating it, even in this ADULT-ORIENTED blog.

Dept. of Unsolicited Advice: COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS should be high on Mayor Robinson-Briggs' list as she begins looking for a new City Administrator.

How the budget process unfolds should also be a concern -- of EVERYONE.

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lots of smoke, no magic in development plans

As the Administration rushes pell-mell into large-scale housing development projects just as the housing market is dramatically softening, it is reassuring to see that the Council (as Bernice points out) asks the right questions of developers -- specifically -- "where's the marketing study?"

The studies so far have been noticeably of the smoke-and-mirrors type, as witness the presentation to the Zoning Board over the proposed South Avenue condo project.

But the Council is wise to stick to their guns, PT thinks, given the market and the fact that the REALLY BIG GUYS -- who do REAL market studies -- are currently CANCELLING PROJECTS.

Take, for example, K. HOVNANIAN. The firm, known for its well-researched and highly successful projects pulled the plug on a development of 372 age-restricted homes it had been planning in Mt. Olive, along the bustling Rte 80 / Rte 46 corridor. The reason given,
said company spokesman Doug Fenichel in a Ledger story last week, is that the --
"economic times have changed, and when we reviewed the numbers ... they didn't make as much sense as they did when we began the project ...The demand isn't as high as it was," he said. "It makes us look at the numbers differently."
So, if the BIG DOGS are beginning to be cautious, what should the message for Plainfield be? Certainly not to throw caution to the wind.

PT is not arguing that we shouldn't have development -- but it should be SMART DEVELOPMENT, no?

For instance, development that doesn't
TOSS ASIDE plans already in progress by other entities -- as the Administration has done in this case with regard to the PMUA -- which has THE MONEY and THE PLANS in hand. PT always thought a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.

And development that doesn't SHRINK the industrial-commercial-business portion of the tax base by driving perfectly viable 93-year-old businesses like Thul -- which, by the way, employs local residents -- out of the neighborhood and out of the city.

When asked at Monday's agenda-setting session about marketing data,
Capodagli Property Company's General Counsel Rosario “Sam” Presti Jr., cited a "recent study" in the New York Times that indicated "a minimum amount of school-age children" would be generated by a project like this one. What?!

This is MARKETING RESEARCH? In the first place, the Times DOES NOT DO MARKETING STUDIES. Secondly, who, what, when, where, how? Not a shred of evidence was adduced to indicate whatever Presti was referring to had ANY RELEVANCE to the Plainfield market.

We don't need developers who go belly up in a soft market because they didn't do their marketing homework and overstretched their resources. We don't need high-rise shells rusting away and tarnishing the image of the community as happened in Asbury Park for so many years.

But Presti went on to make an even more revealing -- and unintentionally hilarious -- comment.

When asked by Councilman Davis about opportunities for minority contractors, Presti replied that of course the developer would work with the municipality and would inquire, for instance, of the municipality for a list of MINORITY TILE SUPPLIERS, etc., as the need arose. I kid you not!

Suppressing a guffaw, PT suddenly realized just how MINORITY-FREE all this recent development buzz has become.

So, is it to be the case that one of the outcomes of Assemblyman Green's and Mayor Robinson-Briggs' costly victory in last year's campaign is that MINORITIES WILL HENCEFORTH BE CLOSED OUT OF MEANINGFUL PARTICIPATION in Plainfield's renaissance, except maybe as hod-carriers?

A sad fate indeed, given that high-profile minority sports figures like Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson and Oscar de la Hoya are setting up development joint ventures to help revive urban real estate markets. (See the story in last Saturday's NY Times -- original here and archived by PT here).

Malcolm Dunn's reaction would have been withering. The Council could take some inspiration from him here.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A regular Mad Hatter's Tea Party


It's getting so you can't tell who's the Mad Hatter, who's the March Hare and who's the Dormouse at the tea party any more. Even WITH a magic decoder ring.

Stick with me through the following whirlwind tour around the Mad Hatter's tea table...

Yesterday morning, several of PT's Newark readers report, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs showed up at a press conference called by US Senate candidate BOB MENENDEZ to tout his proposal to invest billions in tackling gang violence nationwide. (The Ledger posted a brief to its blog last night, but it never showed up online. PT has archived it here.)

Her Honor,
along with the ever-present confidential aide Barbara James, was one of a few mayors from cities alleged to have gang problems that were present, say PT's sources.

It's starts getting IRONIC right away. Gangs? What gangs? As you may have noticed, Plainfielders no longer get any word about gang violence, shootings, muggings, rapes, burglaries, car thefts, or other crime-related news. Followers of the Courier's online POLICE BLOTTER will notice the UTTER ABSENCE of reports from Plainfield.

Rumor has it that this media vacuum IS THE MAYOR'S POLICY -- that PUBLIC DISCUSSION of crime, IF AVOIDABLE, is to be avoided.

So, was she there because it was ABOUT GANGS or to show SUPPORT FOR MENENDEZ?

As you know, PT has been needling about the visible support -- OR LACK OF IT -- from the local Dem establishment for Menendez' candidacy.

NOT A WORD from the City Committee Chair or the Mayor. You can be sure that if Ray Blanco were alive, there would be a more visible presence.

Which leads to the NEXT IRONY.

Ray Blanco would NEVER have let the Administration diss the Latino community, yet it seems to PT that it very well may have -- just last week.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs attended the opening event of Hispanic Heritage Month in September. PT saw her there, though she left part way through the program. (To his credit, Assemblyman Green stayed for the whole thing, which was a bit on the LONGISH side.)

So, PT was looking forward to THE MAYOR'S REMARKS at the closing event -- a presentation of Flamenco and other Spanish dances by the Alborada Dance Theatre troupe -- at Washington School last Saturday evening.

Dr. Paula Howard, the Superintendent of Schools, was there and gave brief remarks -- including a short message in Spanish that was warmly received by the crowd.

It was said that the Mayor was "unable to attend and sent her regrets."

PT was intrigued that there was NO MAYORAL PROCLAMATION, standard issue at these events.

Now, you should understand PT's association with proclamations is long and intimate -- probably having written hundreds over the course of eight years at City Hall.

Proclamations are one of the things that groups and individuals are very proud to receive and hold onto as keepsakes. When well-crafted they illustrate for the community the values and contributions of these groups and individuals.

So, PT probed about WHY there was no Proclamation. A little digging turned up that not only was there NO proclamation, there had been
NO REGRETS from the Mayor about not being able to attend or speak. There had been no RSVP to the invitation at all.

Now, PT understands that the actual RSVP call or note may come from the Mayor's SECRETARY, but the DECISION to attend or not attend must be THE MAYOR'S.

So, was the Mayor DISSING THE LATINO COMMUNITY -- at least a third of the city's residents? Or had her staff BEEN SIMPLY INCOMPETENT?

In any event, for this year's annual celebration of Hispanic Heritage, there was no Mayoral Proclamation...

Meanwhile, further around the table at this Tea Party, City Administrator CARLTON McGEE was making his moves.

PT broke the RUMOR last Friday morning -- noting the job title, the city, the salary increase, and the potential communications lapse -- leaving it for the media to flesh out the details. It's a matter of professional courtesy, you know.

Bernice took the lead with her Friday evening post. The Courier had a brief on Saturday (hmmm...someone reading the blogs?), but today is really the first crack the LEDGER and the COURIER have had at the story.

But it gets real interesting if you try to align all the stories -- like holding the images on three sheets of tracing paper up to the light and trying to get them to square up.

WHO KNEW WHAT WHEN? McGee told Bernice that "he 'had the blessing' of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs in accepting the job and even put her down as a reference."

Yet today we learn in both the dailies that the Mayor seems not to consider the job resigned without a letter stating same, NOT YET received. The Ledger suggests the Mayor bristled at any in-depth discussion of the suddenness of McGee's departure. There is no mention of HER BLESSING.

The Mayor opines that once McGee REALLY RESIGNS, she'll have to get down to looking for a replacement. AND FIGURING OUT WHAT IS REQUIRED TO FILL THE POSITION.

As you read through these stories, you begin to wonder if the Mayor and the Administrator actually KNOW EACH OTHER, whether they ACTUALLY HAVE A WORKING RELATIONSHIP, whether there is ANYONE IN CHARGE HERE.

In any event, as McGee begins his exit solus, he would like to be remembered for what he considers his major contributions -- "stressing the need for a modernized information technology network" and beginning, with the Mayor's permission, "the process of long-range planning" (Ledger).

PT hasn't seen ANY EVIDENCE of LONG-RANGE PLANNING -- certainly the puff-piece shown at the '100 Days' event can't be counted (at any rate, it has vanished into the ether) -- so it's something of a mystery what McGee means here.

As for the INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY matters, PT learned through the grapevine recently that the Administrator had committed in excess of $100K to putting consultants in place and at work -- MORE THAN A MONTH BEFORE THE COUNCIL EVEN GOT TO LOOK AT A RESOLUTION FOR SAME.

Where was the open public bidding process? Who are these people? What is their track record? What are they doing? What connection does McGee have to them from his previous public employment?

There seem to be a lot of questions in search of answers here.

Meanwhile, McGee attempted to shoulder to the trough TYSHAMMIE COOPER, another old Jersey City connection, as Acting Director of Finance and Administration. With McGee about to leave, there seems to be some question about whether she will actually take up the position.

PT has his own list of contributions for which Mr. McGee ought to be remembered--
  • Bringing the City to the EDGE OF FISCAL RUIN by overlooking the rollover of last year's BANs (Bond Anticipatory Notes) until it was almost too late -- necessitating high-priced help and questionable maneuvers with the Council;
  • Proposing to balance the FY2007 Budget by USING THE RAINY DAY FUND -- which would trash our bond rating for future borrowing;
  • Rolling last month's BANs over as 6-MONTH NOTES -- meaning more fees and the danger of higher interest rates next March when the notes become due (and McGee will conveniently be gone);
  • Turning to his CRONIES for jobs and services.
His offer to help with the 'transition' to a new hire should give everyone pause.

PT wishes both him -- and Atlanta -- well.

As the Red Queen put it to Alice, "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

-- Dan Damon

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