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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Forum gives voters unusual opportunity

Last night's candidate forum gave Plainfield voters an unusual opportunity.

In a community as heavily Democratic as Plainfield, where the winner of the June Democratic primary is practically
the de facto successful candidate for the office, a contested primary is an opportunity to get a look-see at an alternative candidate and really probe all candidates' points of view and experience.

For that reason,
I commend the Crescent Area Neighborhood Association for sponsoring last evening's candidate forum, at which Dem contenders Tony Rucker and Cory Storch shared the mike with GOP candidate Deborah Dowe, who will face one of them in the November general election.

While all three came across as thoughtful, credible candidates, I was keen to contrast Rucker and Storch.

Storch brought a wealth of experience to the questions put forward -- whether about the Park Hotel (where he has professional expertise) or budgets (he serves on the Council's Finance Committee, but also has 6 years of School Board budgeting and several years of a citizens' budget review committee to his credit) -- and zeroed in on the main points in answering questions, generally avoiding both windiness and minutiae.

Storch's experience also showed in planning and development-related matters (he has served on the Planning Board for several years), and I was impressed by his insistence that the complete rail corridor needs to be kept in mind as planning moves forward -- especially with regard to setting aside places for light industry.

Earnest, Rucker came across as having rather detached, somewhat bookish ideas. While he pitched the idea of developing a 'technology center' downtown, it was not tied to any of the really possible players in such a big venture, such as Union County College or the Union County Economic Development Corporation.

On budgeting and finance, it was clear that his experience is in business, not government, and that he understands neither the governmental budget process nor the outside constraints on the timelines involved, which often make an adoption near the mid-point of the fiscal year an 'early' budget.

When the question was about the number of 'outsiders' (meaning non-residents) hired by this Administration, Rucker went on at length about citizen participation in the budget process in Westfield, only bringing his answer round to Jennifer Wenson-Maier (head of Public Works and Urban Development and president of the Rahway City Council) as the red flag was thrown signifying his time had run out.

For me, though, the deciding moment was Rucker's howler about the Mt. Laurel affordable housing credits. First, he garbled the program, asserting Plainfield would pay other towns to take over their affordable housing obligations. Quickly recovering from this slip, Rucker then said that a good part of Plainfield's housing problems came because the city DID accept the affordable housing obligations of other towns. This mischaracterization caused a general murmur throughout the audience, many of whom seemed aware -- as I am -- of the intense discussion and REJECTION of such credits by the Council in the past.

From where I sit, experience takes the cake. But it would be a good idea for the powers-that-be to encourage Mr. Rucker to get some real experience in the same way that Storch has done over the years, and then come back.

Deborah Dowe evoked ripples of laughter from the audience several times, but perhaps no more so than when she commented on the proposed transit villages, "If you build it, they will occupy it. But the question is who will occupy it."

PET PEEVES DEPT.: I found it annoying that no one corrected several mistaken -- perhaps purposely inflammatory? -- assertions in the questions submitted. For instance, when the Park Hotel was referenced as a 'mental hospital.' Or when the plaza in front of the new County Office Building was cited as the 'Chase Bank plaza' (I have already made a modestly wicked suggestion in regard to this particular spot). Or when it was alleged that 'most jobs at City Hall are given to outsiders'.

My real estate nerves were particularly rubbed raw by a question which asserted that the value of Plainfield homes has 'decreased to the point they are below those of Newark, Roselle and Elizabeth.' Huh?!

Loaded, emotive statements like these are not really intended to elicit thoughtful responses. The candidates are to be commended for mostly not taking the bait.

Your part comes next Tuesday.

The polls are open from 6 AM to 8 PM.

You know what to do.

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Troubling questions on Ward 2 race

Troubling questions have arisen about the Council race for the Ward 2 seat.

Will they be answered tonight? One can hope.

You will not want to miss the forum -- which will include not only Democrats Cory Storch and Tony Rucker, but Republican candidate Deborah Dowe -- at the Plainfield Public Library, 7 PM sharp.

With apologies to the GOP, whose last successful candidate for the Council's Ward 2 seat (former Councillor Donna Vose) ran in the early 1990s, the seat will be won in November by the victor in the June Democratic primary.

That is why this evening's forum is so important for those concerned about the Ward and the City. And why troubling questions should be answered NOW, before the primary election.

For openers, Storch's campaign has reported his campaign signs have been removed from homeowners' lawns.

This is an perennial annoyance, though Plainfield has never been in the same league as those towns in which municipal employees of the faction in power have removed opponents signs en masse (as in Sharpe v. Booker in the first go-round).

I had hoped for better things, though, from this campaign.

A more troubling question is centered on Rucker's upcoming appearance as a guest of city employee and radio personality Laurence Rice on Harvest Radio (1070 on the AM dial), scheduled for the day before the election, as reported on Rucker's campaign blog --

"Monday. June 4. 1:30 - 2:30 PM. The day before the June 5th election I am an invited guest speaking and broadcasting live on Harvest Radio 1070AM. Please tune in!!"
I can appreciate the candidate's enthusiasm at being able to present his views, but radio stations get their licenses of bandwidth from the Federal Communication Commission as a public trust.

And the FCC takes a decidedly dim view of radio stations endorsing, or even appearing to endorse, political candidates.

If Rucker alone is being invited to share his views, and he posts it on his campaign blog as another part of his campaign for office, one has to ask: Is Harvest Radio endorsing a candidate?

A call by the Storch campaign to Harvest Radio's station manager yesterday was not returned by the end of the business day.

This is indeed a troubling question.

Will we get an answer?


-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day at Hillside Cemetery

Having been told that many Civil War veterans' graves were relocated to Hillside Cemetery after it was laid out in the late 19th century, and that the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War conduct an annual Memorial Day ceremony at the circle where several are interred, I decided this year to try and make a record of the unpublicized event. As luck would have it, I found the site -- the Grand Army of the Republic 'bivouac' -- as members of the organization assembled for their moving, simple service of prayer, thanksgiving and reflection.

Four African-American Civil War Veterans, members of the Grand Army of the Republic, are interred in the bivouac area.

The album below records moments from this 2007 observance and the gravestones of the African-American veterans.

Website of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is here. The Department of New Jersey website is here.

Memorial Day 2007
Grand Army Of The Republic Bivouac
Hillside Cemetery

View of the Bivouac from a distance

1913 Plaque Dedicating the Bivouac

2001 Plaque Recognizing Restoration by the
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

SUVCW Members Conduct the Service of Remembrance
(L to R: Frank McGonigle, Jack Ensel and Mike Todd,
Custer Camp #17, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War)

Prime Carmen
Private, 41st Reg, US Colored Infantry

Martin Herling
Private, 41st Reg, US Colored Infantry

Enoch Milford
Private, 25th Reg, US Colored Infantry

George Sutphen
Private, 22nd Reg, US Colored Infantry

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole

The placing of a bronze plaque in 1922 in the rotunda of City Hall honoring those who served and died in World War I seems to have been the genesis of the idea of a monument honoring Plainfielders who had given their lives in all past wars.

In June 1925, the Common Council organized a War Memorial Committee with the purpose of drawing up a proposal for such a memorial, to be submitted to the Council at a future date. A number of town notables, as well as several Councillors and veterans of past wars were appointed.

The War Memorial Committee made its report to the Common Council in January of 1926, and in May of that year, a contract was awarded for the construction of a flagpole to be mounted above a bronze sculptural base, the whole sited on a granite plaza.

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, which owns the triangular plot at the intersection of East Seventh Street and Watchung and Crescent Avenues, drew up an agreement permitting the city to "erect and maintain" a War Memorial on the site, providing only that the city "keep the plot in good order," and indemnify the church against any liability.

Although the contracts were let, and the manufacture and construction appeared to get under way in a timely fashion -- with dedication set for Armistice Day, November 11, 1926 -- an enormous brouhaha broke out between the central council of the veterans' organizations and the Common Council, dragging into it the minister and trustees of Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The source of the controversy? The inscription.

The inscription proposed for the sculptural base is the underlined portion of this selection from the prophet
Isaiah, Chapter 2

2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
The controversy raged for over a year, leading to the Memorial's belated dedication.

The Memorial Day series--
Saturday: Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen

Monday: Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole

Online resources:

The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day
The Buddy Poppy: "Moina Michael adopted poppy to memorialize soldiers"
Moina Michael Stamp: "3-cent commemorative stamp honoring Moina Michael"

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen

Childe Hassam, Allies' Day - 1917

Originally known as Decoration Day, from the practice of strewing flowers on the graves of those fallen in the Civil War, by the turn of the 20th century, this day of observance had become known as Memorial Day.

Days before the armistice for World War I was signed, a Georgia woman named Moina Michael, who was serving at the training headquarters for overseas YMCA workers at Columbia University in New York, read John McRae's poem in which the poppies of Flanders figures prominently.

Moved by the poem, she that very day purchased several silk poppies and began to wear one and encouraged her friends to do so likewise, in memory of those fallen in the Great War.

She also taught a class of disabled veterans when back at the University of Georgia, and began to spread the idea of selling poppies as a way of raising money for the rehabilitation, training and care of disabled veterans.

At the same time, Memorial Day was beginning to be observed as a day of remembering those who had given their lives in all wars, and not just the Civil War.

By the early 1920s, the American Legion had adopted the poppy project, naming it the Buddy Poppy, and sold the handmade flowers on Memorial Day. This is the origin of the poppies now offered by many different veterans' organizations which we buy at events in which veterans participate. Observers of the day would pledge to aid not only disabled veterans, but also the widows (and later, widowers) and orphans of the fallen.

By the time of Moina Michael's death in 1944, over $200 million had been raised through the sale of Buddy Poppies. She was honored in 1948 by the Post Office with the issuance of a 3-cent commemorative stamp.

People often forget that John McRae was a Canadian. He was a physician and fought on the Western Front in 1914. He was eventually transferred to the medical corps and served at a hospital in France, where he died of pneumonia in 1918. His poem, known both as "In Flanders Fields" and "We shall not sleep" was probably the best-known poem from the Great War.
In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The Memorial Day series--
Saturday: Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen
Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole

Online resources:
The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day
The Buddy Poppy: "Moina Michael adopted poppy to memorialize soldiers"
Moina Michael Stamp: "3-cent commemorative stamp honoring Moina Michael"

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorial Day I - Early History

A GAR postcard citing "Bivouac of the Dead"

What we know as Memorial Day began as a tradition of decorating the graves of soldiers fallen in the Civil War -- in both the South and the North.

Memorial Day was proclaimed officially in 1868 by an order of the Grand Army of the Republic (the organization of Union veterans of the Civil War), as a day of reconciliation and remembrance, and flowers were placed on the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

A popular poem linked to the 19th century celebrations of Decoration Day, as the day was also known, is Theodore O'Hara's "Bivouac of the Dead," written to commemorate Kentuckians fallen in the Mexican War in 1847.

Here are two of the most cited stanzas:
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
. . .

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.

Decoration Day Parade, Shawnee, Ohio - 1910s

The Memorial Day series--
Saturday: Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen
Monday: Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole
Online resources:
The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Assemblyman Green urges closing of Park Hotel

Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lawmaker urges closing of group home
He opposes the renewal of Plainfield facility's license


A Plainfield group home that for decades has served nearly 200 special-needs adults, including the mentally disabled, faces an uncertain future now that the city's powerful assemblyman wants it closed and residents relocated.

The facility, the Park Hotel Board Home, is the largest of its kind in Union County and lies in the city's downtown business district, making it a target as Plainfield continue its push for retail and residential development.

In asking the city council to consider opposing a license renewal for the Park Hotel -- the license expires Aug. 31 -- Assemblyman Jerry Green said the institution on West Seventh Street and Arlington Avenue is antiquated and cannot adequately care for its residents.

Green also wants the council to seek a moratorium from the state on future group homes in Plainfield because most are nonprofit organizations exempted from paying property taxes.

The Park Hotel, a for-profit, 182-bed facility housed in a six-story building, is also tax exempt [note by DD: this is an error, the property IS ON THE TAX ROLLS].

Any action by the council would serve only as a recommendation once time comes for the state to renew or revoke the Park Hotel's license.

Such a license would only be revoked if the facility has significant violations or had opened without a license, neither of which is the case with the Park Hotel, according to Sean Darcy, a spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs.

Thee assemblyman made his case to the council Monday night, saying Plainfield has welcomed its share of social service agencies over the past 30 years and that it's time for other municipalities to do their part.

The point, Green said, is not to throw residents on the street.

"I want to make it very clear, we're concerned about people in that facility first," said the assemblyman, who is chairman of the Legislature's housing and local government committee. The Park Hotel is regulated by the Department of Community Affairs and its residents are overseen by the Department of Human Services.

Green said he wants to work with the state to find other locations in the county and wants the city to help him in that effort, sending the message "that we're prepared to do whatever we can to make sure these human beings are treated fairly. Currently, they are not."

Calls to Park Hotel officials for comment yesterday were not returned.

In a letter to city council President Rayland Van Blake, the assemblyman cited a trend in mental health services toward smaller institutions with fewer than 20 beds.

"The state would not approve a facility such as the Park Hotel today, given changes in policy," he wrote.

Green also posed his request as a public safety issue, saying Park Hotel residents "roam the streets of Plainfield," adding that merchants in nearby stores have complained about their behavior.

While individual merchants may feel that way, Lisa Cohen, who heads up the Plainfield Special Improvement District, said she has not heard such criticisms from members. Cohen is also owner of Suburban Jewelers on East Front Street.

In fact, some Park Hotel residents occasionally stop by her store to make small purchases or to say hello, she said.

Still, Green's plan was warmly received by several council members, including Rashid Burney, Don Davis and Cory Storch, who called the Park Hotel "beyond outmoded."

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, meanwhile, said she's had discussion about the issue with the assemblyman, and "encourages the conversation." Echoing his statement that the city has enough group homes and service agencies, Robinson-Briggs said other municipalities should "take on their own responsibilities," adding, "we'll all deal with our own quality of life issues as well."

One longtime resident, however, disagreed.

Speaking during the public comment period, Bernice Paglia reminded the council that a town's responsibility shouldn't be just to taxpayers. Citing the high number of Plainfield youths in juvenile detention centers outside the city, she said, "Maybe there should be [a] big juvenile detention facility in Plainfield." Paglia, who also writes a daily blog about the city, added, "When we talk about our town, let's have an open heart on who our own really are."

Alexi Friedman may be reached at (908) 302-1505 or

This story did NOT appear in the online edition of the Star-Ledger and was transcribed for this archive by Dan Damon.

(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, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Park Hotel-YMCA: Axis of Gentrification?

I couldn't help but wonder if there are dots to connect between Assemblyman Jerry Green's effort to shut down the Park Hotel and recent changes at the YMCA.

I have always marveled that Plainfield has been able -- in spite of radical changes in membership patterns -- to maintain a
viable local YWCA and YMCA. This must surely be an outstanding acheivement, when you think that very large Ys, such as Newark's, have had to merge to stay viable.

But viability hasn't come without its costs: These present-day incarnations bear little resemblance to the Ys of yore, which were supported by membership fees,
residential rental income and generous 'alumni' and board members.

Today's Ys are much more likely to be dependent to a large degree on grant-driven programs aiding targeted segments of the community.

The YWCA, for example, opened a spectacular new early childhood learning center in a new addition to its historic East Front street building. It has also worked for years to build up its co-ed health club and is in the midst of refurbishing its theater space, which could make the YW a cultural destination.

At the YMCA, things have played out somewhat differently.

Over 20 years ago, the YMCA decided to take on being an emergency shelter. Through grants and fee-based services (paid by social service agencies, including the County Welfare department), the emergency shelter has become one of the most important such in Union County, part of a large network providing essential emergency housing services to County residents who are down on their luck.

The YMCA's health club seems not to have been much of an income generator, and the facilities and equipment were decidedly passé when the new executive director, Addy Bonet, arrived, replacing longtime director Ray Day.

To her credit, Bonet realized the situation with the building was critical and set about reorganizing, refurbishing and updating the facility and its equipment.

Some of the cost appears to have been covered by liquidating one of the YM's assets, a professional property across from Plainfield High School donated to it a number of years ago by a generous board member, Dr. Jerry Wolfe.

With the loss of the emergency shelter's longtime director, Roni Taylor, some are beginning to wonder if the YMCA, with its spiffy new interiors and highly visible wellness center spaces, is preparing to refocus and abandon its 'urban' service-driven format for the more 'suburban' wellness-center-driven model.

This would be an audacious gamble, given that there does not seem to be either a long-term board-developed strategic plan, or marketing or capital campaign feasibility studies.

All of this reminds me of the days I lived in Brooklyn's then somewhat grungy Boerum Hill neighborhood. With a walkup in the upper floors of a brownstone on what was called 'Hairdressers Row', I could walk around the corner to the coed health club I belonged to at the YWCA on Atlantic Avenue. If I turned left at the corner, I would pass the NYC Board of Ed headquarters at 110 Livingston Street.

Today, the kinds of people I lived among -- office workers, teachers, and social service professionals -- are long gone, priced out by the uncontrolled gentrification that overtook the neighborhood. The BOE headquarters is now very pricy upscale condos.

How will the gambles being made in Plainfield play out?

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Loss of lead poisoning grant would affect our kids

Image, Portland (Ore.) Development Commission

Will the impending loss of a lead paint poisoning grant lead to a spike in cases among Plainfield children?


The city has a grant to monitor children in the community affected by lead poisoning, which I am told it may soon lose.

Lead poisoning can result in neurological impairment and other health problems. Severe cases in children can result in mental retardation requiring institutionalization.

Children under 12 are the main victims in this country, and lead paint is the principal culprit.

When I was active in selling residential real estate, we were trained to caution any seller who lived in a home built before 1970 that the chances were very good that there was lead-based paint somewhere in the house.

Image, Wikipedia

Baseboards, windows, cabinets or doors painted white (lead was the most common ingredient in white paint at the time), were immediately suspect. But we were also warned that lead paints were also custom-tinted, so almost any color could actually be lead-based.

Of Plainfield's 16,180 dwelling units, 13,750 -- or 85% -- were built before 1970. This means there is a high likelihood of exposure to lead-based paints among our population, and especially among our children.

Paint chips are often ingested by small children

Not only is the ingestion of paint chips (the most likely scenario with small children) a danger, Plainfielders' interest in restoring old homes may also contribute inadvertently to the situation.

This is because applying heat -- as with a heat gun or paint-softening heat plate -- can volatilize the lead in the paint, releasing it directly into the room's atmosphere. (Real estate professionals are well aware of a case of lead poisoning in a Plainfield infant precisely because of exposure through home renovation activity.)

The grant in question funds the monitoring of children in the community who have already been affected by lead poisoning. Registered Nurses make outreach visits to monitor the affected children in their homes.

Former health inspector Randy Mascaritolo, who left the Health Division in March after many years of devoted service, was responsible for submitting the application for grant funding and monitoring compliance by the local health care workers who actually monitor the affected children.

Mascaritolo's position has been filled (he also supervised the annual restaurant/food license inspections and renewals), but I am told the new hire is not lead-certified. Hence the danger of losing this important grant.

Increasingly, it seems the staff disarray in the Robinson-Briggs administration is likely to endanger the lives and safety of residents.

In this case, our defenseless children.

Resources/Further Reading:
CDC: "Lead Poisoning Prevention Program"
EPA: "Protect Your Child From Lead Poisoning"
NIH: "Medline Plus Health Topics: Lead Poisoning"
New Jersey Contact Info: "NJ Dept. of Health and Senior Services contacts"
NSC: "Lead Poisoning: What is it and who is affected?"
Wikipedia: "Lead poisoning"
-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Consider the 'Parkies' gone

The Park Hotel, from the northwest

Consider the 'Parkies' gone.

The term 'Parkies' is used by those of us who worship in churches near the Park Hotel and have residents from the Park Hotel among our congregants.

Though they can be among the most faithful and devout of attendees, their behavior sometimes sets them apart.

We have occasionally had persons who are having a particularly bad day disrupt services or adult ed classes. They are famous for gorging themselvs at coffee hour.

They are sometimes inconvenient. But they are truly our brothers and sisters, a constant reminder against the sin of hubris.

The 'Parkies' have also always stood in as a sort of shorthand for all the other residents of group homes scattered throughout Plainfield (many of which I'll bet you are unaware are even there).

The Park Hotel, from the northeast

I have always thought these agencies put their group homes in Plainfield because it was an unspoken policy encouraged by powerful County interests -- meaning, in Union County, Democratic Party interests.

My only gripe about all this was that other communities were being deprived of having the same character-building experiences as we Plainfielders and were consequently lacking in some moral dimension. Tough for them.

As of last night, all that is about to change.

How was this night different from all others?

At the May 21st Council agenda-setting session, Assemblyman Jerry Green broached for the first time a topic that has been swirling in the rumor mill for weeks -- that he would like to get rid of the Park Hotel. (Courier story here, and archived here.)

None of the complaints listed by the Assemblyman are new. Many of his statements can be rebutted by the Park Hotel management and others who work with the residents as clients. Hopefully they will be.

What intrigues me is WHY NOW?

Friends in the mental health field have always told me that the Park Hotel is considered among the best-run of such facilities in the entire state. Could there be more and better services and activities? What agency wouldn't answer such a question with a 'yes' -- providing there were the financial and professional resources?

So if there is nothing NEW in this 'news', I return to my question -- Why now?

As with everything else in Plainfield these days, I suspect it is being driven by the big 'D': Development.

What we have here is a choice piece of real estate with plenty of parking space, within three blocks of the train station, near shops, the Library and a park. There have been rumors in the past of turning it into luxury condos.


Make no mistake, if the Assemblyman wants to see the Park Hotel gone, it will be gone.

And those of us who learned to welcome the 'Parkies' into our congregations will once again be spared the inconvenient demands of inclusiveness.

Now, perhaps, we can be, with the Assemblyman, at ease in Zion.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Will city have to give $460K back to Feds?

Time is running out for the City to use a $460,000 gift from Sen. Frank Lautenberg -- or lose it.

If the money is not spent by June 30, 2007, the City will have to fork it over to the Feds.

How did we come to get this nice sum and why?

Plainfield Today pointed it out in a post on March 14, 2006 --

[Toward the end of Al McWilliams' first term], the McWilliams administration was in the midst of nailing down loose ends on the Tepper's redevelopment project. Now the Tepper's site had been vacant for decades and was a symbol of the dysfunctionality of Plainfield politics. Getting a mixed-use retail and residential project going on the site would mean that Plainfield's downtown would finally get moving again.

And combining that with getting a new office building on the Park-Madison lot would be a double-dose of good news for Plainfield's long-awaited renaissance.

In the midst of it all, a piece of genuine good luck came the city's way -- Sen. Frank Lautenberg had arranged for two sums of money to be set aside for Plainfield. One went to the Plainfield Public Library. . .for technology improvements. The other -- about $450,000 -- was earmarked specifically for improvements to the Tepper's building.

Why Tepper's?

Because part of the development agreement reached for the building was that the basement, on the order of 15,000+ square feet of raw space, was to be set aside for public use, rent-free, in perpetuity.

Now the City had no particular plan for that space at that moment, but the money, which would go a long way toward roughing out the space for some final use, certainly made the space attractive.
At first, there was talk of using it to rough out the space for a new Senior Center. That idea, as Plainfield Today previously reported, was shot down by the Seniors.

There was talk of making the space available as an arts 'incubator', with a small stage/screening theater/meeting space, offices and a common reception area for local arts groups, rehearsal rooms and gallery space in the entry lobby. This still strikes me as a good idea, but of course the City would have to make arts an integral part of its development plans. Not much sign of that yet.

Subsequently, the possibility of reshaping the space as new Council Chambers and offices for City Council members was taken up on a site visit by Council members and Economic Development staff.

The late Council President Ray Blanco may even have had this in mind when he sketched out the way he wanted City Hall Library arranged for agenda-setting sessions (see below).

Though forewarned in a transition memo to Mayor Robinson-Briggs by former Deputy City Administrator and Director of Economic Development Pat Ballard Fox, her transition memorandum Pat Ballard Fox reminded the new Administration of both its existence and the danger of imminent loss if unspent (Plainfield Today, 8/23/2006).
and by discussion in this blog, the current administration has made no public moves to guard against the loss of these funds.

Now time is running out.

Will the Robinson-Briggs administration rescue Sen. Lautenberg's generous earmark before June 30 or will it drop the ball?

Feel free to give me odds.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Garage sale heaven this weekend

Garage sale addicts, rev your engines!

You can literally shop 'til you drop in Plainfield this Sunday, May 20, between 9 AM and 4 PM.

The grandaddy of all local garage sales, FOSH's monster event with over a hundred participants, turns 14 this year. Happy birthday! While there is no specific starting point, you can do no better than hit the trail along Watchung Avenue, heading south from Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church (at East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue). Look for balloons. Maps are available at each location.

With the FOSH sale such a big success, it isn't hard to see why others would take advantage of the buzz.

Those interested in supporting pet-related causes will certainly want to check out the multi-yard sale at 1326 Watchung Avenue (to 3 PM). Proceeds of this particular sale will benefit the Homeless Animal Lifeline (HAL).

The Van Wyck Brooks Historic District will also hold a district-wide garage sale during the same hours as FOSH. A good starting point for the VWB sales is 912 Central Avenue, where all the items are donated by VWB residents, with the proceeds of this particular site to be devoted to district-wide activities.

Collectors with an interest in Black Americana will want to make a note to cruise by the 1000-block of Plainfield Avenue as well as Beechwood Court (on Randolph Road, between Field and Plainfield Avenues).

If you're an architecture buff (who isn't, with Plainfield's wealth of styles?), you'll check out the Walking Tour of the VWB Historic District between 2 and 4 PM. Sponsored by the Historical Society of Plainfield, the tour starts at The Pillars of Plainfield B&B, 922 Central Avenue, where tickets will be on sale at 1 PM.

With thousands of visitors expected for the shopping extravaganza, you can bet Realtors® will be taking advantage by having Open Houses. So, if you're addicted to open houses, there will be an opportunity to get another 'fix'. Just look for balloons and tent signs, which will abound. Some very fine examples of historic, vintage and classic homes are on the market now. Why not check them out?

What to do when you're shopped out and footsore? Relax in the comfort of the stately Gothic nave of Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church and catch the 3 PM closing performance of the Crescent Concerts 2006-07 Silver Anniversary season. The excellent Crescent Singers will entertain with an ensemble concert. You may also get a treat and hear Gilbert Adams' new 4-manual organ in the classic French tradition. Tickets at the door -- be sure to plan on arriving early, 2:30 would be good, leaving time for parking and getting settled in.

I only have one question: Why hasn't the New York Times discovered this phenomenon?

  • 9 AM - 4PM. 14th Annual FOSH Garage Sale. Sponsored by the Friends of Sleepy Hollow. Last year's sale had one hundred locations. One of Plainfield's best-attended annual events.

  • 9 AM - 4PM. Van Wyck Brooks Garage Sale. Sponsor: Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. Start at 912 Central Avenue.

  • 9 AM - 3 PM. 2nd Annual Multi-Yard Sale Benefitting Homeless Animal Lifeline. For more info, visit Location: 1326 Watchung Avenue.

  • 2 - 4 PM. Architectural Walking Tour of the VWB Historic District. Sponsor: Historical Society of Plainfield. Starting at: The Pillars B&B, 922 Central Avenue. $5 Individual/$10 Family. Tickets on sale at 1 PM.

  • 3 PM. Crescent Concerts: Crescent Singers 'Ensemble!'. Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church. $20/$15 at the door.
-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

At 100, Park Jewelers clock unmoved

The Park Jewelers clock is 100 this year

Will the 100-year-old Park Jewelers clock on Park Avenue ever be relocated as promised?

Probably not without someone raising a big stink about it.

Maria Pellum's Crescent Times brought the issue of the clock up again in a recent post.

As part of the complicated negotiations surrounding the development of the new County office building on the Park-Madison block, the developer (AST) was required by the Planning Board's site approval to purchase the clock from its private owners and move it to the plaza in front of the new building --
"...Applicant shall install the Park Jewelers clock on the site and will expend up to a total of $50,000.00, including the $7,000.00 cost of existing infrastructure, to relocate, acquire, repair and install the clock so that it is in working order and sound structural condition. If the cost exceeds $50,000.00, applicant shall advise the Division of Planning and Community Development to make appropriate arrangements to finalize installation of the clock."
Though there have been ongoing negotiations over unresolved issues with the project -- including obtaining a permanent certificate of occupation, the making of PILOT payments, and repairs to the cracked pavement, the public has heard nothing of the clock's fate.

At the time, the UCIA and the developer were disinclined to pursue the matter. At one point, the developer told the City they had brought a 'clock expert' out and that the clock was not working and would cost to much to fix. The real problem? They had not bothered to arrange with the owner to have the power to the clock turned on.

Agreements are toothless if they are not enforced. If the Robinson-Briggs administration will not champion fulfillment of the developer's promises, all Charlotte De Filippo and the UCIA need do is just sit on the sidelines smiling like the Sphinx.

Meanwhile, the clock, which has historic value as being the street clock (I am told) that figured in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and was brought from Brooklyn to Plainfield, is one hundred years old this year.

It would be nice to have a celebration in its promised location, wouldn't it?

-- Dan Damon

More on the Park-Madison and UCIA issues from Plainfield Today --

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Robinson-Briggs sidesteps needle-exchange program

New Jersey is the dead-last state to adopt a life-saving needle-exchange program.

Behind the entire Bible Belt. Behind Mormon Utah. Behind everybody else.

As Newark mayor Cory Booker says in today's Ledger, "It's been proven nationwide that a needle-exchange program coupled with awareness and treatment will significantly reduce the spread of AIDS and other diseases."

With about 500 residents with HIV/AIDS per the US Census, Plainfield ranks among the top ten communities in the state for HIV infections, according to a story in Monday's Courier.

Plainfield was also among only twelve communities eligible to apply for a pilot needle exchange program.

After I called attention to Plainfield not being among the cities designated for the pilot program, I learned from someone who attended the mandatory 'bidder conference' for pilot program communities that both Plainfield and Elizabeth were expected to send attendees to the meeting, but that no one showed up from either community.

Sadly, this will mean that Plainfield will not participate in the pilot program at all and that the spread of HIV/AIDS in Plainfield will not be checked by this progressive program with the support of Mayor Robinson-Briggs.

This is a bitter irony indeed, as much has been made of Robinson-Briggs being Plainfield's first woman African-American mayor.

The needle exchange legislation was first introduced in 1993 by State Sen. Wynona Lipman who, in 1971, was the first African-American woman elected to the New Jersey State Senate.

Lipman, who introduced 145 pieces of legislation in the course of her Senate career, died in 1999 after a battle with cancer (more about Senator Lipman's life and contributions here).

The Legislature honored Lipman's memory by establishing a chair in women's political leadership in her name at Rutgers. The chair is administered by the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the University's acclaimed Eagleton Institute of Politics.

The Legislature further honored Lipman's memory last year by passing the pilot needle-exchange program legislation after another female legislator, Sen. Nia Gill, piloted her version of the bill to successful passage.

So sad that with such heroic
female role models, the Robinson-Briggs administration just couldn't -- or wouldn't -- measure up.

Another dropped ball, only this one will cost lives.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Carlton McGee disappears from Atlanta; Heading for Plainfield?

Mayor Robinson-Briggs' former City Administrator Carlton McGee, who left under a cloud last October after revelations about large unauthorized expenditures and a major goof in rolling over BANs that jeopardized the City's credit rating, has mysteriously disappeared.

(Evidently not everyone in Jersey City thought highly of McGee at the time Mayor Robinson-Briggs handpicked him to lead her Administration. See these posts on two forums: "Carlton the Roach will become Business Administrator of Plainfield", "I'm serving him with papers also", and this from the law firm of Ravinder S. Bhalla "McGee would benefit financially from contracts with Jersey City".)

McGee left Plainfield to take up duties as Chief Financial Officer for the Atlanta Board of Education. Nice step up, huh? And probably a nice step up salary-wise.

But a couple of months ago, rumors began circulating that McGee had either been fired or forced to resign in Atlanta.

Trouble was, research didn't turn up any evidence it was so. So it went unreported and was soon forgotten.

Until last weekend, when the topic came up in conversation with friends who said they had heard recently that McGee was, indeed, gone.

It seems he is.

Here are screenshots of two documents from the Atlanta Board of Ed (the links take you to PDF files).

On February 12, 2007 (above), McGee presents to the Board on the 5-year strategic financial plan per the
Board Briefing Minutes.

On May 14, 2007 (abovd), a perusal of the Atlanta BOE organization chart (PDF) shows the Chief Financial Officer's position is 'vacant'.

When and why did he disappear? That remains something of a mystery.

The online Atlanta BOE board minutes don't reflect any action taken in the matter. Nor does the Atlanta Journal-Constitution turn up any reference to McGee and the school district.

Maybe he's headed back to Plainfield?

Could be. He still has a virtual life on the City's website, according to the Organization Chart (PDF) that has not been updated since last October.

Past articles on former City Administrator Carlton McGee --

The 'Quad-Tech' Deal

The 'old' Plainfield Today has a passle of articles referencing Mr. McGee, his operating style, machinations and departure -- including the mayoral meltdown meeting.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, May 14, 2007

'Sneak-ons', Muhlenberg funding, Comcast review, Jerry & Sharon chill out in the Poconos..

A roundup of several IMPORTANT items --


Today you will find links to what I hope are only the first of several blogs by candidates in this year's primary races. Councilor Cory Storch, who is seeking re-election, and challenger Tony Rucker have both put up blogs. You will find them on the CLIPS front page. Candidates will be listed in alphabetical order (Linda, you can be top dog if you want!). Read them and use any opportunity they give you for feedback!


New Jersey is the dead-last state to adopt some form of needle exchange program for intravenous drug users.

Even then it didn't come without embarassing an important State Senator on the floor, and the result was a half-step experimental program to be made available in only 12 communities statewide -- one of them being Plainfield.

In today's Courier, we learn five communities are planning to implement lifesaving needle exchanges shortly.

But not Plainfield.



You may have missed a brief item in Friday's Ledger (archived here) that the Assembly Housing and Local Government committee, chaired by Assemblyman Jerry Green, approved a bill (A1343) setting aside at least 25% of affordable housing for very-low-income families. The bill now moves to the full Assembly for consideration.


Sunday's Ledger ran an long story on the crisis in psychiatric beds in New Jersey's hospitals, causing ERs (emergency rooms) to have to take up the slack.

Muhlenberg is listed as providing 8 beds dedicated to psychiatric patients. The only other hospital listed in Union County is Trinitas in Elizabeth.

I noticed that Muhlenberg's 'partner', JFK in Edison is not listed as having any psychiatric beds, nor are RWJ or St. Peter's in New Brunswick.

The article points out that the crisis arises in part because some hospitals have given up psychiatric beds in favor of more lucrative services. Get my drift?

Would a fairer arrangement be to share this responsibility among more hospitals, including those, like JFK and RWJ who currently have opted out? Legislators would benefit from your opinion.


A related issue is charity care reimbursement. A story in today's Courier points out the dire need to reinforce funding for charity care -- which hospitals MUST provide to patients who have no financial resources.

I have been told that the charity care reimbursement to Muhlenberg is one of the two problems that chronically cause deficits (the other being Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements) in the hospital's balance sheet.

As both our only general hospital and the community's largest employer, we all have an interest in seeing equitable funding of charity care. Speak out!


With the additional appointments of Jan Massey and Quadir Lewis to the Cable Television Advisory Committee, it looks like the BEGINNING of some oversight of Plainfield's public access channel.

Couldn't come a moment too soon, since we must soon also have on our plate the statutory review of the City's franchise agreement with Comcast.

Though the franchise review is NOT part of the
Advisory Committee's portfolio (an ordinance set up a separate committee to negotiate the Comcast franchise and its review), perhaps the Advisory Committee can get the Administration to put the matter on the front burner.

Not only is the City's franchise with Comcast a complicated agreement, the ordinance requires participation by the school district in the process.

Additionally, the entry of Verizon into the cable market and the proliferation of satellite access have now complicated the entire business. Plainfielders will not be well served if attention is not devoted to this matter.


Annoyance Dept.: After mending its ways under tongue-lashings by the late Council President Ray Blanco, the Administration has backslid into sneaking items into the queue by bringing them unannounced to the Council's Monday agenda-setting sessions, asking for consideration and vote on Wednesday -- two days later. Sneaky!

Thank God Councilor Storch is not cowed by this technique and asks for more details.

Today's Plaintalker takes up one such 'walk-on' -- an amendment to the West Front Street Marino's project area.

The Administration wants to add the Brown Funeral Home property to the plan -- something originally planned by the McWilliams administration, but ixnayed at the time by Very Important People. Has something changed?

Meantime, the Administration deserves excoriation every time it uses this sneak-on tactic.


Who's paying for the junket? Not to worry -- housing authorities are federally funded agencies, so the money came out of your income taxes, not your property taxes. If that's any comfort.

Some of the items noted above can be helped along by expressing your opinion to your Assembly delegation. Email contact info below --
-- Dan Damon

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