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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sharon's 2008: Secretive, self-defeating to the end

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has had an embarrassing year, with the budget fiasco -- and the resultant abrupt firing of her hand-picked finance director -- surely topping the list.

With budget adoption nowhere in sight, and no amendments formally submitted to the City Council, which alone has the power of the purse, the Mayor continues her secretive and vindictive style right up to the wire as we pass into the New Year.

Two cases in point.

First, self-defeating vindictiveness.

As of Noon tomorrow, Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp will be members of the City Council. Owing to the absence of Councilor William Reid for health reasons, the new members will need to take part in the vote on the budget for FY2009, which is now half over.

Understandably, they want to make fully informed decisions in this matter. Yet requests to supply them with the same budget documents the Council has received and to brief them as the Council has been previously briefed by the Administration have been stonewalled by Robinson-Briggs.

It boggles the mind that the Mayor would not seem to see the reasonableness of extending a hand of cooperation to the two newcomers whose votes she is going to need in the coming year. But it is symptomatic of her style.

Second, unnecessary secretiveness.

With the Robinson-Briggs administration floundering through the passage of the FY2009 budget, and no finance director at the helm, it is perfectly understandable that good outside help would be sought.

But why secretively? Especially at Plainfield's City Hall, where news leaks as if from a sieve?

Robinson-Briggs turned to a consultant to get her through her budget mess.

And not just any consultant, but one of the most highly-regarded local finance people in the state.

Her pick, Bob Casey, is no stranger to Plainfield, having served as both finance director and city administrator on an interim basis under Mayor Al McWilliams.

Casey is the straightest of straight arrows, and if anyone can pull Robinson-Briggs' budget chestnuts out of the fire, he's the man.

But why do it so secretively? He's been at work for weeks now, and it was only after word got into the street, that Councilors learned he had been hired. As far as City Hall staffers go, Robinson-Briggs appears to be keeping him out of sight. Aside from the secretiveness, two further questions emerge --
  1. How was a consultant hired without an RFP or an authorizing resolution by the Council?

  2. From what account is Casey being paid?
The Council should know, since not a nickel can be spent without its authorization, a point that seems to escape Robinson-Briggs.

With McWilliams and Mapp joining the Council, Robinson-Briggs' secretive habits are likely to see scrutiny unlike any since the days of Council President Ray Blanco.

Now, that was a time when it was EXCITING to go to a Council meeting.

Hopefully, those days are back.

-- Dan Damon

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'08's top 10 - #1: In referendum on Green, Plainfield chooses McWilliams, Mapp

Today, the No. 1 most-read, chart-busting, story of 2008 was a double post outlining the reasons the June primary was a referendum on the leadership of Assemblyman Jerry Green, and the first report of the trouncing his proxies got at the polls. Something to keep in mind as we enter the year 2009, in which both Jerry Green and Sharon Robinson-Briggs must face the voters' evaluation of their stewardship of Plainfield.

"Primary a referendum on Jerry Green"

Assemblyman Jerry Green

For those who simply cannot get enough of Plainfield political hurly-burly, here are the links to my posts leading up to Tuesday's stunning defeat of Assemblyman Jerry Green's handpicked City Council candidates.

Was I wrong to cast the entire election as a referendum on Green's political leadership? 62% of Plainfield voters seem to think not.

Read on --
Primary Day: "Tuesday To-Do's: Vote, Party"
Monday: "The Assemblyman's panic attack"
Sunday: "The problem with Don Davis"
Saturday: "Slimemeister Green avoids Gibson's true cost to taxpayers"
"Plainfield's 'Corruption Tax', the Platters and You"
Thursday: "Gibson and Muhlenberg: Sleeping through the crisis"
Wednesday: "The Buying and Selling (out) of Plainfield"
Tuesday: "Primary A Referendum on Assemblyman Jerry Green"

"Voters Rebuke Green Team With McWilliams-Mapp Blowout"

Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp celebrate with supporters
sweeping Tuesday's Primary Election. (Photo, Allison McWilliams)

Plainfield voters soundly rebuked the political leadership of Assemblyman Jerry Green at the polls on Tuesday, giving the Democratic nomination for the citywide at-large seat to Annie McWilliams by a resounding 62% as against 37% for Green's handpicked incumbent, former Union County Public Safety Director Harold Gibson. Unofficial totals show 2860 votes cast, 1785 for McWilliams and 1075 for Gibson.

The win was continued in the Ward Three contest, where former Councilor and Freeholder Adrian Mapp beat out Green incumbent Don Davis and 'Buy Muhlenberg' founder Olive Lynch.
While I do not have the totals for Lynch, Mapp drew 462 votes to Davis' 371 in the unofficial count. UPDATE AT 8 AM: The newspapers report Olive Lynch receiving 149 votes. The unofficial breakdown now stands at: Mapp, 47%; Davis, 38%; and Lynch, 15%. Combined, Mapp and Lynch garnered 62% of the vote, with 38% for Davis, reflecting the percentage spread in the citywide race.

Official figures will be available on the County Clerk's website later.

Running a low-budget grassroots campaign, the McWilliams-Mapp team used both tried-and-true techniques (walking the neighborhoods and talking with voters) as well as new methods of spreading their message (blogs) and gathering online contributions by using the Paypal service, which has been so successful for Barack Obama.

Assemblyman Green, on the other hand, relied on an old-style vendor-driven contribution operation which guaranteed oodles of cash but little-to-no grassroots support.

Preliminary numbers indicate McWilliams swept the Green machine in all four wards -- including strong showings in Ward 4 (especially Neighborhood House) and Ward 1, both of which Green has relied on in the past.

One of the sights caught by voters entering the polls at Plainfield High School was Her Honor, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, dutifully handing out palm cards in support of Assemblyman Green's handpicked candidates. (You will recall
SHE was herself handpicked by the selfsame Assemblyman Green in 2005.)

McWilliams and Mapp trounced Gibson on his home turf -- Ward Three -- with Mapp taking the Ward Three council nomination despite a run by 'Save Muhlenberg' activist Olive Lynch, who drew substantial support.

In my mind, the Ward Three results also represent a rebuke of Assemblyman Green for his dismal performance on the Muhlenberg Hospital question, where he first found himself asleep at the switch and then spent his initial energies organizing the hospital's shut-down.

The people, evidently, will have none of it, and this does NOT augur well for Green on other fronts.

In a heavily Democratic community such as Plainfield, nomination virtually assures election in November, in which both Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp will appear in the regular Democratic lineup.

The times, as Dylan said, are a changin' --
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

You may substitute the elected officials of your choice in the lyric.
UPDATE: The County Clerk's official, certified tally of the June 2008 Democratic Primary is available here.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'08's top 10 - No. 2: Plainfield mayor abruptly fires finance director

Counting down toward 2009, Plainfield Today is posting the top 10 stories of '08 that readers have found of interest, measured by number of views.

Today, Number 2
: Robinson-Briggs abruptly fires Plainfield's finance director.

"Robinson-Briggs abruptly fires Plainfield's finance director"

Douglas Peck (from his website, now defunct).

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' judgment took another hit Monday as word seeped out that her hand-picked Director of Finance and Administration, Douglas Peck, had cleaned out his desk and was gone. Along with the car he is said to have used without authorization.

The ground had become increasingly shaky under Mr. Peck's feet after he flubbed the management of Mayor Robinson-Briggs' FY2009 budget introduction (read about his infamous 'Crayola document' budget presentation here).

But the proverbial icing on the cake may have been Peck's failure to produce the materials necessary for the Planning Board to move the City's five-year capital improvements plan forward, causing a Planning Board meeting to be canceled on short notice and leaving others in the Robinson-Briggs administration to try and salvage the mess.

Peck's tenure as a City employee has been exceptional, to put it mildly.

(Prior to his appointment by Robinson-Briggs, his only previous connection with Plainfield seems to have been a consulting contract with the PMUA, for whose Commissioners he conducted a 'strategic planning retreat', where -- among other things -- he plumped for the PMUA to start and operate a Charter School in Plainfield.)

Peck began with the Council approving an unheard-of $12,000 stipend in addition to his salary, interpreted at the time as covering his moving costs (though he later disputed that) -- and taking his first week on the City payroll off (see here) as a 'freebie'.

Then there was the matter of bonding; it turned out that, unlike every previous Director of Finance and Administration, Peck was unable to be bonded. The defect was such that the Robinson-Briggs administration pondered giving him another title, though nothing ever came of that idea.

Throughout the summer, I got word that the Mayor's other appointees were seething at the lax work weeks Peck was putting in; some say he never put in a five-day week the entire period he was with the City.

The budget, which was one of Peck's main responsibilities, turned out to be a donnybrook, for which Mayor Robinson-Briggs took it on the chin (see posts here).

But there were other, and more disturbing, rumors -- that Peck had commandeered a City vehicle and was driving it 24/7 without a Council resolution accepting liability on the City's behalf (see my posts here and here); and that he had physically attacked another City employee in a public scene at Hugo's, the bar which occupies the premises of the former Lily Greenleaves. You'll find no police report on that.

The Council, which has a fiduciary responsibility to the community as its corporate body, had not yet looked into the vehicle issue as of Mr. Peck's departure.

In her report on Peck's departure, Bernice quotes Mayor Robinson-Briggs as saying that though Peck's firing was for 'personnel issues', there was "nothing 'criminal or illegal' involved in the decision" (see full post here).

That may be, but I am told the search is on for the missing city vehicle.

Seems the most likely place to start is the parking lots at Newark Liberty airport.

Would that be long-term or short-term?

The Green/Robinson-Briggs administration is now in the position of having to search for a sixth person to fill the Finance and Administration position, with only her lame-duck year left.

If this were a major league baseball coaching position, the front office would have fired the coach by this time.

Plainfield's 'front office' is the voters.

Next year they get to voice their opinion on the coach.
UPDATE: The missing vehicle, used by Peck without Council authorization, was eventually recovered. No one wants to 'fess up -- the best I can find out is that it was NOT returned by Peck and that it was NOT recovered in Plainfield. Ah, life's little mysteries....

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Monday, December 29, 2008

'08's Top 10 - No. 3: Development: The meltdown hits Plainfield

Counting down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top 10 stories of '08 that readers have found of interest, measured by number of views.

Today, Number
3: Development: The market meltdown hits Plainfield.

"The market meltdown hits Plainfield"

Talk in Congress has been of protecting the interests of Main Street while dealing with the bailout of Wall Street.

Well, Plainfield has two things to tell those in Congress: 1) here, we call it 'Front Street' not 'Main Street', and 2) you're too late.

Though work continues -- apparently at a snail's pace -- on Dornoch's Monarch at Plainfield senior center/condo project, there has been an ominous silence on the sales front.

Dornoch's Monarch at Plainfield. Named after who?

Some time ago, the Council approved the use of a vacant city-owned lot across the street as a sales center for the project, but no sales trailer has appeared to date.

Meanwhile, the Heartstone proposal by Clay Bonny for 12 market-rate condos on West Front Street between the Horizons unit and McDonald's has fallen completely off the radar.

Rumors that the developers have met their demise appear to be premature.

Dornoch plods along in Plainfield, and in Rahway actually got under way (finally) with steel work on its 36-unit Savoy condo project in late July (see here). Bowing to changes in the market, Clay Bonny just won approval from Rahway's planning board to rejigger his 80-unit Station Place condo project into a 116-unit RENTAL project instead (more here).

There are whispers that Omnipointe, whose plans to build a large residential/retail complex on the G.O. Keller site at South and Leland Avenues, have been the subject of much speculation, is rethinking its proposal. Seems that research suggests there is currently no market for its favored mix of doctors' offices, health-allied businesses and condos at this location. (Anyone witnessing the fight over closing Muhlenberg might have guessed as much.) Did I mention that their attorneys are Wiener Lesniak?

The market meltdown is making it difficult for everyone in the development daisy-chain:
  • Construction loans for developers are harder to come by;

  • Banks are skittish about mortgages where property values -- even on new construction -- are in decline;

  • Buyers are nervous about investing in a down market as to whether their purchase would soon be 'under water'.
Small wonder then, that developers throughout central New Jersey are turning to local governments to approve conversions from condo to rental projects.

The possibility must be considered that both Dornoch and Bonny would approach Plainfield with such a request. This would be a bitter pill indeed for the administration of Assemblyman Jerry Green and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who have staked the success of her term on successful residential/retail development.

The mayor's 'Pocket Park' -- The political equivalent of planting ivy?

And it helps to explain why Robinson-Briggs, with an eye toward her putative run for a second term but without consulting the Council or getting a (necessary) resolution of approval, unilaterally declared the vacant spot on which Bonny proposed his Heartstone condo project into a vest-pocket park. (For a previous story on the park, see 'Plainfield's latest park not it's greatest'.)

Whether or not John Lennon actually said it, it is certainly true that 'life is what happens while you're planning something else'.

UPDATE: Sort of like Alice down the rabbit hole, things get curiouser and curiouser. Dornoch's Savoy project in Rahway has come to a complete stop and neither principal Glen Fishman nor his attorney are returning phone calls from Mayor Kennedy or his staff. Meanwhile, the Senior Center project in Plainfield has noticeably picked up steam since September. A sales trailer has been installed on the vacant lot across the corner. Will the units actually be sold, or will they become rentals? That question is s till up in the air, but a report in the NY Times (see here) says Union County's unsold real estate inventory currently stands in excess of 13 months. If you drive by Mayor Robinson-Briggs' 'pocket park' where the Heartstone project was supposed to be, you will note the sign is gone. Will the new developer actually get anything under way in 2009? We'll have to wait and see.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top 10 stories for '08 - No. 4 - Muhlenberg: Jerry's plan; Sharon's dereliction

Counting down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top 10 stories of '08 that readers have found of interest, measured by number of views.

Today, Number 4, a double from May:
Muhlenberg: Jerry's plan; Sharon's dereliction.

"Jerry's plan to keep Muhlenberg open"

Plainfield Today transcribed the Courier story, which was posted online in an incomplete version. A second post outlined the questions Jerry's plan raised.

First, the Courier article --
Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, May 20, 2008.

Online headline: Solaris may be willing to negotiate a selling price for Muhlenberg Medical Center

Print headline:
Muhlenberg to stay open?
Solaris offers proposal to keep hospital running


Solaris Health System might be willing to negotiate a price for keeping the acute-care facility at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center open until a management team can be put in place to run a streamlined facility that would ensure basic health-care needs for the people of Plainfield and its surrounding areas.

This dramatic development emerged Monday when Assemblyman Gerald Green (D-Union) announced that he would introduce a "serious developer'' who would outline his plans for keeping Muhlenberg open at a special community meeting set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Washington Community School, 427 Darrow Ave. in Plainfield.

According to Green, the developer -- Drew Piscatelli of South Amboy -- would be willing to partner with either Solaris or Somerset Medical Center in Somerville in a plan that would give ownership of the medical center to the city of Plainfield and turn management of the facility over to "whoever is willing to step up.''

"Initally, Solaris was asking for $48 million,'' Green said. "That amount of money was chasing away every potential party. The numbers are a lot different now. We're down to $18 million. That's a big difference. Investors have shown tremendous interest.''

In outlining his plan for a streamlined facility, Green said that people will just have to realize that this is the direction that health-care is taking in the state of New Jersey.

"Short-range, we might have to downsize,'' Green said. "Long-range, we have to have the services that are really needed.''

Green said that would include an emergency room, an acute-care facility and other central services that don't necessarily compete with larger hospitals like JFK Medical Center in Edison (another Solaris facility), Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick and Somerset Medical Center in Somerville.

"It would be more like a shopping mall,'' Green said. "We would be providing ample services where we can turn a profit.''

[Below this point transcribed by DD.]

Again, Green see this as part of the way health care is evolving in today's world.

"Already, we have a lot of doctors who are performing services off-campus," Green said. "We need to find a way to generate tax dollars for the city."

Green convened a task force of concerned citizens and administrators from surrounding hospitals in the wake of the Solaris announcement in February.

In the streamlined "medical mall" setup, Green envisions perhaps 100 beds in the acute-care facililty. Primarily, however, Green wants to make sure that Plainfield residents do not have to travel an extra half-hour or more to get the services they need -- especially for coronary care and childbirth.

On Wednesday, Gree said he expected Piscatellil to lay out a plan for the community and explan to the public what can be done.

In addition, Green is asking the state not to rush into ruling on the Solaris application to close the acute-care facililty. he also wants the state to keep the acute-care license open and Solaris to leave Muhlenberg intact until a decision can be made.

Solaris, however, does not share Green's vision.

"Solaris appreciates all that Assemblyman Green is doing in regards to Muhlenberg," said Solaris spokesman Steven Weiss. "Unfortunately, we are seeking a buyer who is capable of running the facility as an acute-care hospital. We continue to move forward with an orderly closure that allows Solaris to provide health-care services to the residents of the community."

On May 6, the State Health Planning Board conducted a public hearing on Solaris' application for a certificate of need for closure of the acute-care facility at the 130-year-old hospital. More than 1,200 people attended the hearing. Given the overflow crowd and the fact that not everyone who wished to speak could be heard, both Green and Judy Donlen, chairman of the board, asked for a second hearing. That is now scheduled for 6 p.m. June 5, also at the high school.

Solaris' announcement of its intention to close the acute-care facility and leave behind a satellite emergency roon, the school of nursing and several ancillary facilities touched off a round of protests, prayer vigils and rallies, both in Plainfield and at the statehouse in Trenton.

In addiiton, a "Buy Muhlenberg" movement was created by city Council candidate Olive Lynch, who last week convened a meeting of potential investors at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville. The investors met with two other members of Lynch's committee, Green and Ken Bateman, CEO of Somerset Medical Center, who had expressed interest in a potential partnership that would enable Muhlenberg to stay open.

"We needed to know that their interest was real," said Lynch, who thought that everyone at the meeting was excited by the possibilities and appeared to be on the same page. "We should be hearing back from them in the next few days."

Online story here.
Then, the questions it raised for Jerry --
"Saving Muhlenberg or Saving Jerry?"

Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green is one wily politician. Which makes it all the more important to parse today's news (see here) that Jerry has a 'serious developer' who will outline a plan to rescue beleaguered Muhlenberg hospital by having the city become the owner and 'streamlining' it so that it does not compete with JFK or RWJ -- and all this two weeks before a primary election in which Green's political status is (by proxy) on trial.

So, what to make of Jerry's proposal?

It raises more questions than it answers, but here are some that Plainfielders may want to ask on Wednesday evening, when Jerry's developer -- make that SERIOUS developer -- Drew Piscatelli outlines his proposal for Muhlenberg.
  1. WILL MUHLENBERG CLOSE BEFORE ANYTHING IS DONE? I am told that Solaris cannot even contemplate anything except a sale as an acute-care hospital until after the State grants a certificate of need to close the hospital. So much for the patients, medical and support staffs.

  2. HOW WILL THE CITY COME TO 'OWN' THE HOSPITAL? And how will it pay the $2 million/month carrying charges? And why is Plainfield ownership better than ownership by 13 communities -- which Jerry refused to consider earlier?

  3. WHERE DID THE $18M PRICETAG COME FROM? How did Jerry come up with $18M? What happened to the $48M Solaris talks about?

  4. IF THE 'NEW' MUHLENBERG IS NOT TO COMPETE WITH JFK or RWJ, WHAT WILL IT OFFER? Will there be actual 'non-compete' agreements with the other hospitals forbidding the 'new' Muhlenberg from cutting into any of their (profitable) businesses?

  5. WHERE WILL THE MANAGEMENT TEAM COME FROM? What does 'Whoever will step up' mean? Does that mean the Mayor's management team? Her communications team? Who?

  6. HOW WOULD A 'DOCTOR'S SHOPPING MALL' WORK? Will they just have offices? And why would they move their offices there? What about the doctors' offices already on Park Avenue? Would they become vacant properties?

  7. WHAT ABOUT CHARITY CARE? You know, the people without insurace, who aren't going to go away just because Solaris wants to close Muhlenberg? Where will they go?

  8. WILL THE HOSPITAL BE TURNED INTO AN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY AS PISCATELLI PLANNED ELSEWHERE? Jerry's 'serious developer' has a track record elsewhere. Has anybody checked it out? How has he done in South Amboy? In Millville?

Plenty of questions to be answered before sipping any Kool-Aid.

Without even going into why Jerry's dog-and-pony show is immediately followed by a forum for his candidates in the June Primary.
Lastly, a post on Mayor Robinson-Briggs' dereliction of duty as a Muhlenberg board member --
"The Mayor and the Muhlenberg Mess"

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs asked the state at Tuesday's hearing to keep Muhlenberg open.

It was a great performance, but it made me wonder why she was so late to the party.

The truth appears to be that she never took her responsibilities toward Muhlenberg seriously until the specter of shutting the hospital came to haunt her.

Why do I say that?

Plainfield's mayor becomes an ex-officio member of the Muhlenberg board upon being sworn into office. Except for the 2007 Annual Meeting, I am told Mayor Robinson-Briggs has not attended a single board meeting.

This means that the Mayor did not get the benefit of learning first-hand about the deteriorating situation regarding charity care reimbursement. It also means she did not make an effort to find out what the City could do to be proactive about the increasingly dire situation. Finally, it means she was absent when there was a possibility of using the skills of persuasion to get Solaris to consider other options than the road taken.

And this is the person Assemblyman Jerry Green demanded should replace the current Muhlenberg board president?

Was Mayor Robinson-Briggs derelict in her duties toward the residents -- and voters -- of Plainfield?

You tell me.
The posts, which garnered views within a hair of each other have been grouped together as addressing the Muhlenberg closure issue.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Top 10 stories for '08 - No. 5 - Jerry's Trifecta: Muhlenberg, Abbott, Santiago

Counting down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top 10 stories of '08 that readers have found of interest, measured by number of views.

Today, Number 5, from March 20: Jerry's Troubling Trifecta: Muhlenberg, Abbott, Santiago.

"Jerry's troubling trifecta: Muhlenberg, Abbott, Santiago"

A real king's job is to be in charge.

And at first glance, Plainfield's Assemblyman Jerry Green appears very much in charge indeed.

Wednesday evening, the Plainfield City Council delivered him his much-sought-after elimination of the 139-year-old Police Chief position. This caps a trifecta which includes Muhlenberg hospital and the Abbott schools funding in which the Assemblyman has portrayed himself as a beneficent influence.

But if the king's in charge, why are things so troubling?


In the case of Muhlenberg, the Assemblyman was delighted to take credit for getting the hospital millions in state funding last year. Unfortunately, the mojo wasn't enough to forestall the crisis everyone saw coming.

When Solaris Health Systems announced late last year it was putting Muhlenberg on the block, what did the Assemblyman do? Wait. A task force, which might have been appropriate and helpful AT THAT TIME, never came up until Jerry learned Solaris was going to pull the plug on Muhlenberg.

Now, the Assemblyman is playing a two-sided game: Urging those who want to see Muhlenberg remain open as an acute-care facility to roll over and play dead, and at the same time trying to portray himself as the champion of their interests by inserting himself into their planning and activities.

You can see why he wants to -- after all, an aroused public might just get away from him, and that could be trouble.


A couple of weeks ago, Jerry appeared before the Board of Ed to remark that if he had known that his vote for Corzine's new school funding formula would mean putting the Plainfield BOE behind a $5M shortfall, he wouldn't have done it. (I posted a link to the video of his comments at the Statehouse which show him in a different light -- see here and more here.)

One has to wonder whether Jerry knew about the bombshell the Corzine administration was to drop when it went before the Supreme Court this week and asked it to essentially gut the Abbott v. Burke ruling by declaring the new funding formula constitutional.

That would mean putting Plainfield taxpayers on the hook for 33% of the local school budget -- more than tripling the local obligation. Out of local taxpayers' hides.

So, was Jerry not thinking of your tax bill ... or just not free to vote for Plainfield interests over those to whom he owes so much (literally and figuratively) for making him king of the hill in Plainfield?


From the first days of the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration, they have had the axe out for Ed Santiago, personally. Jerry has made no secret of wanting EVERYONE to be a 'team player' -- to the point of making comments about Councilors' body language to the press when he didn't like the way a vote went.

But this is what being king means, right? The power of life and death over one's subjects -- in our day and age, the power of taking one's job away, and of not returning one's phone calls. (At least we haven't gotten to the old Soviet loose-leaf encyclopedia idea, where someone's page can just be removed and they are obliterated. Or have we?)

So now, at Jerry's bidding, a existed since Plainfield was a city -- 139 years -- is thrown into the dustbin of history. For what? So the pols can control the Police Division's hirings, promotions and assignments? You should rest better at night knowing this?

Santiago and the police chiefs have said they are not giving up without a fight. The city is going to have to prove the handling of the matter was fair and untainted by politics. And that is going to cost the taxpayers for defending the elimination of the position. Plus whatever is down the line.

The assertion by Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson that those in the community who think the removal of Santiago is a personal vendetta are both WRONG and IN THE MINORITY may yet get its test.
So the king stands at the absolute peak of his triumph, and yet there is trouble all around.

'Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown'.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Readers' Picks: Top ten stories for 2008 - Number 6 - Dan for Mayor

As we count down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top ten stories, as measured by the number of views, that readers have found of interest in 2008.

Today, Number 6, from April 1, 2008: Dan tosses his hat into the ring (though the date should have given it away, many still ask if I'm running).

"Dan tosses his hat into the ring"


-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Readers' Picks: Top ten stories for 2008 - Number 7: Obama

As we count down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top ten stories, as measured by the number of views, that readers have found of interest in 2008.

Today, Number 7, from January 28, 2008: Plainfield's Obama presidential primary rally (though the rally notice got the most views, I'm also including followup stories on the rally itself and the Primary results for context).

Plainfield rallies for Obama tonight

Sen. Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama the day of Plainfield's rally.

Organizers of a Plainfield rally for Barack Obama this evening (details at end of post) are expecting a large regional turnout after the Senator's smashing victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in South Carolina's Democratic primary this past Saturday.

Yesterday, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while in office, endorsed Obama in an OpEd piece in the New York Times (see here). She wrote --
Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president ...

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

Breaking news this morning is that Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, brother of the late president, and a Democratic powerhouse for 40 years, will endorse Sen. Obama at a rally this morning at American University in Washington, DC.

Kennedy became increasingly frustrated over the Clinton's campaign tactics during the past several weeks, as cited by both the NY Times --
Mr. Kennedy had become increasingly disenchanted with the tone of the Clinton campaign, aides said. He and former President Bill Clinton had a heated telephone exchange earlier this month over what Mr. Kennedy considered misleading statements by Mr. Clinton about Mr. Obama, as well as his injection of race into the campaign.
and the Washington Post --
Kennedy's decision came after weeks of his rising frustration with the Clintons over campaign tactics, particularly comments by the couple and their surrogates in South Carolina that seemed to carry racial overtones. Kennedy expressed his frustrations directly to the former president, but to no avail.
Sen. Kennedy has pledged to campaign hard for Obama and will be heading west with him after today's rally in Washington.

Though Sen. Obama will NOT be able to make the Plainfield rally this evening, representatives of his campaign and New Jersey backers will be present. I hope to see you there.

A 'Stand For Change' Rally

January 28, 2008
7:00 - 8:30 PM

Join fellow Plainfielders and
other central Jerseyans to rally
for real change in Washington
by showing your support for

Sen. Barak Obama

Rose of Sharon Church

Thanks should be extended to the local organizing group under the leadership of Councilor Rashid Burney, including former Councilor Liz Urquhart, Councilor Elliott Simmons, and activists Marie Davis, Linward Cathcart and Tai Lattimore.

(Followup 1) Hundreds rally in Plainfield for Obama

Hundreds of enthusiastic Obama supporters from Plainfield and central New Jersey crowded the auditorium of Queen City Academy for a rally in support of the candidate last evening.

Local Obama coordinator Rashid Burney, Councilor-at-large for Wards 2/3, emceed the evening's event, which featured Akin Salawu, a founder of NJ for Obama, as well as remarks by Rebecca Widdick, co-chair of Union County for Obama, and local notables.

Attendees were given opportunities to volunteer in the Senator's grassroots New Jersey campaign as well as to receive email newsletters and alerts from the state campaign HQ.

Greeting scores of old friends, I was pleased to see several Republicans in attendance. News reports have consistently relayed information that Barack's appeal crosses party lines. I was surprised to learn that one longtime Republican friend, a former president of the Plainfield League of Women Voters, had changed her party registration to Democrat in anticipation of the presidential primary.

Local organizers include Union County Tax Commissioner and former Councilor Liz Urquhart, Councilor Elliott Simmons, and activists Marie Davis, Linward Cathcart and Tai Lattimore. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, said to be a Clinton supporter, was present to welcome the crowd. Local clergy participating included Pastor LaVerne Ball of Rose of Sharon Church; the Rev. Gary Kirkwood of King's Temple Ministries; Bishop George Benbow of Christian Fellowship Gospel Church; and the Rev. Oscar O. Turk of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Edison.

The New Jersey race, once considered 'in the bag' for Clinton, has become highly competitive and is now considered 'in play'. Though the most recent Fairleigh Dickinson poll (see here) shows a 45%-30% spread for Clinton over Obama, realities on the ground challenge taking the poll at face value.

The spread with unaffiliated voters -- registered voters without a declared party affiliation -- gives Obama the edge, with 16% to Clinton's 9%, with 44% still undecided.

As the South Carolina vote revealed, many unaffiliated voters are making their mind up in the last few days before the election, so we may see Hillary's lead evaporate -- especially now that the powerful Kennedy clan has thrown its weight behind Obama's candidacy.

New Jersey, like many other states, has an 'open' primary, in which registered voters with no party affiliation may declare an affiliation at the polling place and vote in the primary.

Observers note that the FDU poll was conducted over a 7-day period, from January 20-27, and that the results may prove less reliable because of fast-moving developments in the campaign, including rank-and-file Democrats' revulsion at Bill Clinton's bulldog tactics.

For Obama supporters to maximize his chances, though, volunteers will be needed to step up and man (person?) the phone banks and polling places as we head into next Tuesday's primary -- the first one since 1984 in which New Jersey's vote actually makes a difference.

(Followup 2) Plainfield: The little [Obama] engine that could

Despite convention delegate totals dominating the news, Plainfielders will be pleasantly surprised to learn that their over-the-top support for Barack Obama in Tuesday's primary outshone every other town in Union County -- including Elizabeth, more than two and a half times the size of Plainfield -- pushing Obama to a 50.5% win over Clinton's 47.5% countywide.

With 77% of ballots -- 5,762 votes out of a total of 7,483 -- cast for Barack Obama, Plainfield led the county both in percentage of votes given to him and in absolute numbers.

Elizabeth, which went for Clinton -- 63% - 36% -- came in with the second largest number of Obama votes at 4,602. Linden, which went for Clinton by 52% - 45% had the third highest number of Obama votes at 3,025.

Roselle (2,975) and Hillside (2,932) came in 4th and 5th, respectively, in total numbers.

The percentage story is just as striking. After leader Plainfield (77%), the following towns gave Obama more than fifty percent of the Democratic vote: Roselle (66%), Hillside (65%), Rahway (57%), Summit (56%), Fanwood (55%), Scotch Plains (55%), and Westfield (51%).

Union County's story appears to parallel that of the state -- the exceptionally large turnout indicates that a large number, perhaps up to a third of the total, were unaffiliated voters energized to participate in the primary by declaring a party preference and voting.

In this regard, all the excitement was on the Democratic side of the contest, with Republican turnouts not reflecting anything near the same interest from unaffiliated voters. (Links to complete county-by-county and town-by-town votes are at the end of this post.)

The other parallel with what pundits have noted about Obama's constituency is the solid support in upscale communities -- in Union County including Summit, Westfield, Fanwood and Scotch Plains.

Credit for Plainfield's stunning response has to be laid at the feet of the grassroots volunteer effort coordinated by Councilor Rashid Burney. Anyone who visited Obama headquarters on South Avenue in the days running up to the primary was impressed by the buzz of activity as volunteers worked the phone banks from every nook and cranny. A big huzzah to all!

While Democratic machines throughout the state either lined up behind Clinton -- who called in her many political chits -- or made no public commitment, the Obama votes came from utterly outside the political machines, as Newark's legendary North Ward politico Steve Adubato lamented in yesterday's Ledger -- "I never saw an election where politicians like me have so little to do with the outcome."

Change is in the air.

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Happy Holidays from Plainfield Today





-- Dan Damon

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Readers' Picks: Top ten stories for 2008 - Number 8

As we count down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top ten stories, as measured by the number of views, that readers have found of interest in 2008.

Today, Number 8, from July 14, 2008.

Council discusses troublesome South Avenue zoning changes

Note: Click on a colored area to see some of the proposed changes.
Mapping required giving each segment a unique name (West, Center, East),
which is not part of the zoning proposal language.

Plainfield's City Council will take up proposed zoning changes this evening, designed to designate a 'transit-oriented development' (TOD) area bracketing the Netherwood train station between South Avenue and the railroad. On the west, the zone would start with the property line bounding the City Yard (which is NOT included) and extend eastward to include the KFC property just past the point where Pacific Street enters South Avenue.

The map above is an approximation based on the official documents. Clicking on any one of the colored segments brings up a memo box with SOME of the changes the proposal will make (with the current requirements in parentheses).

Why is it troublesome?

It is troublesome because it gives the game away before it is even played.

The heart and soul of development is the negotiation of the conditions between the parties: the City and the developer.

Proposals like the one that will be discussed tonight do the community a disservice by giving up all the points on which the City could negotiate and setting the stage for developers to make even more intrusive or unpalatable stipulations ... 'or we'll walk'.

I am not opposed to
'transit-oriented development' (TOD) in principle, and this proposal actually makes much more sense than previous ones backed by the Robinson-Briggs administration which didn't meet the minimum specification in terms of distance to a train station. Who says people can't learn from experience?

(The earlier South Avenue project on the Carfaro property was denied by the zoning board; the Capodagli proposal for the currrent PMUA property on the north side of the railroad has since collapsed -- it never met the requirements for distance from a train station.)

In fact, the conditions proposed in the zoning changes might actually be (at least mostly -- I am eternally suspicious of providing insufficient parking) ones that the City would be willing to arrive at AFTER A SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATION WITH A DEVELOPER.

One also has to ask 'why now'?

Market conditions are not particularly conducive to mixed-use residential/commercial projects at this time. The New York Times yesterday provided an overview of a number of high-profile New Jersey development projects, including the Esperanza at Asbury Park, that have stumbled (see more here). In Cranford, the upscale TOD Cranford Crossing is having difficulty get all its units sold.

Closer to home, Dornoch's project for a combination Senior Center and condos ('they'll be just as nice as Cranford Crossing,' Assemblyman Green once told the Seniors at a meeting I attended) has ground almost to a halt -- as even Mayor Robinson-Briggs admitted. There is no sales trailer on the vacant city-owned lot the Council agreed to let Dornoch use, and all the talk now is of the units being rentals instead of sales. Just what we need, more renters and fewer taxpayers. What a comedown that would be after all the promises made by the Assemblyman and Robinson-Briggs!

If, as rumored, Commerce Bank (and its new owner, Toronto Dominion Bancorp) were to move forward in developing the G.O. Keller property at South and Leland, the question would still remain about whether and when the market for CONDOS as opposed to rentals will recover. Especially after you digest the news about mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac coming out today.

Is the Administration anxious to make the zoning change now because it feels the Council may have more spine after new members take their seats next January?

evelopment has a lot in common with poker -- including bluffing, calling and winning the pot.

A poker player would never show you his hand.

Adopting the proposed zoning changes for a Netherwood TOD would be the equivalent of a poker player laying all their cards face up on the table.

Would you want such a player gambling with YOUR chips?

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