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Friday, February 29, 2008

Update on Plainfield schools and tainted beef

More on the shipments of potentially tainted beef to public schools, including Plainfield's.

Thursday afternoon, the school district forwarded to me a memo from Sodexho, the company contracted to operate the district's cafeterias, concerning the ground beef recall -- view the memo online here.

Briefly, the USDA put a hold on this ground beef on January 30. Suppliers who had received the product -- including Sodexho -- were to notify end users such as the Plainfield schools to put the product on hold. This was done.

On February 17, the USDA mandated the destruction of the ground beef, and the memo says Sodexho and the district complied.

There is no mention in the memo of whether or not any of the suspect beef was ever served in the school's cafeterias, though the memo says there have been no reports of illness alleged to the ground beef product. Nevertheless, Sodexho and the district have suspended serving ANY beef products until further notice, replacing beef with turkey, chicken or pork.

You may recall that the whole episode began with the posting of a video on YouTube showing the producer in question -- Westland/Hallmark -- processing 'downed' cattle. (You can watch the YouTube video here. Warning: Graphic content!) These are cattle that are too sick or weak to walk into the slaughtering process. The video exposed inhumane treatment that is banned, including using electric shocks to force the cattle to stand and move. One shot showed a forklift lifting an animal and moving it forward. Sick animals could potentially taint the food supply.

The USDA, which is supposed to monitor these facilities, did NOT act until after the matter was exposed on YouTube.

In case you think that the USDA is really watching out for those of us at the end of the supply chain, you will be disabused by a story (see here) in Friday's Washington Post, where Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told Congress Thursday --
that he would not endorse an outright ban on "downer" cows entering the food supply or back stiffer penalties for regulatory violations by meat-processing plants...
Your government servants, working for you.

Makes you feel real safe, doesn't it?

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

A.T. McWilliams III a Boston College Presidential Scholar

Word came Wednesday evening that Albert T. McWilliams III, oldest son of Darlene McWilliams and the late Plainfield Mayor Al McWilliams has been selected as a Boston College Presidential Scholar.

"A.T.", as he is known to family and friends is a senior at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, where he commutes daily by train and PATH.

According to Fr. Bob Reiser, SJ, the head of St. Peter's, the BC Presidential Scholarship program provides approximately fifteen exceptional applicants each year with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship, as well as special opportunities for academic, personal, and spiritual growth.

Boston College Presidential Scholarship candidates are “students with outstanding academic records, who hold leadership roles in their school and who are committed to and have a demonstrated interest in community service.” Those who know A.T. will agree this description fits him to a 'T'.

Both St. Peter's Prep and Boston College are educational institutions of the Society of Jesus. Jesuits have been recognized for hundreds of years for the excellence of their educational tradition and the high quality of well-rounded graduates they produce.

I know that Al would be bursting with pride at A.T.'s accomplishment, and congratulate him and his family on this singular recognition.

A high-five for A.T.!

-- Dan Damon

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Rally to save Muhlenberg

A "Save Muhlenberg Hospital" rally is slated for Saturday at noon. The Plainfield branch of People's Organization for Progess is sponsoring the event to be held at the corner of Randolph Road and Park Avenue.

The flyer announcing the rally was circulating in the community and among hospital staffers on Wednesday.

With 1,100 employess, Muhlenberg RMC is one of Plainfield's top two employers. Closing the hospital would have a serious long-term economic impact on the community through the loss of jobs and health-related professional offices.

Solaris Health Systems, Muhlenberg's corporate parent, had announced earlier that it plans to file a request for a 'certificate of need'
by the beginning of March. Granting of the certificate by the state would allow it to shut down the facility withing about six months.

For more information on the rally, contact POP at (908) 731-1518.

Save Muhlenberg Hospital Rally
Saturday, March 1
Noon - 1 PM
Randolph Road and Park Avenue

-- Dan Damon

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Plainfield schools got tainted beef

Plainfield's public schools are among a further 90 school districts the state's Department of Agriculture said Wednesday have received tainted ground beef involved in the nation's largest food recall.

Piscataway was also among the school districts disclosed yesterday to have received the beef. North Plainfield and Dunellen schools had been identified in the first wave of public notices.

Read the full story here:
"90 more NJ schools got recalled beef"

The Department of Agriculture press release is here, and you can view the
complete list here (PDF).

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hillary slips an apples-and-oranges over on Obama

COMCAST email has serious problems this AM, have been unable to mail CLIPS. Sorry.

Watched the Obama-Clinton debate last night instead of going to the Board of Ed work-study session which included a discussion on the upcoming budget. Will comment on that later.

But Hillary and Barack proved irresistible. You'll find the coverage on CLIPS and any of your other favorite sources, but there was one moment I haven't seen anyone pick up on.

Tim Russert, known for 'hardball' questions, threw a supposed one at Obama: What did he have to say about Minister Louis Farrakhan being quoted by the Chicago Tribune as urging his supporters to support Obama?

Obama said, in essence, 'Hey, this is America. I can't tell someone not to like me.'

Hillary chimed in
with what I think was an apples-and-oranges moment.

When Hillary attacked Obama over the supposed difference between 'denouncing' and 'rejecting' Farrakhan's support, she was more than a little disingenuous.

In New York State, multiple parties can endorse a candidate, and that candidate appears on that party's line on the ballot. The Independent Party, which Hillary correctly cited as anti-Semitic at that time -- could have put her up as their candidate and caused her great harm in the voting.

That is what she rejected.
She had no reason to call attention to the difference between to two situations, since she wanted to make herself appear more principled.

There is no exact equivalent in a national election and Obama was on perfectly fine ground as he originally answered the question.

Take points away from Tim Russert for not clarifying the matter.

Warning! The video below is quite large, and crashed my machine twice while loading it -- hence the delay in today's post.
-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A little feedback, please

Once upon a time, I used to be able to get the CLIPS email out by 9:30 AM. It has become increasingly frustrating to see that schedule slip farther into the rearview mirror -- some days it's even 10:30 before it gets out. I realize that most people would like to get their news earlier than mid-morning and have been thinking about alternative delivery strategies.

One would involve doing a brief video clip very early in the morning and getting a link to it into your mailbox much earlier, with a link to the CLIPS and all the Plainfield blogs and news.

Please check out a test video I made yesterday and give me some feedback -- just CLICK HERE to send me an email.



-- Dan Damon

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Mayor v. Chief Santiago: Dog catches car; now what?

While the state approved the plan of the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration to eliminate Plainfield Police Chief Ed Santiago's position, the administration now finds itself in a curious position.

Rather like the old joke about the dog that caught the car, the question is: What does the Administration do next?

While it supposedly will submit an ordinance to the City Council to eliminate the position, it is not at all clear what its next steps are.

Both the Courier and the Ledger quote "local officials" with regard to the replacement of Santiago. The Courier, in a Thursday article, said --

City Council members have said they will pass an ordinance to formally eliminate the post and clear the way for the appointment of a civilian police director -- also described as an executive officer -- who would oversee day-to-day operations of the Police Division. The person would report to the mayor, city administrator and Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig, local officials have said. (Emphasis added.)
In its Friday article, the Ledger said --
The state has approved Plainfield's plan to eliminate the position of police chief and replace it with a civilian police director, clearing the way for the city council to create an ordinance adopting the measure. (Emphasis added.)
And this is where the confusion begins.

This does NOT appear to be what the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration proposed last summer, when Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig made a presentation of the proposed reorganization of the Police Division to the City Council.

Here are some slides from that presentation --

Reorganized chain of command - slide 41.

Reorganized chain of command - Detail from slide 41.

Reorganization proposal - slide 40.

So, the questions that the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration must now answer to the public's satisfaction are: Has the plan been changed? Is there to be a Captain in charge of the day-to-day operations as proposed by Hellwig last summer? Or is there to be a NEW, CIVILIAN POSITION -- that is a new hire, an additional personnel position -- to run the day-to-day operations?

If it is a NEW, CIVILIAN POSITION, how could the City justify to the state that this was "to improve 'economy and efficiency' within the Police Division" as the Courier cites the administration's layoff plan?

If it is to be an ALREADY-ON-THE-PAYROLL CAPTAIN, a sworn police officer, as originally proposed, why sow all the confusion in the media and in the public's mind?

Maybe the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration should just stick to chasing cars and not catching them?

Robinson-Briggs layoff plan for Chief Santiago --
-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stetson artists' lofts a model for Plainfield

Orange's abandoned Stetson factory.

While men's hats have been out of style for decades, Stetson Hats may yet have a lesson for Plainfield.

The famous 'No Name Hat Factory' in Orange, actually one of many Stetson hat factories at the turn of the last century, has been sold by the city to developers as part of an arts district plan.

Making appeals to artists by way of revitalizing a neighborhood is old news, everywhere except in Plainfield.

With many unused and underused vintage manufacturing buildings along the Raritan Valley right-of-way, developing an arts district would be a natural option for those interested in 'transit-oriented development'.

The Stetson factory sits along the rail line
in Orange's 'Valley' neighborhood.

All Plainfield lacks is imagination and commitment -- both of which Orange has demonstrated.

Rendering of new artists' live-work lofts.

Now Orange is poised for a close-knit partnership of three developers to renovate the historic property into artists' live-work lofts (a special zoning designation) and build a new unit next door with 14 additional live-work lofts.

Point person for Orange has been city administrator Jewel Thompson-Chin, who many Plainfielders will remember from her years toiling in the Plainfield City Hall mix.

Oh, one more thing: Orange sold the vacant building for $300,000 -- after getting an independent appraisal.

How's that contrast with Plainfield giving its properties away for $1?

Read full details in stories below...

Stetson Factory, Orange --
-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Secret Service stopped security screenings at Obama rally

Dallas cops went to the media with their concerns over an apparent Secret Service decision to stop weapons screening of attendees at a large Obama rally on Wednesday.

As reported in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, the officers who were running the security detail became alarmed at what they considered a serious breach of security when they were ordered to put away metal detectors and allow thousands into the rally without even a cursory search.

And this in Dallas, the city where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Of all places!

The Secret Service did not return the paper's calls for comments before deadline, but did try to defend itself later, as reported in the paper's online edition Friday.

Is it time for a change in Washington, or what?

Read more here.

-- Dan Damon

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HMO Health Net gave its employees bonuses for canceling policies

Don't you just love HMOs?

Health Net, one of several plans available to New Jersey workers covered through state-approved plans, including Plainfield municipal employees and those of the Board of Ed, is one such. But with a distinction.

As reported in today's Los Angeles Times, Health Net, one of the largest HMOs in California, New Jersey and New York, had in place a policy of paying their employees bonuses for the number of policies canceled and the amount of money saved.

The bonus issue came to light in the case of a cancer patient whose policy was canceled by the HMO.

A state arbitrator awarded the patient, Patsy Bates, of Gardena, $9 million to settle a claim made by the breast cancer survivor, and lambasted the HMO for its 'despicable' practice.

Read the complete coverage here.

Health Net told the Times it is changing its rescission policy.

Wonder if that includes New Jersey...

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Muhlenberg Hospital to close

A ward in Muhlenberg's original building in the 4th Ward.

Solaris Healthsystems delivered the bad news to the board of Plainfield's Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center this morning.

After an illustrious 131 years, Plainfield will no longer have an acute-care community hospital.

A detailed review of four proposals submitted to Solaris for the purchase of Muhlenberg simply left enough issues unresolved -- primarily the hospital's indebtedness -- to make any one of them a viable option.

Accordingly, Solaris will file with the state by March 1st for a 'certificate of need' by which the state will grant permission to shut the acute-care facility down. The entire process is estimated to take about six months, meaning the hospital could shut down by September.

In a press release, Solaris CEO John McGee says that while there will no longer be acute-care services at the Muhlenberg facility, Solaris will operate a satellite Emergency Room at the facility and continue the Home Care services operation as well as the newly opened School of Nursing. (Paradoxically, while hospitals are struggling financially, there is an acute nursing shortage throughout the country.)

The new Snyder School of Nursing under construction.

The financial woes at Muhlenberg have mounted year over year. Like other hospitals, charity care reimbursement comes in at around 40¢ on the dollar, meaning 60
¢ of expenses had to be taken by the hospital with no hope for reimbursement. Losses for the current year are in excess of $11 million and are projected to be over $17 million for 2009, and have simply reached the level that they are unsustainable.

The state may well say that the problem is the federal government does not have a sufficient reimbursement plan, which is a nationwide problem. And that may change once a new administration is in place in Washington. But that, of course, will be no help for Muhlenberg.

Is it possible for buyer to surface before the shutdown? Possible, but not likely. The offers already received are the best that are out there. Those who may think that Solaris has ditched Muhlenberg in order to save JFK might be surprised to learn that JFK has its own financial woes and may eventually suffer the same fate as Muhlenberg.


Closing Muhlenberg is going to have a long-term deleterious economic impact on Plainfield.

Not only will many of the jobs evaporate, putting financial stresses on former employees that may lead to loss of homes and apartments, health insurance and other calamities, there will be a ripple effect throughout the community.

Without a hospital, what incentive will doctors have to have large offices in Plainfield, particularly along the Park Avenue 'Doctor's Row'?

Not much, far as I can see.

So, as we slide into a recession that has already impacted Plainfield's residential real estate market -- and may well do so for several years -- we can now face the prospect of more vacant professional buildings.

That will include not only the larger medical office complexes, but the smaller former residences which have been converted into offices for doctors and allied health services.

All of this could have tax consequences, both rising back taxes and falling tax receipts as property values fall and more and more property owners appeal their assessments.

Could all this have been averted?

I don't know for sure, but I do know that the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration must bear the burden of not having tried to do ANYTHING. As I have pointed out before, there WAS something the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration could be doing --
THE GREEN/ROBINSON-BRIGGS ADMINISTRATION can get off its behind and do something about establishing the Medical Enterprise Zone (MEZ) that was proposed by the McWilliams administration a few years ago. Despite the obviously critical situation for Muhlenberg, nothing whatsoever has been done by the current administration to implement this important economic development and marketing tool.

Firmly establishing such a zone by further extending the Urban Enterprise Zone boundary down both sides of Park Avenue past Muhlenberg to the South Plainfield line would be a significant first step.

Developing a highly targeted outreach to physician practices -- especially those whose specialties, such as imaging, involve expensive medical equipment -- could turn Park Avenue once again into a Doctor's Row that draws on and feeds into Muhlenberg. One advantage for medical practices to locate in such MEZs is that capital purchases (such as large, expensive equipment) would be exempt from the NJ sales tax. That would come to $70,000 on a $1M piece of equipment. Starts to sound like real money, doesn't it?

But alas, they wouldn't seem to know an opportunity if it walked up and bopped them in the nose.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps the Assemblyman has a developer in his hip pocket who can turn the Muhlenberg campus into a 'transit oriented development'.


Order a sandwich platter! This could get interesting.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Muhlenberg: With friends like Jerry Green, who needs enemies?

Jaws dropped throughout Plainfield yesterday morning at the sheer chutzpah of Assemblyman Jerry Green's running to the papers with rumors about Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center before the boards of either Muhlenberg or its parent company, Solaris Healthsystems, had a chance to break the news of future plans for the hospital.

Presumably, the 'elected officials' referred to by Solaris CEO John McGee would have included Assemblywoman Linda Stender. If so, she should be commended for keeping her powder dry.

[Memo to next President of US: Do not put Jerry Green in charge of negotiating ANYTHING; he can't be trusted with confidential information.]

Plainfielders have been on pins and needles since Solaris announced last November it was putting the acute-care hospital up for sale. Like other New Jersey hospitals in financial straits, Muhlenberg is disadvantaged by the failure of the state to provide adequate reimbursement for state-mandated charity care.

Muhlenberg is also disadvantaged by the way the state structures its payments: the largest charity care provider in any county receives the lion's share of the reimbursement for that county. Muhlenberg sits at the intersection, literally, of three counties, Union, Middlesex and Somerset -- but coverage of this market area is not factored in to its reimbursements.

Nonetheless, I have heard that there has been considerable interest on the part of several buyers in Muhlenberg. However, pursuing these would involve intense and protracted negotiations. Not only would there be haggling over price, any buyer would have to engage in a process of due diligence that would involve looking over the hospital's books, assessing the value of its assets, and evaluating its market position. Not the kind of stuff done in the glare of newspaper publicity.

For Plainfielders, Muhlenberg's fate has two facets.

First, of course, is that it is the community's only acute-care hospital, meaning that its loss would not only inconvenience patients who would use Muhlenberg on an elective basis, it would be life-threatening to those -- such as heart attack and stroke victims -- who would have to be transported long distances by ambulance to other hospital facilities.

Secondly, Muhlenberg is one of Plainfield's two largest employers (the other is the school district), and the loss of over a thousand jobs would have a severely negative impact on the local economy, especially given the prospect that the country is sliding into a deep recession.

People would be in danger of losing not only their jobs, but their homes, their insurance coverage, their cars and who knows what else. Oh, and did I forget to mention the loss in property tax revenue for the city? My bad.

In the face of such a threat to the community's well-being, one would expect our fearless government officials to lead the charge for a positive outcome, wouldn't one?

Since November, not a peep has been heard from Assemblyman Green or Mayor Robinson-Briggs about any efforts to help guarantee a positive outcome for the admittedly dire situation. The Assemblyman has never mentioned the fate of the workers involved, nor has the mayor.

And now, at this late date, what is Jerry's response? The Courier cites Assemblyman Green as calling --
...for the creation of a health-care task force, saying: "In the wake of Muhlenberg's downsizing announcement, measures must be taken to ensure that the hospital continues to provide [a] minimum level of basic health-care services to patients. It's important to seek solutions and not waste time trying to point fingers or lay blame. Regardless of the financial hardships facing hospitals across the state, we have an obligation to provide quality basic health care to our most vulnerable residents."
A health-care task force?

Composed of who? To address its recommendations to who? And why now instead of last November?

Why not help in more meaningful ways? Why hasn't Assemblyman Green flipped through his old lobbying rolodex from the Alman Group and helped dig up a buyer? Is he just a taker of fees and not a giver of help to an institution on which his voter base depends?

As for Mayor Robinson-Briggs' take on all this, perhaps the less said, the better. Here is what the Courier quotes her as saying --
"The city of Plainfield is extremely supportive," Robinson-Briggs said. "We do not want to see them leave. We understand that there are fiscal situations that will preclude them from continuing. We're hoping the state will come through for us."
"We're hoping the state will come through for us"?

Evidently, she hasn't been keeping up with Gov. Corzine's budget messages.

So, where do things stand?

The Solaris board meets tonight to adopt a plan of action.

The Muhlenberg board meets tomorrow at 8 AM to receive the Solaris resolution.

I am told Muhlenberg's medical staff is to meet Monday to be informed of the Solaris position.

Let's hope Assemblyman Green's self-aggrandizing media grab was just rumor-mongering.

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hillary flummoxed by Texas rules Bill won by?

Do we need more evidence Hillary Rodham Clinton is not ready for prime time?

Now she is claiming to be 'flummoxed' by the complexity of Texas delegate apportioning. According to the New York Times today --
Texas’ byzantine delegate-selection rules pose a particular challenge to the Clinton forces. Districts that produced heavy Democratic majorities in past contests get a disproportionate share of the delegates, and this favors Mr. Obama because of large turnout in 2004 and 2006 in college towns and black precincts, where he has done well in other states. Mrs. Clinton’s strength is in the cities along the Mexican border, where she is popular with Hispanic voters, but which produce fewer delegates.

Adding to the complexity, Texas holds a primary and a caucus on the same day, with the evening caucus open only to those who have already cast primary ballots, either in early voting (which began Tuesday) or at the polls on March 4. Mr. Obama has prevailed in most caucuses up to now.

Mrs. Clinton said she could not begin to explain how the Texas system worked. “I had no idea how bizarre it is,” she said aboard her plane flying from Wisconsin to Ohio. “We have grown men crying over it.”

'I had no idea how bizarre it is'?

Texas established its convoluted 'Texas 2-step' after the 1972 presidential election, according to Kenneth Molberg of the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee (see NPR story here). That means that Hillary's husband, Bill Clinton, faced the situation of Texas primary complexity twice -- in 1992 and 1996.

Where was Hillary during those campaigns, baking cookies?

-- Dan Damon

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War against Chief Santiago blowing up in Mayor's face?

Plainfielders may well wonder what is up with the cancellation of Trenton police director Joe Santiago's presentation to the City Council Tuesday evening.

Is Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs retooling?


If Joe Santiago was to be her administration's H-bomb in the attempt to win the war for the hearts and minds of Plainfielders as she presses her attack on Chief Ed Santiago, he may just have turned into a dirty Neutron Bomb -- leaving the Green/Robinson-Briggs crew looking like one of those old-time movie characters after the cigar blows up in their face.

Of all people in the known world to enlist in a project to convince people that it is better to have politically appointed -- and susceptible -- folks running your police department, the question on everyone's mind is: Why Joe Santiago?

We'll be coming back to this one later, with a grab-bag of illustrations Robinson-Briggs may not be happy she provoked.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Robinson-Briggs must offer more than smoke and mirrors against Chief Santiago

If the administration of Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' doesn't want its maneuvers against Police Chief Ed Santiago to appear as simply a legal lynching, there are a couple of things it needs to do besides getting Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago to speak to the Council this evening.

1. In the interest of a full and fair presentation of all the sides of the issue, Robinson-Briggs needs to invite a representative of the NJ State Chiefs of Police Association to explain the reasons why having a police chief is desirable.

2. The Robinson-Briggs administration needs to explain why it is disregarding a 2004 Department of Community Affairs study of the Police Division. Far from recommending the elimination of the chief's position, that study found the division to be top-heavy with captains and recommended a freeze and ultimate reduction in their number. It should invite the DCA to explain the 2004 study.
Without taking these steps, a reasonable person would have to conclude that the Green/Robinson-Briggs efforts to oust Chief Santiago are merely a personal vendetta.

Bernice also made a telling point in her post of yesterday (see here) on Joe Santiago's appearance before the Council tonight: Santiago's Trenton position is NOT analagous to that being proposed by the Administration; instead, Joe Santiago's position is the exact equivalent of Director Hellwig's.

The Green/Robinson-Briggs proposal would replace the chief with a politically appointed police Captain as an 'executive officer' to oversee day-to-day operation of the Division.

So what is tonight about? Smoke? Mirrors?

-- Dan Damon

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Hillary spokespeople: Give the white girl a pass on plagiarism

So it's OK for Hillary to 'lift' but not Barack?

After trying to kick up a storm about Sen. Obama's not giving credit to his friend Mass. Governor Deval Patrick for a line in a speech, Clinton's spokespersons backpedalled when put on the spot, according to ABC News.

Clinton originally tried to coyly spin the attack's impact as something the media would have to 'figure out', as the WashPost pointed out Monday --
Speaking to reporters [Sunday] night, Clinton was asked about her campaign's accusation of plagiarism against Obama. She said she had no idea what impact it will have on Tuesday's vote. "I leave that to all of you to figure out," she said, then added: "Facts are important. I'm a facts person. If your whole candidacy is based on words, it should be your own words."
However, when Clinton's team was pressed by ABC's Jake Tapper in a conference call Monday morning, this is what we got --
In a conference call just now the Clinton campaign would not guarantee that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, has never used someone else's rhetoric without crediting them.

I asked Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass, if they could assure the public that neither Clinton nor McGovern has ever done what Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, did when he used the rhetoric of Gov. Deval Patrick without footnoting him.

They would not.

In fact, Wolfson seemed to say it wouldn't be as big a deal if it were discovered that Clinton had "lifted" such language.

"Sen. Clinton is not running on the strength of her rhetoric," Wolfson said.

Bob Cesca, posting on the Huffington Post, catches Hillary in a major language 'lift' of her own in her Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech last week where she used the language of Jimmy Carter and John Edward. Sans attribution. See it all here.

So, Hillary doesn't have to meet the same standards she is holding Obama to?

Aren't we supposed to be past double standards?

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Hillary 'most qualified on Day One'? Not!

Presidential candidate
Hillary Clinton.

Neither the media, nor the pundits, nor Sen. Clinton's campaign itself have seemed to move a dime off the 'she's most qualified' theme that they constantly trot out to compare her with Barack Obama. It got so bad yesterday that I tuned out the talking heads shows.

Two recent items from the Clinton campaign should disabuse anyone of the idea that Hillary is ready to hit the ground running on Day One.

First, in an analysis of the Democratic race in its February 16 issue, The Economist magazine says Patti Solis Doyle's departure from the Clinton campaign last week "was reportedly precipitated by her failure to tell Mrs Clinton that her campaign was running out of money.
(page 33)"

What?! The boss didn't know the state of her finances and because of that had to make an emergency $5 million donation of her own cash? What kind of leadership is this?

Secondly, today's Washington Post (see more here) includes the revelation that the Texas delegate plan -- which has some unusual wrinkles -- has alarmed the Clinton camp because of potential downside effects. The story says --
"Several top Clinton strategists and fundraisers became alarmed after learning of the state's unusual provisions during a closed-door strategy meeting THIS MONTH." (Emphasis added. -- DD)
This month?! What the hell has the campaign been doing since last summer?

And Hillary never asked whether there were any special circumstances with any of the states that might need special attention? (It was Frank Rich who remarked recently that Hillary could never be mistaken for a precinct-oriented politician.)

And after learning all this, we're supposed to consider her 'most experienced' to be the commander-in-chief and give her the red telephone?

Hard to believe. Too hard.

-- Dan Damon

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Robinson-Briggs pits Santiago against Santiago?

God bless Plainfield Councilor Rashid Burney. If it weren't for his email blast Sunday evening, you might not know of a very special guest at Tuesday's Council agenda-setting session (Monday is President's Day) and you would not have had a head's up about the guest's upcoming presentation.

Newark Police Director Joseph Santiago (left) celebrates
Newark Mayor Sharpe James' 2002 election victory
over challenger -- now mayor -- Cory Booker.

Mr. Joseph Santiago, police director under Mayor Doug Palmer for the city of Trenton, will be present at the invitation of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' administration to discuss the role and function of a civilian police director, and presumably take questions from the Council.

The Green/Robinson-Briggs administration is currently making a full court press to eliminate the position of Plainfield's police chief. A hand-crafted layoff-plan-for-one (Chief Edward Santiago) was recently submitted to the state, which must approve it before the Administration can administer the coup de grĂ¢ce through an ordinance to eliminate the position.

Many will be familiar with police director Joe Santiago's long career in New Jersey law enforcement.

A natty dresser and hard-charging administrator, Santiago served as Sharpe James' police director in Newark for six years before being nominated to run the State Police by Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2002. His confirmation hearings were contentious, to say the least, but Santiago squeaked through.

At the time,
a review of his 6-year tenure as Newark's police director showed that of 551 grievances lodged against him, 445 had been resolved -- 435 in favor of the union (see NY Times story here).

In October of that same year, 2002, Santiago resigned his post as head of the State Police when connections with a reputed mobster surfaced (see WNBC story here). The flames had been fanned by state police officers who resented both his management style and his penchant for perks -- including wanting to wear the State Police uniform (to which he was not entitled, having never been a State Police officer), and lavish decorating expenses for his office.

The Attorney General's office issued a report on the furnishings scandal,
citing violations of state public purchasing laws in trying to outfit his office with $105,000 in furnishings (see AG's findings here).

More egregious were Santiago's attempts to force subordinates to supply him copies of confidential internal files on himself and other State Police executives, for which he was also cited by the Attorney General's office
(see AG's findings here).

Eventually hired as Trenton's police director by Mayor Doug Palmer, controversy has managed to follow Santiago even there.

In May, 2007, Santiago
created a stir in the City Council and the media over the appropriateness of having four on-duty Trenton police officers accompany him to his father-in-law's funeral (see Trentonian story here).

In August, 2007, according to the Trenton Times, Santiago hired retired Newark police chief Irving Bradley as communications director for Trenton's PD (see the Times' story here). His hiring created a furor among Trenton police officers, who allege Santiago, as Bradley's boss in 1998, gave special treatment to Bradley after he resisted arrest and assaulted police officers after a DWI incident while driving an unmarked Newark police vehicle in Rahway. Bradley's uncle was on the Newark City Council, and suspicions linger that politics played a role in the light treatment Bradley received(see more here).

Most recently, Santiago has been at the center of an ongoing feud between Mayor Palmer and the Trenton City Council over allegations of Santiago's failure to reside in Trenton. [
Bill Osterman's 'Trenton Facts' website has an extensive story detailing his research into determining that Santiago evidently lives in Stirling, just up the hill from Plainfield (see more here).]

Residency clauses are standard in many cities -- including Plainfield -- but waivers are customarily given by City Councils so that mayors can assemble the management team they want. It would appear that no waiver was ever granted for Santiago by the Trenton City Council.

Be sure to come early Tuesday, as seating is limited in City Hall Library.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

New homes debut today

New homes at Rose of Sharon Court.

It's a brave new world, Plainfielders! In new home construction, that is.

And today, you get the chance to take a close look at some of the best new construction I've ever seen in Plainfield.

That would be at Rose of Sharon Court, a private cul-de-sac off Spooner Avenue between West 7th and West 8th Streets. You can drop by any time between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM today.

I don't mean to give Cruz and Co., who have built these new 3- and 4-bedroom homes for Rose of Sharon Church's community development corporation a swelled head, but the last time I remember seeing this kind of quality was when Hovnanian was putting up the Woodland Estates a few years ago. Except this project comes without the sinkholes that resulted in the city's streets.

The Hovnanian homes were supposed to come online at $350,000 and ended up selling in the $600,000 range. That was then, this is now.

Interior details at Rose of Sharon Court are stunning

So, you will be pleased to know that the 3-bedroom duplex units at Rose of Sharon Court are coming on at $349,900. The two single-family standalones, with four bedrooms and upgraded amenities throughout weigh in at $449,900.

What competition do these new units have?

One of six units planned for Shiloh Court, West 7th Street.

Further down West 7th Street toward Clinton Avenue is the new construction known as Shiloh Court. This cluster of homes -- to be six when fully built out -- will also be available for public inspection this afternoon between 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM.

And don't forget the East End, where ERA Reed Realty has a couple of new units still remaining at Goodland Estates, 708 East Front Street.

A unit at Goodland Estates on East Front Street.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cut a rug at Symphony's 'Jitterbug Jive' tonight

Ladies, get out your bobby sox and snoods; gents, your zoot suit and gold watch chain!

Tonight, jitterbug and swing enthusiasts will really cut a rug in support of the Plainfield Symphony.

Billed as 'Jitterbug Jive', the bash gets under way at 8 PM and features the jumpin' rhythms of Carrie Jackson and her Sultans of Swing, lots of dancing and an open bar and light fare. The music will highlight the songs and dance steps of the World War II swing era, including jitterbug and boogie woogie and more.

Additional attractions are live and silent auctions featuring such items as an overnight theater package for two in Manhattan ('Sunday in the Park with George', dinner and hotel for the night); a box -- a whole box -- at NJPAC for Broadway's 'Movin' Up'; tickets to David Letterman; a weekend getaway at Cape May, and much much more.

'Beat me daddy, eight to the bar'? No problem.

''Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me'? Gotcha.

'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy'?

Cool, daddy.

The Andrews Sisters made 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' a wartime hit.

A Benefit Celebrating 88 Years of the Plainfield Symphony

Tonight, 8 PM.

At the Burney Juke Joint
1127 Watchung Avenue
$88 per person (it's the Symphony's 88th season)
Dress: Formal, casual or Swing Era attire
-- Dan Damon

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Coniglio indictment revives questions about Assemblyman Jerry Green

Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Plainfield).

Plainfielders may well ask themselves: How are the alleged corrupt practices for which ex-Sen. Joe Coniglio was indicted yesterday different from those for which Assemblyman Jerry Green came under scrutiny -- fleetingly -- last October?

Today's Bergen Record, Ledger and New York Times all report extensively (see links at end of post) on Coniglio's indictment for influence-peddling -- that is, using his official position to steer government monies to an entity from which he benefited financially. In Coniglio's case, it is charged he brokered his influence on legislative committees -- specifically in so-called 'Christmas Tree' grants -- for payments he tried to disguise as consulting fees.

U.S. Attorney Chris Christie took pains not to characterize Hackensack University Medical Center's participation, except to say that "we don't believe our work is done."

Parallels between Coniglio's and Green's activities are eery.

Assemblyman Jerry Green has never been shy about his support for Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. After all, Muhlenberg is the city's largest employer and its financial health is part and parcel of Plainfield's well-being. And Plainfield's well-being is part and parcel of Green's continued political career.

That being said, there are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding Green's dealings on behalf of the hospital and how and whether he was remunerated for any of them.

Jerry Green's profile on The Alman Group's website.

Last October, when the public first learned that Assemblyman Green had a previously undisclosed relationship with a Westfield lobbying firm, The Alman Group, Green was at pains to paint the relationship as properly vetted and above-board.

Nevertheless, within two days, Assemblyman Green announced his resignation from The Alman Group, where he was listed as Vice President for Local Affairs.

While Green made a lot of noise about getting $9 million in charity care reimbursement for Muhlenberg in the FY2008 budget, no mention was made of an even more startling figure -- a 41% increase in charity care reimbursement for Muhlenberg's sister hospital under the Solaris umbrella, Edison's JFK Medical Center (see more here). Question: Did the Alman Group play a role in this largesse?

Assemblyman Green earlier made splashy headlines in 2003 (see here and here) for attempts to steer to Plainfield a proposed $150 million middle-school project to be built on the hospital's Park Avenue campus. Though the school project -- which was to include paying off the hospital's $24M indebtedness -- never materialized, it certainly was not for want of trying.

In a profile in which it gave Assemblyman Green the moniker 'King of Plainfield', the Courier News reported last summer (see more here) that former Assembly Speaker Albio Sires said of Green --
"He was in my office every single day trying to save that hospital," Sires recalled. "The guy works hard. He knows the politics of it all and the time it takes to get things done. But still, he'd see me on the floor and say, 'You hear anything yet?' And I'd say, 'Jerry, we just talked two days ago.' "
Green chairs one important committee (Housing and Local Government Services) and sits on another (Health and Senior Services), where he exercises considerable leverage over the fates of hospital-, school-, and community-related issues.

Assemblyman Green has also made much of his efforts to get 'Christmas Tree' items for Plainfield.

Perhaps most disturbing for Plainfield residents is the fact that Assemblyman Green did not disclose his financial dealings with The Alman Group on his financial disclosure forms filed with the state.

Instead, he cites his income from something called 'Jerry Green Enterprises.'

Plainfielders may well want the answers to a whole series of questions:
  • Why didn't Assemblyman Green disclose the Alman Group relationship?
  • Who were his Alman Group clients?
  • How much did he earn from The Alman Group? And when did he earn it?
  • And where did 'Jerry Green Enterprises' get its income from?
Plainfielders would surely rest their heads more easily at night if they had the answers to these questions.

Well, at least all but one would probably rest more easily.

-- Dan Damon

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