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Monday, March 31, 2008

Dottie, Dan and Hillary

Longtime Plainfield activist Dottie Gutenkauf and I have had a sidebar conversation over the past couple of days about Hillary Clinton's campaign and the calls for her to step down. I say 'sidebar' because of its unusual location -- on the CLIPS blog (you can read the full exchange here; scroll toward the bottom of the page).

Dottie chided me about saying I was 'with Clinton thru PA' -- pointing out that I am not a Clinton backer.

What I meant was being 'with' Hillary continuing to campaign thru Pennsylvania. (I actually hadn't picked sides until January 26, when Bill played the race card against Obama -- thereby costing Hillary the African American support the Clintons had cultivated for twenty years. That was it for me.)

As for the margin of win Hillary would need, I was picking up on her team's estimates from wayback, when they thought Obama had a snowball's chance in hell in

I must admit I am fatigued by Hill's tactic of letting Bill be the knee-in-the-crotch fighter while she takes the line that it's 'big guys picking on a girl'. (Hillary can take care of herself, don't you worry.)

But, after listening to John Kerry on the Sunday talk shows, saying everyone should let the primaries play out -- with the caveat that Clinton and Obama should conduct their campaign by contrasting themselves with McCain, who is the REAL opponent -- I've come around.

Let the primaries roll. Let the candidates take the high road. Let the voters' voices be heard. Let the Democratic Party's rules be adhered to.

Meanwhile, in a Page One story, the Wall Street Journal reports today that Obama is picking up yet more support -- see here.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Get a peek at Maison Mason today

1405 East 7th Street, once the home of Phyllis Mason.

Plainfielders who remember Phyllis Mason, the feisty political and community activist and commentator who passed away two years ago this week will have a special opportunity to renew their memories of Phyllis with a peek at Maison Mason this afternoon.

The custom Cape Cod at 1405 East 7th Street, which I sold to Phyllis when she was moving back to Plainfield -- her childhood home -- after years of working and teaching in New York City, recalls the days when smaller homes could have real individuality and character.

The home she fell in love with was built -- handcrafted, really -- before the end of World War II and the changes wrought by Levitt-ized construction methods altered suburban housing patterns forever.

With hardwood floors (no linoleum over plywood here), custom doors and windows, a working fireplace and a REAL DINING ROOM (not the postwar dining 'ell'), this is a home that exudes character.

In addition, there is a wonderfully deep lot, perfect for a gardening enthusiast. Phyllis always talked about doing some gardening, but I just don't think it was in her genes, really.

(In fact, one of my quintessential Phyllis memories was driving by early one Fall afternoon to see her out blowing the leaves with her electric leafblower -- in her flannel nightgown and bedroom slippers, puffing on a cigarette held in her free hand, which she would extend between puffs at arm's length to knock off its ashes.)

The real individuality and character of Phyllis were a perfect match with this inviting home. My hope is that its next owner will be able to keep up the tradition.

For some bizarre reason, one of her lawn signs from a failed City Council bid popped up at the corner of West 7th and Central Avenue a couple of months ago -- from where, I have no idea.

But it did remind me that I have archived some essential Phyllisiana -- a flyer from that Council run (see here - click on image to enlarge) and an OpEd piece on politicians' needing to mind their P's and Q's (see here
- click on image to enlarge).

The closing of that 1997 OpEd is just as applicable today as then --
". . .to achieve real quality in Plainfield the residents as well as the government need to mind these 'Ps' and 'Qs.' To paraphrase President Kennedy: Ask what you can do for your city, not what your city can do for you. Suggest ideas for improvements, do what you can to keep things moving, don't waste time on negative thoughts and actions, and don't settle for second best from yourselves or your government. We all need to pull together to make Plainfield the Queen City again."
We can only hope we get a new neighbor as good as Phyllis was.

1405 East 7th Street
1:00 - 4:00 PM

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Free, easy recycling of ink cartridges, cellphones

Now that laser jets are so cheap, many Plainfielders have them at home. In addition to the color inkjet printers used to whip off pictures of the grandkids, neighborhood get-togethers, or that prized garden specimen.

Question is, how to responsibly dispose of those little inkjet cartridges -- and the larger, more bulky toner cartridges from laser printers. Which is where many of us probably feel a little less than virtuous.

Time was I would haul the toner cartridge to Staples, who would ship it free to a recycling center. Last time I took one in, they said they had discontinued the program. So the packed-up cartridge has ridden around in my trunk for several months.

Now comes the PMUA to the rescue.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost recycling, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority has introduced a program that will facilitate the collection of ink and toner cartridges -- as well as cell phones -- throughout the Queen City.

Standalone collection receptacles have been placed at several locations throughout the city, where you may quickly and efficiently dispose of the used articles.

Drop-off locations:

  • PMUA Headquarters, 127 Roosevelt Avenue
  • City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue (near the sign-in desk)
  • City Hall Annex, 510 Watchung Avenue
  • PMUA Offices, 203 Park Avenue

Go ahead, give yourself another reason to feel virtuous.

NOTE: You may also drop off used cellphones, though you may want to check out DONATING your used cellphone so it can be programmed as a free 911-only cellphone for the elderly, women and children at risk. See more at
--Dan Damon

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Friday, March 28, 2008

DeFilippo indictment coming?

Union County Dem chair Charlotte DeFilippo.

A little bird whispered to me yesterday that an indictment may soon be due in the investigation of Union County Democratic Committee chairman Charlotte DeFilippo.

The investigation into the chairman's dealings -- she is Executive Director of the Union County Improvement Authority and part-owner of a title company -- was launched by Attorney General Anne Milgram last November (see more here).

I think the little bird has got it wrong. Though I worry that the state might just do a whitewash, it does seem that just four months would be kind of rushing it, given the web of activities and entities that Charlotte sits in the middle of.

At least, the rumor signifies that the investigation hasn't been totally forgotten about.

Much more on the mark, I suspect, was the word that Union County muckety-mucks are peeved with Plainfield Dem chairperson (and Assemblyman) Jerry Green for the fact that Plainfield went solidly for Obama in the presidential primary, when Dem machines everywhere have quietly backed Billary.

Just one more thing to leave the poor Assemblyman in bad odour.

--Dan Damon

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Delay today

Household emergency - there will be a delay today. -- Dan

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Trashing Plainfield? Say it ain't so, Jerry.

Tip-trailers haul garbage and other waste.

Many Plainfielders will find this a familiar scenario.

You are tooling along
westbound in the middle lane on Route 78 -- OK, so maybe just a little over the speed limit -- when, WHOOSH, you are overtaken and passed in the fast lane by a long metal tilt-trailer covered in a canvas tarp.

Then the aroma hits you. GARBAGE. Even with your windows closed tight,
GARBAGE. Politely known as 'municipal waste' as the trucks are labeled, but GARBAGE nevertheless.

Could this aromatic experience be coming to Plainield?

I have been hearing rumors that Plainfield is being considered for a rail-side transfer station, and that definitely would open the nostrils of Plainfielders and others in the neighborhood.

My interest was piqued. Just where could a rail-side transfer station be located in Plainfield?

My work on the NJ Rail and Transportation Museum proposal for Plainfield a number of years ago led me to the only immediately workable location: the rail sidings at the former National Starch plant on West Front Street.

Aerial view of the National Starch complex;
rail siding indicated in red. (Click to enlarge.)

New Jersey Transit's Raritan Valley Line operates on tracks that run behind the factory complex. And there is a spur that switches off the line and descends a graded track to a rail siding that forks into multiple branches. It's where National Starch used to receive carloads of raw materials and pack up carloads of products for trans-shipment.

It would be ideal.

The rail siding would provide a location that could be run round-the-clock, with plenty of parking and turn-around space for the noisy tilt-trailers that could bring garbage, construction debris and other waste materials for transfer and outbound shipment. Access from and to area highways would be easy from Rock or Washington Avenues and Route 28.

Sounds like a full-fledged business opportunity, right?

But could it happen without Plainfielders' notice or permission?

Seems it could.

Is Assemblyman Jerry Green on the case? Let's hope so.

The tracks behind the old National Starch property are actually owned by Conrail, not New Jersey Transit, and Conrail could use a loophole in the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, which forbids states from regulating railroads, to build waste transfer sites without state or local oversight. (Conrail already runs freight traffic over the line on a regular basis.)

In a dispute over a waste transfer station built by the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway in Paterson, the railroad built the station without obtaining local building permits. When Paterson insisted permissions were needed, the railway sued in Federal court to bar the city's interference. It won.

Two years ago, seven cars from the NYS&W's transfer station, loaded with construction debris and headed for Binghamton, NY, derailed in Paterson, destroying a car wash and part of an auto repair business.

At the behest of local officials, Sen. Frank Lautenberg was able to get a law addressing the rail transfer stations passed, though its help is severely limited -- it only applies to railways that ask for federal funds, and it is set to expire within a year. No permanent legislation is in the works.

Will Plainfield fall victim to the same situation as Paterson, Newark and about ten other towns with rail transfer stations?

Please, Jerry, say it ain't so.

Could trailers like this soon be dumping on you?

--Dan Damon

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sheriff's sale surprises

Seeing a fresh twenty-one Plainfield properties listed a couple of weeks ago as up for Sheriff's sale, I made it a point to schlep on down to Elizabeth this past week and see what was up.

First, you should know that the house I live in was bought at a Sheriff's sale. As buyers in what was supposed to be a regular home purchase, it was discovered the night before closing that the seller was in foreclosure -- hence the Sheriff's sale.

A quarter-century ago, the sales were held in a dimly lit, musty old room in the old courthouse. Today, they are in a brightly-lit conference room in the Sheriff's complex in the super-secure County Administration Building.

Gone are the bidders of yore, goodfella guys with sharkskin suits, ruby pinkie rings and wads of hundred dollar bills.

The dozen wannabe bidders who showed up were dressed casually, with credit cards but no wads of cash in sight, and looked vaguely like home repair contractors.

The twenty-one Plainfield properties turned out to be only a few of the hundreds potentially for sale from all the county's towns.

But most properties don't make it to the auction block, being either withdrawn or canceled by the plaintiff (usually a bank or mortgage company) or removed because the owner had filed for bankruptcy.

Of those that came to the block last Tuesday, only three of the Plainfield properties were among them.

But, unlike the auction at which my house was bought, the properties instead being knocked down to the plaintiff -- without any other bidders -- for $100, a minimum probably barely covering the Sheriff's expenses. (The only bidding that day was between two contractor-types and a bank rep over what was apparently a divorcing couple's property in Linden, up for a half-interest of $70,000. The two guys bailed when the bidding hit $38,500, leaving the property to the bank rep.)

West End


East End

Pictured above are the only three Plainfield properties, with their upset prices, to come to the block in this auction. Each went to the lender for $100.

As the subprime mortgage mess continues to unwind with further bankruptcies and foreclosures, expect to see more properties in the Sheriff's sales. But with prices falling, there are likely to be few if any buyers for the (mostly) inflated mortgage amounts the banks are carrying.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sewer tax liens: More to story than Courier prints

This house down the street from former Freeholder Mapp's property
was incorrectly identified as his, with sewer liens due.

Plainfield's sewer lien auction list for the tax year ended June 30, 2007, is in the Courier again today. Are you on it?

You may not be one of the high profile -- and some not-so-high profile -- individuals singled out in last Friday's Courier story (see here), but you may want to check the list out anyway.


Because, as former City Councilor and Freeholder Adrian Mapp learned, a silly little shift may leave you falsely embarrassed.

Seems his name was printed in the paper as owing back sewer taxes on a property that he doesn't even own. Someone -- no one has 'fessed up -- shifted the lot number of the property when entering it, and named Mapp as the guilty party rather than a neighbor down the street.

Could it happen to you? You betcha.

And there's another annoying circumstance that could happen to you -- the teeny-tiny lien.

A reader contacted me when his property appeared on the lien list for a piddling fifteen dollars and change. Now the Courier story cited a spokesperson for the Plainfield Municipal Utility Authority as saying that the average bill is $127.25 per quarter, so you may well ask how these smaller amounts happen.

Truth is, many taxpayers don't pay their sewer assessments as promptly as they do their property taxes -- and therein lies the secret. The notice advises that unless the amount is paid by a certain date, interest charges will begin to accrue and must be included with the payment. Ratepayers are advised to call and get the accurate amount due before making their payment.

Many people evidently disregard this little notice, write a check for the face amount of the bill, and plop it in the mail.

Result? A teeny-tiny lien against your property for the unpaid interest, ticking like a little time bomb until the next sewer lien sale is published.

I can sort of understand the Courier's interest in the big cluck-cluck story, but I was intrigued with some of the other details.

For instance, scanning the approximately 1,600 entries, I noticed literally hundreds that were in the $2,000+ range, and hundreds more between $1,000 and $2,000. In fact, these probably make up the bulk of the list. One East End homeowner on a modest block owes in excess of $6,000.
Another near St. Bernard's Church owes more than $16,000. Using the average computed by the PMUA, these amounts represent arrears of anywhere between two years to twelve years and more. Why would arrears be allowed to go on so long?

There are others --
  • One of Plainfield's most active real estate investors/flippers owes many thousands on multiple properties;
  • A former high-ranking state official is listed as owing more than $5,000 on a property;
  • The interestingly named '57 Reservoir Avenue LLC' owes more than $9,000 on a commercial property; and lastly,
  • Paramount Properties, now the city's largest owner of commercial real estate, is pegged at least once for more than $4,000.
This is just from a quick perusal of the legal notice.

In my mind the Courier could have had a far more probing story -- a problem I think of editors and tight deadlines rather than of a reporter's unwillingness to dig deeper. Any reporter would certainly be interested in getting to the bottom of why some ratepayers seem to get by forever and ever, and some are hauled up for public ridicule for about the price of a large pizza with one extra topping.

In any event, it is you, dear reader, who needs to be concerned.

Go out and get a Courier and check to see whether you are listed.

Remember the lesson of Adrian Mapp: Shifts happen.

--Dan Damon

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Monday, March 24, 2008

90-day 'acting' appointments. It's the law.

As the Plaintalker pointed out today (see here), City Administrator Marc Dashield's service as acting Director of Administration and Finance is now well past the time limit (February 24, by my count) allowed by the Municipal Code.

Herewith the citation from the Municipal Code --
Sec. 2:3-4. Interim appointments.

(a) Whenever a vacancy exists in any office required by the Charter or ordinance to be filled by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council, the Mayor may temporarily fill such vacancy in the absence of any contrary provision in the Charter or ordinance by appointing an acting officer, including the designation of himself (sic) or a Department Director as Acting City Administrator or the designation of the City Administrator as an acting department director. Any such appointment shall terminate no later than ninety (90) days after the date of appointment. No person shall be eligible for a temporary appointment who has previously served a temporary appointment in the same office during the previous twelve (12) consecutive months.

(b) Such appointee shall have all of the functions, powers and duties of the office for ninety (90) days.

There is a further provision [Sec. 2:5-9 (e)] that the City Administrator shall be entitled to no additional compensation while so serving as acting department director.

Now, some questions come to mind.

Are actions taken by City Administrator Dashield acting as Director of Administration and Finance after the 90 days had passed null and void?

Will the Green/Robinson-Briggs administration ask the Council to rescind the ordinance mandating the 90-day limit?

If so, on what basis?

And will the Council be willing to make the change?

We won't ask if the Administration was even aware of the time limit.

But isn't it fair to ask whether or not the law can just be ignored?

--Dan Damon

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African American composers featured in Tuesday recital

Pianist Vicky Griswold is also proprietor of the Plainfield Music Store.

Plainfielders will get a special treat Tuesday evening at a piano recital by our own Vicky Griswold that honors both Women's History Month and Black History Month.

Underwritten by the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission, the program features music by women composers from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

Of especial interest are compositions by two groundbreaking African American women composers of the 20th century -- Florence Price and Margaret Bonds.

Florence Price (1887-1953)

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

Florence Price was the first African American woman composer to achieve national recognition, studying with composer George Chadwick and graduating from the New England Conservatory -- with a diploma in organ, itself a remarkable accomplishment in the times. Writing in a range from piano to arrangements of spirituals to large orchestral pieces, she had several compositions performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The sonata on Tuesday's program rejoices in its African American and American flavors, with syncopated rhythms, snatches of spirituals and Gershwinesque harmonies.

Margaret Bonds, a generation younger, and a student not only of Florence Price, but also the composer Roy Harris, also received wide acclaim during her lifetime. She was particularly known for her settings of the poems of Langston Hughes, especially 'The Ballad of the Brown King' and 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers'. Tuesday's recital features 'Troubled Waters', an improvisation on the spiritual 'Wade in the Water', and blends European and jazz idioms.

Other composers featured on the program are Fanny Mendelssohn, older sister of Felix; the Polish divorc
ée (!) Maria Szymankowska, who was appointed to the Russian court; Marianne Martines, who studied with Haydn and was a duet partner of Mozart's; and Clara Wieck Schumann, who concertized widely and was the champion of her husband Robert's works.

A reception honoring the artist will follow the recital.


A Program of Women Composers

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
7:00 PM
Plainfield Public Library
8th Street at Park Avenue

The Public Is Cordially Invited

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter: Women were first, and unbelieved.

The universal testimony of the infant church was that women were the first to discover the empty tomb. Here, St. Luke's version --
And all his (Jesus') acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things (the crucifixion --DD).

And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counseller; and he was a good man, and a just: (the same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.

And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.

And the women also, which came with him from Galilee (those who had witnessed the crucifixion --DD), followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

-- Luke, 22:49 - 23:11 (King James Version)

--Dan Damon
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Bill hurts Hillary's chances -- again.

Bill Clinton's recklessness has put yet another dent in his wife's presidential campaign.

After his remarks in January which caused an uproar and essentially lost Hillary the African American vote, now he knocks another one out of the ballpark. As the New York Times reports --
Mr. Clinton, in a speech to voters in North Carolina on Friday, said “it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country.”
What is he saying? There are only three candidates on the field. No one would every question John McCain's patriotism. It hardly seems likely that Bill is questioning Hillary's patriotism. So, who's left? Obama?

Hillary's inability to 'keep the big dog on the porch' does not portend well for America if she is in the White House.

Read the full story -- including Gen. McPeak's smackdown (he was Air Force chief of staff under Clinton) -- here.

--Dan Damon
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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday: Utter Silence.

The day after Jesus' death is a day of utter desolation for his companions. They know nothing of Easter, only of his death. What does this mean? What now?

O GOD, Creator of heaven and earth:

Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life;

who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The Church keeps Holy Saturday as a day of utter silence, reflection and waiting.

No Mass is celebrated, no Communion distributed. The church is stripped and barren, the only service a brief reading and prayer.

And then the silence, the waiting.

Michael D. O'Brien is a controversial, conservative Catholic Canadian artist, novelist and essayist.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday: Stabat mater dolorosa

The triduum, the three holiest days of the Christian year, begin on Maundy Thursday evening, and conclude with the Easter Vigil, which begins at sundown on Saturday evening -- the days being reckoned in the church's original way of reckoning: the Jewish calendar. Here, for Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion of Jesus, an image and a meditation.

Stabat Mater dolorósa
Juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
Dum pendébat Filius.

Cujus ánimam geméntem,
Contristátam et doléntem,
Pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater Unigéniti!

Quae maerébat, et dolébat,
Pia Mater, dum vidébat
Nati poenas inclyti.

Quis est homo, qui non fleret,
Matrem Christi si vidéret
In tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristári,
Christi Matrem contemplári
Doléntem cum Filio?

Pro peccátis suae gentis
Vidit Jesum in torméntis,
Et flagéllis súbditum.

Vidit suum dulcem natum
Moriéndo desolátum,
Dum emisit spíritum.

Eja mater, fons amóris,
Me sentíre vim dolóris
Fac, ut tecum lúgeam.

Fac, ut árdeat cor meum
In amándo Christum Deum,
Ut sibi compláceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas
Crucifixi fige plagas
Cordi meo válide.

Tui nati vulneráti,
Tam dignáti pro me pati,
Poenas mecum dívide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
Crucifixo condolére,
Donec ego víxero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociáre
In planctu desídero.

Virgo vírginum praeclára,
Mihi jam non sis amára:
Fac me tecum plángere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
Passiónis fac consórtem,
Et plagas recólere.

Fac me plagis vulnerári,
Fac me Cruce inebriári,
Et cruó re Fílii.

Flammis ne urar succénsus,
Per te, Virgo, sim defénsus
In die judícii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exíre
Da per Matrem me veníre
Ad palmam victóriae.

Quando corpus moriétur,
Fac, ut ánimae donétur
Paradísi glória. Amen. Allelúja.
At the cross her station keeping,
Mary stood in sorrow weeping
When her Son was crucified.

While she waited in her anguish,
Seeing Christ in torment languish,
Bitter sorrow pierced her heart.

With what pain and desolation,
With what noble resignation,
Mary watched her dying Son.

Ever-patient in her yearning
Though her tear-filled eyes were burning,
Mary gazed upon her Son.

Who, that sorrow contemplating,
On that passion meditating,
Would not share the Virgin's grief?

Christ she saw, for our salvation,
Scourged with cruel acclamation,
Bruised and beaten by the rod.

Christ she saw with life-blood failing,
All her anguish unavailing,
Saw him breathe his very last.

Mary, fount of love's devotion,
Let me share with true emotion
All the sorrow you endured.

Virgin, ever interceding,
Hear me in my fervent pleading:
Fire me with your love of Christ.

Mother, may this prayer be granted:
That Christ's love may be implanted
In the depths of my poor soul.

At the cross, your sorrow sharing,
All your grief and torment bearing,
Let me stand and mourn with you.

Fairest maid of all creation,
Queen of hope and consolation,
Let me feel your grief sublime.

Virgin, in your love befriend me,
At the Judgment Day defend me.
Help me by your constant prayer.

Savior, when my life shall leave me,
Through your mother's prayers
receive me
With the fruits of victory.

Virgin of all virgins blest!
Listen to my fond request:
Let me share your grief divine

Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of your dying Son divine.

Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it has swooned
In His very Blood away.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awe-full judgment day.

Savior, when my life shall leave me,
Through your mother's prayers
receive me
With the fruits of victory.

While my body here decays
May my soul your goodness praise,
Safe in heaven eternally. Amen Alleluia.

The hymn dates back to the 13th century. A thorough, if somewhat dated, article is in the older Catholic Encyclopedia, a project of English Roman Catholics at the turn of the 20th century. See more here.

-- Dan Damon

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Robinson-Briggs jumps the gun?

Is Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs jumping the gun?

Maybe we can call it the 'Maundy Thursday Massacre'.

In a breaking news story posted on both the Courier and Ledger websites, Robinson-Briggs is cited as appointing Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig as 'acting police director'.


The ordinance establishing the position was passed by the City Council on Wednesday evening.

Last I knew, ordinances don't become law for 20 days after their passage.

Did we miss a turn in the road?

City names new acting civilian police director


A day after abolishing the title of police chief in favor of creating the post of civilian police director, city leaders announced Thursday that Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig will fill the new role in an acting capacity.

In an afternoon statement released by the city's public information office, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said the focus of her administration "is to forge ahead and impact as quickly as possible on the operating efficiency of the Police Division.''

To that end, the mayor said "we intend to immediately appoint'' Hellwig, who started his law enforcement career four decades ago and came to Plainfield in January 2006. Citing his extensive police and administrative background, Robinson-Briggs said "this will enable him to hit the ground running with very little or no disruption to our law enforcement team.''

Hellwig, the architect of a sweeping reorganization of the Police Division that includes the elimination of the chief's position, admitted in a telephone interview Thursday that the additional responsibility will be "extremely demanding.'' As public safety director, Hellwig oversees the city's Fire Division and police force, as well as the local Office of Emergency Management.

"The object here is management,'' Hellwig said of his new position. "It's all about management, and I do not intend to become a police officer again. This is all about empowering my captains.''

The 60-year-old Hellwig -- who spent more than 25 years with the Verona Police Department and served in various capacities in Essex County law enforcement and administration -- wants to expand the responsibilities of the city's five captains and create a sixth bureau to focus on information technology issues. He said he also hopes to continue promoting a community-oriented Police Division that is highly visible and welcoming.

Hellwig's reorganization, which the City Council approved in two votes Wednesday night, also allows for a significant expansion of Plainfield's 151-member Police Division. Under the adopted ordinances, the police force could expand to include up to eight captains, 24 lieutenants, 50 sergeants and 250 patrolman.

In his new role, Hellwig will absorb current police Chief Edward Santiago's administrative duties while the chief's police-related functions will be transferred to the captains because a civilian manager does not hold police powers.

Santiago -- who will lose his position April 11 -- said Wednesday he will accept a demotion to captain if his planned court injunction challenging the reorganization fails.

Hellwig, who earns $90,000 a year as public safety director and is negotiating for a raise, said he took the added role because "I believe in what we're doing here.''

Hellwig, who is drafting a 100-day plan for the Police Division, said he is unaware of any immediate intentions to search for a permanent replacement. He can hold the title of acting police director for a year, according to the new laws.

Plainfield names new civilian police director

by The Star-Ledger Continuous News Desk

Thursday March 20, 2008, 8:52 PM

Less than 24 hours after the Plainfield council abolished the position of police chief and created a civilian police director, the mayor named the city's current public safety director to the new job on an acting basis.

Martin Hellwig, a 60-year-old veteran of several Essex County law enforcement agencies, has for nearly a year battled the current police chief, Edward Santiago, over the authority to reorganize the police department.

"The focus of the administration is to forge ahead and impact as quickly as possible on the operating efficiency of the police division," said Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs in a statement, touting Hellwig's experience in law enforcement and administration. "This will enable him to hit the ground running with very little, or no disruption to our law enforcement team."

Hellwig is expected to release a "100 day plan" discussing his vision for the department within the next few weeks.

The police chief's job will formally end April 11. Santiago told the council Wednesday he would seek an injunction in Superior Court to delay the measure while he files an appeal. If his court action fails, Santiago has said he will continue to serve the department in the rank of captain.

Prior to the council vote Wednesday, several residents denounced the measure as a political tactic by Briggs' administration to broaden their powers and target Santiago, with whom she has long had a contentious relationship.

The administration defended the move, saying the civilian police director will improve efficiency and accountability among the police.

Read the full stories in Friday's Courier and Ledger.

--Dan Damon

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Jerry's troubling trifecta

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'.

--Dan Damon
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Police Chief: Council's make-or-break moment is tonight

Plainfield's City Council faces its final vote tonight on the Green/Robinson-Briggs' administration's ordinance to abolish the position of Police Chief and thus bring to an end an office that Plainfield has had for 139 years.

The Council listened attentively Monday evening to a presentation by Mitchell Sklar, executive director of the NJ Police Chiefs Association, rebutting the presentation two weeks earlier by the then-Police Director of Trenton, Joe Santiago (a judge ruled his post vacant that same day), and offering a reasoned explanation of why it is important to have a sworn police officer in charge of the police.

Whether or not the Council tables the ordinances, as it could, tonight is likely to be only the opening bell in another round of the fight by the politically powerful to remove Ed Santiago.

In responding to Mr. Sklar's remarks, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson averred that those in the community who think the attempt to remove Santiago is a personal vendetta are both WRONG and IN THE MINORITY.

At which point the room erupted with snickers and titters.

Will the Council let the genie of politics and political interference in the operation of the Police Division out of the bottle, perhaps irrevocably?

All will be revealed tonight.

8:00 PM
Council Chambers/Courtroom
Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street

--Dan Damon

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Race: Barack brings barbershop talk to the fore

Plainfield, as much as any town in America, has the kind of history of which Barack Obama spoke in his speech on race in America given in Philadelphia Tuesday morning.

That history includes the owning of slaves by some of its founding families for the first 150 years of the community's existence.

That history includes patterns of residential segregation that used to include covenants forbidding the sale of homes to Blacks or Jews, only finally formally done away with in living memory -- though one may wonder if it is gone completely.

That history includes patterns of segregation in the public schools to end which Charles Booker, the NAACP, and many, many people had to struggle.

That history includes the riot of 1967.

Yes, Plainfield is part of the shameful racial history of this country. To a great extent, the glories of the 'Queen City' were built on the shabby base of race, class and caste.

But Plainfield has moved on, as Barack Obama hopes that America can.

And I think that all people of goodwill in Plainfield share the same hope.

If Barack thought we would not have to have this conversation, he was mistaken. But he shows he is up to having it -- and leading it.

If, as I suspect, the Clinton campaign has been behind the sudden surge of stories in the media about Barack's former pastor, the now-retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity UCC in Chicago, they may well be surprised by the outcome. If there was the thought that the endless looping of sound bites from Wright's sermons would deny Barack a foothold among 'blue-collar Democrats' (Clintonspeak for the Archie Bunker vote), this may well blow up in their faces.

The media have been busy trying to report the news and impact of Tuesday's speech. I have gathered a sampling at the end of this post.

Of the many observations recorded, two have caught my eye --
Covering the reaction to the speech in Obama's hometown, Chicago, the New York Times stopped in at a barbershop near downtown Chicago ('The Loop' to Chicagoans),
[where] Manny Koop, a barber working just west of the downtown Loop, credited Mr. Obama with taking a political risk. Mr. Koop watched the speech while he cut hair. “It’s touchy stuff, it’s barbershop stuff,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to address that kind of thing on national television, but he did and he did it well.”
Maureen Dowd (I am partial to Irish redheads), writing in her regular OpEd column caught an Irish resonance --
Obama’s warning about race in America was redolent of Eugene O’Neill’s observation about Ireland: “There is no present or future,” O’Neill said, “only the past happening over and over again.”
I think Barack is right, it IS time for the past to stop happening over and over again.

Plainfield -- though far from perfect -- is living proof that it can be done and that it is worth doing -- that "people can come together and say, 'Not this time.'"

America should thank Barack Obama for the courage to take on this conversation.

We will all be better for it.

Transcripts: NYTimes (as prepared) | WashPost (as delivered) |
Video: WashPost | Obama Campaign |

Washington Post:
New York Times:

--Dan Damon

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