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Monday, June 30, 2008

Chris Christie wants to hear from you, Plainfielders

U.S. Attorney Chris Christie wants to hear from you.

U.S. Attorney Chris Christie wants to hear from you, Plainfielders, if you have a complaint about suspected wrongdoing involving government players.

Thanks to The Countywatchers' Tina Renna for posting links to last week's Westfield Leader, where an interview of Christie by publisher Horace Corbin was posted, along with a video of the actual interview (see links at end of story).

Said Christie --
“Anyone who’s breaking the law in Union County has to be nervous – and beyond that, I will not be making any comment about any particular individuals...”
Renna suggests that last Thursday's freeholder meeting showed the Union County Manager, George Devanney, the freeholders and even county employees as plenty nervous.

Now for Plainfield.

Chris Christie is asking anyone with a complaint about suspecting wrongdoing by government actors (elected and appointed officials, holders of contracts, etc.) to call him directly or, if they prefer, the FBI. Christie says in the interview he likes to talk with people directly and does not record his phone calls, so people need not be concerned on that score.
Contact numbers:
U.S. Attorney Chris Christie - (973)645-2700
FBI's Newark office - (973) 792-3000
There are plenty of questionable things that have gone on in Plainfield in recent years, so feel free to pick up the phone and chime in.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Decoding Plainfield liquor licenses

Plainfield liquor license renewals will [mostly] wind up for this year at tomorrow's special Council meeting (8 PM, City Hall Library).

Would you like a magic decoder ring to the secrets locked in the liquor license numbers? Read on.

Every liquor license issued in New Jersey follows this formula --
The first four digits (XXXX-XX-XXX-XXX) stand for the County and Municipality, ranked alphabetically.

So the first four digits of all Plainfield liquor licenses are: 2012; 20- for Union County (alphabetically, the 20th of New Jersey's 21 counties) and -12 for Plainfield (ranked alphabetically among Union County municipalities).

The next two digits
(XXXX-XX-XXX-XXX) represent the type of license at hand. Here are some of the options --
  • 31 - Club. Sale only to bona fide members and guests, only on the premises.
  • 33 - Plenary retail consumption (Restaurants, Bars). Sales for consumption on premises and in original container for consumption off-premises.
  • 43 - Limited retail distribution. Intended for grocery stores; not issued since 1952. This type of license was once held by stores like the A&P at 7th & Park (now Twin City).
  • 44 - Plenary retail distribution license (Liquor stores). Sales in original containers only, for consumption off-premises.
The third sequence of digits (XXXX-XX-XXX-XXX) indicates the Municipality's sequential license number.

Thus, we can learn the Leland Liquors is 005, the fifth license issued in Plainfield, while that of Bantle Liquors at 5th & Watchung is 001 and the license at 116 Watchung Avenue (once famous as The Clubhouse) is 002.

The fourth and final sequence of digits
(XXXX-XX-XXX-XXX) is called the 'license generation number' and changes with every change of facts pertaining to that license -- for instance, every time ownership or property location changes and even if the premises are altered by expansion or redesign. This latter condition has gotten licensees in hot water on occasion when remodeling is done without proper notice, permission and license regeneration.

Looking at these digits, you can learn that for the Station Liquors store on Park Avenue near 4th, the license has gone through 7 regenerations, and that of Hugo's (once Lily Greenleaves) has gone through 6.

-- Dan Damon
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dig, string and build we must

Water system being relined.

Giant spool of fiber optic cable for Verizon FIOS.

NJT is rebuilding overpasses.

Wherever you turn, major work by utilities and other public entities is going on, putting me in mind of the 'Dig We Must' signs that New Yorkers were accustomed to seeing in times past whenever ConEd would open a street.

In Plainfield, the water system is being relined, with passersby and cars getting spritzed from water spraying from the
occasional cracked yellow PVC pipe.

Verizon is finally stringing the fiber optic cable for its long-awaited FIOS service. Can we hope the announcement of service for Plainfield is not far off?

Meanwhile, NJT is reaching the far end of its multi-year project of rebuilding the overpasses at Madison and Central Avenues and Liberty and New Streets. If you were paying attention to the details in the story of the man struck by the Raritan Valley train the other day and knocked from the track to Central Avenue, you will have learned that the overpass is also being raised -- good for trucks!

One worry, though. Will all the opened streets be repaved with infrared technology, which makes for seamless patches and reduces the bumpety-bump ride? Or will we get treated to the rough ride you can experience along the 4th Street side of the Fire Division headquarters?

Makes a difference.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Muhlenberg: Fore·or·dained

On yesterday's State Health Planning Board meeting and vote, Webster's dictionary has a perfect one-word summary:

  • FOREORDAINED: to dispose or appoint in advance.
I'll be commenting at more length later.

-- Dan Damon

F.A.I.R. and Fairness: The real issue in Plainfield

Considerable national attention has come to Plainfield again, this time in connection with an attempt by the anti-immigrant organization F.A.I.R. and it's legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, to invoke the anti-racketeering RICO law against local property management company Connolly Properties. (Googling the opening sentence of the story, which appeared in last Sunday's New York Times, yielded 629 direct hits.)

Whether or not the lawsuit will make it past the first round of challenges (most likely that it is 'frivolous'), it brings attention to one of Plainfield's overarching problems -- the safety and welfare of tenants, who comprise about half the city's approximately 50,000 residents and occupy about half its 16,000 dwelling units, according to the US Census.

(One of the buildings Connolly Properties manages is 609 Madison Avenue. When Mayor Al McWilliams was drafting the ordinance which became known as the 'Safe Homes' program back in 2004, I had occasion to view photos taken by Inspections Division workers of conditions at that address, documenting unacceptable conditions. A fire at an overcrowded mult-family around the corner that left 33 people homeless in wintertime was one of McWilliams' motivating factors. Once Connolly Property took possession of 609 Madison, a considerable upgrade appears to have taken place -- the entire building appears to have new windows installed and the exterior and grounds are far better maintained than prior to his purchase.)

The abandonment of the 'Safe Homes' program by the Council's rescission of the ordinance in May 2006 at the behest of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs leaves the understaffed Inspections Division at the mercy of the VOLUNTARY compliance by landlords with a provision that they have apartments reinspected when they are re-rented.

And the impression is that overcrowding is now rampant throughout the city.

At the time the program's demise was being debated in 2006, a reader on Kenyon Avenue recounted the extreme difficulty with getting the Administration to respond to or act on suspicions of an illegal rooming house in the 900-block (more here).

In the Van Wyck Brooks and Crescent Avenue Historic Districts, there is anecdotal evidence of illegal rooming house situations -- including basement and attic rooms. I have noticed other houses throughout the city that bear indications suggestive of overcrowding -- properties teeming with satellite antennas, overflowing trash containers, huge piles of mattresses on the curb, etc.

Overcrowding is lucrative -- make that LUCRATIVE. I am told it is not unusual to get $200/week for a room with a lock on the door, a bed and perhaps a chair and/or dresser. Some exploited tenants don't even get such luxuries; I am told tales of several sharing a single room and sleeping in shifts.

And if the tenants function in the 'grey' economy -- being paid and paying for everything with cash, and having no connection to the banking system -- the income they generate for these (often absentee) landlords is on a cash basis and outside the purview of tax authorities.

Seems to me it would be better for the tenants, better for the city, and better for the taxing entities if authorities were to take a proactive approach and once again look into an initiative that would protect tenants from unsafe and overcrowded conditions.

'Safe Homes' for everyone -- tenants included.

Now there's a concept.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Off to Muhlenberg vote today

Am traveling down the Pike to the Muhlenberg vote today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Myrtle & Madison Avenue mysteries

Are Plainfield taxpayers being flimflammed again?

Now that the move of the Board of Ed's administrative offices from 504 Madison Avenue and the old High School to the Jefferson School building on Myrtle Avenue is out in the open, another question emerges: What of the agreement by the State with the City to return the old National Starch headquarters building -- now used as the swing school site -- to the tax rolls once the schools construction program was complete.

That would mean an extra several hundred thousand dollars a year in taxes -- something which should surely be of interest to a cash-strapped city looking at reduced state aid (as reported in today's papers, Plainfield will lose $683,000 in the next fiscal year).

But that would mean the question of the Jefferson School students needs to be resolved.

How the Jefferson kids ended up at the swing school without a firm commitment to build a new school (or renovate and expand the existing one) is something of a mystery to me. Nevertheless, there they are. And their building is now being taken over for administrative offices, for which it may be suitable.

Is funding for a new Jefferson School expected in the $3.9 billion the governor signed an authorization for yesterday? If so, where will the new school be built? (I have no recollection of a site ever being mentioned.)

Enquiring minds would like to know.

Meanwhile, what will become of 504 Madison Avenue?

Used originally as a meetinghouse by Plainfield's Seventh Day Baptist congregation before its sumptuous 1890s building was erected on the adjacent property at the corner of 5th and Central, the building is historic (probably designed by or from a blueprint of 19th-century architect A.J. Bicknell, who had a practice in Elizabeth; the belfry is the giveaway).

Will it moulder? Will it fall to the wrecker's ball? Will someone find an alternative use for it that will preserve its historic character?

Mysteries of Myrtle and Madison Avenues.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Plainfield Liquor Licenses: An Interactive Map

Every June, every alcoholic beverage license in Plainfield -- and all of New Jersey -- must be renewed.

Each municipal governing body sits as a local Alcoholic Beverage Control board to hear comments from the public and act on the renewals of the town's licenses.

Google Maps now makes it possible to provide customized local maps, and I have entered the information on licenses from the Council agenda of June 9 as a map entitled "Plainfield NJ: Liquor Licenses".

Here it is --

Hover your mouse over the map. When you see a 'hand' shape, you can click on it and drag the map around to get a specific neighborhood in view. To zoom in closer (or out), use the '+ or -' clickers at the left side of the map.

Clicking on a marker will show an information window with the common business name, the corporate name, address of the establishment and liquor license number

The licenses are color coded as follows --
  • GREEN = Restaurants serving alcohol
  • BLUE = Bars
  • RED = Liquor Stores
  • YELLOW = Clubs
I will be posting photos of the establishments later.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Endlessly fascinating Front Street

Front Street is a marvel to me. I find the shops and shoppers endlessly fascinating, despite the fact that many Plainfielders never venture downtown.

And as intriguing as present-day Plainfield's downtown is, I would love to hear the tales some of these buildings could tell.

As in the exotic terra cotta above, identifying the East Front Street building's date of construction.

Much change seen, more change coming.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Slideshow: Save Muhlenberg Street Theater

A slideshow of pictures from the 'Save Muhlenberg' Street Theater and Rally on Thursday, June 19, 2008.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Nancy Piwowar's full-page ad in support of Muhlenberg

Crutches issued to Nancy by Muhlenberg in 1974,
as part of recuperating from successful surgery.

An Open Letter to the Muhlenberg Community

On behalf of five generations of my family who, for nearly a century, have resided in the Plainfield area, I take this opportunity to extend my family's appreciation and thanks to the Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center family who have graciously and consistently given healing care to us and to thousands of others in the local area.

The doctors, nurses, health care professionals, and other Muhlenberg support personnel deserve a heartfelt debt of gratitude for their unwavering high level of care in the most trying of times.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, recently placed an almost full page ad in area newspapers promoting the HHS Hospital Compare website for NJ consumers. Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center was one of twenty area hospitals mentioned. In the two quality measures listed, "Percentage of people who receive antibotics 1 hour before surgery and Percentage of people who always received help when they needed it," MRMC scored higher than the New Jersey State average. In the first list it was in the top five, and in the second list it was in the top eight, and better than a hospital located in Edison. So...Why is Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center slated to close?

Muhlenberg is an essential hospital for the tri-county area, and meets the criteria in the Reinhardt report, "New Jersey Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources, Final Report 2008." So...Why is Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center slated to close?

To the common man, woman, and young person - this does not make sense. The employees and staff of Muhlenberg have done an efficient job, and have provided a level of health care to area residents that well exceeds the New Jersey State average. So...Why is Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center slated to close?

In the event of a "homeland security" situation, whether created by nature, floods or storms, or man made, industrial accidents or train derailment, has an explanation been given to the local communities as to emergency preparedness plans? What happens if there is a surge in emergencies? Are the other hospitals prepared for a mass emergency in the Plainfield area or will the people of the Plainfield area be forgotten and left to fend for themselves like the people of New Orleans? Can the surrounding hospitals absorb the almost 11,000 yearly emergency cases? How long will the ER waiting times become? Will medical care be as efficient as offered at Muhlenberg? What are the answers to the diversion questions that are asked in the "National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: Pandemic and Emergency Response Preparedness Supplement 2008 panel?"

There is a continued ground swell of community activism that has been present in the Plainfield area for over 130 years. When Muhlenberg was incorporated in 1877, the Board stated, "The said association shall be formed for the purposes of care, cure and nuture of sick and injured persons." Later in 1878, the Board of Governors by formal resolution declared that "Muhlenberg Hospital is, and shall ever be, a free, unsectarian and undenominational institution, always open, to the extent of its capacity, to those, of whatever creed or nationality, who may need its good office."

The ethical and moral standards that the founding citizens mandated for Muhlenberg were always utmost in their mind and hearts for the future citizenry of the Plainfield area. That is why Muhlenberg always served the poor, indigent, and uninsured, and why Muhlenberg has had generous financial support for more than a century from area residents, employees, board members, medical professionals, local municipalities, county, state, and federal government and the insured. In the early days of Muhlenberg local churches set aside the last Sunday in December as "Hospital Sunday" and took up a collection for Muhlenberg Hospital to balance the budget each year. Even the poorest of the poor, who on Harvest Home day, would contribute soap, bandages, pies, whiskey, and whatever else they could spare to "repay" the Muhlenberg that helped them. The people have done their part for over 130 years.

Muhlenberg Hospital served the area residents in the 1918 flu epidemic. Muhlenberg survived the "Roaring Twenties," even though the amount of "free" work was 40% of the budget in 1924. Muhlenberg survived the "Great Depression" under the leadership of Miss Marie Louis. No patient was turned away and no services were cut, even though the towns were not supporting the indigent care bill. An effort was then begun to assess the towns for their fair share of indigent care. Miss Louis also engineered a plan and had a greenhouse built on Muhlenberg property to supply fresh vegetables for patients and staff for over 30 years. Muhlenberg was the site of many medical miracles including one in the 1930's when a teletype was sent out to the nation for assistance to save a dying infant. A retired military doctor answered and flew into Hadley Airport with the knowledge enabling a young Muhlenberg surgeon to perform the surgery due to the military doctor having lost the use of his hands during the war. That infant is now over 70 years old. Muhlenberg survived World War II through volunteerism even though half of the medical staff joined the armed forces. In the 1967 "black-out," which lasted 6 hours, Muhlenberg operated normally because leadership made sure there were adequate generators to continue to serve patients during times of need.

Now it is time for the New Jersey State Government to find the "Political Will" to make the decision to keep Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center open as a full service acute care facility for the Muhlenberg employees and staff, local economy, and thousands of tri-county residents. Muhlenberg has survived for over 130 years by the generosity of people and has provided quality health care service to the people. The power is now in the elected State officials' hands to serve the public and protect the public health. So...Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center should be slated to stay open!
Nancy A. Piwowar
  • Born in Muhlenberg Hospital and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey.
  • Graduate of Jefferson School, Washington School, Hubbard Junior High School,
  • Plainfield High School, Class of 1970, and Wilson College, Chambersburg, PA, Class of 1974.
(This message appeared as a full-page ad in the print edition of the Courier News, Friday, June 20, 2008, and was paid for by Nancy A. Piwowar.)

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, June 20, 2008

List of area's gouging gas stations

With gas prices expected to reach $4.00/gallon soon, you may be interested in knowing about local stations that have been cited for ripping off consumers.

While I try always to buy gas from a Plainfield station (none are on the list!), it sometimes happens that I must tank up at some other station in the area.

Weights and Measures inspectors have been out on a crash inspection, citing station owners for such issues as inaccurate octane ratings, changing prices more than once in 24 hours, and improperly calibrated equipment. All of these cost you directly in the pocketbook.

Here is a list of offenders in the local area.
North Plainfield
  • Rt 22: Raceway - 643 Rt 22
  • Rt 22: MK Gas - 925 Rt 22
  • Somerset St: Global - 421-31 Somerset St
  • Rt 22: Lukoil - 1555 Rt 22
Green Brook
  • Rt 22: Getty - 345 Rt 22
  • Rt 22: Exxon - 289 Rt 22
Scotch Plains
  • South Ave: Exxon - 2360 South Ave
  • South Ave W: BP - 416 South Ave West
South Plainfield
  • Durham Ave: Enrite - 157 Durham Ave
Do yourself a favor and shop wisely!

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

PT exclusive: State's Muhlenberg recommendations online

The state is recommending conditions on
Muhlenberg's closure beyond those originally proposed by Solaris Health System. Plainfield Today has posted the entire document online (see below or here, PDF format).

The conditions begin on page 15 of the 19-page document. (Page 19 is a chart of drive times to various hospitals. Your mileage -- and time -- may vary.)

Among the key points --
  • LICENSE: Muhlenberg's hospital license would be retained by Solaris for up to 24 months;

  • COMMUNITY ADVISORY GROUP: Solaris will set up and appoint co-chairs of an advisory group to be in place for at least three years and charged with monitoring the closure process, performance of conditionally mandated services, 'explore options' for reinstatement of medical residency program, and examine the need for any services approved (by the state) for closure;

  • MIDWIFE PROGRAM: Solaris to totally fund a physician to oversee midwifery services at NHC for at least two years;

  • OUTPATIENT PRIMARY CARE: Solaris shall 'initiate' primary care services 'at Muhlenberg or in conjuncion/agreement with NHC' Mon-Fri, half-day Sat and 2 days with evening hours;

  • TRANSPORTATION: Solaris will be required to operate, at no cost to passengers and without regard to insurance status --

    • SHUTTLE: MRMC to JFK, continuous, Noon-8:30 PM, 7 days/week
    • MEDICAL TAXI: Contracted door-to-door service in Muhlenberg's primary and secondary areas, for non-emergent services at JFK (this section does not mention insurance status);
    • AMBULANCE: Transport by contracted services from Muhlenberg's satellite ER to area providers, on a 24/7 basis;
    • TRINITAS: Solaris to provide SCHEDULED transportation for obstetrics and behavioral health patients and their families at no cost from Muhlenberg's satellite ER to Trinitas (details of pre-natal/obstetric care by Trinitas are not provided other than a general statement of its 'willingness to serve');

  • OUTREACH: An outreach effort, 'especially to the medically indigent', to ensure all residents of the hospital service areas have access to AVAILABLE SERVICES at the two Solaris locations -- JFK and Muhlenberg ER;

  • DaVITA DIALYSIS: Solaris shall not terminate the lease unless it DaVita has obtained an alternative site 'within the same service area'; and lastly,

  • COMMUNICATIONS PLAN: Solaris must notify the public with ads in Spanish and English in at least two newspapers, as well as advising impacted hospitals and EMS providers 15 days in advance of closure.
It is clear that the active support for Muhlenberg by area residents and MRMC staff over the months since Solaris' announcement of the closure plan has had an effect -- the state is now recommending the satellite ER be kept open for at least FIVE years (rather than three), that the hospital license be kept active (a small but important concession), and detailed transportation concessions are outlined and mandated for five years.

However, to anyone who has ever dealt with bureaucracies, it is clear there are some WEASEL WORDS -- a skimping over exactly to what extent Trinitas is taking on obstetrics patients, midwifery oversight funding is only for two years (much else is for five), and a loosy-goosy on DaVita relocation.

Concrete resolution of exactly what services Trinitas will provide needs spelling out. In funding midwifery supervision for only two years, are we supposed to believe no one will get pregnant past that time frame? Is the thinking that in diminishing the offering of services at the Muhlenberg site, DaVita may find it more financially beneficial to relocate? Or is it that Solaris may have something in mind for the Muhlenberg campus that might preclude DaVita staying? (Remember the totally public, yet somehow sneaky, subdivision of the MRMC property in April 2007.)

Will the Health Planning Board meekly accept these conditions or will it recommend even tougher ones?

You will have to attend their public meeting next Thursday to find out (see details and map here).

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gumbusters: An idea whose time has come?

Gumbuster tackles an NJT bus shelter.

Gum and city sidewalks, what a combination!

Just a couple years after Plainfield's downtown streetscape improvements, the view of Front Street is great -- old-fashioned lampposts, benches, pavers, trash receptacles. And then you look down at the sidewalk.

Gum city.

Several New Jersey towns have found an answer: GumBuster.

Detailed in the Ledger (more here), Madison has joined Cranford, Perth Amboy and Princeton Boro in buying the gum-removing steamer.

Would this be a worthwhile use of Urban Enterprise Zone funds?

And with an Interlocal Services Agreement (the highly favored tool for just about everything with the Robinson-Briggs administration), the PMUA could operate it.

When Malcolm Dunn was on the City Council, he pressed repeatedly for something to be done about this issue -- to no avail.

I have a feeling Malcolm would love this one.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How bad is Plainfield's subprime mortgage picture?

A foreclosed property in the First Ward.

Friends in real estate are not happy these days, for good reason. The subprime crisis which has brought the mortgage banking industry and the financial markets low has yet to be fully worked out at Plainfield's local level.

I have been saying since last summer that we are not out of the woods yet. And we're not.

While New Jersey and the NY metro area have fared better than much of the rest of the country, Plainfield is on thin ice. As you can see from the Star-Ledger database (go here), more than 40% of mortgages issued in Plainfield through 2006 (latest figures) were subprime.

While many of these have had their first interest rate reset, those issued in 2006 are looking to reset in Q3 and Q4 this year, and any from 2007 will begin their resets in Q1 of 2009. As Bette Davis said, 'It's going to be a bumpy ride'.

Map showing Wards 1, 2 and 3 data.

Those who got into subprime mortgages and are not able to handle the adjustments away from artificially low teaser rates to much higher market rates will be in danger of losing their homes, increasing pressures on the already fragile home sales market in our area.

Add to this the fact that mortgage lenders are NOT REALLY helping people work out the problems with their loans (see more here), and you are beginning to see the shape of a BIG problem coming down the pike.

A Plainfield Realtor® friend recently told me that her research found nearly 1,300 properties in pre-foreclosure status in Plainfield.

'Pre-foreclosure' status means the property owner has either missed enough payments to be considered in default or has moved down the pipeline to Sheriff's sale status.

In a community with 16,000 dwelling units and 8,000 of those being apartments, we are looking at a potential foreclosure rate of 16% -- or 1 in 8 residential properties. Make that TAXPAYING
residential properties.

Elsewhere in the country (the Cleveland and Detroit areas are similar to Plainfield, but there are others), foreclosures have brought whole neighborhoods to their knees with boarded-up properties, unkept yards, overabundant 'for sale' signs and worse -- in some places, the lenders are not even paying the taxes as
their resources are stretched thin and the properties are so overvalued in relation to the current market.

When taxes go unpaid, there are only two options: Towns can curtail services or pass the burden along to taxpayers who
DO pay.

What preparation has the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs made to handle this potential onslaught?

My guess is none.

Already, you can drive around town and see forests of 'for sale' signs as well as more and more boarded-up properties like the one pictured above.

What will become of us?

At least, after January 1 we have the possibility of a more activist approach as Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp are expected to join Cory Storch on the Council. That raises the possibility of a Council that can get the attention of the Robinson-Briggs administration.

Now wouldn't that be good news!

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Gender confusion at City Hall?

Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon in 'Some Like It Hot'.
(Three readers pointed out it is NOT Bert Lahr as
originally captioned. Thanks to all the sharp eyes. -- Dan

Well, I got 86'ed** from the Clerk's office by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on Friday afternoon.

But that's the end, not the beginning, of this little Plainfield tale.

I had stopped by to ask a question of City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, which she was answering, when suddenly the Mayor appeared at my side. I mean SUDDENLY and LITERALLY AT, as in violating that personal space to which Americans are so accustomed.

Clutching a printout of that day's Plainfield Today (see here), the Mayor -- who has been heard to claim she 'does not read the blogs' -- indicated to me her EXTREME displeasure at the headline: "Mayor Robinson-Briggs, Connolly Properties, and money laundering". (Spoiler alert: I did NOT accuse her of money laundering.)

Startled, I blurted out ... "Why Mister Mayor..."

Now what was that about? Throwback to memories of working with Mayor McWilliams? Sexist pig relapse? Gender confusion?

The Mayor was NOT amused. "What's that?", she snapped. "Did you just call me 'mister'?"

"No, m'am," I fibbed.

"Well good, and you can just get on the other side of the counter, where taxpayers are supposed to be," she said.

Gentleman that I am, I meekly obeyed her command.

"I'll talk to you later," I said to Clerk Wyatt as I left.

I owe the Mayor an apology. I fibbed when I slipped and called her 'mister' and then denied it.

As anyone will tell you, the Mayor is NO gentleman.

**"To 86"
-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jes' monkeyin' around

Running late today.

Got my new laptop set up for Plainfield Today today -- FINALLY.

Moving over the several gigabytes of email and address books was a little hairy, but it's done.

Back to grinding sausage tomorrow.

Oh yes, the illustration? Logo for what used to be a very useful website for geeks who work 'under the hood' as digital greasemonkeys.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

'Thank You' from Annie and Adrian and a catch-up note

Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp, winners of the Democratic primary, have recorded a 'thank you' to all who voted, volunteered or gave their support in other ways. You can listen to it here: "Annie and Adrian say 'thanks'".

While I'm catching up on things, ALL the many comments on the various Primary campaign and election stories have finally been posted (whew!), and you can check them out HERE.

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gas thefts at the City Yard?

From time to time, I get emails alleging that politically connected individuals are filling up on the public dime at the City Yard's gas pump.

How can anyone be sure?

Are such practices an annoyance? A crime?

Comes word today (see the Ledger here and the Herald News here) that AG Anne Milgram definitely thinks stealing gas is a crime. And she's not happy public employees used gas cards to fill their personal vehicles. In fact, they may get jail time -- for a few gallons. Hmmm.

Perhaps Plainfield's City Council should ask Mayor Robinson-Briggs' administration to make public the information about WHO exactly is allowed to fill up vehicles at the City Yard, whether or not tabs are kept on individual users, and what methods and systems are in place to prevent gas theft.

Now that you, dear reader, are paying about $4/gallon, the time may have come to look into these allegations.

Should the City set up a spycam? Adopt a swipecard technology that would identify filler-uppers? Adopt the PMUA method of contracting with a gas station, thereby identifying every user and fill-up?

Or maybe we should get former Councilor Bob Ferraro on the case.

This is just the kind of story he used to like pursuing.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What I learned on Election Day had nothing to do with politics

A state-of-the-art 1920s Kotex ad (click to enlarge).

Being a challenger on Election Day is a real challenge.

Seasoned poll workers bring books, magazines, crosswords and other time-fillers along with them, and with good reason. The passing of the long hours between 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM can be very slow indeed, especially for primaries, where the turnout is usually lighter (though it wasn't THIS year).

One of the benefits of sitting at the Richmond Towers, though, is that we are in the community room and there is a large screen TV that is on all day long.

Now, you should know that I am NOT a TV fanatic (mostly the news and some documentaries of Kalahari predators' dining habits), but on Election Day I cannot help but catch some of what goes on.

Imagine my astonishment when I glanced up from my newspaper to see a Kotex pad with side flaps flying around like Walt Disney's 'Dumbo'!

The ladies working the tables were amused at my reaction -- they've seen it all before, day after day.

Somewhat later I was treated to a brassiere commercial for which the closing line was the wearer -- in what I can only describe as an
UPLIFTING pose -- declaring 'my other brassiere will be jealous'.

But the best was yet to come: Animated stick figures with leaky bladders. I swear.

Back when China and Russia considered themselves Socialist countries, one of the things they pointed to with pride was that the masses were not bewitched by advertising into becoming mindless consumers. This was because there was
NO ADVERTISING. Of course, there were no consumer goods either, but that's another story.

Americans, on the other hand, are freed from these shackles.

I'm really looking forward to my next daytime TV outing.

And hoping it's even more challenging.

NOTE: It'll be a couple of days until I get it back and CLIPS can go out again. Sorry. :-(
-- Dan Damon

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Murphy's Revenge

I should know better than to mess with Murphy.

As many readers know, my 3-year-old HP Pavilion laptop has been giving me a little grief lately. It quickly overheats and shuts down, causing me to reboot (several times each morning) and causing you, dear reader, to wonder what the hell is taking Dan so long.

Didn't want to force one of the screws on the fan cover, so decided to go to the PC hospital.

Backed up my email and other essential files for blogging to a drive on the wireless network. Fired up my NEW HP laptop -- less than half the cost, more than three times the power and storage, but that's ANOTHER law.

Took the old machine to the shop.

Started to set up for today's posts, and guess what? -- the backed-up email files (including the address books from which CLIPS is sents) were corrupted and unreadable. And the
GOOD files were where? You know.

Kicked by Murphy.

In the butt.

Shoulda known better.

NOTE: It'll be a couple of days until I get it back and CLIPS can go out again. Sorry. :-(
-- Dan Damon

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Curious Case of 'Kathleen Lewis'


'Kathleen Lewis', that's who.

A curious letter appeared in Friday's Courier (see here), in which the writer -- 'Kathleen Lewis', supposedly -- wrote an impassioned attack on Plainfield's 'New Dems' and an equally impassioned defense of Muhlenberg and efforts to keep the hospital open.

The headline -- for which the letter writer is NEVER responsible -- did nothing to clue the reader in to the real argument 'Lewis' put forward.

Well-constructed, in fact one might say PROFESSIONALLY CONSTRUCTED, the letter reels the reader in through a powerful appeal to one's sympathies for saving Muhlenberg.

The writer then segued to the 'New Dems' by alleging that a charge that "Assemblyman Green got '50 thousand in his pocket'" was made by 'them' and that they have 'worked with Solaris to close Muhlenberg.'

Further, the writer drags up the red herring that 'New Dems' are 'actually Republicans' -- a charge that is supposed to be political poison to Plainfielders -- and citing me by name as 'calling' for Republicans to switch party affiliation to help defeat the 'actual' Democrats.

Funny how a word can color a perception. I don't remember 'calling' for switching, but I do remember 'reminding' those who might be thinking of it that there was a definite deadline.

The whole letter is then neatly tied up with a bow by asserting that the unnamed candidates running under a banner of 'change' really represent a 'return to previous practices' and are just as bad as Solaris.

Take that!

I thought that all the huffing and puffing meant that 'Kathleen' was a Democrat, not of the 'New Dem' school. So, I checked the database of those who have voted Democrat in primary elections from 2004 through 2008's presidential primary (kindly supplied by Union County), and -- SURPRISE! -- found no record of any 'Kathleen Lewis' having voted as a Democrat.

Is there a real 'Kathleen Lewis'?

Or is 'Kathleen' perhaps ... a (GASP!) Republican?

Kathleen, we hardly knew ye!

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Primary Election: A look at the numbers

Plainfielders interested in how the votes went district-by-district in June 3's primary election will find the complete unofficial results posted here (PDF).

Official results are certified by the County Clerk, based on tallies from the voting machines plus military and absentee ballots. The numbers I have posted are from the City Clerk and will form the basis of the certification by the County.

While primaries are often the victims of low turnout, Tuesday's Democratic primary drew unusual interest -- in part because it was cast as a referendum on the political leadership of Assemblyman Jerry Green, the city's Democratic chair. With 2,931 votes cast on the Democratic side of the primary, nearly 30% of the city's registered Democrats voted. That fact alone should give the Assemblyman and the Mayor pause.

In Thursday's Ledger, both Green and defeated councilor Harold Gibson were interviewed. While throwing his running mate Davis under the bus, Gibson opined some people may have lumped him together with Davis, thereby helping explain his defeat.

Nice try, except it ain't so. The piece which cited Don Davis' bar tabs and DWI case was only mailed to the 3rd Ward, which could hardly explain Gibson's defeat elsewhere.

68% of the total vote came from Wards 2 and 3.

In Ward 2, with 1,007 total votes, Gibson lost to McWilliams 73% to 27% -- nearly three to one. In Ward 3, Gibson's home turf, he lost 60% to 40%, managing to best McWilliams (by TWO votes) in only one of the ward's ten voting districts.

In Ward 4, which Assemblyman Green often tries to play against Ward 2, Gibson managed to win only one of the five districts
(by FOUR votes). McWilliams nevertheless took the ward, 61% - 39%.

Ward 1 was the only ward where Gibson prevailed
(by NINE votes). His strength here was based in Richmond Towers (District 3), where he pulled in 48 votes. This is the district where I sat as a volunteer challenger throughout the day, and I can attest that much of his success is owed to City Committee member Hattie Williams, a resident of Richmond Towers who perpetually works as a county poll worker for the district. Although I must note that there was a sharp increase in the number of Hispanic voters for both the 3rd and the 5th districts, the two whose polling place is Richmond Towers.

If, as Assemblyman Green says in the Ledger story, 'all indications pointed to a Gibson and Davis victory', one has to wonder about the quality of his intelligence, given the magnitude of his defeat.

In the three-way race for Ward 3, candidate Olive Lynch received 155 votes -- far less than one might guess from Assemblyman Green's rhetoric in the Ledger article. But, together with Adrian Mapp's commanding 48%, the two bested incumbent Don Davis with 63% of the vote -- beating Davis by 26 points.

Together, Adrian Mapp and Olive Lynch
took 63% of the Ward 3 vote.

In a heavily Democratic town like Plainfield, victory in the primary ensures election in November, so we may say that Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp are the presumptive councilors to be seated in January.

And that is when Assemblyman Green and his proxy, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, will begin to get their real headaches.

Until then, we should all enjoy the summer. We've earned it.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Relay For Life: Tonight at Hub-Stine!

From last year's Relay for Life.

Plainfielders will again participate in the American Cancer Society's 'Relay for Life' event overnight tonight at Hub-Stine Field.

Hundreds turned out for last year's event to learn, connect, remember and help raise money for programs aimed specifically at the Plainfield area.

Many friends and readers are participating in this year's event, and I hope you will check out the online opportunities to contribute (see here).

And come out and join in the event tonight!


-- Dan Damon

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