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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crime wave hits Plainfield after second homicide

Since Plainfield's second homicide Sunday evening (see here), a miniature crime wave has broken out in the Queen City.

Consider this --

  • Monday -- TWO armed robberies with handguns;

  • Monday -- SHOOTING at Elmwood Gardens; no one injured, but bullet went through a first-floor window;

  • Tuesday -- STABBING at Stebbins Place and West 3rd Street. Victim got himself to Muhlenberg SED, transferred to University Hospital for trauma surgery;

  • Tuesday -- ROBBERY with slashing on East 3rd Street. Passerby interrupted robbery of 75-year-old male, who had been slashed in the neck.

  • Tuesday -- SHOOTING: Male shot on Liberty Street, near South Second Street, around 9:30 PM.
Bet you won't read this news on the City's website.

-- Dan Damon

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Corzine camp seeing red over Plainfield campaign?

Corzine's signs project his 'brand'.

Word comes that the Corzine re-election campaign is having heartburn over a new campaign sign popping up around Plainfield in the past few days.

With an uphill slog facing the incumbent governor who, as Record columnist Charles Stile points out has sold his policies, but not himself (see here), it is easy to understand why the campaign might be anxious to control Corzine's 'brand'.

The new signs began popping up a few days ago (the first I saw was in front of the mayor's home).

Campaign signs in front of Mayor's home.

They are striking for their simplicity, their small size (compared to the oversized recycled 'Jerry' and 'Sharon' signs also popping up), and their color -- a bright, non-Democratic RED.

Closeup of the RED sign.

While I was told the campaign would like them to just go away, that doesn't seem likely, as the red signs are now beginning to appear like fairy rings after a rain storm.

This is not the first time that Plainfield's untethered campaigning style has given the Corzine camp dyspepsia.

During Sharon Robinson-Briggs' campaign for mayor in 2005, Corzine's signature was appropriated without his knowledge or permission and slapped on a jerry-rigged letter of endorsement of Robinson-Briggs under a faked US Senate letterhead.

While the tactic enraged Corzine campaign staffers, and there were whispers of illegality, the upshot was that Green and Robinson-Briggs got a pass.

Wondering who might possibly have paid for
a RED sign in a 'blue' town like Plainfield, I was intrigued, but not for long. A sign in the window of a Front Street photography shop was conveniently high enough to easily capture the mandatory 'paid for by' notice --

In a Front Street store window.

Paid for by ...

Green and Robinson-Briggs get another pass, or will the red signs come down?

And will it really make a difference, one way or the other, for the embattled governor?

-- Dan Damon

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Winslow Homer: Reception, talk at Library Thursday

'Winding Line', a valuable Winslow Homer painting
in the collection of the Plainfield Public Library.

Plainfield Public Library Director Joe Da Rold says some things are just to valuable to let hang around.

That is certainly true of the library's two Winslow Homer paintings, a watercolor 'Winding Line' and an oil 'Looking Over The Cliff', which were valued at $7.5 million when reappraised before one was lent to the Art Institute of Chicago for an exhibit. The value of the paintings makes it impossible to offer them for public view on a regular basis.

What to do?

While testing the art market in an effort to set up a trust for future library development (see New York Times story here), an agreement was struck to have reproductions of the two pieces made for every day display in the library's Anne Louise Davis Gallery.

The reproductions will be unveiled at a reception and talk on Thursday evening, where American paintings expert Gretchen Burch of Sotheby's New York will give a talk about Homer's life and art, with especial attention to the two paintings in the Plainfield Public Library's collection.

All are cordially invited.

Winslow Homer at the Plainfield Public Library
Reception and Talk

Thursday, October 1 | 7:00 PM

Anne Louise Davis Gallery

Plainfield Public Library
Park Avenue and 8th Street

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to look up City, School, PMUA and Housing Authority salaries

Lots of readers are interested in more Plainfield salary information (see comments on yesterday's post here).

Here's what to do --
  • Go to the 'employee pay' page on the Courier's Data Universe here.
  • Do NOT use the 'Last Name' or 'First Name' lines unless you only want an INDIVIDUAL salary figure.
  • Use the 'AGENCY' line to scroll waaay down to choose one of these options --
    • Plainfield Board of Ed
    • Plainfield City
    • Plainfield Housing Authority
    • Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority
  • You may only choose ONE option for each search.
  • Make sure you allow popup windows for this site.
  • Hit 'Search' and you will get your results, 10 per page, in a new window (this means you will have multiple pages).
That's the good news. The bad news is that owing to the design of the database, the report returned to you is sorted by FIRST NAME and not last name, but at least you will have what you want.

There will be some discrepancy between the report and actual employee data for three reasons --
  1. the data are for 2008, not 2009;
  2. employees don't show up as pension contributors until after they have been employed at least one year;
  3. seasonal and provisional employees seem not to be listed.
There is also an option to search for double-dippers at the bottom of the page, but that is not really an issue in Plainfield.

As for whether or not public employee salaries should be public information, as a retired public employee I am all in favor of it.

If we had had this database when I still working years ago, you could have known the truth about what I was paid (as opposed to the wild exaggerations put out by various and sundry) with a click or two.

(ASIDE: I started with Mayor Al McWilliams' first administration in 1998 -- having come over from the Library, where I worked for three years -- at $40,000 and after civil service title and step upgrades retired in 2006 at $66,000. My civil service classification put me in a group that included, among others, the Directors of Recreation and the Senior Center. An amusing aside is that when the Council wanted to put me in a layoff plan during one of its anti-McWilliams snits, some members were chagrined to learn that I had seniority and 'bumping' rights in my civil service classification and that a layoff would have knocked someone other than moi out of the ring. End of layoff threat.)

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Salaries over $100,000 in Plainfield

Today, Gannett NJ's examination of New Jerseyans' tax burden includes data on top salaries, including Plainfield (see story here).

Since the lead story identifies 150 public employees in the Courier service area as earning over $100,00, but the table lists only one for Plainfield, I did a little sniffing.

Gannett's online database, Data Universe, returns the following information for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' cabinet-level appointees for 2008 --

City Administrator
Marc Dashield
Bibi Taylor (New hire)
Public Works/Urban Dev
Jennifer Wenson Maier
Public Safety/Police Director
Martin Hellwig
Corporation Counsel
Dan Williamson

Whatever you may think of the compensation levels, it is odd that the database returns no result whatever in a search for Martin Hellwig by name. This is unusual since the database is supposed to contain the name of EVERY public employee drawing a salary in the state of New Jersey, whether local, county, or state employee.

Which leads to the question of just how Plainfield reports Director Hellwig's salary.

NOTE: I did not search for School district salaries, quite a few of which are over the $100,000 threshold.)

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Update: Fatal shooting Sunday night, victim ID'ed

BREAKING - 10:24 PM -- Shooting victim, 3rd & Richmond area, near former Richmond Beer Garden. Black male, shot multiple times. Does not look good, may not survive.

Update, Midnight: Victim dies, medevac from Hub-Stine to RWJ was canceled. Will update if/when I hear more.

Update: The Ledger posted a brief item online at 12:01 AM. See "Shooting leaves one dead in Plainfield".

Update, 11:00 AM Monday: ABC Local News identifiies the victim as Dwayne Dunn. See "Shooting in Plainfield, NJ"

-- Dan

Irving Cohen of Suburban Jewelers passes away

Those who shop downtown will have known for a week or so that Lisa Cohen's Suburban Jewelers has been closed due to a family illness.

Sadly, news comes that Lisa's father, Irving Cohen, passed away Saturday morning. He was a member of the Plainfield business community for decades, and will be missed by many Plainfielders.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Beverly, and their two daughters, Elissa (Lisa) and Marcy.

Due to Yom Kippur, services are delayed and will be held at 11:00 am on Wednesday, September 30th at the Higgins Home for Funerals, West 8th Street and Arlington Avenue.

For more information, visit the Higgins Home for Funerals website here.

Condolences may be sent to the family care of Lisa Cohen at Suburban Jewelers, 126 East Front Street, Plainfield, NJ 07060 or send an email to Lisa here.

-- Dan Damon

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Politicians (mostly) skip Friends of Library gala

You'd scarcely know there was an important election in Plainfield this November, judging from the turnout at last night's Friends of the Plainfield Public Library (FOPPL) gala.

Although the Friends organization is strictly apolitical, as is the Library itself, its events are traditionally a low-keyed occasion for Plainfield's political establishment to come out and press the flesh.

Neither Assemblyman Jerry Green nor his protégé Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs were in evidence as about 150 library supporters gathered to munch sandwiches and salads, and chat with like-minded folks about the library and its programs, happenings in the community, and -- eventually -- who was and WAS NOT present.

'I am quite surprised that the only politicians who are not here are those who LIVE in Plainfield,' said Library board president Anne Robinson. She was making an oblique reference to the fact that though ALL of Plainfield's elected officials were sent invitations, only Republican mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny (a Plainfield resident, though
NOT an elected official) and Assembly candidates 'Bo' Vastine and Marty Marks were present. The three were very much in evidence and politely working the crowd.

FOPPL doyenne and caterer for the event Sandy Spector and her crew kept busy replenishing the buffet and the red and white wine punches, while in the pool area attendees could fill small paper bags with scoops of snack treats ranging from cheese puff balls or potato chips to party mix.

Guests sat at tables arranged around the fountain in the poolside patio and hopped from table to table as they saw old friends and caught up, or met new ones. The tables were lit with votives perched on small piles of books artfully arranged (I wonder where THEY came from!).

The gala was billed as a 'Thank You' to Friends and supporters and, unlike the very successful wine tastings of the past few years, was offered gratis.

A very nice touch in these times of tightened belts.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Will Roselle's Holley walk in vote tampering case?

Roselle Council President Jamel Holley -- instrumental in the 'shotgun' firing of Plainfield Councilor Adrian Mapp as that borough's chief financial officer -- may yet walk in the vote tampering case lodged against him by the Attorney General's office.

Word in the street is that Holley is being lined up for the state's pre-trial intervention program (PTI) in which, in exchange for a guilty plea -- and giving up his seat on the Roselle Council and forgoing future public service -- he would avoid jail time.

Holley, the former chief of staff to disgraced ex-Assemblyman Neil Cohen was quickly moved from that office (which is shared with State Sen. Ray Lesniak and Asm Joe Cryan, who is also chair of the state Democratic party) to a job with Union County's Office of Economic Development after allegations of ballot fraud arose in the 2006 election.

Scores of absentee ballots were examined and though Union County Superior Court Judge John Malone dismissed the complaint, he was reversed on appeal. The case went to trial before a different judge and 31 of 54 absentee ballots were invalidated as a result.

(I am told by someone who was involved in recounting the 2006 ballots that those in question were identifiable at a distance as Holley's signature and other information was filled out with a light blue felt-tipped pen.)

A puzzle to many has been why Holley was able to avoid the taint of indictment (unlike with high-profile vote fraud cases in Atlantic City and Essex County), though both the Ledger's Auditor (see here) and New Jersey Today (see here) point out that Holley has a powerful friend in state Democratic party chair Joe Cryan.

Whether there are mysterious machinations may only be known by a Higher Power, but one thing that seems certain is that Holley's actions in getting Mapp fired may expose the taxpayers of Roselle to a costly lawsuit and the prospect of a financial award to the former CFO for breach of contract.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

The gods punish Dan for leaving early

The gods punished me for leaving the Plainfield City Council meeting last night before all the public comments were heard. You will want to read Bernice (see here) for an account of a merchant giving the lie to Assemblyman Green's assertion on his blog that --
It ... gave me great pleasure to have been able to work with the organizers over the last six months to make this a huge success. (Emphasis added -- DD.)
You can read Jerry's full post on his role in the Fiesta here, and my 'deconstruction' of it here.

The whole thing brings to mind Rep. Barney Franks' question to a woman at one of his town hall meetings, "On which planet do you spend most of your time?" (see the video on YouTube here).

The Council meeting in 11 words, plus or minus

Last night's Plainfield City Council meeting can be summed up in 11 words: When all was said and done, more was said than done.

The Robinson-Briggs administration (surprise!) failed to bring a budget proposal to the table, as had been promised at the last Council meeting, which promise became one reason for calling this special meeting.

Upon a motion by Councilor Bill Reid, the Monarch condos tax abatement ordinance was withdrawn (yet again), evidently because sufficient information for the Council to feel it can go forward is yet to be produced by the Administration. CORRECTION: I surmised. The reason for the withdrawal of the ordinance was that no Executive Session was -- or could be -- held, as Councilor Mapp makes clear in a blog post published mid-morning today (see here).

(An attorney with Wiener & Lesniak, the law firm of Sen. Ray Lesniak, which represents the Dornoch/Fishman/P&F entity, along with a woman attorney for the UCIA accompanying him, got up and left the room without a word after the proposed ordinance was withdrawn. I wonder why he was there at all, with his big file folder of papers.)

An ordinance to EXCEED the FY2010 municipal budget appropriation limits and establish a 'cap bank' was passed on first reading, with only Councilor Storch dissenting -- because he thought a little externally applied fiscal restraint would be a good thing. You will want to pay attention to the discussion and the Robinson-Briggs administration's rationale as this one unfolds.

An unwarranted attack of bloviation was brought on by a resolution approving Councilor Mapp's attendance at the annual Black Issues Convention. Ostensibly meant to provide transparency concerning Council members' expenditures (there has been serious recent abuse, if you recall), the discussion was anything but razor sharp about why Mapp's minor expenditure ($375) was singled out and whether every Councilor will be REQUIRED to jump through the hoops as Mapp was made to do.

Councilor McWilliams politely inquired whether there was a policy on Councilors' expenses and if there was, whether it could be shared with the Council members. It occurred to me to wonder why no other Councilors were planning on going to the Convention, attendance at which was de rigueur when Malcolm Dunn was on the Council.

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why wasn't cop's gun discovered at Newark Liberty?

A Wayne, NJ, police officer planning to honeymoon in Cancun was being held by Mexican authorities after a .40-caliber Glock pistol was discovered in his bags (read the full story at here).

Everyone seems to be coming to his defense, saying it was an oversight.

But, shouldn't the real question be how he got it past security at Newark Liberty airport in the first place?

Are cops excused from screenings at the airport?

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Monarch abatement tonight: Council discussion legal?

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' administration strained mightily to get Plainfield's City Council members long-promised information in anticipation of the tonight's re-introduction of an ordinance granting a five-year tax abatement to the Dornoch/Fishman/P&F entity behind the Monarch condos and Senior Center.

With the special meeting drawing nearer and nearer, Councilors were finally sent the information via email, but since some are said to have trouble accessing the documents, they were also hand-delivered. Talk about efficiency in government...

Tax abatements such as the Monarch proposal impact taxpayers directly (see Councilman Mapp's spreadsheet on the impact here).

(Aside: When PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) are granted -- which this is NOT, taxpayers are also indirectly affected by depriving the school district and the county of needed tax receipts,
meaning that picking up the abatee's share of those expenses unfairly increases the burden on all the other [residential and business] taxpayers. This is a correction of a statement in the original post; the error being caught by Olddoc -- Dan.)

Meanwhile, there are real questions about the legality of the Robinson-Briggs administration and the Council discussing the proposed ordinance in EXECUTIVE SESSION.

The reasons to discuss business behind closed doors are very specific and limited (see NJSA 10:4, the Open Public Meetings Act), and I have outlined them previously (see full post here) --

1. those considered confidential by law or court ruling;

2. those where release of information would impair receipt of federal funds;

3. material constituting an unwarranted invasion of privacy;

4. those relating to collective bargaining agreements;

5. those relating real estate matters, banking rates or investments using public funds

6. matters regarding protecting the safety and property of the public;

7. matters of litigation and attorney-client privilege;

8. personnel matters;

9. deliberations after a public hearing that may incur a fine, suspension or loss of license or permit
Thos are the nine reasons given in the statute. That's it.

The most commonly used reasons are contractual, litigation or personnel (confidentiality) matters. The Monarch abatement doesn't fall under any of those three categories .

As for #5, which does include 'real estate matters', my reading is the 'real estate' must involve 'public funds' of the governing body conducting the closed session.

The real estate in question, the property at 400 East Front Street, was sold by the City to the Union County Improvement Authority for $1. Since the City no longer owns the property and is not party to the developer's agreement, which is solely between the developer and the Union County Improvement Authority, it is fair to ask on what basis the discussion is being planned to take place outside public earshot.

At any rate, there appears to be some question whether the tax abatement ordinance will even be introduced, notwithstanding the legality of an Executive Session discussion.

Beyond this fly in the ointment, there are other questions the Council should get to the bottom of before advancing the ordinance --
1. Since Dornoch/Fishman/P&F approached Rahway for a tax abatement on a project there and was turned down, the question arises as to whether DPWUD Director Jennifer Wenson-Maier, who is also a Rahway council member, shared this information with the Robinson-Briggs administration and, if so, why the administration did not disclose this material fact to the Council in proposing the ordinance.

2. Does the tax abatement have any realistic prospect of advancing sales of the units?

3. What happens if, even granted a tax abatement, sales of units does not pick up and the developer defaults on the developer's agreement and/or bank financing?
And of course the Seniors want to know what's to become of their new Senior Center in the face of all these problems.

Let's hope we get some answers tonight, whether or not the abatement goes forward.

Oh yes, don't forget the Administration's budget proposal is also on tap.

City Council Special Meeting

FY2010 Budget Proposal
Monarch Tax Abatement ordinance
and other matters

8:00 PM Tonight
City Hall Library

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Some words on (budget) words

Plainfield's budget season gets under way tomorrow night with the expected offering of its FY2010 budget proposal to the Council by the Robinson-Briggs administration.

There is always a little confusion here, because the word 'introduce' is usually introduced into the conversation at this point. Which makes it a little confusing when, perhaps months later, the Council 'introduces' and approves the budget.

The proposal by the administrative branch presents its estimate of both expected REVENUES ('miscellaneous revenues' for anticipated receipts from fees, grants, state aid and income -- if any -- from investments; plus the amount needed to be raised by a tax levy) and of its projected EXPENDITURES for the administration of city government.

The document, which must be available for public inspection at the Clerk's office (and in Plainfield is also available traditionally at the Plainfield Public Library), then becomes the subject of close examination and amendment by the City Council. It would be nice if it were made available online, but we can only hope.

Exercising its prerogative to make changes to an administration's budget proposal is one of the most important powers of a governing body. It is the Council that 'strikes' the budget, thus setting the amount to be raised by tax levy and the constraints within which an administration is expected to labor for the balance of the budget year.

Last year's budget process was one of great embarrassment for the Robinson-Briggs administration, with an enormous blooper ($1.8M) escaping the attention of those responsible.

In addition to the Council review, the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) will pore over the proposal as it did last year, making suggestions to the governing body.

Perhaps this year, in addition to looking for cost-cutting moves, it can take a page from Green Brook's budget process last year, where two additional focuses were considered in addition to cost effectiveness: efficiency and keeping impact on residents to a minimum.

In Green Brook's case, it meant restructuring staff positions to maintain service levels while reducing overhead.

Although the state's Division of Local Government Services has the final say in approving proposed budgets, Plainfield's City Council will want to assure itself that revenue projections for the next year are as accurate as possible.

This is especially important since we are not yet out of the woods with regard to the recession (Plainfield's unemployment rate was just reported UP to 11.7% -- see here).

Once the Council and the CBAC have had their look-see and Council amendments are drafted, the budget is 'introduced' as a budget resolution by the Council, which sets a 28-day clock running, within which a public hearing must be held and the budget formally adopted.

Because budgets are RESOLUTIONS (they only affect the municipality for a year, as contrasted with ORDINANCES, which are meant to remain in effect indefinitely), there is a great deal of pressure to get them done and adopted before the end of the year, because the Council's unfinished business technically expires on December 31st.

However, with state aid undecided well into the budget year, this nicety is coming to be more honored in the breach.

With the budget proposal submitted earlier this year than last, might we hope to actually have a budget in place before it's a moot issue, as was the case this past year, where adoption came 10 months into the year?

Let's hope so.

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Deconstructing Jerry deconstructing the Fiesta

Asm Green's political signs didn't fare well in foot traffic's path.

Carly Simon never did a concert in Plainfield to my knowledge, but after reading Jerry Green's blog post on the Central American Independence Day Fiesta this past weekend (see here), maybe she should have.

Assemblyman Green is in his finest campaign fettle here, but perhaps he should have written the piece and put it in a drawer for a day or two before publishing it.


First, Jerry takes credit for long and deep involvement in the Fiesta. Which may come as a surprise to those who followed the progress of the request and the Council's approval of same, where the Assemblyman -- and his name -- were far from even mentioned.

Secondly, about that voter registration and volunteer solicitation table. I saw it on Sunday before I went to the Corzine event. Now, wouldn't you think with all the advance participation and planning Assemblyman Green touts the table would have been there SATURDAY also? Twasn't. Also, Jerry doesn't mention the jerry-rigged tent signs made out of his and Sharon's re-election signs stuck together along the top with duct tape and strewn in the walkway, creating a hazard for attendees to stumble over. These also were not present on Saturday. (When I came back after the Corzine event, the tent signs were gone, with effects you can see at the top of the page.)

Thirdly, Jerry, who lives in the 2nd Ward, can never resist an opportunity to use coded language as a put-down. In his blog he says --
Sorry to say, I was hoping the Governor could have stopped by to show his appreciation, since he was in Plainfield, however he had a prior commitment to a group of supporters in the 2nd ward.
The 'prior commitment' was to Corzine's only pre-announced campaign visit to Plainfield, at which Jerry himself was present.

Now, ask yourself this: If Jerry was so involved in the Fiesta's planning, and also in the plans for the Corzine event (after all, he mailed invitations to it to the Dem City Committee members well in advance), and in touch with Corzine's campaign team, how come he didn't ensure either that the events did not conflict or that Corzine made sure to drop by the Fiesta?

Maybe, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein's famous line about Oakland, there is 'no advance advance' there.

As for Jerry's comment about Christian Estevez, who has been granted a leave by the AFL-CIO to work on the statewide Democratic election effort (but NOT in Plainfield, per Jerry's direct intervention), why wouldn't Democrats pull together, just as they did in Bob Menendez' Senate race? (Jerry doesn't mention the truly nasty attacks he made on Chris and his wife Rosa during the primary campaign, for which he should make a public apology.)

Lastly, if Jerry had put all this effort into the Fiesta IN ADVANCE, I am mystified that he did not see to it that the Census 2010 crew was out with a table.

After all, Plainfield -- and Jerry -- stands to benefit from an accurate Census count next spring, and Hispanics are among the most overlooked, least-well-counted portion of the population.

Oh yes, Carly Simon?

Reading Jerry's post, I couldn't get her first big hit -- 'You're so vain' -- out of my mind,
You walked into the party
Like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror
As you watched yourself gavotte

And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner
They'd be your partner, and...

You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you, don't you?

You had me several years ago
When I was still quite naive.
Well, you said that we made such a pretty pair
And that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved
And one of them was me.

I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee, and...

You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you, don't you?

I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee, and...

You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you, don't you?

Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga
And your horse, Naturally, won.
Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun.
Well, you're where you should be all the time
And when you're not you're with some underworld spy
Or the wife of a close friend
Wife of a close friend...

You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, I bet you think this song is about you
Don't you, don't you?

You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
(Fades out...)

-- Dan Damon
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Latin American Fiesta could become 'THE' Plainfield event

Costumed dancer poses with young attendee.

Plainfield's first Central American Independence Day Fiesta, thronged with attendees both Saturday and Sunday seems a smashing success, and bids fair to become 'THE' default Plainfield event going forward.

For decades, Plainfield's main visitor attractions have been the July 4th Parade and the Outdoor Festival of Art.

At one time, the July 4th Parade was known as the 'Central Jersey' parade and was orchestrated by a committee including representatives from surrounding towns and actually enshrined in Plainfield's charter (3:14, Independence Day Committee).

Readers will be familiar with Plainfield Today's chronicling of the steady decline of the parade as the City forges ahead alone, without participation by other communities, and shrinks the promotion, publicity and participation in the parade until is has become a mere shadow of its glory days. Unless the Robinson-Briggs administration gets a handle on it, the July 4 Parade seems destined to dwindle into one more of the Queen City's glories celebrated in memory but not present reality.

The Outdoor Festival of Art was the other summer highlight, a juried art show with professional and amateur artists and photographers that drew thousands of attendees (and artists) from the TRI-STATE area. (The first artist I met upon moving here from Brooklyn 25 years ago was none other than A BROOKLYN ARTIST, exhibiting in Plainfield!)

Alas, as I reported earlier this month (see here), neither event is faring well under Robinson-Briggs' stewardship -- this year, there wasn't even a food vendor at the Art Festival.

Organized with a real entrepreneurial flair with the lead taken by the owner of the Los Faraones club, the
Central American Independence Day Fiesta was thoughtfully laid out, chock full of vendors -- food and merchandise -- and featured continuous entertainment both days.

It was also a very family-friendly event. Children of all sizes and ages were prominent and the vendors had plenty of merchandise they found irresistible -- from bubble-blowing 'guns' to glow-in-the-dark swords, to colorful tiaras sprouting twinkling fiber optic bristles -- which parted many a parent from their cash.

The food was varied, delicious and uncomplicated -- as street food should be. And at street food prices -- where else would you normally spend $5 for a small paper sack containing six churros? -- the vendors did very well and will surely want to come back.

One carp: The Robinson-Briggs administration and Assemblyman Green missed a great opportunity by not having the Census 2010 crew on hand to explain the importance of being counted in the upcoming Census. As the fastest-growing and traditionally undercounted segment of Plainfield's population, full participation would guarantee a successful Census. Another missed opportunity.

Could the Fiesta be improved?

I think so.

A very popular part of the SID celebration held a weekend ago (see story here) were the brightly-costumed dance troupes who performed in the street, in the midst of the attendees, to the delight of all. I think such a cultural element would perfectly complement the music, food and merchandise, strengthening what is already a very strong foundation.

Lastly, one of the strengths of the Outdoor Festival of Art always was that the triangle of grassy area in Library Park nearest 9th Street was reserved for Plainfield's cultural and nonprofit organizations to display their programs and solicit volunteers and participants. It was the the one-stop-shop for all sorts of activities from the Plainfield Symphony to the Friends of the Library, from the League of Women Voters to Habitat for Humanity, a true marketplace of community activities.

Adding something like this to the
Central American Independence Day Fiesta would have a two-pronged benefit: first, organizations could get the word out to a large audience, and second, Plainfield organizations would learn how to adapt to Plainfield's newest -- and growing -- population.

I am eagerly looking forward to next year's Fiesta.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Plainfield event for Corzine shows cause for concern

Host Gerry Harvey welcomes Gov. Corzine and Asm Green.

Gov. Jon Corzine joined about 150 supporters at the Plainfield home of Gerry Harvey Sunday afternoon. The event displayed both his platform and the cause for concern over his prospects.

Under a tent in the host's sun-dappled back yard, Corzine made the rounds, speaking to each person who attended, pausing occasionally for a photo with a guest (cellphone, of course!).

Harvey is to be congratulated for pulling off a classy event, the first 'official' Plainfield campaign event for Corzine, on relatively short notice (I got an email invite on August 28). Word has it that Harvey, who heads a Newark nonprofit, took on the assignment when several Essex County Democrats asked why nothing had been done in Plainfield to date.

That being said, the event unwittingly highlighted the challenges Corzine faces in his re-election bid.

As Corzine himself joked during his stump speech, 'I know I put life and limb in danger bringing up health care in Plainfield', and he did indeed.

Among the first to welcome the Governor were Muhlenberg activists, including Nancy Piwowar and the Revs. Jim and Sarah Colvin. Piwowar forthrightly told Corzine she thought an injustice had been done in the closing of Muhlenberg, and that health services delivery in Plainfield and the surrounding communities suffered as a result.

Corzine responded that he 'kept politics out of decisions regarding hospitals' and that (Commissioner) Heather Howard had researched everything carefully in making the final decision. (Piwowar and others point out that Muhlenberg did not meet the conditions for closure outlined in the state's own study of the issue, obviating the Governor's explanation.)

That was perhaps the rockiest moment of the Governor's afternoon.

Gov. Jon Corzine delivers his stump speech at Sunday's event.

Corzine made it clear in his remarks later that he understands some voters are angry with him, but pressed his point that this election is 'not about Jon Corzine...but about the direction in which you want the state of New Jersey to go'. (My guess is that the Muhlenberg question may cost the Governor 3,000 or more votes from Plainfield and the other affected communities.)

Once my eyes became accustomed to the shade under the tent, I tried to assess who was at the event. There were a lot of folks who just did not look familiar.

But among those who did, it seemed there were way more New Democrats and their friends than members of the Democratic City Committee, despite the fact that Chairperson Jerry Green had included invitations to the event in a mailing to committee members announcing the September 11 meeting and reminded everyone again AT the committee meeting.

Not only was the Regular Dem organization slimly represented, only two of seven Council members attended -- Council President Rashid Burney and Councilor Adrian Mapp. I did not spot Mayor Robinson-Briggs or any members of her Administration while I was there (I did not stay until the 6 PM ending time).

(Aside: Councilor Storch told me he was not there because he was NOT invited, and further that Committee Chair Green does not send him notices of PDCC committee meetings -- of which Storch, as with all elected officials is an ex-officio member -- or invitations to events such as party fundraisers. In my humble opinion, Green does his reputation and stature as a leader no good with such pettiness; it's time to move on and rally everyone possible.)

So, then. Who were all the other folks?

That became clear as Harvey thanked those who had come out, in particular Mildred Crump (president of Newark's City Council) and other Newark and Essex County Democrats; members of the board of Harvey's agency; and her Delta sorors.

Watching the applause and those who stood when called upon, it became clear that most of the group was NOT Plainfield Democrats.

And that underscores my concern over Corzine's prospects in the November general election.

If the very leadership team who should be his strongest local supporters chose not to attend Gov. Corzine's big Plainfield event, what does it bode for November?

The big worry, as Ledger columnist Tom Moran (see here) and PolitickerNJ analyst Alan Steinberg (see here) point out, is if urban Democrats (whose heavily Democratic votes normally cancel scores of small-town Republicans') decide to sit out the November election.

The lovely event in Gerry Harvey's back yard did nothing to ease those fears in my mind.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday fire forces family to flee their home

Early afternoon fire was two doors from Mayor's home.

A fire two doors away from the home of Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs forced a family to flee for safety early Sunday afternoon.

Plainfield's Fire Division responded within minutes and had the fire under control by the time I arrived, seven minutes after receiving a call from intrepid reader/reporter/cookie maven BC, who lives in the neighborhood.

Another nearby resident said she spotted flames shooting out of the basement window while out in her yard.

In this tight-knit neighborhood, several families from the block had offered the victims shelter without waiting for disaster-relief officials to arrive.

Units from South Plainfield, North Plainfield, Scotch Plains and Westfield also responded to the blaze.

Plainfield and four other fire departments responded.

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Central American Fiesta continues today

Fried platanos

Throngs jammed a city parking lot for Plainfield first-ever Central American Independence celebration yesterday. The event continues today from 1:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

Here are a few of the snaps I took while strolling through on Saturday.

Food, food, food...

My next door neighbor Aliyah enjoys herself

Flank steak, grilled Colombian-style

The mechanical bull that tossed nearly everyone

This young woman did better than many of the guys

Boy enchanted with blowing bubbles

Cotton candy, magically spun before your very eyes

Going back today -- great music, and you gotta try the grilled corn slathered with mayo and then rolled in grated sharp cheese. Yum!

-- Dan Damon

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