The needler in the haystack.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Kicking up a little (historic) dust


Last Thursday's post on historic preservation (see here) kicked up a little dust.

As Plainfield groped its way through the 1970s and 80s, two forces played out which would shape the city for decades to come.

Regional shopping centers (led by Short Hills and Woodbridge) administered the coup-de-grâce to Plainfield's dominance as a regional shopping center that had begun to slide as highway strip malls sprang up after WWII, luring away shoppers with the promise of easy parking (Miron's, Guarino Furs, and Crown Cadillac are just three examples). Like other downtowns across the country, Plainfield's would take decades to be reborn in a very different guise.

More positively, a grassroots movement began to capitalize on Plainfield's Victorian-era architecture as an asset that would draw new residents, preserve neighborhoods and stanch the bleeding in property values that was caused by local realtors engaging in 'blockbusting'.

This movement culminated in the development of a number of historic districts
(including the North Avenue commercial area) and a Historic Preservation Commission.

Though sometimes wrapped in highfalutin verbosity, the bottom line on historic preservation has always been the bottom line: it makes neighborhoods attractive, it's good for property values in the historic districts, and in the community generally.

In the early days, there was a good measure of both enthusiasm and participation, not only in creating the districts, but in promoting them and educating the general public, primarily through house tours.

As usual, these kinds of activities fell on the backs of a small number of highly motivated individuals who, sooner or later, became burned out. The districts entered a period of relative quiescence, with only the Van Wyck Brooks and Netherwood Heights HDs maintaining consistent and enduring organizations (three cheers!).

Tools had been put in place to help historic preservation keep things on a generally positive track -- the Historic Preservation Commission, a series of 'Design Guidelines', and a specially designed website full of information of use to all.

Last week's post kicked up a little 'dust' when commenters noted that the Robinson-Briggs administration had either 'lost' or taken down the historic preservation website when it trashed the site it inherited and then left the city without a functioning website for the better part of a year (what!? you forgot!?).
When you have second-class for so long, it's possible to forget what is was like when you had first-class.

At any rate, the loss of the web pages (whether or not owing to the antipathy of Director Wenson-Maier to historic preservation, as some allege), has now come to the attention of folks who may get it restored.

Council President Burney emailed to say he was unaware the web pages had been taken down and that he is going to advocate funding for both the website and translation of the Design Guidelines into Spanish in the upcoming budget.

Though none of this addresses my proposal to get Historic Preservation 'off the dime', thanks to the dust kicked up in the comments, we may yet get the ball rolling again.


-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teddy Kennedy and 'making a good end'




For those of us schooled in the tenets of Catholicism before the changes of Vatican II, the headline in a Thursday NYTimes story on Kennedy's last year (see here) may have brought a frisson of recognition of something as ingrained as genuflecting or making the sign of the cross: the concern that in dying, we would 'make a good end'.

How alien this idea has become can be garnered from the order in which the Times's writer lays out the story -- from 'big bowls of mocha chip and butter crunch ice creams...smushed together', to 'putting his affairs in order' (which occurred very early on), to 'tak[ing] stock of his life'.

This is just about the reverse of the way Teddy Kennedy and the rest of us inculcated the concept (and, I suspect, the way that Teddy approached his dying moments), and shows Kennedy's attitude to be a bridge to a faith-life barely recognized today.

Earlier generations were much concerned about sudden death, as witness the deprecation from the Anglican 'Great Litany' --
from violence, battle, and murder;
and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us.
Drawing on ancient traditions, Thomas Cranmer prepared the Litany, the first rite to be published in English (in 1544, see more on the context here) in a time when sudden death could come for many reasons -- war, pestilence, natural disaster, or running afoul of the Royal pleasure -- and 'making a good end' meant both having the time to prepare for one's demise and to meet the occasion with a calm and confident demeanor.

Thomas More, who ran afoul of his former drinking buddy and boon companion Henry VIII, made his own 'good end' on Tower Hill in July 1535, and perfectly illustrates the desire to prepare for one's death. He considered himself to have been privileged to have gotten a year's confinement before his execution after having refused to uphold the Act of Succession (making Anne Boleyn queen) on account of its anti-papal preface.

More's fascinating life is well told in Peter Ackroyd's 1998 biography (see here) which, while sympathetic, does not gloss over the ferocity with which as Lord Chancellor he executed Henry's policies before their split. During his imprisonment he penned for his daughter Margaret "A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation" ('comfort' here having its original sense of 'strengthening'), still in print as a devotional classic to this day.

Catholic teaching emphasizes the connectedness of the believer -- to God, to other believers in the Church (past, present and future), to humanity, and to the natural order. It takes cognizance of the ways in which that connectedness can be rent asunder, and makes ways for believers to restore and strengthen that connectedness (the sacraments, especially baptism, reconciliation and the Eucharist).

In this context, 'making a good end' meant not just setting one's temporal affairs in order, but in repairing, restoring and celebrating that connectedness at the heart of the Catholic faith.

Eamon Duffy, in 'The Stripping of the Altars', his magisterial survey of English religious life in the two centuries bracketing its Protestant ascendancy, goes into the matter in great depth (esp. Ch. 9, 'Last Things') --

... it is clear that there was a well defined set of attitudes and gestures which dying Christians were expected to manifest at this, the most solemn and important moment of their lives. The deathbed was a communal event, not a private one...
To have hope of Heaven the Christian must die in charity, reconciled to enemies, if possible having paid, or being purposed to pay, all debts.
...the bonds of simple neighborliness also found religious expression at this moment above all. The sick and their families were supported by the company, prayers, and encouragement of friends and neighbors...

Teddy Kennedy, whose life was both great and messy (unlike most of the rest of us who must be content only to have messy lives), understood what 'making a good end' was all about, and the testimony of his last year, in which he accepted he had been given this chance to amend, connect and reconcile, can put us in touch with an idea and a practice which we moderns rushing hither and thither have lost.

For that we can thank him.
In Paradisum deducant te angeli...
Lux eterna luceat eis. Requiescat in pace.

[May the angels lead you into Paradise.
May light eternal shine upon him. Rest in peace.]


-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Plainfield story recycled and recycled and...



Rev. Eric Jones, formerly of Plainfield, preaching to his congregation
in Charlotte, NC. (Photo: AP)



The news that Pastor Eric Jones moved his congregation from Plainfield to Charlotte, NC, in 2006 just keeps going 'round and 'round.

I picked up the story in its first iteration in CLIPS on August 17 (see here), from the Charlotte Observer, whose reporter Tim Funk reported the original story (see here).

One of the wonders of the Internet is that I can keep tabs on articles that contain the words 'Plainfield' and 'New Jersey'.

Lo and behold, there was a notice in the wee hours of this morning that the very same story was being recycled by the Winston-Salem Journal (see here).

Then, on checking the Courier website, the story also appears in today's online version (see here). If you get the dead tree version, however, you won't see the story.

So...

My guess is that you will see it in tomorrow's (Sunday) print edition.

Who says 'good news' doesn't have a long shelf life?



-- Dan Damon
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Roselle Council & Corzine: With friends like this, who needs enemies?


Gov. Jon Corzine cannot be happy reading the news from Roselle this morning.

Besides illegally firing Plainfield councilor and Roselle CFO Adrian Mapp on Wednesday evening in a uproarious special council meeting, Roselle's council president Jamel Holley waived indictment to be charged by the Attorney General's office with vote-tampering yesterday.

The acres of ink spilled in the media this morning (see links at end of post) cannot but give the governor the heebie-jeebies, considering every vote he can muster in Union County will be precious this fall.

A four-member majority of the Roselle Borough Council has been carrying out the apparent will of Union County Dem chair Charlotte DeFilippo in trying to undercut Mayor Garrett Smith, who has been uppity enough to challenge the county Democratic machine.

Wednesday's special meeting at which the four fired Mapp (after Smith and councilwomen Sylvia Turnage and Samantha Dowe refused to participate, calling the proceeding 'illegal') is only the most recent maneuver in the protracted war-by-proxy DeFilippo is waging.

Previously, it came to light that Holley and the cabal of three had colluded in secret meetings with representatives from the neighboring, smaller and whiter borough of Roselle Park to dismantle Roselle's finance department and turn the running of both towns' finances over to the smaller of the two.

Turned down by the state, and decried by Roselle residents, the shared services plan came in for more public criticism when it was discussed at a recent Roselle Park council meeting (see here).

Roselle Park mayor Joseph DeIorio, who knew of the planning all along, never questioned why his opposite number in Roselle was not involved, thus giving away the game. He lamely tried to blame Roselle pols, saying 'if they didn't tell you, shame on them'.

Another plan has been submitted to the state by the Roselle council's attorney, another DeFilippo operative.

L'AFFAIRE HOLLEY

Complaints about council president Jamel Holley's conduct during the 2006 primary have been circulating ever since the election. No reason was given for why it took the Attorney General's office over three years to bring the charges. If convicted of the third-degree offense, Holley would have to give up his council seat.

Holley is a protegé of former Assemblyman and Roselle political heavyweight Neil Cohen, whose child pornography case is wending its way through the courts (a fifth count was recently added).

Cohen's office has yielded other embarrassments to the Democratic establishment, on which Corzine must count for getting out the Union County vote --
  • Cohen's longtime campaign treasurer Rosemary McClave was indicted for stealing campaign funds and tampering with public records. McClave, close to DeFillippo, has served as treasurer of many Union County campaign committees, from county officials to legislators;

  • Charlotte DeFilippo, herself a Cohen employee and chair of the Union County Dem organization for three decades has had her records subpoenaed by the Attorney General's office, which is said to be particularly interested in the affairs of the Union County Improvement Authority, of which she is the executive director, and the financial dealings of the Camelot Title Agency, in which she had an ownership interest.
Betting folks are wondering if charges will be levied against DeFilippo before the November election, or whether political considerations will win out and justice, such as it is in New Jersey, will be delayed until after the November general election.

With plenty of Democrats who are unhappy with the shenanigans of the County Democratic machine (Plainfield, Roselle, Elizabeth and Linden come to mind), Corzine has to worry not only that the conduct of political 'friends' such as Holley and his Roselle council cronies, will be an embarrassement, but that disgusted Democrats may either vote for his opponent or sit out the November election altogether.

Either way could be disastrous for Corzine.

What is he going to do to pull the fat out of the fire?

What CAN he do?



-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The problem with Historic Preservation





Maybe not THE problem, but AN IMPORTANT PROBLEM confronting Plainfield's Historic Preservation Commission.

The spectacle of yet another property owner having to come before the Commission in regard to work on the exterior of their property where the owner claimed to be unaware of their obligation to have proposed work reviewed by the HPC was witnessed yet again on Tuesday evening.

A long discussion ensued among HPC commissioners after the applicant left the meeting, highlighted by consultant Gail Hunton's plea that a way needs to be found to both enforce the legislation which created Plainfield's historic districts and the Historic Preservation Commission, and to do so in a way that is supportive and not adversarial.

One suggestion floated was to put an informational ride-along piece in the tax bill mailing at least once a year. I'm not sure how helpful that would be if owners aren't even aware they live in an historic district.

There seem to be two points here: one that property owners are unaware of their obligation, and the other that Plainfielders generally are unaware of the beneficial effect of historic preservation efforts on property values CITYWIDE.

It seems to me there could be a more effective way to address at least the first issue.

And that would be to enlist the real estate community at the most important point in the cycle -- when a property exchanges hands.

Sellers and realtors are subject to many conditions -- smoke and CO² alarm certificates, asbestos, radon and underground storage tank tests, and even the size, placement and duration of 'FOR SALE' signs (for example, South Plainfield in today's Courier -- see here) -- in the sales process, and it is the one point at which the municipality can get everyone's attention.

So why not use it to the advantage of Plainfield's historic districts and properties?

How about an ordinance that requires every real estate broker offering a Plainfield property for sale to --
  1. Include a notice in the listing if a property is in a Historic District or is landmarked that the new owners will subsequently be bound by the rules regarding changes to the property's exterior.

  2. Obtain from the city personnel responsible for monitoring historic properties a form letter designating the property by both street address and lot and block number, confirming that the real estate professional is hereby complying with the ordinance, and

  3. Require the countersignature of the new owners at the closing on the property sale, this countersigned form to be kept on file by the city personnel responsible for monitoring historic properties, and

  4. Provide for a fine if the real estate broker fails to comply with both requirements.
Of course, this would oblige the City, in good conscience, to make an effort to supply any all brokers with the tools needed to comply (access to up-to-date and accurate maps of the historic districts, and an online version of the historic preservation ordinance).

The advantage is the City is applying pressure at the point at which it is most likely to have the full attention -- and cooperation -- of the concerned parties. Money rules!

Then there is the other side of the issue, the long-term, community-wide educational task of helping ALL PROPERTY OWNERS understand that a benefit of strong enforcement of the rules in the Historic Districts spills over in regard to value of all other properties. It can be a tide that lifts all boats.

Of course, that would require the Robinson-Briggs administration to take up the cause in a pro-active way.

But why wouldn't it?

The mayor and any of her cabinet living in Plainfield could benefit, just like every other property owner.

And who knows, someday she -- or they -- may put their house on the market.





-- Dan Damon
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'Fast and Furious' flick not only issue in Plaza concerts




With Friday's 'all-day, end-of-summer bash' (the Courier News, see here), Plainfield's concerts at the Park-Madison plaza completes the transformation from an event planned to foster downtown businesses and shopping to an event that ... ?

That does what, exactly?

It seems the Robinson-Briggs administration does not know.

Has the thought of improving business traffic downtown been utterly dropped?

The original noontime series, begun last year with UEZ (Urban Enterprise Zone) funding, was supposed to lure workers from the County Office Building to the plaza for music, and then hopefully to shopping in neighboring stores or eating in nearby restaurants.

Attendance was anything but stellar, and anecdotal evidence from the downtown business community was summed up with the comment, 'What improvement in business'?

Of course, if there is no plan, then there is no way to know how to measure success. But, of course, that is nothing new around here.

The City Council was singularly unimpressed with last year's series and pushed back against the Robinson-Briggs administration on this year's funding, asking for more clearly defined objectives and other changes.

Although Recreation Division director Dave Wynn is quoted in today's Courier as saying the event is funded 'without tax dollars', that wasn't really the objection.

Among other things, I am told by Council contacts, the Robinson-Briggs administration promised that at least one of this year's concerts would be held on the plaza in front of the North Avenue train station. Not in the cards, as you can see.

This summer's initial concert probably did nothing to allay Council hesitation about the whole idea.

Originally scheduled for July 31 and abruptly canceled the day of, the first concert took place the following Friday, August 7, with a notice posted on the City's website at 7:38 AM, again the day of (see my post here).

With all of that advance publicity, the two concerts that day drew an attendance of 34 at the noontime one (counted about 1:10 PM), and 32 in the evening (counted about 6:45 PM), both times including sponsor employees, and at noontime, about a dozen or so city employees.

Hardly anything to write home to Mother about.

While finding corporate sponsors is laudable, and the music is good (though somewhat misaligned with the actual downtown shopping crowd), and I am a sucker for car shows, it seems now to have lost all connection to its original purpose.

Especially given the EVENING concert hour, at which there are no workers in the County Office Building, and most of the shops' business winds down well before 8 PM.

So, just exactly who are the later events -- the car show which runs on after the concert, and the movie, which is slated for 'dusk' (according to the Courier) or '9:30 PM' (according to the flyer on the city's website -- see here) -- meant for?

Now that the issues of the violence, sex and language of the 'Fast and Furious' flick have been raised (see Bernice here, and Maria here; you can find more about the movie here and the violence, language and sex here), Director Wynn is replacing it with a sanitized version. To which my reaction is the same as with decaf coffee, 'What's the point'?

If it was a good choice when it was made, why back down just because of some silly bloggers? After all, it was screened for appropriateness in advance, right?

Even if encouraging lawless drag racing does seem in bad taste just weeks after a horrendous motorcycle fatality at Watchung and Kensington Avenues, the partying should be allowed to go on, shouldn't it?

Even if downtown businesses that could have desparately used a shot in the arm from a well-focused business development program didn't get it.

Here I am thinking of Cousins restaurant, within spitting distance of the concerts and no longer with us, and two longtime Front Street businesses closing their doors as I write this -- WearHouse and Hyper-City.

Let's hope Friday night's movie is in better focus than this whole 'Music in the Plaza' program has been.



-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More unanswered questions on police conduct


When Plainfield residents have complaints against police officers, they are looked into by something called the 'Internal Affairs' unit. It is how the police police themselves.

One such complaint arose out of the reorganization meeting of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee on Monday, June 8. That complaint is now wending its way through the procedure of reviewing the complaint, gathering statements and eventually recommending a course of action.

Longtime Democratic city committee member, former Board of Education member and current Muhlenberg Hospital board member Mari Bonini complained of rough handling by police officers who were present at the reorganization meeting.

Bonini is one of a sizeable number who won election to the city committee running on the New Democrats ticket.

The reorganization was slated for 7 PM on that Monday. Everyone was eager to be on time for the meeting, as part of the expected business was the offering of alternative nominations for several offices, as the New Dems dominated both the 2nd and 3rd Ward district representatives.

Upon arriving a few minutes before the 7 PM start time, several duly elected committee members were rebuffed upon trying to sign in at the
check-in tables in the meeting room, being told by volunteers manning the tables that they were not allowed in.

Mari was one of these and she was removed from the room by the police and threatened with arrest. A fellow New Dem, Frank D'Aversa, intervened to de-escalate the situation and the police desisted. It is her complaint that is being looked into.

Now, here are some of the unanswered questions --

THE MEETING

What was the meeting from which the New Dems were being excluded by the same people who were checking committee members' certified election status? Was it a separate, private meeting organized by Dem chairperson Jerry Green? If so, did he fill out a separate application with the YWCA for the meeting and pay a separate fee? Why did Jerry Green not cause any signs to be posted outside the meeting room warning that a 'private meeting' was under way? How did those in the 'private meeting' know they were invited? Was it an illegal meeting of the Democratic City Committee? Was business transacted in violation of the committee's by-laws?

THE POLICE

Why were the police there AT ALL? (One explanation by Chairman Green was because Councilor Adrian Mapp had received threats -- which he had. But then why was Mapp denied entrance to the room?) Why were the police INSIDE THE MEETING ROOM, instead of being POSTED OUTSIDE THE DOOR, if the purpose was to keep out individuals unwanted by Chairman Green? On what grounds was Bonini going to be arrested, since she was a duly certified elected member of the committee?
Admittedly, tensions were high, but the only fights that evening were parliamentary, and committee members and guests from the community were overall well-behaved. (I spent much of the time during the gasbagging kibitzing with another longtime Dem activist -- who happens to be of the opposite persuasion -- all very amiably.)

Yet when a New Dem was taking pictures of the proceedings with her cellphone, one of Jerry's supporters yelled to the police to stop her taking pictures.

They did move toward her, but ultimately did not prevent her taking pictures.

What did Green's leadership team have to fear from pictures being taken? And what grounds would the police have had for taking her camera?

There seemed to me to be some confusion about what exactly the role of the police officers was to be. Just because they are paid for these off-duty services by private entities (whether a store, an event sponsor, or the head of the local Dem committee who is also an Assemblyman), it does not follow that they are there to do anything but maintain order and see that no laws are broken. That is an IMPARTIAL duty; it does not suggest that they are there to take sides when parties are antipathetic.

Maybe Internal Affairs can recommend that Director Hellwig clarify what is expected of officers in such situations.

Unless, of course, being a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor (and is a contributor to candidates on one side and not the other), Hellwig 'has a dog in this fight'.


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Breaking: Car stolen Sunday in Plainfield fished from Delaware

BREAKING: A newer model blue Suzuki Forenza station wagon reported stolen in Plainfield has been recovered from the Delaware River just downstream from the Interstate 80 bridge by National Park Servicee workers, according to a report in the Pocono Record (see here).

Video of the recovery operation is available here.

The vehicle was reported stolen in Plainfield early Sunday morning (what most of us refer to as 'Saturday night').

Condolences to the unnamed owner.

-- Dan

YWCA brawl raises questions


I got a tip around midnight Friday about the ruckus at Plainfield's YWCA as cops had to call in reinforcements to break up brawling that had broken out among attendees at a teen party.

First, let me say I don't think any onus should fall on the YWCA if they were not the sponsors of the event.

It is quite understandable for nonprofits to look for additional sources of income in difficult economic times, which these most certainly are. And renting out space is one of the avenues that an organization that has it will naturally turn to.

I know. My parish church (Grace Episcopal) has for years rented its parish hall and chapel to various groups -- both for religious services and for events -- not always to happy effect. There have been problems with religious groups paying the agreed-upon amounts, and with social events at which organizers either let things get out of hand (fights) or tried to pull a fast one (serving booze without authorization). In any case, the church was at the mercy of variables beyond its control.

That may be the case at the YWCA, and they may have to tighten up.

But the questions that come to mind have more to do with THE PUBLIC'S SAFETY and who is watching out for it than with any YWCA culpability in the fracas.

First in line is the NUMBER OF ATTENDEES. My tip only said 'large numbers'. But both the Ledger and the Courier stories cite 'three hundred to four hundred' attendees spilling out into the street. Now, that's a lot of people for that building.

Being familiar with the facilities, I wondered where the party was being held. Was it in the second-floor theater space? Or was it in the Terrace Room, which opens through French doors onto the terrace outside the main entrance?

In either case, a crowd that size seems excessive -- and certainly WAY OVER THE LIMIT ALLOWED for the Terrace Room.

Why didn't the police on duty summon the Fire Division to determine if there was overcrowding?

(I was at an event once for School Board candidates at the Questover mansion -- back in the days when BOE elections were nonpartisan -- which was summarily shut down by the authorities in mid-wine-sip, as it were, so I know they CAN DO IT if they have a mind to.)

And what about the organizer(s) of the event?

Didn't they have to declare an approximate number of attendees when they contracted for the off-duty police officers?

Shouldn't they face a citation if they knowingly overcrowded the facility?

And a fine? And perhaps disgorgement of some of the proceeds if they were charging attendees to get in?

Whether or not Director Hellwig moves to get to the bottom of some of these issues, you can be sure there is one black eye after the melée that is neither welcome nor needed -- the YWCA's.


-- Dan Damon
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Cellphone withdrawal sets in



LG's Xenon is a really great phone!

I am in the grip of cellphone withdrawal.

Without warning on Friday afternoon, my new LG Xenon went on the fritz.

Calls would come in but I could not pick them up. Callers reported they got static when they connected. I could not access my voicemail or send files.

Saturday I trundled over to the ATT store on Route 22 near Sears. The young man was most helpful and spent nearly an hour tinkering with the phone. Diagnosis: Dead. As I had told him. He told me corporate has its ways.

Still being under warranty meant ATT will replace it. Calling the service number I was given, I spent nearly 45 minutes on the line with an extremely polite and methodical customer service rep in India who walked me through the steps to satisfy her that I had not put it in the washing machine or dropped it from a great height. When I commented on the procedure, she told me corporate had its ways.

Passing muster, I opted for the $12, 1-2 business day FedEx delivery and was sent on my way. The new phone may arrive today, and I'll be relieved to be able to get back to my voicemail (the box must be full!) and having old pal Frank D'A call just when I'm on the road and cannot pick up.




The Brick was, well ... well-named.


Far cry from the days back in real estate when cellphones were just becoming popular, and were called 'bricks' for good reason. I refused to get one, arguing that if I was out with customers, there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that was more important than being focused on them and a cellphone call would be an UNWANTED distraction.

Now, my friends still active in real estate tell me, they can sometimes find it hard to keep a client's attention because THE CLIENTS are on their cellphones so much.

How times have changed!


-- Dan Damon
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

When the Beatles played Plainfield ... for $1.49




Not-too-shabby cellphone image (click to enlarge).



The bright blue ticket caught my eye from across the room.

Part of the Plainfield Public Library's 'Plainfield: Gone But Not Forgotten' exhibit opening Monday evening, it was a ticket for a Beatles event in Plainfield.

The Beatles? In Plainfield?

I had never heard a word.

The date on the ticket -- Tuesday, August 11 -- was intriguing, but there was no year. Checking with an online perpetual calendar (ain't the Internet neat!) revealed the year had to be 1964.



The Strand Theater, with marquee, March 2002.


The venue? The Strand Theater, at that time one of the screens of the prestigious Walter Reade Theaters.

The occasion was not a concert (though this was the year of the Beatles' national tour), but a preview of the mock-documentary 'A Hard Day's Night' (see IMDB or Wikipedia), which opened nationwide on that date.




Quite a deal for such an event, though its world-historical significance probably escaped Plainfield's then-cultural watchdogs.

Sadly, the Strand foundered over the years. By the time I arrived in 1983, it was showing porn movies, then was reborn as a combination concert venue and rented church space.

In the mid-1990s, as part of a consortium of arts and culture organizations that won a $100,000 grant from AT&T to develop a cultural plan for the arts in Plainfield, I was part of the team that assessed the feasibility of the Strand becoming a regional performing arts center.

It was estimated by the consultant that it would take $5 million just to get the theater in shape, and more for an endowment to provide underwriting support. Sadly its stage had been replaced by a poured concrete platform (no good for dance troupes!), the sound system was in need of replacement and the 1,400 seats would need to be refurbished and recovered. It was also felt that with NJPAC coming online, the possibility of it being a 'feeder' center would be inhibited by projects under way at that time in Rahway and East Orange.

Lacking a commitment by the city, the property owner, Quasim Quasim, a courtly Palestinian-American who was a Middlesex County College professor, eventually sold the theater to Indian entrepreneurs who tried to turn it into a regional Bollywood cinema house. This went well for a while, but also eventually foundered.

The most recent owner dealt a final blow to the theatrical roots of the building by tearing off the old marquee and completely gutting the interior.

Entrance to the building now seems to be mainly through the fire escape doors along the alley beside the building, which are propped open during business hours and with a few people lounging on chairs in the doorway.

Sad fate for a once magnificent Plainfield cultural icon.

You will want to check out the exhibit for more 'lost but not forgotten' Plainfield treasures.

Footnote: Walter Reade bet badly that he could fill his elegant but cavernous theaters by running European art films, suffering a financial crisis over the gamble. Famously, he backed Michelangelo Antonioni's 1967 movie 'Blow Up', which effectively rendered censorship moot (see interesting background here). He attempted to recover from the art film move by introducing 'Aromarama', in which scents were pumped through the theater's air conditioning system. For some reason, it never took off.



PLAINFIELD: LOST BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
An Exhibit of Photographs and Ephemera


August 24 through October 17
Open Reception: 6 PM, Monday, August 24
(Open during regular Library hours)

Anne Louise Davis Gallery
Plainfield Public Library
Park Avenue and 8th Street



-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Melée at YWCA


Melée at a Sweet Sixteen at Plainfield's YWCA Friday night. Large fight. One cop injured.

No further details at this time.

It's a concern with nonprofits when they want to make their facilities more available to the community and help bolster their income in difficult times.

The trick is getting it right.


-- Dan Damon

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3 men shot


Three men were shot on West Front Street Friday night.

No further details at this time.


-- Dan Damon

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Calling in sick

Summer cold has me under the weather.

May post later.

-- Dan

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Freeholders apologize tonight for 1st Amendment abuse




Plainfielders can witness something unheard of at Thursday's Freeholders meeting: a public apology for violating Union County residents' First Amendment rights.

The spectacle, which is to be filmed by the New Jersey chapter of ACLU, is the result of a negotiated agreement between the Freeholders and ACLU after the New Jersey chapter threatened to sue.

The behavior which prompted the furor is documented on the CountyWatchers blog (see here), which also includes links to the letter from the Freeholders agreeing to the public apology (see here [PDF]).

Video of the meeting which sparked the issue is online (see here), with the Freeholder Director saying he 'won't tolerate' questions and comments on nepotism. The CountyWatchers story includes a link to the video and time markers for the relevant events, which include a uniformed officer removing CountyWatchers blogger Pat Quattrocchi from the meeting room.

I don't know if other counties are as rife with nepotism as Union County is (it still amazes this hayseed that officials have the chutzpah to game the system so openly), but the way it goes down here boggles the imagination. A detailed probe into Union County nepotism is online (see here).

Nice to see the Elizabeth Roughriders being overridden.



Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Meeting

7 PM | Thursday, August 20


Union County Administration Building
10 Elizabethtown Plaza, Elizabeth
Directions available here.


-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Council turns up heat on awarding contracts


With corruption very much in the air during the current campaign season, the administration of Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs may have wondered if it didn't smell gunpowder in the air as residents Harold Yood, MD, and Dottie Gutenkauf stepped to the microphone at Monday evening's Council meeting to exercise the citizen's prerogative of bumping items from the 'consent' agenda, in which a blanket vote covers items considered 'routine and non-controversial'.

The items so bumped were all contracts. And it is the awarding of contracts -- the doling out of large dollops to those nuzzling their snouts up against the public trough -- where the most obvious abuses occur.

Later in the same meeting, the Council signaled that the days of the Robinson-Briggs' administration's use of the 'fair and open process' (which is in reality anything but 'fair' and 'open') to award contracts may be coming to an end.

Councilor Storch raised the twin issues of open public bidding of contracts AND information on vendors' political contributions both during the series of resolutions on contracts for various attorneys offered by Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, and the proposal by the Division of Public Works and Urban Development to give yet another contract (this one for $140,000) to engineering firm Remington & Vernick.

The discussion was inchoate and somewhat disjointed, mixing the two issues, which did not make it easy to follow (even for Council President Burney, who wanted to continue the discussion on halving the R&V contract even though a superseding motion to table the item had been made by Councilor Mapp and Councilor Storch withdrew his amendment to halve the contract amount).

Notwithstanding the confusion, this is an important breach in the manner of awarding contracts from the public purse that this administration has become accustomed to.

Perhaps, if the Council does some homework (Perth Amboy, Somerville and North Plainfield have taken or are considering actions that are pertinent; wheels are littering the landscape, no need to invent one's own here) on the campaign contributions disclosure issue, the Robinson-Briggs administration can see the wisdom of more disclosure and transparency.

It's a small but significant start.


-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Freeholders to apologize publicly over 1st Amendment issue




Plainfielders can witness something unheard of at Thursday's Freeholders meeting: a public apology for violating Union County residents' First Amendment rights.

The spectacle, which is to be filmed by the New Jersey chapter of ACLU, is the result of a negotiated agreement between the Freeholders and ACLU after the New Jersey chapter threatened to sue.

The behavior which prompted the furor is documented on the CountyWatchers blog (see here), which also includes links to the letter from the Freeholders agreeing to the public apology (see here [PDF]).

Video of the meeting which sparked the issue is online (see here), with the Freeholder Director saying he 'won't tolerate' questions and comments on nepotism. The CountyWatchers story includes a link to the video and time markers for the relevant events, which include a uniformed officer removing CountyWatchers blogger Pat Quattrocchi from the meeting room.

I don't know if other counties are as rife with nepotism as Union County is (it still amazes this hayseed that officials have the chutzpah to game the system so openly), but the way it goes down here boggles the imagination. A detailed probe into Union County nepotism is online (see here).

Nice to see the Elizabeth Roughriders being overridden.



Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Meeting

7 PM | Thursday, August 20


Union County Administration Building
10 Elizabethtown Plaza, Elizabeth
Directions available here.


-- Dan Damon

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Is the Robinson-Briggs administration trainable?




Is operant conditioning possible?

As the arm-wrestling between Plainfield's City Council and the Robinson-Briggs administration continues, the question arises whether this administration is trainable.

Some councilors, at least, are of the opinion that -- to quote Council President Burney's formulation (see here) -- the public's business should be conducted 'with ample, fair and advance notice of such'.

The public certainly believes it should, as evidenced by many of the public's questions and comments on the proposed tax abatements for the Monarch condos which came out at last week's Town Hall (see more, including videos, on Councilor Mapp's blog here).

Councilor Storch shares some of his frustration at the way the Robinson-Briggs administration conducts business with his post about two items that are being 'walked on' at tonight's meeting (see his blog here).

This business of walk-ons and ill-prepared submissions has been going on since Day One of the Robinson-Briggs administration. For a long time, I ascribed it to incompetence or just plain laziness.

But the experience of the Monarch condo tax abataments has me lately coming to wonder if the Administration hasn't
a more nefarious goal in mind: to PREVENT THE PUBLIC'S INFORMED PARTICIPATION in discussing and shaping the administration's policy proposals by these 'walk-ons', consciously and purposely preventing the ample, fair AND ADVANCE notice that Council President Burney wants to see.

What is the advantage to Plainfield in being so anti-democratic? And can the Council use operant conditioning to train the Robinson-Briggs administration?



City Council Business Meeting

8 PM | Tonight, August 17


Council Chambers/Municipal Court

Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street

-- Dan Damon

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Shocking sign of the times




As seen at Plainfield Plaza, the Thursday through Sunday bazaar on the second floor of Supremo Supermarket, the old Macy's at East Front Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

I would be in favor of adopting the final line as Plainfield's motto: No Gabbage Here.


-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gone fishin' today...

Gone fishin'. Actually, have an early morning meeting, so no post today. See you tomorrow.

-- Dan

Friday, August 14, 2009

Public not crazy about condo tax abatements




The crowd of over 50 Plainfield residents who turned out for last night's Town Hall meeting at the duCret School of Art was not crazy about the Robinson-Briggs' administration's proposed 5-year tax abatement on the East Front Street condo project.

As person after person stepped to the microphone, it became clear that there are many unanswered questions weighing on the public's mind. And a lot of them have to do with what is NOT SAID by the Robinson-Briggs administration about the proposal as much as what IS SAID.

Ward 3 Councilor Adrian Mapp, who hosted the meeting, opened by explaining the two main kinds of tax abatements allowed under NJ law and said the evening would be devoted to hearing from residents what they thought of the administration's proposal, which was available as a handout, along with other materials on tax abatements.

Residents did not understand why such a proposal would be used to help the developer formerly known as Dornoch Plainfield sell its units but could not be used to help distressed Plainfield homeowners attract buyers.

They did not understand how the developer could be having such a hard time after all the breaks he had already been given.

They found situating 'luxury' condos next door to the well-known Ben Franklin Liquor Store risible.

They wondered how the Senior Center could ever open if the certificate of occupancy depended on finishing all kitchens and baths and that depended on selling all units, all this with an October deadline only weeks away and fewer than a dozen units sold since March with none of the sales closed.

They wanted to know what would happen if the developer couldn't sell the units -- would they become rentals? would the banks foreclose?

And they wondered what kind of a deal Mayor Robinson-Briggs and Assemblyman Jerry Green had gotten Plainfield into if the annual costs to the city for the new Senior Center were now going to be on the order of $179,000 when the current rental space runs the city far less per year (a figure of $100,000 was mentioned).

Councilor Mapp recognized fellow Council members Annie McWilliams and Cory Storch, as well as Board of Ed members Bridget Rivers, Wilma Campbell and Brenda Gilbert who were also in attendance. Although Mapp had told Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson at Monday's agenda-setting session that all were residents welcome, including himself, the Mayor and others, no one from the Robinson-Briggs administration was in attendance.

The entire evening was videotaped and Mapp said it would be submitted to Plainfield's public access channel, PCTV-74, as well as posted on YouTube with links from his blog (see the blog here).

The YouTube suggestion was made by mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny's son, to nods of approval -- and some laughter -- after it was pointed out many could not access PCTV-74, even if the Robinson-Briggs administration was able to post the video.

Before ending the meeting, Mapp pointed out that a contact information sheet for the complete City Council was available as a handout, and reminded attendees how important their attendance would be at next Monday's Council business meeting, where it is expected the Robinson-Briggs administration will try to have the ordinance put on the agenda after it fell short of support last Monday.

Though suspicious and critical of the Robinson-Briggs administration, the meeting was overall good-natured, and reminded me of Plainfield meetings of the past, where people stayed long after the meeting was over to chat about other goings on in the community.

Sort of like old-fashioned unity in the community.


City Council Business Meeting

8 PM | Monday, August 17


Council Chambers/Municipal Court

Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Town Hall meeting on condo tax abatements tonight




Third Ward Councilor Adrian Mapp will moderate a town hall meeting tonight on the proposed tax abatement for buyers of condos in the new Monarch project on East Front Street (see the notice on his blog here).

Though the Council declined to put the proposed ordinance on next Monday's agenda, it is likely to be walked on by the administration, according to a story by reporter Mark Spivey in today's Courier (see here).

Tonight's meeting will be an opportunity for residents to get a clearer picture of what exactly the Robinson-Briggs administration is proposing, and to express their opinions on the matter.

Though originally intended by Mapp as an outreach to Ward 3 residents, the meeting is open to all.

"I have received many phone calls and emails," Mapp said, "and this is clearly an issue that concerns taxpayers throughout the city. Accordingly, the meeting is open to all and I have invited the other Council members to attend and hear what is on their constituents' minds."

The ordinance is proposed by the Robinson-Briggs administration at the urging of the developer formerly known as Dornoch Plainfield, which insists that market conditions are making it difficult to sell the condos and that the abatement (a 40% reduction in property taxes for a 5-year period) would sweeten sales.

At Monday's Council meeting, Councilor Storch had the temerity to inquire whether other options had been considered, such as lowering the asking price.

The developer has been unwilling to state the true costs of the project (originally touted as being in the $15 million range), and ABSOLUTELY NO ONE has raised the question of the developer's profits on the project.

Handouts on the proposed abatements and tax abatements generally will be available.


Town Hall Meeting on Proposed Condo Tax Abatements

7 PM Tonight


du Cret Art School Auditorium

1030 Central Avenue
Enter on Central Avenue and follow drive all the way around to rear of complex.
The auditorium is accessible directly from the parking lot.



-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Troubling Muhlenberg ER rumor on closing's anniversary



As Muhlenberg supporters prepare to commemorate the closing of Plainfield's Muhlenberg Hospital a year ago (see end of post), an ugly rumor about the SED's future is making the rounds.

Word in the street is that Solaris Health System is finding the overhead of maintaining the entire complex a financial burden, especially with no buyer in sight, and would like to reduce expenses by mothballing the main building, of which the SED is a part.

This would mean moving the SED, imaging and records to another part of the campus.

Such a development would only increase the suspicions of stakeholders such as Restore Muhlenberg and POP that a plan like this was always in the thinking of Solaris but not presented in the original proposal for fear that it would be a deal-killer in getting the State's permission to shut down the hospital which had served Plainfield and the surrounding communities for 131 years.

Let's hope it's only a troubling rumor and not a real plan.



  • Today - August 12. 6 - 8 PM. Commemorating the 1st Anniversary of Muhlenberg's Closing. A solemn observance on the eve of the first anniversary of the loss of Muhlenberg Hospital. All are invited to wear black and bring candles for a vigil as well as friends. Sponsors: Restore Muhlenberg Coalition and POP. Info: (908) 731-1518.
-- Dan Damon

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Connolly bankruptcy: Deer-in-the-headlights not an option for City




With a big chunk of David Connolly's Plainfield properties sliding into bankruptcy, one thing is clear: a deer-in-the-headlights reaction is not an option for City.

The Courier's Mark Spivey reports today on the latest round of woes for the city's largest landlord (see here).

Anyone with half a brain could have seen this coming (I wrote to Council members about it over a month ago -- see here).

Hundreds of tenants will be worried about their future as Connolly tenants as a result of reading or hearing today's news.

It behooves Mayor Robinson-Briggs and her Administration to grasp the seriousness of the situation, get in touch with the principal players, and determine what can be done to reassure the tenants and prevent the buildings' fates becoming another difficulty for the City.

Some questions that come to the fore are --
  • What happens to Connolly's responsiblity for correcting violations now?

  • With huge unpaid fuel and utility bills on these properties, what becomes of the tenants now that we are heading into heating season?

  • Is there any likelihood of property tax delinquencies as a result of the new situation?
Now is the time for firm, proactive leadership, not deer-in-the-headlights hesitation.


-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Council needs to look in the mirror





Plainfield City Council members often say they wish the public attended in greater numbers both the agenda-setting and the business sessions.

Last night's meeting offered a perfect illustration of why citizens might not want to.

I have always argued that there is no dearth of citizen turnout and desire to participate when there is an issue the public perceives as important -- the proposed tax abatements for the Monarch condos and the Dudley House saga come to mind.

The Council needs to look in the mirror and consider how its own behavior tends to reduce citizen enthusiasm for this particular spectator sport.

Two discussions last night illustrate my point --
Dudley House

Nearly an hour of the public's time was wasted in a fruitless back-and-forth between the Council and the administration over the ongoing, unresolved situation with Dudley House. The Council was at pains to state its support of substance abuse rehab programs, but tempers grew frayed at the waffling by the Robinson-Briggs administration over what would be done and by when. As Councilors Storch and Burney reiterated, 'this has been going on for nine months' and it needs to be resolved.

One problem is the Administration is allowed to get away with never putting anything in writing; the other is letting the Administration get away with never resolving situations. Neither Malcolm Dunn nor Ray Blanco would have put up with this hemming and hawing. The Council needs to stop enabling the Administration and move the ball down the field.

'Going Paperless'


Secondly, the Council sometimes shoots itself in the foot. Last evening Councilor Carter said she wanted to 'briefly discuss going paperless'. It was a nice thought, but was anything but brief and anything but edifying, since the Council seemed not to be prepared for a substantive discussion of what this means. Except that it involved getting the packets electronically, from 'someone', 'somehow'. The what, the who, and the how are important issues; but why wouldn't the Council prep themselves before having such a conversation.

Reflect on this: Not once in the entire discussion did anyone point to the way Council President Burney has been putting up agendas and items as a good model for the public portion of the information Councilors get in their packets. (There are compelling reasons why other materials should not be public, but that is a separate issue.)
Such performances hardly make the Council look like the wise leaders I am always expecting. But then, I am an incurable optimist.

Anyone know a nun with a good ruler?


-- Dan Damon

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