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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pallone victory: Plainfield-by-the-numbers

Much has been said about the importance of Plainfield's vote in the re-election of 6th Congressional District representative Frank Pallone on November 2.

Before engaging in that conversation, Assemblyman Jerry Green's take on it, and the so-called 'open letter' to Union County Republican candidates, I wanted to post the district-by-district numbers for Plainfield.

At the end of the post are links to Ward maps I have posted online showing each voting district (hopefully, the city website will soon have a much better map from the Planning Division online).

Overall, since New Dem Rebecca Williams was running for the at-large Council seat in Wards 2 and 3, the New Dems took responsibility for getting out the vote in those two wards, with Assemblyman Jerry Green and crew taking responsibility for, as he so graciously put it, 'knock and drag' in Wards 1 and 4. Note that Ward 1 had a contested Council race; there was no city office on the ballot in Ward 4.


% Voting
Votes for
% of Registered
Voting for Pallone
Ward 1


Ward 2


Ward 3


Ward 4


Assemblyman Green did provide joint signs for candidates Bill Reid and Rebecca Williams, as well as a mailing supporting the Democratic line from Pallone down through Union County offices to the two City Council candidates. I think it would be fair to say the $12,000 Jerry says he spent should be allocated among the EIGHT CANDIDATES supported, or $1,500 per candidate (which is the way that ELEC rules credit such expenses).

With this table complete, I will turn to the 'conversation' around this election in a further post.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Tonight's Council deals with DCA double-cross

Is working with Christie's DCA becoming a matter of climbing staircases to nowhere?

Has the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) double-crossed Plainfield over the city's proposal for the FY2011 budget that puts forward furloughs and reductions of full-time staff positions to half-time?

Whether it is truly a double-cross or just Christie-era bureaucratic hardball, City Council is faced tonight with having no option but to approve a new layoff plan, one without furloughs and cuts in hours, one with only layoffs.

So, the state is encroaching on the ability of municipalities to govern themselves?

This will not make anyone happy -- unions, Council or administration.

As Calendar Year towns struggled earlier this year to get their budgets adopted, the press was filled with stories of town after town getting concessions from its employees in the form of salary freezes, furlough plans and givebacks on contract items.

Does the new stance mean that Christie's DCA is going roll back all these already-worked-out agreements?

Might it be time for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs to align Plainfield with other towns in the same situation and fight back?

Special City Council Business Meeting

Tonight | 8 PM

City Council Chambers / Courthouse
Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: November 28 home ID

An almost post-modern interpretation of the classic American center hall Colonial.

Wasn't much hidden about this Plainfield home it seems (see yesterday's post here), as 80 per cent of the responses were spot on.

It's on Field Avenue, where Aletta Street starts, and steps from what used to be the back of duCret (we won't go into what it could be called now).

There are some other brick colonials of the 1940s and 1950s that echo this one -- in particular one near the top of the Watchung Avenue hill and another couple along Charlotte Road near Belvidere and on Forest Hill Road.

Where shall we go next week?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hidden Plainfield: Classic through a 1940s-50s lens

An almost post-modern interpretation of the classic American center hall Colonial.

We often forget the surge of homes built in Plainfield following World War II in our preoccupation with the grand homes of the Queen City's first three-quarters of a century as a city.

World War II had some dramatic outcomes -- apart from the Allies' victory over the Axis powers.

Among these were the savings piled up during the war years by defense industry workers who had few places to go and little on which to spend their money (it was, after all, also the era of rationing of everything from gasoline to nylons). And the pent-up demand for housing and consumer goods for the new families the returning GIs were starting.

Plainfield was no exception, with development of everything from the GI apartments now known as Plainfield Gardens to our own Levittown-like neighborhood of Brisbane Estates to several streets, including this one, on which stands of more upscale homes were built.

This one is a fine example of a 1940s-50s interpretation of the classic American CHC, or Center Hall Colonial. It is almost post-modern in its references to the classic form -- the deep-set entry way, the formal placement of windows in the main building element and the circular ventilator in the gable -- yet done with what was then a distinctly 'modern' flair.

Do you know where this gracious home is?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pit Bull bite: Cast of characters catches readers' attention

The pit bull story became something of a Rorschach test.

Little did I dream that yesterday's post about the Plainfield resident bitten by a pit bull (see here) would draw attention to so many other characters in the story.

It seems to have been something of a Rorschach test.

One reader wanted to know what about the dog that was bitten? I must confess I was more concerned about the human.

Another reader was concerned that the matter of the specific breed (pit bull) not be pushed as if all pit bulls were vicious, but rather the individual animal. Point well taken.

Others wonder if the police officer should have known or done more. Must confess I didn't check out whether the officer checked the dog's papers, but that certainly sounds like a reasonable expectation.

Two readers pointed out there certainly would have been a different story if the city's animal control officers had not been laid off. Amen to that.

Rob adds that his mileage with regard to the Health Division in a similar situation differs.

Then there were those who tied departmental performance to mayoral leadership, or lack of it. What can I say?

One reader wondered about the city phone system being on the fritz. Good question. It seems to have been a problem with Verizon, and a letter from the company to the city acknowledging the problem was published on the city website (see here [PDF]), presumably shortly after 5:00 PM on the 23rd, which is the time stamp on the PDF document. There is no notice of when, or if, the problem was resolved.

Plus one bit of advice to the victim: If you get to court, make sure part of the prosecutor's deal with the pit bull's owner is restitution of any out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance.

We'll still have to see if the victim's wife gets a call-back from the Health Division on Monday.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

If you're gonna get bitten by a pit bull, don't do it in Plainfield

Pit Bull bites can be serious wounds, in addition to raising fears of tetanus, infection and rabies.

Today marks one week since a Plainfield resident, out walking his dog (on a leash) last Saturday was bitten by a pit bull in the Clinton School neighborhood. And still waiting for Plainfield's response.

The pit bull got loose from its owner's house when the owner opened the front door for someone to enter.

Known for their grip, this pit bull was no exception, biting the man's leashed dog and then biting him -- through a jacket and shirt sleeve -- before someone from the pit bull owner's house beat the dog off with a broom.

The victim's wife called 911 and a cop was dispatched.

When he arrived, he told the wife there was nothing he could do.

To which she replied that since the pit bull was loose and she was going to have to get medical treatment for her husband's bite she needed proof for the insurance company and that the one thing the officer could surely do was write up an incident report.

The officer agreed and did so.

The wife took her husband to MedEmerge, where the bite wound was dressed and a tetanus shot administered. The good folks at MedEmerge advised going to the Muhlenberg SED to get advice on whether or not a course of anti-rabies treatment was needed.

The wife was shown the dog's vaccination papers by the owner and was able to determine the 4-year-old dog's rabies vaccination had expired in June, 2009.

The folks at the Muhlenberg SED advised her that the pit bull should probably be quarantined to make sure it wasn't rabid, and to call the Plainfield Health Division to have them address the situation.

The wife duly called the Health Division (at 753-3092) and left a voicemail detailing the situation and her contact information.

By Tuesday morning, with no callback from the Health Division, and a recorded message that the number was 'no longer in service', she reached out to another division and got someone who advised the city's phone system was basically on the fritz but gave her a number where she would supposedly reach a real person who could handle her problem.

Again, she left a message.

On Wednesday afternoon, I spoke with the wife as she was preparing to take off for the Thanksgiving holiday, only to learn that as of 2:30 PM she still had not had a call back from anyone at City Hall to advise whether the biting dog would be quarantined as suggested and whether a citation would be issued against the pit bull's owner for the dog being at loose and for not having its rabies shots updated.

With City Hall closed until Monday, it will be ten days until she gets any answers as to what to do -- if she even gets them Monday.

Moral of the story: If you're gonna get bitten by a pit bull, don't do it in Plainfield.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: Remembering my illegal immigrant roots

The Pequot War became a model of European-Native American interactions.

This Plainfielder, taken aback by the xenophobia so much in evidence these days (alas, even in our beloved Queen City, whose history is studded with immigrants' contributions), finds Thanksgiving a good day to ponder my own illegal immigrant roots.

On my father's side, both Starrs and Damons were among the Puritan families to arrive in the New World in the early 1630s, settling in Scituate, Massachusetts. From there they fanned out westward, first to Middletown, Connecticut, thence to Vermont and finally to Pomfret, a township platted in the Holland Land Company's western New York lands, and along the Cuyahoga River in Connecticut's 'Western Reserve', now known as Ohio.

On my mother's side, her Scots-Irish forebears were among those colonisers sent by King James I (of Bible translation fame) to displace the O'Neill and O'Donnell clans from their Ulster homelands in the early 17th century. Coming to the New World in the colonial era, they ultimately took up farming in Nebraska territory in the latter half of the 19th century, settling on lands from which the United States had displaced the Oglala Sioux.

Jobless, persecuted on account of their religion (the Starrs and Damons), and pawns in the English politics of dominating Ireland (the Clines and Weavers), they saw in the New World only opportunity.

Had they any second thoughts about their impact on the New World: the diseases they unwittingly brought which decimated Native Americans; the treachery and betrayal which were the foundation of their advantages; the lost opportunities snuffed out by 'Manifest Destiny'?

If they had any, I am unaware of them.

What I have learned is that my own family story is not so unique (for another somewhat similar one, see Woodbridge public information officer Lawrence Ervin McCullough's Thanksgiving reflection here).

McCullough's family became entwined with the fate of the Wampanoag tribe, which he erroneously reports as being made extinct, and with the Pequot (whose near extermination by the English in the Pequot War provided a model of European-Native American conflict for the next two and a half centuries).

McCullough's essay points to a pair of heartening trends in facing the changes that are inevitably facing us as more and more newcomer Americans swell the US population.

But, as he points out, he has some 'bigtime karma to work off' on account of his family history.

I guess I could say 'double that for me', given both sides of my own family.

So, while my Puritan and Scots-Irish genes give me an intense sense of civic obligation and being subject to the 'city upon a hill' syndrome, they are counterbalanced by the view the America is a grand experiment, to which all can bring their ingenuity, dedication and hard work.

What about your family experience this Thanksgiving Day?

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Plainfield makes NYTimes real estate news. Market picking up?

Plainfield property listed in Sunday's NY Times regional real estate sales.

Complete New Jersey sales from Sunday's NY Times (click to enlarge).

A Plainfield Today reader commented on Sunday's 'Hidden Plainfield' post (see here) as follows --

Did you see the NY Times Sunday real estate section. There was a house from Plainfield featured on the "sold" page. It is at 711 Woodland Ave and sold for MORE than it's list price. Think that is a good sign for town.
Sure enough, in the New Jersey sales listings, (see here, click on 'Residential sales around the region'), a Woodland Avenue property is given.

The Woodland Avenue home listed in the NY Times.

It's a fine looking specimen, well-maintained, and with multiple bids obviously priced to sell.

Does that mean the market is picking up?

We can only hope.

Maybe there is further hope in the report of a $900,000 sale in Dunellen.

Yes, Dunellen.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Questions on jobs training funding persist

The grant in question began much larger and included the purchase of a van.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs desperately wants to put the imbroglio of the payments to The Incubator for a Federal Stimulus-program funded jobs training program behind it.

After resident Alan Goldstein persisted, the Robinson-Briggs administration finally acknowledged that he was right and that the vendor, The Incubator, was not authorized to receive the funds.

Last night, the Council approved a revised plan which would pay The Incubator out of CDBG funds.

Several of the jobs program participants addressed their concerns to the Council that the program was highly effective and was being unfairly punished. While all spoke movingly, some told of the confidence and skills they had been given through the program that led them to jobs they would never have believed they could hold.

Council President Annie McWilliams was at pains to point out, once they all had spoken, that the matter before the Council was not terminating the program (the program had actually been considered finished at the end of September), but was considering how to pay The Incubator for the services it had rendered.

While everyone believes The Incubator acted in good faith in making its application, I am not completely satisfied with the Robinson-Briggs administration's explanation that the mess is all the state's fault for not having told the committee which selected The Incubator (which included newly appointed Administration/Finance Director Al Restaino and Purchasing Agent David Spaulding) of the requirement.

Forgotten altogether now is the proposal for the purchase of a van that was in the original grant application.

But here's what is really sticking in my craw: This grant became urgent this past summer (see here) because the Robinson-Briggs administration had FAILED TO EXECUTE IT LAST YEAR, withdrawing a resolution which called for Plainfield Action Services to execute the grant, and the work needed to be done BY THE END OF THIS SEPTEMBER, and payment settled by the end of the current year.

As I pointed out last year (see here), the Plainfield Action Services board had forced a meeting with then City Administrator Marc Dashield to try and find out what had happened to about $97,000 of the grant which he could not account for and why PAS was not being allowed to go forward with executing the grant.

So, why didn't the Robinson-Briggs administration let PAS execute the grant? Was it because the administration knew that PAS was not on a state-approved list of jobs trainers? Or was it for some other reason?

In the haste to get past this bitter and embarrassing episode, the Robinson-Briggs administration wanted to go no further than to see that The Incubator was paid for work performed.

Council President McWilliams put newly confirmed Administration/Finance Director Al Restaino on notice that there better not be another instance such as this.

Paying for services rendered is all well and good; not getting to the bottom of the matter, not so.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Drakeford appointed special counsel in WBLS inquiry

Many unresolved questions about the WBLS payment may now be answered.

The Plainfield City Council moved one step closer to beginning its inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the expenditure of $20,000 from the Information Technology budget this past summer as payment to WBLS for services to the city, including advertising, promoting and broadcasting a community forum hosted by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs at Washington Community School.

Council unanimously approved a resolution naming Jacqueline Drakeford, Esq. as special counsel to the Council in the matter. Ms. Drakeford, known to all as Jackie, has previously served as Corporation Counsel.

Both Dr. Harold Yood and former mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny addressed their concerns to the Council both as to Ms. Drakeford's ability to be impartial and that if wrongdoing were found the Council would pursue the matter to the fullest.

Council President McWilliams assured them that the Council had questioned Drakeford exactly along those lines and felt quite comfortable that she would be fair and objective in discharging her duties.

I have written quite a deal on the matter of the WBLS payment, a story which I broke here on August 8 (see here, and links in the reference post at bottom), and believe taxpayers still deserve to have the answers to several questions
around the issuance of the infamous check --
  • was the acting CFO involved?
  • had the Mayor personally ordered the check drawn?
  • was there a 'sponsor' who had failed to come through?
  • if there was a 'sponsor', who was it?
  • why was the Council kept in the dark?
and also the matter of Mayor Robinson-Briggs believing the sponsor could 'reimburse' the City.

Perhaps the public will also learn whether the as-yet-unnamed 'sponsor' is Investors Savings Bank (as rumored), to which it is said the Mayor moved $29 million in city deposits on her own initiative.

Residents and taxpayers will surely not want to miss getting to the bottom of this matter.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Laddie retiring

[With hundreds of photos of city officials, I cannot find one of Laddie. Will try to fix that.]

Though always addressed as Madame Clerk, Plainfielders universally refer to their Municipal Clerk as 'Laddie' when speaking of her to others.

With (if I have it right) thirty-nine years of service to the community (she began with the school district), Laddie has become an institution, a repository of the communal memory, and what the French call une dame formidable when maligned.

Laddie has managed the discharge of the Clerk's multitude of responsibilities (here is just a short list) --

  • Secretary to the Governing Body
  • Secretary of the Municipal Corporation and keeper of the Seal
  • Presides at annual reorganization of the Council until a new President is sworn in
  • Custodian of all records of the corporation
  • Chief administrative officer of all elections held in the municipality
  • Oversees licenses and permits (liquor, taxi, events, etc.)
  • Serves as Ward Commissioner after every decennial Census to re-apportion Wards
with aplomb as these have grown more demanding over the years.

At last night's meeting, each Councilor thanked her for her years of service and noted personal anecdotes about their relationships.

At the end, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs crossed the Council chambers to the Clerk's desk and gave Laddie a big hug and a smooch.

Laddie, thank you for all you have done, and know that we shall miss you.

Thank God, you'll only be a phone call away in case anyone gets stuck!

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Budget Committee finds high cost-per-client for Seniors, Rec and PAS

Cost-per-client for services gives George a real headache.

Members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee made their presentation and recommendations to the Plainfield City Council at last night's meeting.

Leading off with an overview of the CBAC and its mission, chairperson Susan Kilduff then handed off to members Charles McRae and Jeannette Criscione who presented detailed recommendations to the Council.

The entire PowerPoint presentation is to be made available for download on the CBAC blog (see here).

A few points really caught my attention --
  • Recreation: $700,000 appropriation. By its own reckoning, the Division only serves FIVE PERCENT of its target population (the 2000 Census shows 9,397 youths between ages 5 - 18), at a cost of $1,489 per client;

  • Plainfield Action Services: $295,000 appropriation. Services 325 or FOUR PERCENT of the 2000 Census count of 7,476 individuals below the poverty line, at a cost of $907 per client; and

  • Senior Services: $575,000 appropriation. Services 140 individuals or THREE PERCENT of the 4,402 residents over 65 according to the 2000 Census (the percentage is actually lower, since one can join the Senior Center earlier than age 65), for a cost of $4,107 per client.
The report questions how Plainfield can sustain such funding levels for such low participation/service rates.

You will certainly want to read the entire report and its recommendations.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Following tragedy, nonprofit sets course of hope and action

Founder Baron Hilliard pumps up the crowd at nonprofit's launch.
Plainfielders met together in several ways after the recent tragic deaths of two young men to mourn their lives, to assess what needs to done, and to consider striking out in new directions to ensure a bright future for Plainfield's young people.

In particular, it was an honor to be present at the launch of the Together AsOne Foundation's mentoring and college preparation program Sunday afternoon at the offices of Park Avenue Realty.

It was refreshing to be among a group of fifty or so invitees who were charged up about DOING SOMETHING, a welcome contrast to some other efforts in the community which seem to always be talking of doing something but never really get around to it.

The launch provided an opportunity to reflect on how one of the deepest longings expressed at Saturday's POP anti-violence rally -- finding a way out of the morass of violence and crime -- can be offered to the city's African American youth.

Together AsOne's founder, local entrepreneur Baron Hilliard, spoke ardently about a project to both provide mentoring to local students as well as developing a scholarship that would fully fund a local young person's college education.

This would involve recruiting 2,000 supporters who would pledge a minimum of $20 each per year for five years to generate the scholarship fund (see more on the group's website here).

The event itself was high energy, with samplings provided by several area caterers (yes, I loved the little treats offered by Ruby Wesley of A Taste of Rubies, and kept going back), along with samplings of fine wines.

But the real deal was the response to Hilliard's pitch for folks to step up to the plate and support the program. And support it they did. Immediately people were putting pen to paper to show their support of the project by signing up and writing out their first checks.

Attendees at Saturday's anti-violence rally, including Board of Ed
member Wilma Campbell (above, with mike), urged a way forward for Plainfield's youth.

For imore information, or to become a founding sponsor of the scholarship fund, contact the group at --

Together AsOne Foundation
Attention: Scholarship Fund
1015 Park Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
Phone: (908) 755-8220
Many thanks to Sandy Jackson, broker/owner of Park Avenue Realty, and her longtime associate Marilyn Leggett for opening their offices to the launch. They are involved in other activities to benefit the community, of which I will write in the near future.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: November 21 home ID

Sunday's Plainfield home's clue was hidden in the Addams cartoon.

The clue in yesterday's 'Hidden Plainfield' was a visual one. The house in Addams' cartoon is in isolation, just like the Plainfield Victorian I found. It is the only Victorian in a long stretch of home on Myrtle Avenue, near the border with Dunellen.

By the way, the convex line of the mansard roof helps identify this home as probably from a pattern by Elizabeth architect A.J. Bicknell, many of whose designs featured the bowed roofline. (Bicknell is probably also the architect of the former Board of Ed administration building at 504 Madison Avenue, donated to the school district by the Seventh-Day Baptist denomination. See more about Bicknell here.)

Reader Mike Townley got the house spot on, by using the house number as an aid (see original post here).

In one of Addam's most famous cartoons, the Addams family
prepares to greet some Christmas carolers. Note the house is in isolation.

That house number leads to a further matter (I forgot to blot it out as I have planned to do for all the photos in the series).

A commenter asked if I got permission before posting the photos. The answer is, while permission is not needed, permission was given for some but not all.

Homeowners who were home when I took the snapshots were universally enthusiastic, thinking it nice that something positive was being said about Plainfield and their neighborhood in particular, and being somewhat flattered that I picked their home out of those in their neighborhood.

If the commenter is concerned about privacy, please note that I do not mention the names of the owners, nor the street number of the house.

As for having pictures of one's home available, I wonder if the commenter is aware of Google Maps (see here) and Google Street (see here), where both aerial and drive-by views of homes in Plainfield are available to anyone browsing the Web, with no permission having been gotten.

And as if that's not enough, consider that Union County is presently compiling an online listing of all the information available on properties in the county -- including not only address, tax information and photos, but ownership and when the property last changed hands and for how much. (All of this information is currently available in the Tax Assessor's office, but one currently has to go in to City Hall to inspect it.)

I'm for having a little fun exploring Plainfield and praising it at the same time.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hidden Plainfield: Charles Addams would love it

Cartoonist Charles Addams would have loved today's Plainfield home.

Not all of Plainfield's fine Victorians are in the Queen City's multitude of historic districts, including this fine example in another quiet Plainfield neighborhood.

In one of Addam's most famous cartoons, the Addams family
prepares to greet some Christmas carolers.

Cast of the wildly popular 1960s sitcom inspired by Addams' cartoon family.
Legendary New Yorker cartoonist (and Westfield resident) Charles Addams would have loved it, and could have used the house as an inspiration for some of his famous cartoons, not to mention the family whose carryings-on entertained American TV watchers in the mid-1960s (and ever since).

Can you place it?

Answer tomorrow.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Scores turn out for POP rally against violence

Scores attended a POP rally against youth violence on Saturday.

Scores of Plainfielders, including friends and relatives of Spencer 'Spook' Cadogan and Keith Hathaway, the most recent victims of a wave of youth violence, turned out for a rally against youth violence sponsored by the Plainfield chapter of POP (People's Organization for Progress) late Saturday afternoon at the makeshift memorial for Cadogan outside the restaurant on West Front Street where he was gunned down last Thursday as school was letting out.

Board of Ed member Wilma Campbell addresses the crowd.

Community activist Dottie Gutenkauf speaks at Cadogan memorial.

Attendees express rally's theme.

Rally was held at the memorial to slain PHS student Spencer Cadogan.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was holding an 'emergency summit' at the same time at Calvary Baptist Church, West 4th Street and Monroe Avenue, which drew approximately twenty attendees as reported in Sunday's Courier print edition.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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