Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mayor Sharon's CNN interview on Plainfield foreclosures

Mayor Robinson-Briggs, with residents and Jacques Howard,
in CNN story on Plainfield foreclosures.
Once again, Plainfield gets bashed by the national media, this time in a lurid story on foreclosures featured on CNN yesterday (see video here).

Painting with breathless broad brush strokes and exclamation-point statements ('foreclosures are nearly three times the national average'..., 'crime is now rampant in Plainfield'..., 'police spend their time breaking up gang activity'...), CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow does a pretty one-sided job of trashing Plainfield under cover of a 'news' story.

Using RealtyTrac information that there are 900 foreclosed properties in a city with approximately 9,000 residential structures, Harlow's story fails to provide any sort of nuanced picture, and then, worse, gins up a 'connection' between the foreclosures and crime, a point into which she draws Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Here is a transcription of part of Harlow's voiceover --

...crime is now rampant in Plainfield, and the police spend their time breaking up gang activity, and determining which came first is a chicken-and-egg situation for Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs...
The suggestion is that there is a connection between crime and foreclosures, and Mayor Robinson-Briggs falls for it.

RealtyTrac map of a portion of Plainfield.

The reality is far more complex, but hey this is TV. Consider --
  • Plainfield's real estate market has collapsed as elswhere, because of MARKET CONDITIONS not because of CRIME;

  • Plainfield was especially hard hit by the SUB-PRIME MORTGAGE BUBBLE, foisted on uninformed buyers by hustling realtors and mortgage reps;

  • This is a totality of foreclosures that have ACCRUED OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS, and is more than the market can absorb;

  • There is no attempt to separate out the properties that are DELINQUENT IN PAYMENTS, those in FORECLOSURE PROCEEDINGS, and those already FULLY FORECLOSED;

  • No distinction is made between SINGLE FAMILY homes in which the homeowners couldn't keep up and MULTI-FAMILY properties where INVESTORS were caught out by the real estate bubble's bursting;
It is beyond me why Mayor Robinson-Briggs did not take on Ms. Harlow on the spurious crime-and-foreclosure connection.

And then Robinson-Briggs says, 'Do we want more help from the banks? Absolutely.'

No details are in the clip about what that would mean, whether or not the Mayor offered any to Ms. Harlow. (But we can recall this is the same Mayor whose idea of 'help' for those in danger of foreclosure was to host a bus tour of the City for PROSPECTIVE INVESTORS IN FORECLOSED PROPERTIES.)

Followers of Plainfield's struggle to get a handle on its finances will be surprised to learn from the piece that '50% of the city's workers have been cut since February'. How could the Mayor let an outrageous statement like that go unchallenged?

Bad as all this is -- and I don't think the piece will have a long-term impact on the local real estate market -- it pales in comparison with the trashing Plainfield received at the hands of the New York Times in 2002 after our local police broke up an international sex trafficking operation on West Front Street.

Though Plainfield protested to the Times over the shabbiness of the story, we never got so much as an apology. (See my coverage of that story here, and here -- with links to the NYTimes and Slate magazine's coverage.)

Is Plainfield better off for the Mayor's participation in CNN's 'foreclosure' charade?

You tell me.

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Anonymous said...

Mayors ought to be savvy enough to know how to deal with reporters. For example, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and his city face significant challenges in terms of crime, foreclosures, and a shrinking budget. Cory, however, would have at least been positive and upbeat: "Yes, we face significant challenges, but the spirit of our great city is strong, and we will meet them..." Plainfield mayor doesn't know how to challenge the press in their statements so we get her saying there may be a relationship between the foreclosures and gang violence because people feel hopeless. So the residents being foreclosed on are joining gangs. She just doesn't know what she's doing. The realtors in town must be so happy right now.

Anonymous said...

You are so-o-o wonderful!
Plainfield is indeed fortunate that when plainfield left you. you continued to do great thing for Plainfield.
The recent shocking news in your family has left me with no words to try to express comfort at your tremendous loss!!

Keeping It Real said...

This is what happens when you have people who don't know what they're doing and cannot properly deal with the likes of a national news media outlet.

Why is it Plainfield can attract negative attention in the national press, but it cannot seem to enhance the positive aspects of the city? Because we have people in the leadership who don't know what they're doing!!! This place is like Mayberry gone wrong in the worst possible way!

Ugh! Such ridiculousness all around!

Anonymous said...

It's obvious how crime affects the real estate values. Remember way way back when you were the PIO of Plainfield and the then mayor refused to allow any police reports or any crime reporting whatsoever? What was the reason for that? So as not to deflate housing prices. Duh.
So crime escalates, house prices go down even more than they would have in this market, people are underwater on their mortgage and they walk away. You have a very selective memory.

Dan said...

Mike: The story was about FORECLOSURES, NOT real estate values. Of course, crime affects values.

Your memory of the police reports is faulty -- it was the current mayor who put the reports in the Mayor's office, making the reporters come there for them...that is, if any were made available.

As for crime reporting, Sharon got elected based on the 15 homicides in 2005 that were reported in the papers in great detail, at great length.

Meanwhile, despite the homicides, Plainfield rode along on the wave of appreciating values until the market collapsed nationally in 2007-08.

People are under water because the market bubble collapsed. Duh.

Anonymous said...

Dan, people that buy a house must be considered adults. Did they lie about their income, did they do the basic math and understand what all of the costs would be. The primary responsibility for a foreclosure rests with the person buying the house. If unfortunately the homeowner loses their job and gets foreclosed, move on with your life. The sooner the bank processes the house and resells it the better Plainfield will be in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Dan: With all due respect, my memory of the police reports is different. As I recall, they stopped being offered to the press before Mayor Robinson-Briggs took office. They could be obtained if specifically requested, and if various channels were followed. (If a public records request were filed, for example.)

However, there was a time when one could visit the police department and page through incident reports at will. That availability ended under Chief Santiago, when Mayor McWilliams was in office, probably sometime between mid-2003 and early 2004.

I don't mean to imply that one couldn't access reports if one really made the effort, but certainly barriers were put in place at that time to limit access to some extent.

-- Chad W.

Anonymous said...

I am presently laid off, my father was laid off in the 70's, my sister was 2 years without work and none of us joined gangs! I resent the Mayor equating unemployment with criminal activity! Hooligans commit violence, Plainfield and Newark both had higher unemploymnet rates in the Depression but lower crime rates than today.

Anonymous said...

If you have any comments for the reporter of the story, here is her link -

Anonymous said...


I was so hopping made, I sent this response to Poppy. I hope others email her to let her know that her reporting was anything but fair and balanced.

Poppy, as a resident of Plainfield, I was offended by your story and felt that it was completely unbalanced. First, I would like to know where you obtained your information. The state of New Jersey ranks 34th in foreclosure rates and Plainfield is not even one of the top foreclosure cities in NJ. As far as the police "spending all their time fighting gang violence", Plainfield is a city. We have city problems and gangs are one of them. However, the violence is contained to a very small area in Plainfield. As a resident of that city, we need to clean that up, but to have people think that the entire city is under siege is irresponsible. I walk my dog at 11pm in my neighborhood with no fear whatsoever.
As far as 50% of the city employees being laid off, can you tell me where you obtained that figure? As a matter of fact, I would like to know where you received all of your stats.
Plainfield has its problems like other cities, but to paint it they way you did was a terrible disservice to my fellow friends and neighbors in Plainfield. This city happens to be a jewel in the rough. We have one of the best housing in the state if you like old, stately homes with character. We are a diverse group with our differences, but come together after our differences are aired.
Perhaps you would like to do a story about the wonderful homes available in Plainfield, and what a great community we have. I would be happy to help.

Jeanette Criscione

Anonymous said...

Why are you surprised the media has certain biases. They are no different from the bias displayed by the "New Dems" and the bias from the Regular Democratic Organization.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't only dumb buyers, pushy realtors and banks, but also Freddie Mac and Frannie Mae ... as in BARNEY FRANK. Include everyone who had a hand in this if you want to point fingers.

Regardless, the Mayor sure is a piece of work.

Dan said...

Chad (@12:02 PM) -- Thanks for the clarification. I should add that incident reports are once again available to the press, and being posted periodically on the Courier's Plainfield mini-site

Jenn Popper said...

12:31 Well said!

12:44 Thanks for the link. I, too, emailed my comments on the CNN story.

Sonya T. Hawkins said...

As a longtime resident of Plainfield, I was VERY VERY PISSED at the story, our Mayor and the way in which Plainfield was shown and represented. FORECLOSURES occur in every town whether, there's a high rate of crime or not. CNN should be ASHAMED because the reporter DID NOT show Plainfield in a positive light at all and our Mayor didn't defend the town where she lives and hold office. WHAT A DAMN SHAME!!!!

Anonymous said...

I remember Bernice chopping up Plainfield day after day in the CN when she was on the beat and you and your mayor controlled the town.

15 murders by June. Bias and hate crimes all over Plainfield. Even the Guardian Angels came to Plainfield.

Way I remember, no PIO present to contain the damage.

In fact the opposite. Silence and the shutdown of info. Chad from the CN is right and he was there.

But then again, we don't expect honesty from you.