2013 mayoral candidates at LWV forum (left to right):
D. Scott Belin, Adrian O. Mapp, Mustapha Muhammad and Sandy Spector.
2013 Board of Ed candidates (left to right): Wilma Campbell,
Deborah Clarke, Richard Lear, Annabella Melgar,
Frederick Moore, Sr., and David Rutherford.
By way of contrast with the school board contest, the four mayoral candidates were nearly cordial, sharing wide areas of agreement on the issues facing the city (economic development, police effectiveness, the future of the Muhlenberg campus, and more).
Republican candidate Sandy Spector and independent Mustapha Muhammad betrayed a lack of knowledge of New Jersey's public contracts law when they complained of seeing out-of-town companies doing work for the city.
'Scottie' Belin is a different case. Knowledgeable on several issues, people are scratching their heads that he would run now on a slogan of 'change', when as chairperson of the Zoning Board, he has been a willing partner and enabler of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who is repsonsible for the mess things are in. There must be more to this than meets the eye; it just doesn't add up.
Of the four, Democratic nominee (and current Councilor) Adrian O. Mapp is the only one who projects the knowledge, the experience and (what is so important in landing resources in the NJ political landscape) the connections to effectively unite and lead Plainfield forward.
The Board of Ed candidates' forum, which opened the evening, was more contentious -- and with good reason.
There was some confusion in getting under way as the LWV moderator, Marlene Sincaglia of Berkeley Heights, asserted her right to control the order in which candidates responded to questions.
Challengers Richard Lear, Annabella Melgar and Deborah Clarke did their best to hold incumbents Wilma Campbell and Frederick Moore Sr. feet to the fire (newbie David Rutherford is more or less along for the ride) over the increasing number of schools under direct state supervision, abysmal standardized test results, ethical lapses in awarding contracts and the District's overall ranking among NJ public schools.
Campbell simply ignored the fact that these issues have only grown more serious over the nine years she has been on the Board of Ed.
When Lear pointed out the District's low ranking compared to other districts and the downward trend in standardized test scores, Campbell would only assert his figures were 'out of date' (he cited current data from the State's Department of Education), but she would not give any figures of her own.
One question about budget matters misstated the District's budget as 'over $100,000'. This was clearly an error -- the moderator picked up on it -- but neither incumbent Campbell or Moore offered a correction (the budget is on the order of $100 million). To further muddy the waters, the moderator initially threw the question to Ms. Melgar, who as a challenger could hardly be expected to have the knowledge to answer a budget question that incumbents Campbell and Moore should.
Lear attacked the matter more substantively, pointing out that the NJ School Boards Association holds that local Boards of Ed are supposed to function primarily as policy-setting bodies which have a responsibility to 'oversee' the budget, the responsibility for preparation of which lies with the Superintendent and staff.
The moderator made what I consider another misstep when posing what appeared to be a simple question: How many school board meetings have you attended?
To be fair, it would have been appropriate to make it an 'apples-to-apples' question by asking the incumbents to describe their attendance BEFORE having been elected. Of course, they will have attended more meetings as elected officials than even the most dedicated observer!
The law sets the conditions for service. While one must be a resident of the community for one year before taking office, there is no other requirement -- including attendance at meetings before being elected. It would have been fairer if the question were not even asked.
The most sparks of the evening were generated when Lear took on Campbell's ethical lapses in orchestrating a sweetheart contract with a law firm with which her husband has business dealings. The law firm overcharged the District tens of thousands of dollars, as pointed out by Lear based on a report by the NJ Comptroller. This threw Campbell off her stride.
The most appalling remark of the evening came from incumbent Moore who, responding to a question about the fact that teachers and support staff are working under the terms of an agreement that expired in June 2012: 'You have to have two sides to negotiate'.
If I were a teacher or aide or support staff person in the District, I would not be happy to be dissed by an elected official in this way. And I would make sure I let them know on Election Day.
The entire evening was taped by a crew from PCTV and should be available for viewing on Channels 34 (FiOS) or 96 (Comcast) by this weeked, as promised by city staff. The taped version will include 4th Ward Democratic candidate Bridget Rivers' opening remarks (there was no debate, as her opponent was not in attendance). Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.
You can view biographical info on candidates and their answers to questions posed by the LWV at the local chapter's blog (see here).
Each of the mayoral candidates has a website where their platforms are more fully explained: Adrian O. Mapp (here), Sandy Spector (here), Mustapha Muhammad (here) and D. Scott Belin (here).