Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, March 7, 2014

Surprise kickoff of campaign season at Cedarbrook meeting

Nearly a hundred people came out to discuss Muhlenberg's future.

About a hundred people crowded into the community room of Cedarbrook Towers Thursday evening in a meeting expected to focus on the future of the Muhlenberg Hospital campus among other neighborhood issues. Knowing that Muhlenberg's future would be a topic of discussion brought residents out from throughout the city as well as the Cedar Brook neighborhood.

After opening remarks from Mayor Adrian Mapp, Councilor Gloria Taylor, widow of the late mayor Rick Taylor, was introduced as the recently-appointed Ward 3 councilor, filling the seat left vacant when Mapp took the mayor's office.

Her remarks seemed to me more of an introduction of herself than a stump speech.

She spoke of her recollections of Plainfield back to the 1960s, but her characterization of the racial and ethnic makeup of the four wards -- which she ticked off one by one -- seemed nostalgic, given the enormous shifts in demographics that have taken place in the last twenty years.

Her bid to identify with 'the hood' as she put it, seemed a bit disingenuous, given that she lives in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, just steps away from several of the city's most meticulously restored historic homes and just across the street from Mayor Mapp's backyard neighbor.

Saying she wanted Mayor Mapp to succeed, Taylor added that did not mean they would see eye to eye on everything. Fair enough.

But then she said that among the things on which they disagreed, one was 'carpetbaggers'. This is a code word to designate high-level employees who do not live in Plainfield, and has become part of the political vocabulary in recent months.

It is odd to me that Councilor Taylor would use the term 'carpetbaggers'. She herself spent many years as one of the top administrators in the Paterson public schools -- without living in Paterson. Does that mean she was a 'carpetbagger'? There are plenty of other Plainfielders with excellent professional credentials working today in the public sector -- schools and government -- in other communities. Are they 'carpetbaggers'?

After her husband left office, the Taylors moved away from Plainfield for many years, only returning in the late mayor's final years to the Queen City. Does that make her a 'carpetbagger'?

I think it's time to retire the term.

Councilor Williams spoke next, announcing at once that she was running for re-election to her post as Ward 2/3 at-large councilperson.

Williams spoke briefly but passionately about her concern for the issues the neighborhood feels important -- especially the future of the Muhlenberg campus and resistance to its development as 600 apartments -- before inviting those present to sign her campaign petitions, which were then circulated throughout the room.

The surprise of the evening was Williams' introduction Charles McRae as her running mate for the Ward 3 seat.

McRae is a longtime community activist and has been a motivating force in the Cedarbrook Block Association for years. In addition he has served on the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and is quite familiar with the city's operations and funding.

His remarks were brief but focused on his support of Mayor Mapp and his interest in finding ways for Plainfielders to work together on solving issues. His remarks drew nods of agreement and were punctuated with applause at a couple of points.

Following all of this, Dan Manson, president of the block association, opened the floor to questions and a discussion of the future of the Muhlenberg Hospital campus ensued.

It was clear from the tone of the questions that the residents do not want to see the property developed as JFK is currently proposing. It was less clear that they understood that the city has hired a consultant of its own to develop a counter-plan to that of JFK. Clearly the Mapp administration needs to do some homework on this front.

Mayor Mapp introduced the city's new economic development director, Carlos Sanchez, who explained that beginning later this month residents would have three opportunities to give input to the consultants.

Community activist Nancy Piwowar noted that the success of such a planning effort would depend also on reaching out to the surrounding communities which served as part of Muhlenberg's market area and not just to Plainfield. Though Sanchez assured her there was a concerted effort to get the word out, he did not specifically address how the City would involve the surrounding communities in the process.

Dottie Gutenkauf spoke briefly and noted that a proposal had been floated by citizens during the previous administration to study the Muhlenberg situation, but that it was never funded.

The appointment of Ron West as Mapp's director of administration and finance drew fire from some members of the audience. West, who served for more than two decades on the boards of Muhlenberg and its parent organization Solaris Health System as well as the Muhlenberg Foundation, stepped down from those positions when he took the job in Mapp's administration.

Mayor Mapp made it clear that West's severing his JFK conditions was a pre-condition for taking the city job and that he would have no role in formulating policy or making decisions on the future of the Muhlenberg facility. It was clear from the tenor of the residents' remarks that this is a message the mayor will have to repeat.

Will the 'carpetbagger' notion, along with the 'dirty politics' charge leveled by Councilor Taylor against Mayor Mapp at Monday's Council meeting become the issues of this year's primary election?

I hope not.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.


Tom Crownover said...

Carpetbagger - a term of derision used by Southern whites to describe undesirables who came south following the Union army of occupation after the American Civil War.

Dottie Gutenkauf said...

Dan, what I said was that a proposal had been made by the Planning office for Plainfield to hire its own planner to evaluate the property and seek community input, but that this proposal had never made it out of our former mayor's office into the proposed budget--and that I stood up in the Council meeting and with the support of the responsible administration officials (Jackson & Berry) it was added and was passed by the Council. You can check David Rutherford's blog--he taped my remarks.