The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Remembering Rasheed Abdul-Haqq


Image from Rasheed's campaign literature.
Rasheed Abdul-Haqq and I became acquainted while working together on Plainfield Mayor Al McWilliams' community-wide strategic planning process in the late 1990s.

Rasheed brought many ideas to the floor in the large discussion groups, usually reading from notes he had written in advance in a notebook carried in his ever-present messenger bag. While hundreds participated in the process, Rasheed stood out as always trying to make positive suggestions. (Some of those involved were angry and had axes to grind, but not Rasheed.)

Among the causes he championed were anything to do with our young people, skills and job training and employment opportunities for ex-convicts, and myriad schemes for improving the city economically -- the most recent being a flea market idea.

He had a keen wit and often satirized local political figures with cartoons sketched in his notebooks, which he would share with anyone who was interested. Occasionally, he would photocopy them and hand them out to all and sundry.

Some think it was one of these cartoons -- barbed at Assemblyman Jerry Green -- that led Green to propose the infamous A-444 legislation, which bans anyone convicted of an offense which would prevent their being hired as a teacher to serve on an elected Board of Ed.

Everyone in Plainfield knew of Rasheed's youthful conviction on a drug charge, and everyone I knew considered him a person who had redeemed himself and was worthy of the community's respect and trust. There was a widespread perception that Green's legislation was a bullying personal vendetta against Rasheed.

After considerable critical comment in the media -- including an editorial in opposition by the Ledger (see here) -- the Legislature passed Green's bill.

Among the hundreds of New Jersey Board of Ed members required to resign was Abdul-Haqq, who had been elected (for a second time) in 2010 as part of the 'Grand Slam' team. Rasheed stepped down in late 2011 after Green's vengeful legislation was passed.

For years, Rasheed operated a limo service that was popular among Plainfielders who had to make runs to the New York area's airports, as well as Fortune 500 companies who used his service for executives visiting New Jersey for meetings.

One thing that annoyed him deeply was that his competition came primarily from Bob Ferraro, the Republican-turned-Democrat and handpicked by Jerry Green for a Council seat. While Rasheed was scrupulous about observing the law -- obtaining a chauffeur's license and forking over the much higher insurance premiums that went with the 'OL' limousine license tag -- Ferraro thumbed his nose at all that and operated an unlicensed service.

In recent years, as his health slipped, Rasheed was less omnipresent. Running for the Council seat vacated by Adrian Mapp when he became mayor, Rasheed was unable to campaign effectively, and only garnered 31 votes -- down from the days when he was among the top vote-getters in Board of Ed races.

Over the last few months, Rasheed would sit beside me in the front row at Council meetings, following the agendas and consulting his ever-present notes. He was concerned about the $75/hour rate for police assigned to extra duty on public utility work and thought it excessive.  However, he found the agenda so confusing that he missed an opportunity to go to the mike and speak on the measure.

At the most recent meeting, in December, even though he needed a walker to steady himself, he paid rapt attention to the goings-on.

For his dedication and persistence, for his sly wit and sometimes quixotic economic ideas, we shall all miss him greatly.

Farewell Rasheed, you were one of a kind.



  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

He got the city to get NJ Transit to paint the bridges. Hope they continue and finish the job.

Anonymous said...

I'll miss him at Council meetings. Rasheed made thoughtful suggestions intended to benefit more people than the usual political favorites. Regarding the use of off-duty police for traffic control on street projects, Rasheed also said it would be better to use Plainfield residents for this work (much as we use residents for school crossing guards) and create more employment instead of funneling the money to police who are already well-paid and should rest when off-duty.

Bob Bender said...

In 1970 I administered a small project, part of the War on Poverty (overall a casualty of the Viet Nam War) which was housed at the Second Street Youth Center aimed at promoting community involvement from the low-income population in Plainfield's then new Model Cities program.

Five interns were hired for outreach work, including Brad Reed and Bobby Tucker. A good group.

Brad later metamorphised into Rasheed Abdul-Haqq.

It was my privilege to work with Rasheed on various project decades later, including with Plainfield's New Democrats, when he put his early community and political organizing skills and inter-personal sensitivity into action with his perseverence and dedication.

May the Work That He has Done Speak for Him!!!!

Bob Bender, Deerfield Beach, FL
bob@benderworld.com