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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman endorses Cory Storch and Barry Goode for Plainfield City Council

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman with City Council
candidates Cory Storch (l.) and Barry Goode (r.).
Bonnie Watson Coleman, who represents Plainfield in the U.S. House of Representatives has endorsed Cory Storch and Barry Goode in Plainfield's City Council races.

Storch is running for re-election to the Ward 2 seat and newcomer Goode was chosen in the Democratic primary election to be the standard-bearer for the Wards 1/4 at-large seat.

Watson Coleman said --
“Cory Storch and Barry Goode have both been very clear in their commitment to create economic opportunities for middle class families throughout the city of Plainfield, and I believe they would be outstanding public servants on the city council,” said Watson Coleman.  “Cory and Barry both recognize that we can create jobs by investing in rebuilding our roads, bridges and other infrastructure as well as in in research and development and education programs that give people the skills they need to succeed.

It is critically important to have coordination between the local, county, state and federal levels of government towards the common goal of putting our middle class back to work, and I believe Cory Storch & Barry Goode would be tremendous partners in that endeavor.”
Voters go to the polls on Tuesday, November 3 between 6:00 AM and 8:00 PM. Storch and Goode are on Row B Democratic.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Mayor Mapp responds to Campbell campaign event on school property

The flyer being circulated by the Campbell campaign
makes it clear this is a political campaign event.
Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp responded quickly Thursday upon learning of the a political event for council candidate John Campbell Jtr. planned to be held on school district property.

In an emailed
statement to the media on the inappropriate use of school property, Mayor Mapp wrote --
It has come to my attention that Republican John Campbell Jr., a close ally of Governor Chris Christie and a candidate for the Second Ward seat on the Plainfield City Council, is publicizing an event in support of his candidacy at Leland Park this Sunday afternoon. Leland Park is owned by the Plainfield Board of Education.

This is a complete violation of longstanding City and Board of Education policies regarding banning political campaigning on public property in the City of Plainfield.

Furthermore, the school district has apparently given permission for use of school property for this event. Therefore, in light of the above, I am calling on Plainfield School Superintendent Anna Belin Pyles to revoke that permission given this pre-existing and longstanding policy.

As for Mr. Campbell's supporters' failure to secure the necessary city permit for a public event at this location, I am instructing City Hall staff that the event is inappropriate and no permit is to be issued, in the event that an application is made.

It is my hope that the BOE will not violate any of its own policies or skirt any ethical standards by which the Board and the School Administration is bound.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Halloween: Trunk or Treat tonight, Doggie Howl tomorrow

Plainfield's Division of Recreation offers two family-friendly events this Halloween weekend.

Tonight is the very popular "Trunk or Treat" event at the City Hall Parking lot from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.

In addition to a costume parade, there will be awards for Best Family Costume and Best Trunk -- the awards will be made at 6:30 PM.

The event is free and open to all!


On Saturday, pets and their owners get a chance to shine in a "Doggie Howl". This event will also be held in City Hall parking lot, beginning at Noon.

There will be a parade and judging at 12:30 PM, with rewards for the best dressed duos (pet and owner).

The event is free and open to all.

Please bring along a donation of pet food for the Plainfield Area Humane Society (PAHS).

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Council candidate Campbell breaks a key rule, putting his campaign in jeopardy

Flyer being distributed by Campbell campaign
violates a longstanding city and Board of Ed policy.

Plainfield city council candidate John Campbell Jr. has broken a key rule in Plainfield politics, and it ought to cost him any support as a credible candidate.

For as long as anyone can remember, both the city and the school district have had a policy of no political campaigning on public property.

Yet Campbell's team has scheduled a political campaign event (see the flyer above) for Sunday afternoon at Leland Park, which is Board of Ed property.

Not only is Campbell breaking a longstanding rule by having the event in the park, the school district -- under the control of his mother (who is Board of Ed president) and his father (who is a candidate for a Board of Ed seat) -- gave Campbell supporters permission to use the park.

Talk about abuse of power!

School district maintenance crews were even spotted by a resident on Tuesday, cleaning up the park to make it nice and spiffy for Baby John's event.

Just a foretaste of what you could expect from another Campbell in public office?

There is just one fly in Baby John's ointment: As of Thursday morning, no one from Campbell's team had bothered to even apply for a city permit approved by the Director of Public Safety, which is also necessary for use of the park for a public event.

That leaves the likelihood that the event may not be allowed to take place anyway.

Unless, of course, schools superintendent Anna Belin Pyles intervenes and revokes the permission as in violation of established Board of Ed policy.

Stay tuned.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NJ Transit's big Watchung Avenue bridge move coming this weekend

For months, crews have been constructing new bays
to replace the temporary bridge over Watchung Avenue.

This temporary bridge over Watchung Avenue
will be removed and replaced overnight this weekend.

As part of the move, Watchung Avenue and North Avenue
are being closed to vehicular traffic.

The project has included masons meticulously cleaning
and repointing the original stonework at the crossing.

In addition to all the Halloween activities this weekend, New Jersey Transit is planning to pull off the biggest trick and treat -- installing the new bridge over the Watchung Avenue crossing.

For months now, crews have been painstakingly assembling the pieces of what is a giant jigsaw puzzle to replace the temporary bridge over Watchung Avenue that has been in place for the past couple of months.

Gavett Place has been closed off as the assembly area for the two bays that have been erected from parts fabricated elsewhere. That work is now done.

As the move approaches, North Avenue will be closed to traffic from Friday evening through Monday, November 2.

After the last train leaves the Plainfield station on Friday night, crews will remove the temporary bridge over Watchung Avenue.

The two newly assembled bays will be hoisted and moved from Gavett Place through the North Avenue Plaza to their new home over Watchung Avenue, with two fully restored original end pieces placed on either side to make a completed four-bay crossing.

Crews hope to finish the work overnight and have the Raritan Valley Line running over the new bridge in the morning.

As part of the project, masons have cleaned the stonework marking the Watchung Avenue underpass.

Once the new bridge is in place and the temporary one dismantled and removed, Gavett Place will resume work on the last phase of this major project -- fabricating a new bridge over the Park Avenue crossing.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Skimpy attendance but serious concerns at First Ward Town Hall

Does City Council have a role to play in the
search for 'just and capable government'?

With barely a minyan, the Plainfield City Council's First Ward Town Hall pushed off later than any of the others have so far on Monday evening at Barlow School.

And that skimpy attendance was brought up by more than one resident, including a suggestion that the Town Halls should be spread out throughout the year (which, of course, would imply some forethought, which seems to have been lacking this year).

Councilor Diane Toliver noted that the meetings were posted to the city's website, but suggested maybe the Mayor could do more to help publicize the events. Excuse me? Is this the same Council that likes to remind Mayor Mapp that tis meetings are their meetings, not his? So, when they set a meeting and hardly anyone attends, the Mayor should help them out? Gimme a break.

Despite starting on that sour note, residents did go on to bring up several concerns, after Council candidates Norman Ortega and Barry Goode thanked the Councilors present (Rivers, Toliver, Greaves and Brown) for having offered residents the opportunity.

Among the issues raised by residents --

Deadly Streets
Residents Alan Goldstein and Maria Pellum called attention to a fatal accident at Arlington and West 9th early Monday morning in which a 10-year-old girl died. (For more on that accident, see today's CLIPS here). That has long been a dangerous corner -- Fr. Lyons of St. Mark's Church and I witnessed a Jeep flip and slide into a phone pole at that corner, and a former corner resident had a large boulder put in his yard to protect a tree that kept being hit by cars.

Goldstein also mentioned several other dangerous corners, and Councilor Greaves noted corners near Clinton School. Perhaps more four-way stops should be put in place, as was done on Evergreen and Prospect at Hillside recently?
East 2nd Development
Goldstein also brought up developing the East Second Street area between Netherwood and Johnston Avenues. Though Council did a lot of huffing and puffing when Rev. Greer came before it on this matter earlier in the year, it has snoozed on the issue ever since.
Liqour Licenses
Councilors Toliver and Rivers defended their votes to renew the license of the bar at East 3rd and Richmond after a resident raised the question. Readers will recall that the Police Division recommended that particular license not be renewed this year.

Resident Alex Toliver spoke out on the matter, saying that he was a "Christian who drinks" and that he had bothered to visit the establishment in question and finds the complaints about it based on hearsay and without merit.

Council President Rivers held that the only way to renew the license was for the Council to decline to bring the police recommendation for closure to the Council's business meeting. She has stated more than once that "the hearing" was held in executive session.

This mystifies me, since -- as I understand it --the hearing is called for by the police recommendation and must be held in public, with the Council sitting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. After the hearing, the Council is free to decide "yes" or 'no" on not renewing the license. So, what was the hard part if a majority was inclined to renew the license notwithstanding the police recommendation?

Something here just doesn't add up, no matter how much 'splaining Rivers and Toliver do (Greaves did not chime in, and Gloria Taylor, the other supporter of the license renewal, was not present). Perhaps it has to do with the owner's contributions to a local politico's campaign fund?
'Hanging Out'
Resident Norman Johnson pressed once again on his favorite topic -- the young men who like to hang out on the corner of East 2nd and Johnston, whom he feels are unfairly targeted by the police and forced to disperse.

His argument appears to be that this group (though he couches it as African Americans generally) in particular seems to be targeted, while those of "other ethnicities" get a pass (without specifying where that allegedly happens).

I have always been somewhat puzzled by his complaints, as anyone who looks around can see places where African American men gather day and night and are not bothered by the police (near the Ben Franklin Liquor Store, on street bench near the former Strand Theater and in the alleyway next to it, as well on the wall in front of the YWCA).

So, is Johnson trying to stir up anti-Hispanic sentiment? Or is he just pleading for this one group to be left alone?

Officer Kenny Reed responded that the reason these young men are moved along is that neighbors have called and complained specifically (with a suggestion that the sidewalks were blocked -- which is not allowed).

Seems to me another line of questioning would be: What are young men doing hanging out on the corner during hours when people are normally at work? Do we have a jobs problem? And what are we doing about it? Something for the Council to excogitate?
Flood Maps
Though flood insurance is a big issue in the First Ward, it was only tangentially addressed -- the questioner didn't even come to the podium -- with the administration response that there would be progress "hopefully in the next six months" (a response that has been offered for years now).

Adoption of revised flood maps and a remediation plan would make possible reductions (or even elimination in some cases) of flood insurance premiums. You would think that Councilor Toliver would be all over this one, wouldn't you?
Tax Abatements
The matter of tax abatements also came up, though more heat was generated than light -- as usual.

Any reference to how a Council majority tanked the proposed South Avenue apartment complex by voting against a tax abatement was so veiled, I think the audience missed it.

Resident Sal Carrano talked at length about abatements, saying they were a tool to be used with caution, and then railing against the PILOT for the Leland Gardens apartment complex. Unfortunately, he did not explain (or perhaps did not know?) the basis for the abatement, and made an egregious error in stating that the payments are calculated on the "net profit" to the entity in question. (Which is not the case: payments are calculcated on the net rental income for the entity, residential or commercial).

None of the Councilors present bothered to correct Carrano, perhaps because they don't understand PILOTs either?
The fourth and final Town Hall will be at Hubbard School on Thursday, November 12, from 7:00 to 9:00 PM -- note the corrected date and place!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ward 1 Town Hall Monday at Barlow

Barlow School, East Front and Farragut Road.
Parking on street or in lot at upper left.

The Plainfield City Council's Town Hall series continues with the Ward 1 event at Barlow School from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, Monday, October 26.

The town halls are an opportunity for residents from throughout the city to express opinions and concerns to Council members and to have questions answered by representatives of the Mapp administration.

Because most of the Plainfield homeowners who are required to have flod insurance are in the First Ward, residents planning to attend Monday's meeting may want to read a story from Saturday's Ledger claiming that FEMA flood maps may have exaggerated flood risks throughout the state (see story here).

This keys into Councilor Storch's answer to a flood insurance related question at the Ward 2 Town Hall, where we learned that the Council had appropriated $50,000 for a consultant to update the Plainfield maps, but that Mayor Robinson-Briggs declined to have the work done.

He also noted that homeowners' insurance would be reduced with a plan in place for flood remediation.

Though mostly in Ward 1, properties requiring flood insurance are also found in Ward 2 along the path of the (now underground) Cedar Brook.

The remaining town hall is Thursday, November 12, at Hubbard School.

Barlow School is at East Front Street and Farragut Road. Parking available on the street or in the lot on the Green Brook side of the building.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, October 23, 2015

No Plainfield Today post Saturday, see you Sunday

No Plainfield Today post Saturday, October 24. See you Sunday.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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On the Board of Ed candidate forum

2015 Board of Ed candidates (l. to r.): Jackie Coley,
Richard Wyatt Jr., John Campbell Sr., and Emily Morgan

The first half of this past Tuesday's Plainfield League of Women Voters candidate forum was dedicated to the Board of Education candidates: Emily Morgan, who is running solo; and John Campbell Sr., Jackie Coley and Richard Wyatt Jr., who are running as a slate.

The large (and demonstrative) crowd for this portion of the forum seems to be due to turnout for Mr. Wyatt, who is a popular figure in youth sports. It was striking to note that at the end of the BOE portion, the crowd thinned out by about a third -- presumably those who left are not concerned about who governs the city and in what way.

Though there is partial information about the candidates and their answers to the League questionnaire (see LWV website here), several candidates were late in getting their material to the League, resulting in the handout at the forum containing much more information than the website does. You can read Bernice's blog post on the forum here, and watch David's video of the event here.

Among the questions raised by the audience: ESL and bilingual education; Policy development; Hiring from outside Plainfield; Aftercare and after-school programs; Parent involvement; the PARCC tests; College readiness and financing; and State funding.

Emily Morgan, who is running solo, consistently took more detailed and assertive positions than the slate of sitting board members.

On the question of ESL and bilingual instruction, she was the only candidate who stated that all students would benefit from knowing a language other than their mother tongue. (Shades of FLES, the once-popular program of teaching foreign languages in the grade schools!) When it came to the question of fairness in state funding (it ain't), Morgan proposed taking busloads of students to Trenton to protest. Morgan was the only one who insisted that solving the question of parental involvement was the key to improving outcomes. With regard to the PARCC tests, Morgan came down on the side of giving kids problem-solving skills and tools rather than "teaching to the test".

By contrast, the incumbents (Campbell, Coley and Wyatt) seemed trite and hackneyed, repeating stale shibboleths and using insider talk. Campbell admitted he isn't much on policy, that he's a "buildings and grounds" guy. But aren't Board members supposed to have as their primary responsibility understanding and developing wise policies?

The incumbents did a poor job of explaining the funding situation: that a steady rate of aid from the state actually amounts to decreasing support when a larger student body and more charter schools are taken into account -- points the incumbents utterly failed to make. (Board  member David Rutherford recently took an in-depth look at the issue on his blog -- see here.) Campbell did suggest the District might look for unnamed consultants to help, but made no mention of the Education Law Center, which was so successful in getting Plainfield included in the Abbott districts in the first place. So, what is that about?

Incumbent Jackie Coley did not seem to be bothered about the irony when, while discussing policy matters she noted the Board had adopted a nepotism policy (recall that the policy topic was one on which Campbell demurred).

Nepotism policies are designed to ensure that unfair advantage is not given to the spouses or close relatives of a person in a position to influence hiring or promotion.

Let me ask you a question. Which do you suppose might more readily lead to unfairness and a conflict of interest -- the hiring of a relative to work as a teacher's aide or in maintenance by a spouse or relative, or the engineering of the selection of one's spouse to be on the Board of Education?

The latter is technically not "nepotism" because the spouse in question is supposed to be "elected" and not hired.

But what kind of a system is it when a vacancy on the Board of Ed arises and the public is not notified they have the right to nominate candidates for the vacancy? Or when the vacancy is filled secretly and only comes to light as a fait accompli?

I am deeply troubled at the likelihood that control of the direction of the Plainfield Public Schools, one of our most important community institutions and the one with the largest budget (and potential for fiscal abuse of all sorts) is becoming a fiefdom of one family.

In a democracy, voters should remind themselves that not voting for candidates sends as much of a message as voting for them.

In other words, remember that just because there are three vacancies does not mean you have to vote for three candidates.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Joe Da Rold to be fêted tonight

Joe Da Rold with one of the Library's treasures,
a 19th-century bird's-eye map of Plainfield.

Past and present board members, Friends of the Library, and co-workers and well-wishers will gather at the Plainfield Country Club this evening to honor Joe Da Rold.

Da Rold, who retired at the end of August, devoted two decades to making the Plainfield Public Library not only Plainfield's crown jewel, but one of the most noted public libraries in New Jersey.

The event is being sponsored by the Friends of the Plainfield Public Library, a volunteer organization which has for decades devoted itself to raising extra funds to support Library programming -- notably literacy, children's programming and outreach to the Latino community.

A native of North Plainfield, Joe earned his degree in library science at Rutgers and pursued a career in the Los Angeles area for more than two decades -- including both library and museum directorial experience.

Joe came to the Plainfield Public Library in 1994 and brought with him the creative energies he had offered in California, as well as an appreciation for Plainfield's rich history and the dynamic changes reshaping our community. (See a previous appreciation and Joe's own notes on coming home to Plainfield here.)

The gala has been coordinated by Belinda Smiley and Tressa Brown of FOPPL. Anne Robinson, president of the Board of Trustees, will present a gift on behalf of present and past trustees to Joe at the reception.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Some surprises at Council, Board of Ed forum

Participants in the LWV Council candidate forum (l. to r.):
Barry Goode, Norman Ortega, John Campbell Jr., Cory Storch.

With its usual élan, Plainfield's chapter of the League of Women Voters hosted one of the best-attended forums in recent years for City Council and Board of Ed candidates on Tuesday evening.

Today, I will take up the City Council portion, and leave the Board of Ed for a second post.

In the hour allotted for the Council portion of the evening, five areas were explored in questions from the audience: Latino concerns and participation, the Council and the budget process, the meaning of Economic Development, vacant (and foreclosed) properties, Plainfield's population, and where the candidates see Plainfield in four to eight years.

As in all politics, the questions can be boiled down to one: Which way forward?

You can read a blow-by-blow at Bernice's blog today (see here). I will only note that none of the candidates picked up on the changes in Plainfield's population in relation to the question of perks that come our way if our tally is in excess of 50,000. The 2013 Census population update gives Plainfield a total of 50,588 (see here) -- comfortably over the finish line.

My observations will focus on the candidates generally.

As to the question of "which way forward?", the split was with "independents" Campbell and Ortega in opposition to the direction indicated by Mayor Adrian Mapp and with Storch and Goode in support of the mayor.

John Campbell Jr. turned out to be, in my opinion, a one-string banjo: It seemed every question was turned into an opportunity to pan the proposed Gateway apartment development for South Avenue. At one point, Campbell even said that people "don't come to Plainfield for apartments . . . they are looking for spacious back yards."

Evidently he has not kept up with the studies that show the younger generation (Millenials) just coming into their own as householders are not looking to buy -- partly out of lifestyle preference and partly out of economics (with little savings, later marriage ages, and high student debt loads).

Though running as an "independent", Campbell is still registered as a Republican, and rankled at having his prior run for the Assembly on the GOP slate brought up in a Facebook post.

I was reminded of the Pillsbury dough boy image: Likeable-looking, but yeastily pudgy with air, and with no there there.

Norman Ortega was another matter altogether.

I am not sure how much traction he will get with his politics of resentment. Ortega's major mode throughout was to attack or denigrate Mayor Mapp and his administration as not supportive of Latinos and their interests.

It does not seem to have occurred to Ortega that probably 99% of the votes that will be cast will be by non-Latino voters. So, how can one hope realistically to be elected if one does not put himself forward as the best candidate to represent all the people?

I find the difference between Ortega's style and that of the late Council President (and my friend and neighbor) Ray Blanco to be that of night and day.

Ortega did try to pass off one big whopper when he claimed to have lived in Plainfield for the past thirty years. Those with decent memories will recall that Ortega first came to public attention posting letters to the editor in the Courier in support of Jerry Green policies a number of years ago. At that time he was resident on West End Avenue in North Plainfield. Time for a little truth-telling in politics?

Ward 2 incumbent Cory Storch underscored that after years of struggle, Plainfield is at last on the cusp of significant development -- even taking into account the temporary setback by a Council majority for the Gateway apartment project.

He looks forward to furthering Mayor Mapp's agenda in this regard and -- in my opinion -- has earned the right to enjoy the fruits of years of plowing the hard soil of Plainfield politics.

Newcomer Barry Goode is bringing a welcome bounce and energy to the campaign, with a forward-looking emphasis on youth, jobs and business development -- which he also believes points the way toward stabilizing property taxes, a perennial issue.

In closing, he reminded voters to vote Column B (Democratic) with a mnemonic: B for Barry, and B for the Best man.

That goes for both Goode and Storch in my book.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, October 19, 2015

League of Women Voters candidate forum Tuesday

The Plainfield League of Women Voters
has been hosting candidate forums for 95 years.

Plainfield's chapter of the League of Women Voters will host its candidate forum Tuesday (October 20) at the Plainfield Public Library's Anne Louise Davis Meeting Room from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.

This year's forum will include candidates for City Council as well as for the nonpartisan Board of Ed. Both elections take place on Tuesday, November 3. You can read profiles of the candidates who submitted them on the League's website here.
This year's Council seats up for election are Ward 2 and Wards 1/4 at-large.

In Ward 2, candidates are incumbent Cory Storch (Democrat) and "Independent" John Campbell Jr.

In Wards 1 and 4, the Democratic candidate is Barry Goode, who is being challenged by "Independent" Norman Ortega.
There are four candidates for three open seats.

Emily Morgan, active in the Girl Scouts and a former Early Childhood teacher, with thirty years experience in accounting and fiscal management. She is a Democratic City Committeewoman.

Jackie Coley, a city employee and former secretary of the Plainfield Municipal Employees Union, is a current BOE member.

Richard Wyatt Jr., who lists himself as a city employee.

John Campbell Sr., longtime realtor and Republican political operative, currently serving out the term of a BOE member who resigned.

Campbell, Coley and Wyatt are running as a slate.
The Plainfield Public Library is at Park Avenue and West 8th Street and is an accessible facility. Parking is available in the 8th and 9th Street lots. Plan to arrive early so you can get a parking space. For more information about library hours and programs, visit the library's website at

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Plainfield artist works to save world's fastest passenger ship

A giclée of Maria Mijares "Midnight Funnels" will be
auctioned to help preserve the SS United States.

Plainfield artist Maria Mijares is working to save the world's fastest passenger ship, the SS United States, from the scrap heap.

Mijares, who lives in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, specializes in large-scale transportation-themed artworks. Among her commissions are the panels in NJ Transit's Meadowlands station that opened a few years ago.

For the past three years, Maria has been painting the once glorious SS United States, nicknamed "Big U" as it sits docked in Philadelphia while preservationists try to interest developers in moving her to New York for a new life as a high-tech resource center (see stories in the New York Times here, and the Ledger here).

The SS United States made her maiden voyage in 1953 and set a world's record for fastest crossing of the Atlantic. At the time, she was a luxury passenger ship, but had been designed (partly with government support) to be quickly converted to military use in case of an outbreak of hostilities with the Soviet Union. She was so fast that her propellers' design was considered a Cold War state secret.

When jet airliners supplanted passenger ships, the SS United States was sidelined and she made her final voyage in the late 1960s.

A group of preservationists, the SS United States Conservancy (see their website here), has worked for years to raise money to preserve and to find a new life for the rusting ship.

A last ditch effort will be a fundraiser on Thursday, October 29, at 7:00 PM at the Union League Club in Philadelphia, where a giclée of Mijares' painting "Midnight Funnels" will be auctioned to benefit the cause. You can find more details on the Conservancy's website, or visit Maria's website here.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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