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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Jersey's last great independent paper disappearing into maw of McGannett

Though the nameplate may remain the same, everything else will change.

Plainfield newspaper readers who want to catch a last glimpse of one of New Jersey's great papers -- The Record of Bergen County -- better run out and buy one today.

The fabled, award-winning independent newspaper and its other assets (weeklies, another daily, a magazine and the website) are about to be McGannettized.

A duo of news execs from the Gannett stable have been appointed to run the new purchase. They start on September 6. Their appointment was duly reported in the Record (see here).

A couple of things make the Record one of the last great papers. First, it devotes talent to high level, incisive and thoughtful reporting on issues facing New Jersey every day. Secondly, it stills covers its local communities intensely -- long after other papers such as the Ledger and Gannett's Plainfield-area paper the Courier-News have abandoned consistent local coverage in favor of helicopter reporting.

The Record's columnists are also among the best of the state's remaining handful -- with Charlie Stile being one of the most respected observers of state politics.

Employees will probably have to face being laid off and "rehired" -- a now-standard practice to thin the ranks of the newsrooms and support staff. I hear the headquarters will be moved.

And you can be sure the crisp, clean website of will soon look like the hegdish that is universal among Gannett properties -- from the Orlando Sentinel to the Des Moines Register, from the Arizona Republic to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Gannett corporate no doubt thinks it's comforting to the public to recognize the "brand" whenever a Gannett website is visited anywhere in the country. Just like McDonalds.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

(BOE) Sen. Ruiz 'uninvited' from Plainfield school district event

PEA adapted District's flyer to announce
Sen. Ruiz has been uninvited.
Sometimes a picture IS worth a thousand words.

NJ State Sen. Teresa Ruiz has been "uninvited" as the keynote speaker at the Plainfield public school district's Thursday Convocation, according to a flyer distributed by the Plainfield Education Association, the district's bargaining unit for teachers and support staff.

You can get the background from yesterday's post here.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, August 29, 2016

(BOE) Plainfield teachers union questions propriety of having charter advocate as Convocation speaker

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, shown here with Gov. Chris Christie,
has been scheduled to keynote this year's Convocation.

In an email to Plainfield Board of Education members and other school officials sent Saturday evening, Plainfield Education Association president Eric Jones registered the union's concerns with Superintendent Anna Belin Pyles' plan to have State Sen. Theresa Ruiz as the keynote speaker for the District's Convocation, scheduled for this Thursday, September 1. (Opening day for classes for the fall term is Tuesday, September 6.)

Ruiz, a state senator whose district includes parts of Newark, Essex and Union Counties (but not Plainfield), chairs the Senate's Education Committee.

She is a longtime advocate for charter schools, has previously served as board member of a charter school, and in 2013 was the keynote speaker at the NJ Charter School Association's annual convention (see video here).

Sen. Ruiz (center) and Senate President Steve Sweeney
(gesturing) at conference on school funding.

More recently, she has been active in crafting an alternative to Gov. Christie's plan to gut funding for urban school districts statewide. Along with Senate President Steve Sweeney and other elected officials, she is "hitting the road" (as the Ledger puts it) to tout that plan (see Ledger story here). Ruiz and Sweeney penned a recent OpEd in the Ledger arguing for their proposal (see here).

A Convocation at the opening o the school year has been a feature in the Plainfield school district since at least the tenure of Dr. Larry Leverett, and has always been used by the Superintendent as a sort of pep rally to present the leadership's vision for the district ACADEMICALLY for the coming school year. The purpose has been to inform and enthuse the staff -- teachers, support staff and all employees of the district -- to get on board with the vision and see each one's part in achieving it.

Given her background and interests, Ruiz is not likely to use her opportunity for that purpose -- and, in any event, she would be ignorant of the situation on the ground in Plainfield and what needs to be done.

Here is the text of President Jones' email to the BOE members --
Dear Board of Education:

It is disappointing that the Superintendent of Schools continues to ignore the concerns of her employees and has chosen to proceed with a convocation on Thursday, September 1, 2016.

It is even more disappointing that she has chosen a keynote speaker who is a huge supporter of charter schools.

Charter Schools have drained our district of nearly $20 Million Dollars for his upcoming school year, and there is no response from our district's leadership to address this.

Moreover, since June 2016, 163 students have exited our district's schools - more than half of the population of Cook Elementary.

When this should be a "state-of-emergency" and a "all-hands-on-deck" effort to market our schools to our students and families, our district's leadership has decided to invite a charter school champion to speak to our members.

Employees are furious at the invitation of Senator Ruiz to Plainfield.  She does not understand our challenges here in the Queen City and we feel this decision is politically inspired.

On behalf of the members of the Plainfield Education Association, I ask the Board of Education to reconsider the message you are sending your dedicated employees by subjecting them to hear from a charter school supporter as they face a declining budget and resources due to the influx of charters in our school community.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Some suspect that the invitation to Ruiz is a sign of Assemblyman Jerry Green's moves to build support for the candidacy of Sen. Steve Sweeney in next year's governor's race.

Green engineered a secret "anyone but Fulop" get-together of Union, Essex and other Democratic officials recently as reported by PolitickerNJ (see here), in which Ruiz was a participant. The assumed purpose of that meeting was to solidify support for Sweeney, a politician in the thrall of South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross, of whom Green has been a longtime vassal.

To add some further fizz to this potent drink, Ruiz is being promoted by Essex County Dems as Sweeney's successor as Senate President if he wins the governor's seat (see here).

The invitation to Ruiz appears to be an unwanted and unwarranted intrusion of politics into what should be the Superintendent's primary concern -- improving educational outcomes for the District's students and enlisting all District employees in that cause -- which is the best way of coping with the challenge of charter schools.

While the Plainfield Education Association email does not spell out any further action the union may take, it is clear that this is only the beginning of an important conversation among the union, the Board of Ed and the public about the direction and future of education in the Plainfield public schools.

Stay tuned.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

South Second Street mixed-use project update

The new warehouse for ABC Construction Co. is moving along
briskly, with occupancy expected by the end of 2016.

South Second Street is abuzz with one of Plainfield's larger redevelopment projects currently in progress.

The mixed use project between Grant Avenue and Muhlenberg Place will include a new warehouse for ABC Supply Co. and 90 units of apartments in a complex to be called The Muse at Grant Avenue Station.

One of the interesting features of the project, to me, is that concrete from the former factory building that sat at the corner of Grant Avenue is being recycled to be reused in the construction of the two new buildings.

On-site concrete crusher is used to recycle concrete from
factory building formerly on the site.

A view of of some of the concrete, broken up into large chunks.

It used to be that concrete from buildings being demolished would be dug up in huge chunks and transported to landfills elsewhere -- out of sight, out of mind. I can remember seeing endless caravans of dumpster trucks hauling the stuff west on I-78 to landfills in Pennsylvania.

But times have changed.

Builders now often find it more cost-effective to rent crushers for use on the construction site, where the large chunks are ground down to pebble size and used as aggregate in the new construction.

It saves the developer money, eases pressure on scarce landfills, reduces the project's carbon footprint, and is in general kinder to Mother Earth.

ABC expects to be in their new building by the end of 2016, when to focus will shift to completing the residential portion of the project.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Plainfield Police Division moves closer to accreditation

Plainfield Police Division patch. 1869 is the year
of the city's incorporation.

Plainfield Councilor Rebecca Williams, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, regularly reports to the Council and the public on Police Division initiatives.

At a recent Council meeting, it was reported that the Police Division is "about 90% complete" on the 2-year-long accreditation process which is supervised by the NJ State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP).

Although reference is often made to the process including a review and updating of policies and procedures, there has been no in-depth discussion of what that means.

So, I decided to take a look.

The NJSACOP website is here.

On the website, you can open and view (or download) the following materials --
  • The 3-page survey every applicant police division must complete and file;
  • The 3-page profile of the agenc;y that must be filed;
  • The 29-page Manual describing the accreditation process; and
  • The 67-page Manual detailing the Accreditation Standards in 27 areas.

A list of the 27 standards areas that must be met
in the accreditation process. (Click image to enlarge.)

The next time someone airily waves a hand in discussion of the accreditation as though it was a 10-minute multiple choice quiz, you should check out the depth of the process.

What is intended is that the qualifying agency -- in this case the Plainfield Police Division -- has in place the proper policies and procedures to enable the division to "serve and protect" the public to the best extent possible under contemporary standards.

You will note that the prohibition of racially-based policing is among the first standards addressed.

A review also shows that areas that have been problematical for the Plainfield PD in the past (Internal Affairs, Extra duty (side jobs), and records control) are all addressed in the standards being set.

I suspect that much of the suspicion that Councilor Taylor has attempted to fan centers around past abuses in those areas (as well as civil service procedures) and that Director Riley's moves to bring the organization into compliance are meeting with resistance from those who have benefited in the past from the politicization of the Division under a prior administration.

It is well worth your time to check out these resources.

Meanwhile, Plainfield residents can look forward to the completion of the accreditation process next year. This will be followed by a review and reaccreditation every two years to make sure Plainfield stands among the most current, will-trained and cutting edge divisions in the state.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Doctor's visit, playing hooky today

Cloris Leachman as Nurse Diesel
in Mel Brooks' 'High Anxiety'.

Playing hooky today -- doctor's visit.

My favorite medical person though, is Nurse Diesel, Cloris Leachman's role in the madcap High Anxiety , Mel Brooks riff on 10 (count 'em) Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.

One of my favorites is the "no fruit cup" scene -- which you can view on YouTube here.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What happens if the Neighborhood Health Center folds?

Logo of the Neighborhood Health Services Corporation,
formerly the Plainfield Health Center.

What would happen to healthcare for low-income residents of Plainfield and surrounding communities if the Neighborhood Health Services Corporation (NHSC) -- the former Plainfield Health Center -- folded?

It wold be disastrous, for sure.

In January, 2015 I wrote a post (see here) detailing the financial pressures that Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) face because of the slow payment on the part of Medicaid managed care organizations and the State. Cash flow problems became endemic to FQHCs throughout the state.

You can view the Neighborhood Health Services Corporation website here.

A filing for Chapter 11 is supposed to give organizations an opportunity to restructure their debt and continue in business on a path to full recovery. (The Plainfield YWCA has also turned to Chapter 11 bankruptcy to keep itself going.)

The first outcome evidently was the shuttering of NHSC operations in Phillipsburg and Newton. (I am told by a source in Newton that the community was able to absorb NHSC's clients into the community's existing clinic structure; I do not know of the impact on Phillipsburg.)

The NHSC currently operates two locations -- Plainfield and Elizabeth -- plus two satellite sites -- at Washington Community School and Plainfield High School (these are for students only).

There have also been rumors of salary cuts and layoffs. The most startling of these is that longtime facilities manager Eugene Baucum has been let go. Those with long memories will recall that Baucum took the fall for others involved in shady dealings with the construction of the Myrtle Avenue facility, then known as the Plainfield Health Center. He did serious prison time as a result. After  his release, he was hired by the Plainfield Health Center, and the widespread belief was that he had a job for life because of his loyalty. Evidently not.

I have also been told that the NHSC has been on a "watch list" by its accrediting agency for years.

Guidestar, which is an online resource for information about 501(c)(3) nonprofits such as NHSC shows the organization's nost recent 990 filing was in 2014. 990 is the common nickname of the annual reports nonprofits must file with the IRS (taken from the form's number in IRS lingo). You can view NHSC's 990s here. It's free, but you must register -- a simple process.

The Foundation Center (see here), which also maintains a database of 990s, has no records of NHSC filings at all.

Besides all this, a Google search turns up a complaint from 2010 (see here), from a signmaker who claims to have been stiffed by the NHSC over two signs made for the Phillipsburg and Plainfield locations.

The most recent rumor puzzles me.

That is that the NHSC is under contract for the sale of its property to a developer, from whom it would then lease back the building. This is not an unheard of scenario, and can free up financial resources for an institution in such a deal.

We should remind ourselves that the NHSC property also includes an undeveloped area behind the adjacent Comcast facility that runs up to the Green Brook.

One interesting question about such a maneuver is the tax consequences for the City of Plainfield. Ownership of the property by a for-profit entity would remove the tax exemption that the NHSC currently enjoys. How would that be handled?

Unless there is news to the contrary yet to be released, things are not looking good for the future of outpatient primary healthcare for the area's low income residents.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Donald Trump calling

Canadian cartoonist Michael de Adder weighs in.
(from Politico)

As Labor Day approaches, the presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is heatin up. I thought
Plainfield Today readers would appreciate some of the nation's premier political toons, as curated by Politico (see here).

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, August 22, 2016

2016 Library photo contest: The Best of Plainfield: People, Places, Things

City Hall Cupola under restoration, 2001.


The Plainfield Public Library's annual photo contest theme for 2016 is 'The Best of Plainfield: People, Places, Things'.

Entries in the contest will be exhibited at the in the Anne Louise Davis Galley at the library during the months of November and December.

The contest, made possible by generous support of the Friends of the Plainfield Public Library, invites amateur and professional photographers to submit up to five contemporary photographs of Plainfield locales, activities or people reflecting the theme. Cash prizes and ribbons are awarded at the reception opening the exhibit.

With extensive historic photographic collections documenting Plainfield life and activities back to the mid-19th century, the photo contest is intended to make the gathering of a contemporary record of the community an ongoing process, according to Library Director Mary Ellen Rogan.

Complete details on the contest and the required submission form are available on the Library's website (see here; the form is available here [PDF]).

The deadline for entries for this year's contest is September 30.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mayors Fulop and Bollwege join throngs at Mapp's community BBQ

Chatting at the 9th Annual Community BBQ. (l to r): Mayor Adrian O.
Mapp, Councilor Rebecca Williams, Jersey City Mayor
Steve Fulop, and Council candidate Charles McRae.

Among the attendees (l to r): Andrea West, wife of Director Admin
& Finance Ron West; Peter Price, president of the Hillside Avenue
Historic District; Democratic committe member Jeanette Criscione;
and longtime Jerry Green operative Norman Johnson.

Meanwhile, across town, Assemblyman Jerry Green and resident
Danny Dunn sat at a voter registration table at Councilor Bridget
Rivers' 4th Ward Family Fun Day.

Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop and Elizabeth mayor Chris Bollwege joined with throngs of people at Plainfield mayor Adrian O. Mapp's 9th annual community BBQ Saturday.

A brief shower as things got under way at 4:00 PM did not dampen spirits as the crowd waited under tents for the rain to stop.

An enormous 30-foot length of table was needed to serve the food, which ranged from BBQ to hot dogs and burgers to salads, mac and cheese and desserts.

The garage was converted into a bar, which featured everything from icy bottled water to the Mayor's renowned -- and potent! -- rum punch.

First Lady Amelia Mapp and daughter Ayisha circulated through the crowds, making sure everyone had whatever they needed and were having a good time.

Freeholder Linda Carter arrived early with her nonperishable food donation, but could not stay because she had to be on duty as freeholder at another event. Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwege was seen making the rounds and chatting with residents whom he recognized.

A row of half a dozen or so recycling bins were full to overflowing with bags of canned goods, toiletries and nonperishable food items brought by attendees. The items will be donated to Shiloh Baptist Church's food pantry program.

As dusk approached, Mayor Mapp took the stage to welcome the crowd and introduce his friend, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Mapp declared once again his support for Fulop's run for governor in 2017, to applause from the crowd. Fulop took the mike and called everyone's attention to the progress Plainfield has made under three years of Mapp's leadership and called on everyone to continue that success into the future.

As I left about 9:30, the crowd was changing, shifting from the older folks to a younger set ready to dance away the evening. The music's volume and pace increased and people began dancing in the driveway.

Though it was scheduled to end at midnight, I am sure the party went on a bit longer.

This is Plainfield, after all, and we know how to have a good time.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Mayor Mapp's community BBQ highlights Saturday events

Let's eat! Loading up at 2015 BBQ.

Tents provide a shady place to sit and talk.

Some of the nonperishable food donations.

The Plainfield community will gather Saturday, as it has for the last eight years, at the annual community BBQ hosted by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and his wife Amelia at their home.

This is always a highlight of the summer, where resident, friends and political supporters get to mingle, enjoy plenty of good food and barbecue, listen to live music (with a lot of folks dancing as the evening goes along), and take a few sips of the mayor's fabled rum punch.

Little ones play on the swing set as older folks sit in the shade and catch up on community gossip.

While the event is free of charge, it has always been an opportunity for sharing our bounty with others. Attendees are invited to bring a contribution of nonperishable or canned goods, which will be donated to a local food pantry.

On her blog, Rebecca Williams (see here) notes that the invitation to donate "toiletries" includes the need for tampons and sanitary napkins, articles which homeless women are in special need of.

The community BBQ gets under way at 4:00 PM at the Mapp home, 535 West 8th Street. As with all Plainfield parties, it ends when it's over.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

The media love a good fight. Are they trying to provoke one between Mapp and Green?

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's support for Steve Fulop for governor,
announced last week, precipitated a meeting organized by
Assemblyman Jerry Green and Essex Dems last night.
(Image: Jersey Journal)

At a meeting of north and south Jersey Democrats last night, Plainfield
Assemblyman and Union County Dem chair Jerry Green joined with Essex leaders and others in what could be termed an "anybody but Fulop" meeting, as reported by PolitickerNJ's Max Pizzarro (see here). The story contains a complete list of attendees and their connections.

In previous remarks to PolitickerNJ, Green threatened "to go old school" if Fulop and allies began pushing Fulop's candidacy in Union County.

In an overview of the alignment of Union County forces, Pizzarro sketches out Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and Sheriff Joe Cryan as potential Fulop allies.

Sen. Nick Scutari and Green are seen as aligned with Senate President Steve Sweeney, front man for South Jersey powerhouse George Norcross.

The story does not mention the third alignment in Union County: Sen. Ray Lesniak, who has declared his interest in running for governor, and his ally, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwege. (Lesniak's law partner Paul Weiner was, however, listed as an attendee at last night's meeting.)

Tuesday evening's meeting was precipitated by the announcement last week by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that he "will do everything" to get Fulop elected governor (see story here, and here).

The story about last night's meeting outlines a scenario in which Cryan and Mapp could oppose Green's tilt toward Sweeney.

It reminded me of an article I once read in Psychology Today.

Back in the 1960s, when the magazine was an innovative must-read, it ran an article on understanding interpersonal conflict. One section was memorably titled "Let's you and him fight".

The association at once popped into my mind on reading Pizzarro's article. The media loves nothing better than a scrap between politicians. It drives readership.

But Mapp has so far has kept his powder dry, staying out of any public discussion of the 2017 governor's race.

The relationship between Mapp, who is also Plainfield Dem chair, and Green has been wary at best.

Though Mapp did tell PolitickerNJ he was planning to run for re-election as mayor next year, he has otherwise been focused on ensuring a large Plainfield plurality for Hillary Clinton in the November presidential election.

Next year, it seems, can take care of itself.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Harry Ailster, the official obituary

Harry at a student production rehearsal in 1968, shortly
after he had begun teaching in the New Providence public schools.
(Image posted on Facebook by former student Karen Franchini.)

Plainfield Symphony Orchestra board member Mary Burgwinkle forwarded a copy of Harry Ailster's official obituary, which I am reprinting below (none has appeared in the newspapers as of Tuesday evening) --

Harry Eugene Ailster 1931-2016

Harry Eugene Ailster lost a valiant and courageous battle with cancer and passed from this life on August 7, 2016.

Harry was born May 19, 1931 in Greenup, Kentucky where he developed the deep talent and love for music that sustained him throughout his life.
At a young age, while listening to his sister practice piano, he learned that he could copy her by ear, leading to local notoriety as a child piano player and then many years of formal piano instruction.

After high school he attended and graduated from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, as a music major. In college, Harry met his lifelong friends, "adopted" sister, Janet Mercer of Freehold, New Jersey and her husband to be, classmate Richard Freeman of Detroit. They were his family throughout his life. Harry was an advanced ROTC student, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry after graduation. He was called from Reserve Status to Active Duty in October 1954 and served in Munich, Germany, where he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in April 1956. He was relieved from Active Duty in November 1956 and returned to the U.S. with an Honorable Discharge. After returning to the U.S., Harry worked briefly in a business in Dayton, Ohio.

He then moved to New Jersey, where he worked in music therapy with his "sister" Janet at the former Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. After moving to New Jersey he lived in Freehold and then in Asbury Park, where he participated in local theater groups, another lifelong passion of Harry's. In 1967, Harry began working as a music teacher in New Providence, New Jersey. As a teacher he worked at various times with chorus, as band front director and as a director of student productions.  He loved teaching and his students and made many friends in the school district, among them Sharon Tillou and Betty Metzger who remained in close contact during his illness in 2016. He eventually moved to Westfield, New Jersey and continued to participate in local theater groups.

Harry moved to Plainfield in the late 1980s. After his retirement from teaching in 1993, Harry devoted himself to volunteering in Plainfield. He volunteered for the Historical Society of Plainfield, the non-profit that operates Drake House Museum, spending many years as a board member and House Chairman. He was always willing to pass the hat and sell 50/50 tickets at Historical Society events, and he made each drawing a theatrical production. He participated in activities sponsored by Van Wyck Brooks Historic District in Plainfield, where he initially lived, and he volunteered for many years for the Muhlenberg Auxiliary at the gift shop at the former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. Eventually, the gift shop became a part time job until Muhlenberg closed in 2008. He was briefly President of the Muhlenberg Auxiliary in the early 2000s.

After that, at the behest of his special friend Wendy Burney, then president of the board, Harry joined the board of directors of the Plainfield Symphony Society (PSO), where he was active until a leave of absence 6 months before his death. Harry was on the Music Director Selection Committee in 2008-2009. The result of the recommendation of that Committee was the selection of Plainfield Symphony Orchestra's current virtuoso Music Director, Charles Prince.

Harry also participated in PSO productions from time to time, narrating Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" and Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra". He was a fixture as a center aisle usher at concerts and as a participant at all of the social events.
Harry continued his love of music and acting in Plainfield by participating in productions by Act One Players and by acting as substitute summer music director from time to time at First Unitarian Society of Plainfield. He participated in many productions; however, the production that captured the hearts and minds of Plainfield was "Driving Miss Daisie", where he and his now deceased friend Sally Beckwith played the lead roles. To quote the blog Plainfield Today on August 8, 2016, "Plainfield has lost another icon." He will be sorely missed.
Harry was predeceased by his parents Chester Lafayette and Ollie (McConnell) Ailster, his sister Louise and his brothers Chester Lafayette, Jr., William, James and Samuel. He was also predeceased by his "adoptive sister"  Janet Mercer Freeman, her daughter Janetta and her son, Maurice. He is survived by several nephews and by his "adoptive brother" Richard Freeman of Freehold and by his beloved goddaughters to whom he was devoted, Viveca Freeman of Freehold and Celeste Freeman Robinson and her husband Bill of Hatfield, PA.

He is also survived by his special friends Wendy and Jasmine Burney and Mary Burgwinkle and Greg Haworth of Plainfield, and by hosts of other friends.

Family and friends are invited to attend a memorial service from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM on Thursday, August 18, 2016 at Freeman's Funeral Home, 47 East Main Street, Freehold, NJ 07728.

In lieu of flowers please consider a memorial donation to the Plainfield Symphony Orchestra, P.O. Box 5093, Plainfield, NJ 07061. To share photos, leave a condolence, or find directions visit

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Plainfield Council supports Cedar Brook Park changes despite murkiness

Proposed changes to Cedar Brook Park would be in the area
between Arlington Avenue and the existing ball fields.

Plainfield City Council declined Monday evening to either amend or delay consideration of a resolution of support for Union County's plan to make changes to Cedar Brook that will include installing an artificial turf field that can accommodate both soccer and football, plus drainage construction (the field is in a flood zone) and 70-foot poles to provide night lighting.

The business agenda of the Council was adopted without any fuss in about twenty minutes. Then the action began.

Council President Cory Storch opened the discussion by remarking that the proposed resolution on Cedar Brook Park had been broached with him only on Friday. He agreed to include it in the Council agenda, but it could only be formally added to the agenda by a super majority of 5 votes at Mondy's meeting.

Councilors quizzed Union County Parks & Recreation Director Ron Zuber, as well as Plainfield Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) chair Bill Michelson and Plainfield Planning Board chair Ron Scott Bey at length before tackling the vote to put the item on the agenda.

The county's proposal has been fraught since the beginning. As I pointed out last November (see my post here), when they originally came before the HPC, county representatives were ill-prepared for the commission's and the public's questions.

This was remedied somewhat by the time county officials came before the Planning Board for a capital plan review in December (see my post here) -- for one thing, they came up with Olmsted drawings from the 1920s showing that active sports use was planned for from the beginning.

However, acrimony between the county's deputy counsel and HPC chair Michelson effectively poisoned the atmosphere.

The HPC adjourned the November matter for a further hearing, which the county snubbed. The Planning Board, with chair Ron Scott Bey being the only objector, approved the capital plan review with several stipulations. The Planning Board's attorney at the time, Michelle Donato, sternly advised the county officials that because the park is on several landmark registries a "certificate of appropriateness" would be needed to begin work. At a minimum, the County would have to go before the NJ Historic Sites Council, which the county eventually did.

According to Michelson, the state body came down hard on the county proposal and, in a 7-page ruling, objected to several points in the plan -- including the night lighting.

Michelson said he shared that ruling with HPC members and Planning Board chair Ron Scott Bey, but acknowledged that a copy had not been forwarded to Corporation Counsel David Minchello.

For his part, Zuber said that the County had made concessions on several points of objection by the HPC and stipulations of the Planning Board -- "about 80 percent", he said.

In the event, the ruling does not become final and binding until signed off on by the DEP commissioner, and no one knows when that will happen.

The council's deliberations opened up several avenues of approach: adopt the resolution as is; delay consideration to give the Council more time to understand the issues involved; and amending the resolution by cutting out the overblown "whereas" clauses that reflected the county's initial proposal (which somehow had been modified to include mention of "lacrosse' play on the new fields).

Council President Storch started to propose an amendment to excise portions of the resolution. However, the group sensibly decided to go into a recess to come up with the necessary language.

Upon their return after a few minutes, Storch clearly outlined his proposal to drop all the inner clauses o the resolution and simply state the Council's support, substituting " subject to any ruling of local and/or state entities that have jurisdiction" for the word "unequivocally".

After being cued by Corporation Counsel Minchello that he had overlooked allowing public comment on the resolution, Storch opened the floor. Several people spoke both in support of and against the resolution. When all had been heard, Storch moved the the vote.

Storch's proposed amendment to the resolution was defeated, 5-2, with only he and Councilor Taylor in favor.

Councilor Taylor then moved to table the resolution to the September meeting. That too was defeated, again 5-2, with Councilors Brown, Goode, Rivers, Toliver and Williams against.

Councilor Rivers then moved the resolution "as is", and it was carried by the same 5-2 majority.

Left up in the air was the question of whether, in fact, the County has -- or will have -- the necessary "certificate of approval" to move forward.

The Council's letter of support will presumably be filed with the bond paperwork which will cover the project. (I haven't had a chance to check the details, but it seems likely the Cedar Brook Park project is already included in the $58M general improvement bond issue the Freeholders are scheduled to take up this Thursday evening -- hence the rush for the resolution of support.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Plainfield resident authors mouthwatering cookbook

The cover of Carol Davis' cookbook hints at the
tasty recipes inside.

An old friend and longtime
Plainfield resident has written and published a new cookbook.

After thirty years in the nonprofit field, where she grew a tiny foundation into one of the most respected resources for families whose children are dealing with cancers, she has turned a new page.

Carol Davis became interested in a vegan lifestyle because of her compassion for all animals. Vegans avoid consuming any meat, fish or dairy products. (Vegetarians, by contrast, may include milk and cheese in their diets.)

I had been noticing for months that Carol was posting mouthwatering pictures of dishes she was making for friends on her Facebook page, and would often comment on how delicious the ingredients sounded and how tasty they looked.

Now, Carol has fulfilled a longtime threat and compiled her recipes into an e-cookbook: The All-Vegan EZ Recipe Starter Cookbook.

The title says it all: the recipes are indeed "EZ" and the collection of some thirty recipes -- from appetizers to desserts -- will get you up and enjoying zesty and exciting dishes full of flavor and texture.

How about "Apple Rosemary Scones", "Minted Strawberry Soup", or "Red Cabbage with Apples (from her Aunt Pauline)?

"Mushroom Scallops with Fettucini" had me drooling as did "Marinated Grilled Tofu".

A licensed professional counselor with an office in Scotch Plains, Carol has degrees from Kean and New York University. She has written for publications ranging from AOL to the Westfield Leader.

Carol and her husband, Michael Jessie, enjoy gardening on the grounds of their 200-year old Watchung Avenue farmhouse.

The e-cookbook is available for $3.00 and will be emailed to you in PDF format. You can use PayPal to obtain a copy, just follow the link here. If you do not do PayPal, you may email Carol at and she will respond with instructions.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to animal welfare charities which Carol supports.

Bon appetit!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Will Monday's Council be a snoozer? Maybe not.

The search for 'just and capable' continues...

Monday evening's Plainfield City Council meeting may be a snoozer -- or not.

Even though all the agenda items were moved to the business agenda without dissent at last Monday's agenda-setting session, there is no guarantee that this week's meeting will be boring. Readers can view the agenda online here.

There are several resolutions dealing with redevelopment, two concerning purchase of fire vehicles (a pumper and a ladder truck), and a new human resources management program with an annual $79K price tag.

As explained last week, the Public Safety request for three high-def dome cameras is for the city's three public swimming pools (Hannah Atkins, Rushmore and Seidler). The cameras would provide night-time surveillnace of the pools, which currently have personnel stationed at them to ward off unauthorized night-time use.

There is one new item (which will have to receive a minimum of five votes to be put on the agenda). That is R301-16, "in support of Union County's renovation of existing soccer fields at Cedar Brook Park".

The project got off to a bumpy start last November (see my post here), when the County presented its original proposal to the Historic Preservation Commission, but was ill-prepared to answer questions from the commission and the public.

The County did better at the Planning Board's review in December (see my post here), but the Board's attorney, Michelle Donato, underscored that the County would need to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the state (and, if federal funds are involved, from the national level).

The resolution's language is misleading. The "renovations" are far more extensive than the County is owning up to. When the proposal was reviewed by Plainfield's Historic Preservation Commission, one of the objections was that night lighting on 70-foot poles, bleachers, a permanent scoreboard, and the removal of trees would change the character of the park dramatically, a fact which this resolution ignores.

Secondly, the County was supposed to get review and sign off from the state's historic preservation authorities. There is no mention of this condition or the receipt of a Certificate of Appropriateness in the resolution. The Council should be advised of the status of this condition before taking its vote.

Word at City Hall is that preparations for the LIVE broadcasting of City Council meetings is proceeding apace and may even begin this Fall. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Update on services for Harry Ailster

Harry Ailster (r.) co-starred with Sally Beckwith in
Act One's production of
Driving Miss Daisy.

Word came late Thursday evening concerning funeral arrangements for Plainfield's beloved Harry Ailster.

Having survived all his siblings -- Harry was the youngest of seven -- and with no close family, the arrangements are being made by Harry's goddaughter, who lives in Freehold.

Service are scheduled for next Thursday (August 18) at the Freeman Funeral Home in Freehold. Friends will gather for a service at 2:00 PM. No obituary has been published in the newspapers yet, but you can check the funeral home's information here.

As the time and place are not likely to be convenient for many of Harry's Plainfield friends, some of them are making plans for a local commemoration of his life.

I will post details as they become available.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jamaican independence celebrated in Plainfield this weekend

The lush island nation of Jamaica is a popular tourist destination.

New Jerseyans of Jamaican descent are celebrating the island nation's 54th year of independence with two events in Plainfield this weekend, to which all Plainfielders are cordially invited.

On Friday, there will be a festive flag raising at Plainfield City Hall, beginning at 6:00 PM. Honored guests will include Jamaican dignitaries and local officials. There will be food and music. The event takes place at City Hall Plaza, Watchung Avenue at East 6th Street.

On Sunday afternoon, there will be a special Service of Thanksgiving, hosted by Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church. Special guests will include government, civic, religious and community leaders. The sermon will be preached by Bishop Jacqueline McCullough, senior pastor of Beth Rapha. The service begins at 4:00 PM and will be followed by a reception at the church.

Jamaica, with 2.5 million citizens, is the third largest anglophone country in the western hemisphere (after the US and Canada). Originally colonized by the Spanish, whose diseases decimated the native Arawak and Taino populations, it became an English colony in 1655.

Slavery was begun under the Spanish and continued under the British until 1838, when total emanicpation was declared. Sugar, molasses and rum from Jamaican plantations formed a key partion of the so-called "triangular trade" which involved Americans (primarily New Englanders) in the evils of slave trading.

Since independence, many Jamaicans have emigrated for economic reasons, and there are large communities in the UK, the US and Canada.

The Jamaican Organization of New Jersey represents residents of Jamaican origin who live in many communities throughout the Garden State, primarily Plainfield, Paterson, the Oranges, and Trenton.

The Plainfield flag raising is the third of four such events scheduled by JONJ, the final one being on August 22 at 5:00 PM at the West Orange Town Hall.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Should Plainfield pay to bury homicide victims?

Should the City pay for homicide victims' funerals?

In speaking at the public comments section of Monday's Plainfield City Council meeting, members of the recently formed Plainfield Anti-Violence Coalition touched on a subject to which many of us have probably not given much thought: funeral costs for the families of homicide victims.

The repeated refrain was that these sudden and unexpected costs are a financial and emotional burden to the families that have suffered such a loss, and that the City should "do something".

It came out in the course of the discussion that Union County's resources for victims of violent crimes includes $5,000 for funeral costs. Not good enough, one of the speakers said, when the expense of a repast is taken into account.

As to what other services or resources are available from the City, City Administrator Rick Smiley -- himself a former director of Plainfield Action Services -- said that that agency can provide emergency clothing and food assistance as well as referrals for mental health services for grief counseling, but has no other mandate.

The whole conversation put me in mind of practices I knew of in my youth.

Where I grew up in Western New York, Dunkirk, the city where I went to high school, was heavily populated by immigrants from Italy, Germany and Poland. In those days, Catholic parishes were organized along ethnic lines (St. Mary's was German, Holy Trinity was Italian and St. Hedwig's and St. Hyacinth's were Polish).

One feature of these ethnic communities was their "benefit" or "friendly" societies, which were set up to help with members' unexpected needs, which could include illness, unemployment, assistance for education -- and funeral expenses.

These sorts of groups have a long history in America, and many grew over time into large and important organizations, becoming everything from mutual benefit insurance companies to credit unions, from Odd Fellows lodges to Freemasons, Eagles, Elks and other fraternal organizations.

Have we lost that sort of mutual aid in Plainfield? Or did we never have it in the first place?

To look to government to solve every problem does not seem to me to be the answer -- at least until the community has tried among itself to solve a problem.

I contrast this discussion with another sad local event and the response to it.

The 3-year-old child Elizabeth, who died after being struck by a car at Park Avenue and 2nd Street, left her family in a similar situation -- to face burying a child with no financial resources.

What happened in this case was inspiring.

A woman related to the family through marriage set up an online fundraising page with GoFundMe (you can see the page here) and put the word out into the community, asking for donations.

She set a goal of $10,000. The page was set up on July 27. In 12 days, 125 people donated $6,585, at which point the campaign was ended. Taking into account that one gift was for $1,000 (from a person whose name I did not recognize), most of the donations were modest, averaging less than $45.00 per person.

A simple and dignified service was arranged for the child, with Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church offering use of its sanctuary. A plentiful but simple repast was provided. Folks felt that it all was "meet and right", as Anglicans are wont to say.

Could this be one solution?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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