Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, October 27, 2016

League candidate forum: One looks ahead, one looks Trumpish

Sandra Matsen, former president of the NJ LWV, moderated the forum.

Charles McRae, the Democratic nominee.

Sharon Robinson-Briggs, running as an Independent.

Plainfield's League of Women Voters hosted a forum for the Ward 3 candidates Wednesday evening at the Plainfield Public Library.

Facing off were Democratic party nominee Charles McRae and former mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who is running as an Independent.

Joylette Mills-Ransome of the Plainfield League introduced the moderator, Sandra Matsen, a former president of the NJ state LWV.

The candidates made opening statements citing their background, involvement in the community and reasons for running. The information is also available in their profiles on the League's website here.

Because there were no mikes for the candidates at their table, they took turns speaking from the podium, while the moderator worked without a mike. Plainfielders are great at improvising.

The candidates offered their views on a number of questions, some posed by the League and most coming from the audience. Topics included the standard "what will you do?", as well as issues such as dealing with Council friction, veterans' services, youth needs, the Muhlenberg Hospital campus, quality-of-life issues, economic development, senior citizen concerns and perceptions of Plainfield.

Things shook out quite quickly.

McRae, with his experience in reviewing the City's budget process and service on the Zoning Board, emphasized the progress being made under Mayor Adrian Mapp's leadership and his intent to work with the Mapp administration to push the city forward.

Robinson-Briggs was more Trump-like in her answers, often referring to wanting to provide FREE new or extended services, but with no clear plan for financing the costs of her wish list. She, also Trumplike, did not miss an opporutnity throughout the evening to take swipes at Mayor Mapp, Councilor Rebecca Williams and yours truly, all of whom were cited as having worked at cross-purposes to her when she was mayor.

Controlling costs were always a problem for Robinson-Briggs as mayor, who treated the city's funds cavalierly, to say the least.

McRae pointed out that, as a member of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, he caught a $1 million+ error in the budget that Robinson-Briggs had submitted (he politely refrained from naming her, only saying it was during a 'previous administration').

When Robinson-Briggs said she wanted to see the city operate a youth center, McRae responded by asking why it wouldn't be better to work with existing agencies to expand or improve their programming.

He cited a list that include the Second Street Youth Center, the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club and the Washington and Emerson Community Schools.

When Robinson-Briggs protested that the schools charge for use of the buildings, McRae pointed out that the Mapp administration had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the school district, eliminating fees for use of the school properties. The exchange showed that Robinson-Briggs has lost touch with what is happening in the community since she left office.

Another example of her being out of touch came with her complaint about the new ABC Building Supplies warehouse going up on South Second Street, as part of a project that will also include a 90-unit apartment complex. She complained that it was taking place in a residential neighborhood (not exactly true: it's on the site of a former factory building) and sits across from a church (where she worships) -- completely ignoring that the church's pastor, a sitting Council member, was a passionate advocate for the project.

Robinson-Briggs also said sne wanted to see the city establish a "training center" for jobs. She made a good point that job fairs do not help those who have not got the skilss being looked for. However, she seemed to be unaware of the efforts already being made (for instance, by the Plainfield Public Library and Union County College) to address the issue. She had no answer for how such a facility would be funded, where it would be located or how it would be staffed. Trumplike again.

On the question of development of the vacant Muhlenberg property, Robinson-Briggs dodged the fact that as a Muhlenberg board member she never attended a single meeting during her two terms in office -- which included the period when JFK closed the hospital and its subsequent proposal for 600+ units of "luxury" apartments.

McRae emphasized his support for the efforts of the Mapp administration to come to a meeting of the minds with JFK that included a medical-related use for the property. He pointed out that the city does not control the property, which is owned by JFK.

As is usual with events that start at 7:00 PM, the audience bulked up as the evening went along, with perhaps 75-80 there at the end.

Though I am no fan of Robinson-Briggs, I went with the expectation that she would be more forward-looking and --with all her experience -- detail-oriented in her proposals.

Instead, she blew a lot of snoke with vague ideas and took pains at every turn to underscore her opposition to Mayor Mapp. Implied, though unspoken, was that if elected, she would guarantee that a rancorous Council -Administration relationship would continue. All very reminiscent of Donald Trump to my mind.

The general election is on Tuesday, November 8. The polls will be open from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

A lot is at stake in this year's election. Do your duty.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]
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