Wednesday, November 30, 2005

World AIDS Day Vigil at City Hall

Support World AIDS Day

2005: Stop AIDS - Keep the Promise

A candlelight vigil tonight (Dec. 1, 2005) will mark the 17th Annual World AIDS Day, with names of those impacted by HIV/AIDS being read aloud.

The event was organized by the Plainfield-based Bayard Rustin Progressive Democrats and will take place at 7 p.m. on the steps of City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave.

Rebecca Williams, co-chair of the group, said more than 20 million people have died of AIDS since 1981 and close to 40 million people are presently living with HIV, according to the Office of Minority Health Resource Center.

Low-income women with limited access to health care are especially vulnerable to the epidemic. African-American women now make up 66 percent of HIV/AIDS diagnoses, with Latinas accounting for another 16 percent.

Participants in the vigil are asked to send names for remembrance to or to call (908) 447-6268.

"We have all lost loved ones, and we simply want to give members of the community another opportunity to remember them," Williams said.

--Bernice Paglia

World Aids Day

New Jersey AIDS Facts - Kaiser Family Foundation/CDC
Click here

American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR)

United Methodist Church

United Nations


Oy Tannenbaum

Holiday Tree Lighting

6:00 pm

Friday, December 2

City Hall

--Bernice Paglia, verse and photo
--Barbara Todd Kerr, graphic interpretation

KEYWORDS: holiday

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

City Council Wants Budget Delay

Anticipating a new administration on Jan. 1, City Council members urged delay of budget passage until after the New Year.

The delay could mean that city taxpayers will get bills in February and May instead of in January and April. The council would have to vote on appropriations for January to run the city and would also have to accept the risk that the state might set the tax rate for the city due to the late budget passage. The 2006 fiscal year began July 1.

Any budget amendments would be watered down because they would only affect a few months of the fiscal year and proposed layoffs would not become effective until there was barely a month to spare, officials said at an agenda session Monday (Nov. 28, 2005).

City Council President Linda Carter and Councilman Cory Storch advocated early budget passage, but were outnumbered by Councilmen Don Davis, Ray Blanco and Rayland Van Blake, who wanted the hold-off.

The council has been reviewing the budget for months and has discussed various adjustments proposed by a Finance Committee, including personnel reductions.

The budget as introduced in September reflected a 2.7 percent increase, which rose to 7.34 percent with bad news from Trenton regarding disallowed revenue sources and $425,000 in additional state pension costs.

But then the Finance Committee recently suggested changes that would drop the tax hike to 1.6 percent.

Introduction of proposed budget amendments fell through Monday in part because they were not published in a timely way due to a mix-up over holiday printing schedules for legal notices. But the larger force was the wish of a council majority – Blanco, Davis, Van Blake and Rashid Burney – to put off the budget decisions until the new administration takes hold.

The change in course fell a bit heavily on the shoulders of Chief Financial Officer Pete Sepelya, who had begun his final leave toward retirement. With the budget process back up in the air, Sepelya will have to stay on the job to see it through.

“So Pete, you’re not going – you haven’t got a clean bill of health from this council. So you’re staying,” Blanco joked.

Finance Director Ron West said the city can stay afloat for three months until the delayed tax revenues start coming in. Asked whether the city could send out estimated tax bills, he said any partial payments would cause a lot of extra work in the tax office to make sure all the figures were reconciled.

“I’m not sure we want to put the taxpayers through all the process of reconciliation,” he said.

Carter made numerous pitches for the council to continue honing the budget, but only Storch backed her up. Carter held out the possibility that the budget could still be passed this year if Mayor-elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs and representatives of the new administration met with council members to iron out the details.

“I want to make sure we build upon what has been done,” Carter said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget

Monday, November 28, 2005

Not a night for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving should be time to acknowledge all that we have when we come together with family and friends. But last Thursday wasn't that kind of day for everyone who met for the first time in my neighborhood.

I was in Delaware laughing and enjoying the evening with old friends and making typical stupid complaints about eating too much. I didn't hear the screech of tires nor the sickening crunch of glass and plastic cracking, metal crumpling.

I didn't see the rescue team come rushing down my street, fire engines' red lights flashing. I didn't hear the sirens or the beat-beat-beating of the medical evacuation helicopter. I didn't know any of it.

Far away on Friday, the morning after, I finally read the e-mail that had started coming my way the night before:

LYNNE: What happened on the street tonight? Was there a horrible accident!!!

MARIA: E. 9th Street & Third Street crash, 11/24/05, 8:30 pm, Police, Fire Squad, Paramedics were here in a matter of minutes, Bill has more info, all I have is pictures. Helicopter was here to take 3 victims away - drunk driving caused accident, really bad. Bill was there to assist and Joyce called for help.

BILL: By now you know of the accident on Ninth, but you wouldn't know of it from the Courier! Maria has pictures. The Plaintalker should do a piece on it, and our emergency services did a fine job, including the Medevac unit, which the CN loves to bash.

Two nights later I am home looking at the photos. I see the van with the front end torn up, lying on its side like a smashed bug.

I see the car with three-quarters of its side ripped off...a door yards away and crumpled like a piece of tinfoil.

Police tape crosses the car's hood...the windshield crackled into a million 'safely' rounded pieces...front tire wrenched into an impossible angle for driving...seats twisted and collapsed.

Strangers met each other just down the block from my house on Thanksgiving evening.

It was the terrible collision that my neighbors and I have feared. By chance we live in one of Plainfield's rare "walking" neighborhoods and we've been worrying about the speeding and the blind curve at East Ninth Street and Third Place. Children walk here.

We have been complaining about this intersection to city authorities, formally and informally, for many months. We go to meetings in City Hall. We bring charts and maps.

"What can be done?" we ask.

We make suggestions: What about rumble strips? What about a speed bump? What about 4-way stop signs?

All bets are off, of course, if we're faced with a drunk driver. Still, every idea we bring up is rejected for one reason or another with a casual shrug of a shoulder. We've been told more than once, "It's an enforcement issue."


But that's where the conversation always seems to end--with a shrug. It's a "can't do" kind of message that says there are more important policing issues in Plainfield. My neighbors and I say: not everywhere, not all of the time.

When it comes to crisis response Plainfield seems to have it down pretty well. But paying attention to the details day-to-day can make all residents across the city feel more secure. We're not asking for a 24-hour traffic cop, but couldn't we approach these obvious dangers, the ones we can anticipate, with more of a positive attitude?

I'm willing to bet the right preventative medicine can best a good paramedic any night of the week.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: accident

My neighbors and I will be back at the Parking and Traffic Committee meeting on Wednesday morning. In fact, East Ninth Street is already on the agenda for November 30th, 10am-11:30am, City Hall Library.

My thanks to Maria Pellum for the photos.

FINAL NOTE: For those who relish remaking into a 'partisan' issue everything done or said in Plainfield, please find something better to do. I am not interested in pointing a political finger at anyone. The culprit is disinterest--that's what rules no matter who actually sits in City Hall. BTK

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ooooooh Ouch!

It's not only kids who hate the idea of getting a shot, many adults dread the prick of a needle too. But that fear gives way to more pragmatic concerns - not wanting to catch the flu. That's why Plainfield's Health Department was able to give vaccinations to 157 people last Saturday (November 19, 2005).

Plainfield residents still have another opportunity to receive this year's flu vaccine. Next Saturday, December 3, the city's Health Officer Jadwiga Warwas, M.D., will supervise the last of this fall's flu innoculations.

Upon arrival you will be asked to fill out a medical permission form. If you have a cold, an infection or are pregnant you will not be able to get the vaccination.

The shots will be give from 10am - 3pm at the City Hall Annex, 510 Watchung Avenue, across the street from City Hall. Use the front door.

The vaccine costs $25, not the $15 that had been advertised prior to the November clinic. If a resident can't pay the whole amount, speak to the Dr. Warwas

Questions? Plainfield Health Division at (908) 753-3092.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: health, flu vaccine

Friday, November 25, 2005

Kings Temple Ministry Awaits Development Amen

Despite voicing concerns about a church group’s plan to build 10 homes, the City Council approved a resolution agreeing to the proposal and an ordinance giving initial approval to the sale of city-owned property to the group.

If given final approval next month, the group expects to begin work in January.

Stung by the failure of a private group to carry out development of 67 sites, the council worried at a Nov. 14 agenda session that the new Kings Temple Community Development Corp. might not be up to the task of taking on the 10-home project. New Century Homes completed only about half of the modular homes before the project fell apart. Kings Temple would receive 13 of the failed sites for $465,000 and they would be merged into 10 building lots.

New Century received exclusive rights to the 67 sites as part of a redevelopment plan to find new uses for 197 properties all across the city. The deal is now in litigation and the city needs court approval to release the 13 parcels for conveyance to Kings Temple. Liens and foreclosure proceedings connected to the sites would be settled by the sales price if the court approves the new proposal.

On Monday (Nov. 21, 2005) the resolution incorporating the development agreement was up for “consent” approval along with numerous other resolutions judged to be non-controversial. But as Rev. Gary Kirkwood and church members looked on, it was removed from the consent agenda for a separate, roll-call vote.

When the time came, the council voted 5-1 to approve the resolution, with Councilmen Ray Blanco, Don Davis, Cory Storch and Rayland Van Blake and City Council President Linda Carter voting “yes” and Councilman Rashid Burney voting “no.“

The ordinance also passed 5-1 with the same line-up. Final approval must still be given next month for the sale to take place.

After the meeting, Kirkwood said the group expects to receive financing from the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority. Most of the homes will be one-family, with some two-families. The community development corporation is the developer and can directly name a sub-developer, Kirkwood said.

The homes' construction will be a combination of stick-built and modular, he said.

The sites are located at 620 W. Fourth St.; 625-27 and 623 South Second St.1355, 1353,1351A and 1351 South Second St.; 504-04 and 506-08 West Second St.; 129-31 and 125-27 Elmwood Place and 228-232 and 236 East Ninth St.

The last two parcels are part of the Crescent Area Historic District and homes built there will require additional approvals by the Historic Preservation Commission.

Kirkwood said the group’s timetable calls for completion of all homes within 18 months.

After Monday’s votes, Kirkwood told the council, “I understand the city has experienced a bit of a problem in the past with previous developers.”

He said he appreciated the council’s “due diligence” in asking questions about the project, and promised the group would do “the best possible job” for the city of Plainfield.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: development

Plainfield Nostalgia

Long holiday weekends lend themselves to looking back at old times and thinking of old friends.

Some older Plainfielders may remember when the city had its own radio station just off the Park and Seventh crossroads. It was WERA AM, with studios at 120 W. Seventh St. in the 1980s.

I moved to Plainfield in 1983. As a radio buff since the days of the Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy, I was fascinated by the idea of a local station with personalities you might run into at the supermarket or on the street.
A concise summary of WERA is online at

The radio experience lives on today in the mellifluous voice of Rich Phoenix, often called on to read ceremonial resolutions at City Council meetings, as he did on Monday with one proclaiming Dec. 1 as “National Rosa Parks Day.”

Phoenix had an afternoon show on WERA.

Others may remember Bro. Arthur Bailey III and his gospel show, which sometimes veered off into truth-telling to local politicians. Bro. Bailey, now departed, once spoke directly to me over the air (probably an FCC violation) to give me a hot news tip about an overnight holiday card game that ended in a fatality. He also regularly called out all the drug corners to alert the public and presumably law enforcement officials.

Barbara Ballard of the Central Jersey Chamber of Commerce (formerly housed in the same building) had an interview show on WERA. Listening to her show was a great way to get acquainted with the city. Ballard later went to work for Rep. Bob Franks.

WERA shut down when the station manager sold it in 1996.

On Tuesday (Nov. 22, 2005) Ballard recalled being trapped in the station during the deadly 1973 floods. The station became a live communication center for news and updates on the flood conditions.

Community coverage was the station’s strong suit, she said.
“The value of a local radio station is for people locally,” she said.

A while ago, I became aware of WKMB AM at 1070 on the dial, the outlet of Harvest Radio. The former country and western station in Stirling is now a gospel station with a transmitter in the Morris County locale but offices at the same location as WERA, 120 W. Seventh St.

See its history at

The roster of programs includes many hosted by Plainfield clergy. Former Mayor Rick Taylor has a program called “Know Your Community” on Mondays at 1:30 p.m.

Program guide:

For a break from television, take a cue from the old country gospel song and “Turn the Radio On.”

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: local radio

Monday, November 21, 2005

Corzine's Coattails and Other Election Revelations

Plainfielders gave 80 percent of their votes to Jon Corzine for Governor, but his coattails were not long enough to give all on Column B the same result. Though winners all, the Democratic slate received varying degrees of endorsement from voters.

According to certified results obtained at City Hall Monday (Nov. 21, 2005), Corzine was head and shoulders over his nine opponents.He received 84 percent of the vote in the 1st Ward, 73 percent in the 2nd Ward, 83 percent in the 3rd Ward and 85 percent in the 4th Ward.

Of 8,823 votes cast, 8,439 people (96 percent) made a gubernatorial selection.

In every ward, Assemblyman Jerry Green received fewer votes than his running mate, Assemblywoman Linda Stender. Voters in the 2nd Ward favored Stender over Green by 17 percent. As the higher vote-getter, Stender received 71 percent of the vote in the 1st Ward, 62 percent in the 2nd Ward, 71 percent in the 3rd Ward and 73 percent in the 4th Ward.

Mayor-elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs received 60 percent of the vote in the 1st Ward, 36 percent in the 2nd Ward, 50 percent in the 3rd Ward and 63 percent in the 4th Ward. Her 4,357 total was 49 percent of votes cast.Independent Robert Ferraro received 1,119 percent of votes cast, or 13 percent.

Mayor Albert McWilliams received 2,299 votes or 26 percent, in write-ins at machines, absentee ballots and provisional ballots.

Of the 8,823 people who voted, 1,048, or 12 percent, made no mayoral selection.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: election results

Saturday, November 19, 2005

City Council Aims for 1.6 Percent Tax Increase

City Council members wrapped up budget talks Friday (Nov. 18, 2005) with proposals that would result in a lower tax increase than the 2.7 percent hike originally set for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Finance Director Ron West said the changes would result in a tax rate of $3.058 per $100 of assessed valuation, down from the $3.08 per $100 anticipated rate set in July for the third and fourth quarters of the calendar year.

The proposals include reconfiguring Economic Development, eliminating two new police dispatchers and four code enforcement staffers. In all, personnel cuts and reallocations would yield savings of $3 million.

The changes must be reviewed by state officials, but the council expects to introduce amendments on Nov. 28, with a public hearing and possible final passage on Dec. 19.

The council wants to change Economic Development from a cabinet-level post at $94,501, with an assistant director of Community Development at $72,347 and a part-time principal planner, to a director at $75,000 with a full-time principal planner at $62,781. But city officials told the council that the director title had never been approved by prior councils.

Eliminating the assistant director could also affect the functioning of the city's Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ), whose activities the assistant director oversees, officials said. But Councilman Ray Blanco said the city should look at how other Urban Enterprise Zones handle their management.

Council members also wanted to eliminate the director of Public Affairs and Safety and a clerk in that office, but City Clerk Laddie Wyatt reminded the council that the post was one of three department heads mandated in the City Charter. Because a new administration will be taking over Jan. 1, the council members decided to defer the decision and restored funding through the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

Between personnel increases and UEZ recommendations, the council expects to add five more police officers in the 2006 fiscal year. However, the officers funded with UEZ funds can only be deployed in the zone that includes the central business district and corridors to east and west within the zone.

The council members also agreed to use UEZ funds to provide video surveillance of downtown Plainfield, with a surveillance center in the Tepper's building.

Chief Finance Officer Pete Sepelya and Finance Director Ron West will translate the proposals into budget amendments that will be published before the Dec. 19 hearing.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget

Auditor's findings triple possible tax increase (8/16/05)

State pension costs could increase city taxes

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A rose is a rose is a rose...

My calendar says today is November 17th. This year we can mark it as the day the roses bloomed.

In at least three Plainfield yards you could see them in pink, gold, yellow...

The roses of spring arrived in a range of colors and every form from buds to full blossoms.

They must have been coaxed out by the many days of Indian Summer we've been having, capped off by Wednesday's balmy 72 degree temperature. Tonight's forecast is a chilly 32 degrees. Quick. Get out the bud vase.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: garden

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Council Hesitant About Church Group's Development Plans

A church-based group that is poised to build 10 homes on failed redevelopment sites ran into City Council fears that the new proposal might also fall through.

On Monday (Nov. 14, 2005), the council discussed the plan to sell 13 city-owned parcels to Kings Temple Community Development Corp. for $465,000. The agreement calls for completion of the one-family homes within 12 to 18 months, employing as much local labor as possible.

The lots had been among 67 that the city previously turned over to a Westfield-based development group. Only about 30 homes were built, including some that were ridiculed for anomalies such as a 27-step front entry on Clinton Avenue and an angled setback on West Front Street, before the plan fell apart in litigation. The scheme was part of a massive redevelopment plan for 197 sites across the city.

Rev. Gary Kirkwood, his family and church members listened as the council fretted because some documentation was missing from their packets and because of the number of lots involved. Originally, only four of the 197 lots were allotted to non-profit housing groups.

Finance Director Ron West told the council the city had decided last year to offer the remaining New Century sites to for sale to non-profits and some were sold to Habitat for Humanity and Faith, Bricks and Mortar. The 13 lots, merged into 10 sites, attracted 10 interested firms, he said. But Kings Temple emerged as the only community development group among three finalists.

All the properties have liens and foreclosure problems that the city is trying to resolve in talks with Bank of America, West said. The sale price would go toward paying off the mortgages, special counsel Joseph Maraziti said, noting the city has a "major public policy interest" in redeveloping the properties rather than having them put out for foreclosure.

The proposal still must be "blessed by the court," Maraziti said.

But council members balked when they found out the 40-page agreement they received did not contain information that Maraziti had.

"You're asking the governing body to vote on something without all the information," Councilman Don Davis said.

Councilman Rashid Burney noted the agreement only called for 51 percent local hiring and even then, just for the group to make its "best effort" to do so.

Councilman Ray Blanco questioned how the group would address the fact that two sites are in one of the city's historic districts and will be subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission.

"I don't see anything about the historic district in here," he said, riffling through the agreement.

City Council President Linda Carter voiced the most apprehension.

"I have a huge fear because of what we already faced with New Century Homes," she said. "I think it is a big project."

Carter said she didn't think the agreement gave enough assurance for the city.

"I can't approve this," she said. "I'm not comfortable with it.

"But after being promised the missing information, all but Davis agreed to have the matter put up for a vote next Monday (Nov. 21, 2005).

Kirkwood spoke during the public comment portion late in the meeting, saying he was not sure how or why all the documents didn't get to the council members."

Our church is committed to this project," he said.

Kirkwood said it was "not right and not fair" for the ministry to be judged incapable of building 10 homes because it had not done so before.

"I'm asking you now to vote for our ministry," he said.

Earlier, while residents waited for the council to come out of closed session and open the meeting, Kirkwood told The Plaintalker he had been in Plainfield since 1983. Kings Temple Ministries has a church and a school on New Street and also leases out a food concession at the corner of New and West Front Street. Kirkwood's longtime wish to have a radio station came true in 2003, when he acquired WKMB in Stirling and began Harvest Radio with a gospel format at 1070 AM. The station and the community development corporation have offices at 120 West Seventh Street in the city.

"Our commitment is to improve the quality of life - that's it," he said. "We want to be part of the continued revitalization of Plainfield."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: redevelopment

Shining a new light on the city

Plainfield's streetscape changes are not limited to Front Street and the immediate blocks in our downtown. There is new light being shed on Park Avenue all the way to Seventh Street.

The antique style lamps are a friendly addition to sidewalk life. They are more human in scale and easier on the eye than the old, sleek 60's modern light posts that tower over the new ones that have been installed.

Take a fresh look around the next time you venture down Park Avenue.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: streetscape

Friday, November 11, 2005

What Will McWilliams Leave For His Successor?

Sharon Robinson-Briggs is not likely to find Krazy Glue in the locks or shredded documents in the trash as some mayors have found upon taking office. But she will inherit a mixed bag of things that came about during the eight-year tenure of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams.

For one, she will have a $35,000 salary that wasn’t there before. The salary of a sitting mayor cannot be raised, but the City Council approved a raise from $10,000 to $35,000 just before McWilliams was re-elected for second term.

As the mayor often said in campaign speeches, the city now enjoys its highest tax collection rate in decades. But the opposite side of that coin is that the city can’t get millions in tax lien sales any more, now that delinquent taxpayers have gone down from about 10 percent to 5 percent of property owners. Robinson-Briggs will have to look harder for revenue sources.

A police contract hammered out over three years was just settled. The clinker is, it expires at the end of 2006, so negotiations will have to begin again.

The Department of Public Affairs and Safety, whose civilian director is in charge of the Police and Fire divisions, fell on hard times in recent years, with long-time director Michael Lattimore suing the city, the mayor, the police chief and others. Then he quit for a post at Rutgers. No settlement terms were made public.

Then Police Chief Edward Santiago sued the city, the mayor, Lattimore and others. Leaders of the police union and its African-American fraternal group were vocal in their support for Lattimore and condemnation of his successor, Jiles Ship, and also outspoken against Santiago’s leadership.

Robinson-Briggs campaigned with PBA Local 19 President Andre Crawford and Plainfield Area Ebony Police Association President Kenneth Reid close at hand. Robinson-Briggs will have the challenge of quelling the dissension and sharpening the focus on public safety after a year with 14 homicides.

Improving the city’s has been a task for McWilliams and every other mayor since the 1967 civil disturbances. The City Council approved spending $250,000 on creating a “brand” for the city. But since the Robinson-Briggs campaign sent out fliers highlighting the record number of homicides in the city, the task is a bit more uphill.

McWilliams increased the number of redevelopment plans from about three when he took office to more than a dozen now. The Tepper’s and Park-Madison sites downtown are now developed. McWilliams also changed the deputy city administrator’s mission from that of ombudsman for the citizens to a cabinet-level economic development role.

By placing Planning under the office, McWilliams created in effect a new city department, an apparent violation of the City Charter, which spells out three departments under which all divisions must be placed.

Robinson-Briggs will have to sort through the redevelopment schemes and figure out how the city will pursue them. And who will be in charge.

Despite passage of the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005, which calls for more transparency in appointments to boards and commissions, many of those bodies are defunct. Perhaps the next administration will either take some off the books or revitalize them.

McWilliams launched the first major road repair program in 20 years. It calls for $75 million in repairs over the next fifteen years. Robinson-Briggs will have to keep it moving to avoid increasing costs if the plan faces delays.

There are lots of other things to do, including appointment of top administrators and reviewing operations. The city just hired more code enforcement officers to address overcrowding as well as property code violations, a program the next mayor will have to assess. McWilliams hired several new police officers and Robinson-Briggs promises to hire more.

When Robinson-Briggs takes office Jan. 1, she in turn will give the Board of Education a new task . Because the City Charter does not allow dual office-holding, she will have to give up her board seat. A new person must be appointed to fill out her term, which expires in April 2006.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city government

Vets Honor Their Brethren Today

The weather was brisk this morning as veterans gathered at the memorial flag pole at Watchung Avenue and Seventh Street to honor the fallen from war.

Watching the ceremony were young people from the YMCA, Plainfield firemen, City Hall workers, several groups of citizens and the mayor who spoke to the assembled crowd.

The morning's event concluded with a moment of silence, taps and a three gun salute.

The Fat Lady Has Not Yet Sung

Election Night results showed 4,172 votes for Sharon Robinson-Briggs for mayor and 1,040 for Bob Ferraro, the only two candidates on the ballot.

The "Personal Choice" tally on Nov. 8 was 1,710, without any further information.

On Thursday, the Union County Division of Elections said there were 2,292 write-in votes for incumbent Mayor Albert McWilliams.

But the official tally will not be available until after 3:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 14, 2005).

Obviously Sharon Robinson-Briggs is the winner but it may be of interest to voters to see the exact distribution of votes.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: election

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Veterans Day, Old and New Concerns

City veterans and their supporters will gather on Friday for the annual ceremony at the War Memorial to honor all those who served their country.

But some will also be thinking of the often-promised building of their own that has yet to materialize. And some will be pondering the fate of the nation's newest veterans, many coming home with extensive needs and deep wounds of mind and body.

District 5 Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Anthony Nelson, a veteran of 12 1/2 years in the Army in Indo-China and Korea, and Union County American Legion Commander Frank Rivers are working to get a place where all Plainfield veterans can meet and help each other.

"We're working on acquiring a place of own," Nelson said, noting more than five years have passed without much progress, due to shifts in city administrators.

Various veterans' groups have joined to form the Plainfield Veterans' Alliance to pursue getting a building. The group has a lawyer and an architect, but come January members will have to start over with a new city administration to call attention to their cause.

Meanwhile, some veterans have joined groups in other neighboring municipalities that appear to be more "veteran-friendly," he said.Nelson said the Vietnam Veterans and the Marine Corps League have both moved to Westfield and other veterans go to Scotch Plains, South Plainfield or Dunellen for meetings.

The Disabled American Veterans Chapter 7 merged with Edison, Nelson said. "It comes up to about 10 different organizations that were in this community. Each one pursued trying to get a facility." But resistance was such that it was easier to go elsewhere, he said.

Nelson said a facility in Plainfield would serve city veterans and their families.

"We wanted to be there for them," he said.

Now there is a new group needing a unique kind of support, he said - those serving in the unprecedented street battles in Iraq against a shadowy enemy. "In 24 hours they are in a combat zone and then they are back here in the United States," he said.

If the Vietnam War veterans suffered a high level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and homelessness, Nelson sees Iraqi veterans as even more likely to end up debilitated.

His view is supported by information in the New Jersey Veteran Journal, a publication of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Among soldiers serving as part of Operation Iraqi freedom there is an increase in divorce rates, suicide rates and vehicle fatalities.

PTSD is also a large concern; a recent study from Walter Reed reported one in six returning troops suffer psychological damage," wrote Patty Richter, Chief of the Veterans Benefits Bureau.

The state agency has developed a Reconstitution Program for returning soldiers.

More info at

The current 71 percent of reservists now deployed is expected to rise to 75 percent soon.

"These service members are heroes who are returning to their civilian lives and jobs as fully productive members of their communities," Richter wrote.

Nelson fears that some who come home to Plainfield will slip through the cracks and end up unemployable or incarcerated unless they get help wrangling with federal bureaucracy.

He cited one instance of a soldier's wife who was pregnant with twins when one died in the womb. Nelson said the federal government would not allow what they deemed an "abortion" to take place, which left the woman in danger of blood poisoning. Finally a New York hospital volunteered to help and the soldier was allowed to return while his wife had the surgery.

In terms of getting a building, Nelson said there are also zoning issues to be settled before a veterans' facility can be located in Plainfield. But he feels it would be a benefit to any neighborhood with problems of prostitution or drugs, because its presence would deter such activity.

Meanwhile, many veterans gather daily at the Senior Center, more so to play cards and socialize than to take on battles with the Veterans Administration or to counsel younger vets.

Charles Nelson, no relation to Anthony, sympathizes with the quest for a veterans' building, but he said, "The biggest thing is financing."

As president of the Senior Center, he knows that issue well. The seniors just won city approval for $4 million to fund the new center they have been seeking for many years.

Even though enduring segregation in the 392nd Quartermaster Truck Company during World War II, Charles Nelson received useful veterans' benefits.

"I just hope they get half as much as we got," he said, citing the G.I. Bill (Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944) that provided education and housing benefits and an unemployment program.

Veteran Richard Tucker also agreed the problem in getting a city veterans' facility is money.

"The veterans in this area are being shortchanged," he said. "The things that veterans should have, they don't give them."

Despite a perceived community apathy and what Charles Nelson sees as disinterest even among some veterans themselves, a small band will gather at 10 a.m. Friday (Nov. 11, 2005) at the War Memorial, Watchung Avenue at East Seventh Street, to lay a wreath and salute those who served.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: veterans

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election Day, Decision Day

Candidates for mayor in alphabetical order: Ferraro, McWilliams, Robinson-Briggs.

Choose one of the above.

Polls are open now. They close at 8:00pm.

The sample ballot you received in the mail lists the location of your polling place.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Two public questions on the ballot Tuesday

The public is being asked to respond to two ballot questions. The New Jersey State League of Women Voters (LWV) has provided a detailed analysis and background information for each question. We have excerpted the following from their web site:

Public Question # 1: Constitutional Amendment to Establish the Office of Lieutenant Governor

Reasons to vote YES on the ballot question:
  • Provides for separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, a fundamental principle in our form of democratic government.
  • The Lieutenant Governor, like the Governor, has a statewide constituency, unlike the present succession process.
  • Establishing another statewide elected office opens up the electoral process to others to serve and gain statewide recognition and experience.
  • The amendment provides for a smooth transition without disruption of policy or change in party if the Governor leaves office.

Reasons to vote NO on the ballot question:

  • Fiscal impact is unknown since appointment to an existing executive position is not mandated.
  • Separation of powers could be achieved by requiring current succession process to include the legislative leader resigning his/her legislative seat.
  • The office is diminished in purpose and desirability without the guarantee of fulfilling the four-year term.
  • A mid-term election could prove costly and disruptive because nominees would have to be selected and placed on the ballot within as little as 60 days.

Public Question # 2: Constitutional Amendment to Expand uses of Dedicated Tax Revenue to Fund air Pollution Control and Administrative Costs of the Underground Storage Tank Program

Reasons to vote YES on the ballot question:

  • Cutting diesel pollution, which causes respiratory illnesses and trigger asthma attacks, will improve New Jersey's air and citizen's health. Thirteen New Jersey counties exceed soot pollution levels mandated by the EPA.
  • The retrofit of public diesel-powered fleets is estimated to reduce over 400 tons of soot pollution annually-about 10 percent of the total.
  • No new taxes are raised to fund this initiative.

Reasons to vote NO on the ballot question:
  • Opposition to the question focuses on the financial measures being used, not the need. Constitutional dedication for narrower and more specifically defined purposes leads to a rigid and inflexible tax structure making it more difficult for elected legislators to respond to changing conditions and needs.
  • Once the constitutionally dedicated money is no longer needed for its original purpose, it should be returned to the general treasury to meet current budgetary needs.

To read the entire piece on the LWV site, click here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Plainfield, a new land of milk and honey

The United Halal Meat & Grocery made a big move to Plainfield three weeks ago, just 15 paces south of the border from its previous Somerset Street location in North Plainfield. I've been waiting for the shop to arrive.

For the past three years area residents looking for Arabic and Middle Eastern food have grown to know United as a friendly place to find the wonderful foods they love.

"I'm trying to reach out to everyone," Debbie Ahmed said. "The Americans who come in like it, especially the way the fruit and nuts are set out."

Debbie is usually behind the register ready to give a warm greeting. In just a few minutes I felt like we were old friends with her calling me "my sister."

Debbie and her Egyptian-born husband Nasser Ahmed own United. They have been married for 18 years and Debbie says she converted to Islam 12 years ago. The couple work long hours, yet they share an obvious joy for the wholesome food they sell. Whether it is imported or domestic, everything they offer is natural, with no chemicals or preservatives.

I had come in looking for unprocessed honey and I certainly found the right place. Nasser told me that the Koran says honey has many medicinal and healing properties. Not only did I buy a big jar of dark Turkish honey complete with honeycomb, but I found a true exotic sweet: date syrup. (Can you imagine liquid dates on your morning pancakes?)

The store has diverse grocery goods, nevertheless at its heart United is a meat market. Go to the back and you will find the butcher -- that's right, a butcher -- standing ready to cut and prepare meat to your specification. Nothing is pre-packaged.

I know Plainfielders who will trek many miles and pay a small fortune to chain stores for what they can find right here, beautiful meats that are all free-range. The only meat United sells are "halal," hand-slaughtered according to Islamic law by an imam, which is similar in tradition to Kosher meat killed by a rabbi. The meat is all USDA inspected and delivered fresh, never frozen, from Pennsylvania -- best of all, no hormones.

With the new, larger store United has begun to offer take-out. The grill menu includes kafta and shish kabob, chops, and don't miss the big falafel sandwich. At $2.50 it could be the best meal deal in the city.

The bounty continues with cheeses and canned goods, dry lentils and fresh Middle Eastern breads, dried fruits and nuts -- you should see the giant hazelnuts. For a special treat, skip the pita and buy the fatir (fah-teer). Talk about rich! Fatir dough is layered with so much butter it would make a good croissant seem dried out.

You can find United in the annex attached to the old Tepper's building. Street parking can be difficult, but right across the street is the entrance to the large parking lot that runs from Somerset to Watchung behind Front Street.

As I walked away I reviewed what Debbie told me about her background - Italian, Sicilian - and she had a very familiar accent. I turned around, went back and poked my head in the door.

I called out, "Hey Debbie, are you a Jersey girl?"

"Newark, born and bred," she beamed.

United Halal Meat & Grocery
33 Somerset Street, Plainfield
Open daily, 9a.m. - 9p.m.


--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: food, business

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Clashing Forums Mark Finale of 2005 Campaign

There was no one-stop shopping Tuesday for voters seeking candidate viewpoints.

The League of Women Voters forum, a tradition for 85 years for city candidates, got competition this year from a new group, Women Across the City, which invited all candidates on the ballot to participate.

The League’s forum at the Plainfield Public Library attracted about 140 people to hear incumbent Mayor Al McWilliams and independent candidate Bob Ferraro answer questions about the mayoral contest.

Republican Al Coleman Jr. gave his views on issues in the 2nd & 3rd Ward at-large race for an un-expired term.

About a mile away at Washington Community School, about 180 people heard 2nd & 3rd Ward incumbent Rashid Burney and mayoral candidate Sharon Robinson-Briggs speak.

The line-up there also included Assemblyman Jerry Green, seeking his eighth term, and Assemblywoman Linda Stender, Freeholder Rick Proctor and County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, all seeking re-election. Elliott Simmons, unopposed for a 4th Ward seat, also appeared.

Not counting the 10 gubernatorial candidates on the ballot, the roster came up a bit short of the 16 other names on the printed ballot.

The reason given for the alternate forum was that the League of Women Voters was allowing McWilliams to speak, even though he is not on the ballot. McWilliams lost the June primary to Robinson-Briggs and lost a bid to run as a Republican in the general election. He and his supporters are now waging a write-in campaign.

The League took the position that McWilliams is likely to get at least 15 percent of the vote on Nov. 8 and so he was entitled to take part in the annual forum.

All three mayoral candidates for a four-year term submitted information for the League to publish, further confusing the reason for the last-minute alternate forum.

By coincidence, the ground rules for audiences at each forum were identical, prohibiting heckling and spelling out rules for submitting questions.

At the Washington School event, women organizers dressed in red in an echo of Robinson-Briggs' campaign signs.

At the library, Democratic Party stalwart Helen Miller was also dressed in red but said she was in the right place. Each audience appeared to contain both partisans and opponents to those on the dais.

The turnout - both in numbers and in who showed up - seemed to be more of a litmus test than the questions asked.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections

UPDATE (11/3/05) - In our original report we did not mention that Councilman Rashid Burney attended both forums on Tuesday night, beginning at the library and then moving on to Washington School. He was the only candidate to go to both events. BTK