Thursday, September 29, 2005

Judge: "Sore Loser" Law Unconstitutional, Put McWilliams on Ballot

When Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi rejected Mayor Albert T. McWilliams’ filing to run for mayor as a Republican, she relied on the so-called “sore loser” law that states a municipal candidate who loses a party primary cannot run for the same office in the general election under a different party banner.

But on Thursday (Sept. 29, 2005) Union County Superior Court Judge Walter R. Barisonek decided the law is unconstitutional and ordered Rajoppi to put the mayor’s name on the November 8 ballot. He immediately stayed the order until 4 p.m. Friday to allow any appeals.

The statute, NJSA 19:13-14.1, allows McWilliams to switch parties and run for City Council, freeholder or an Assembly seat, but restricts him from running for mayor, the seat he has held for eight years.

Philip Morin, the chairman of the Union County Republican Party and also the attorney who argued against Rajoppi’s action, said Thursday he was confident the ruling would be upheld on appeal and that voters would return McWilliams to office. He said Barisonek recognized the “fundamental unfairness“ of the law.

In his lengthy opinion Thursday, Barisonek meticulously addressed points argued Wednesday by attorneys representing Rajoppi, the Democratic Party, the state Attorney general’s office and the plaintiffs, which included McWilliams, the Plainfield Republican Municipal Committee, the county GOP and three Plainfield voters. It took about 90 minutes for Barisonek to read the opinion ,which included a complete history of the mayor’s situation and copious citations of case law on election rules.

“There is no litmus paper test that can resolve the present matter,“ he said, noting there is no case on record that covers the Plainfield situation.

He concluded letting the mayor run as a Republican after his failure in the Democratic primary would not upset the election process or cause party confusion, as the state and defense argued.

"The Democratic Party in Plainfield, I find, will not fall apart," he said.

Past cases dealt with primary losers then trying to run as independent or minority party candidates in the general election to draw votes away from a major party. In this instance, the candidate is moving from one major party to the other. If he is barred from running, only one major party will be on the ballot. Barisonek cited a court ruling that it is the public interest to preserve the two-party system.

Barisonek upheld Morin’s assertion that the rights of voters and candidates to associate with like-minded individuals is protected by the First Amendment, and that denying McWilliams the right to run would also deprive voters of the right to a choice on Election Day.

McWilliams was not present in court Thursday, but later issued a statement referring to primary victor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

“Sharon’s biggest fear and that of her Democratic Union County bosses was realized today when the court ruled in favor of the voters,” he said.

McWilliams, apparently assuming he will prevail in any appeals, said, “This constitutional change enables the voters of Plainfield to choose between me as an experienced, qualified, issue-oriented public official, and my opponent, who has no true public experience, is not qualified to be mayor, and supports campaign tactics that disrespect the intelligence of our voters through the issuing of baseless, misleading, and negative statements.”

The Appellate Division will be under time constraints to rule on any appeals, because ballots must soon be printed for the Nov. 8 election.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections

Judge rules for McWilliams, but...

Union County Superior Court Judge Walter R. Barisonek ruled today (Sept. 29, 2005) that the New Jersey state "sore loser" law is unconstitutional.

If allowed to stand, the ruling will enable Mayor Albert T. McWilliams to run again for mayor of Plainfield as a Republican in November's general election.

Following an hour and a half discussion of the issues involved in the case, Judge Barisonek ordered Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi to put McWilliams' name on the Plainfield ballot. He then immediately stayed the order for one day to allow appeals to be filed by 4:00pm Friday (Sept. 30, 2005).

The Plaintalker's Bernice Paglia is returning from the courthouse in Elizabeth and will file a full report later in the day.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: elections

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Judge hears arguments, tells lawyers 'come back tomorrow'

The question of whether Mayor Albert T. McWilliams will be on the November ballot as a Republican candidate remained undecided Wednesday (Sept. 28, 2005) after arguments from attorneys for the Plainfield GOP, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi and the state Attorney General's Office.

Union County Superior Court Judge Walter R. Barisonek started the proceedings Wednesday by saying he did not intend to render a decision right away. He will do so at 10 a.m. Thursday, he said.

McWilliams lost the June Democratic primary, but after Cheryl Arana dropped out in mid-September as the Republican candidate for mayor, the city GOP invited McWilliams to fill the vacancy. He changed parties and filed, but on the Sept. 21 deadline for filling the vacancy, Rajoppi rejected the filing, saying it violated the state's "sore loser" law that prohibits municipal primary losers from filing under another party banner in the same year's general election.

The state Attorney General's office got involved because the GOP's argument against Rajoppi's stand challenges the constitutionality of a state statute.

On Wednesday, Barisonek said, "I read all the briefs myself, I read all the cases myself," noting he left nothing to law clerks.

Starting with attorney Philip Morin representing McWilliams, the county and city Republican committees and three voters as plaintiffs, Barisonek said every "sore loser" case dealt with an independent or minority party candidate and asked why it shouldn't apply to a majority party as well.

Morin said the major parties are treated differently and the cases of independent or minor parties focused on "the mischief that would be created by those kind of candidacies."

Barisonek tossed back the county's defense that the law should apply to major parties to stop factionalism, preserve uniformity and preserve the primary route to the general election.

After more exchanges with Morin, Barisonek said, "I think that you may have conceded at this point that Mr. McWilliams does not have a fundamental right to run."

But Morin said there were "substantial" rights of the unaffiliated voters, the Republican Party and the candidate himself at issue.

Barisonek said voters were not bound by affiliation in the general election.

"That's why we close the curtain," he said.

His opening question to the defense was, "Why shouldn't I call this the 'worried winner' statute as opposed to the 'sore loser' statute?"

County Counsel Robert Barry said a change in the route to the ballot "may very well have a concerned winner."

In his rigorous questioning, Barisonek said the only way McWilliams could run under the statute was as a write-in candidate and said "we have a Democratic stronghold" because there would be no one else for the voters to choose.

Barry said the statute only precluded the Republicans from selecting a single individual from the "tens of thousands" eligible to run for mayor.

Attorney Joyce Wan said the Attorney General's office had "no interest whatsoever" in the outcome of the Plainfield race, but was only there for the constitutionality of the statute.

"The court can only construe the statute as whole," she said.

She said the statute's intention is to prevent intra-party feuding being played out in the general election.

Wan said if voters in Plainfield feel strongly enough that they want McWilliams to be mayor, they have the right to a write-in vote.

As Barisonek finished hearing the arguments Wednesday, he said, "I have vacillated three times already in deciding this case. I listened to everybody and read all your papers, and that's it."

As he set 10 a.m.Thursday as the time for his decision, he advised all parties to have appeals documents ready, as the case will affect Rajoppi and the ballot situation.

Presently, the November 8 ballot now will only show Democrat Sharon Robinson-Briggs and independent Robert Ferraro as candidates for mayor.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: election

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Political mailers a touch premature?

On the eve of a crucial court appearance on Wednesday (Sept 28, 2005) to determine whether Mayor Al McWilliams can switch parties and run as a Republican, there are indications the campaign machinery opposing his candidacy is already in gear.

Even before the judge rules whether McWilliams is eligible to run in the general election voters received a flyer in the mail that is reminiscent of last spring's primary campaign.

McWilliams lost the June primary but last week received an invitation from the Plainfield GOP to fill a vacancy on the ballot caused when Cheryl Arana dropped out.

Downtown Station South project revised

One of the city’s most ambitious redevelopment proposals has resurfaced after numerous revisions to a study of the 23-block area involved.

At the Sept. 26, 2005 City Council meeting, Planning Director William Nierstedt introduced the revised study and asked the council to look at it for a couple of weeks before possibly declaring the area in need of redevelopment and asking the Office of Economic Development to prepare a redevelopment plan.

Nierstedt stressed that the requested council approval was only an interim step and he did not expect a redevelopment plan to be in place before next summer.

The Downtown Station South proposed redevelopment area is a 50-acre site roughly bounded by Second Street, Watchung Avenue, Central Avenue and Seventh Street.

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams told the City Council on April 11 that he envisioned $300,000 condos and townhouses replacing dilapidated structures in the study site. The blocks around the main train station could become a transit village catering to commuters and featuring pedestrian-friendly shopping and entertainment, consultants said.

The Downtown Station South study was the subject of two public hearings last spring where residents asked for corrections of Hillier Architecture’s survey of the blocks south of the main train station on North Avenue.

At the spring hearings, residents griped that the consultants had not taken into account several interim land use approvals in the designated area and had misidentified some of the properties.

On Monday, Hillier representative Emily Young gave a presentation correcting the status of certain properties, although the overall recommendation remains the same.

The redevelopment area includes the former A&P Plaza at Park Avenue and Seventh Street and the Park Hotel, which the study describes as an illegal boarding house.

The final recommendation excluded a few properties, but still covers 18 blocks.

The study uncovered numerous auto-related businesses, a prohibited use in the central business district, Young said.

Nierstedt said Monday that before any plan is proposed, all merchants and property owners in the area will have their say in a “development plan that starts from the bottom up.’

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: Redevelopment, planning

Street encounters morning and afternoon

This morning the Plaintalker encountered several Plainfield High School students tieing pink (fuchsia, actually) ribbons around trees at the Plainfield Public Library and along Park Avenue to help raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer.

Later in the afternoon we came upon a car sitting on a West Seventh Street sidewalk, looking as if it was snuggling in the shrubbery. From our side of the street it didn't appear as if the driver was seriously injured in this traffic incident.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: feature

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Enjoy the Leaves - Till They Fall

Autumn is officially here and soon the city’s 38,000 trees will begin dropping their leaves.

But due to new state Department of Environmental Protection regulations, raking them to the curb may not be an option this year. In order to improve the quality of water that runs into storm drains and eventually to the state’s waterways, the DEP is attempting to limit the amount of natural and manmade debris that is washed into the drains. At a July 12 City Council budget meeting, City Administrator Norton Bonaparte told the governing body that unless a municipality can guarantee that piles of leaves will be removed from streets within seven days, bagging may be required.

All new construction and redevelopment will have to take into account the stormwater regulations, Public Works Superintendent John Louise told the council at the same budget session. Land use ordinances must be revised accordingly to include language on control of runoff into the storm drains. And the present storm basin grates themselves must be replaced to prevent less contamination, Louise said.

Despite the early warning, when a flap arose over a proposed $16 million bond ordinance that included $175,00 to cover costs of meeting the regulations, the council broke the ordinance into four separate ones. The bond ordinance that included the DEP expenses was slashed from $4 million to $1.9 million on Aug 15, omitting the $175,000 and many other items, even though Bonaparte made a specific request for the council to spare the DEP funding.

Residents can get a limited amount of free paper leaf bags at the city yard on South Avenue, but some homeowners find themselves needing dozens to hold the volume of leaves in neighborhoods lined with mature oaks, such as East Seventh Street near Terrill Road. The volume can be reduced by running a lawn mower over leaf piles or by using leaf vacuums that shred the leaves. If they have room in their back yards, homeowners may choose to compost their leaves.

To see how one Union County municipality explored and resolved the issue, visit

New Providence officials took into account the burden of bagging on seniors, the costs involved with a stepped-up leaf collection schedule to meet the 7-day deadline and possible cooperation with landscapers to help reduce borough costs.

The DEP’s goal is to prevent flooding from clogged drains as well as to curtail the effect of decomposing plant matter on the quality of water in rivers, streams, lakes and bays. Residents are also asked not to put trash or cigarette butts down storm drains and not to let animal waste, motor oil, fertilizers or pesticides get into stormwater. The agency calls all these elements “Non-point Source Pollution,” or people pollution from everyday human activities such as washing the car, walking the dog or fertilizing the front lawn.
For more information:

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: Fall leaves

Friday, September 23, 2005

Political Wars May Stimulate Voter Participation

This is Plainfield: “Democrats hold a slight edge in registered voters over the Republican Party in Plainfield. Increasingly, the city has supported Democratic candidates in state and national elections, while the two parties remain quite competitive in local elections. From 1974 through 1981 Plainfield has had a Republican mayor but a Democratic majority on the council.”

Actually, that was Plainfield in 1982, the last year the League of Women Voters was able to produce its informative “This is Plainfield” booklet. A scant generation later, registered Republicans are outnumbered 8 to 1 by Democrats and more than 7 to 1 by voters who don’t belong to either party.

It is against this political backdrop that the drama of Mayor Al McWilliams’ party change - two terms as a Democrat and now hoping for a third as a Republican - is playing out. Having angered Union County Democrats, McWilliams was denied the party line and had just days to put together a slate of “New Democrats“ for the June primary.

He lost to the Regular Democratic Organization candidate, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, and in the summer issue of “Positively Plainfield,“ the quarterly publication of the Special Improvement District, McWilliams talked about moving on.

After detailing his accomplishments over eight years as mayor, McWilliams wrote, “As we all move forward on the journeys of our lives, I leave this honored office of Mayor knowing that Plainfield is in a better place now than it was when I came into this office.“

But after GOP mayoral candidate Cheryl Arana withdrew on Sept. 13 ,the GOP invited McWilliams to fill the vacancy and he accepted. Since then, he changed parties and the GOP submitted his name to Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, but she rejected it on Wednesday, Sept. 21, the last day to fill a vacancy. On Thursday, the GOP won a judge’s approval to hold up printing of Plainfield ballots until both sides can be heard in court Wednesday to argue the constitutionality of the so-called “sore loser” state law that Rajoppi invoked in rejecting the filing.

Whatever comes out of the fray, it has put a sharp focus on Plainfield politics.

McWilliams says he wants to run as a “fusion” candidate to represent Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters who share his vision for Plainfield. On Primary Day, more than 1,300 unaffiliated voters became Democrats just to have their say in the RDO/New Democrat battle. GOP County Chairman Phil Morin argues the “sore loser” statute’s specific prohibition on party changes for municipal candidates means the city’s 11,000 or so non-Democrats will be denied a chance to choose McWilliams for a third term.

Among the plaintiffs in the GOP case are two unaffiliated voters. McWilliams said they are part of a coalition that collected names of people who would support him. He said the coalition was “something that grew up on its own,“ and called it “quite heartening.“

If the turmoil does no more than get lots of people involved in city politics, it could still be a plus for Plainfield.

In 1982, the LWV booklet listed 42 voting districts. Now, due to voter apathy, that number has dwindled to 34. That means voters were once able to choose a male and female representative in each district for a total of 84 grassroots elected representatives and now there are only 68 City Committee seats for each party.

When Chairwoman Sandy Spector spoke of an “overwhelming majority” of GOP City Committee members favoring McWilliams, she was right. Of 27 members, 23 came to Monday’s meeting and 20 voted “yes” to select him. In 2006, the Republican Party Municipal Committee reorganizes and with any luck, may find more people willing to run for committee seats or local office as a small step toward bipartisan balance.

If the mayoralty goes to Robinson-Briggs or Bob Ferraro, citizens riled up by the McWilliams issue may be more inclined to demand accountability from the winner. And if McWilliams is able to run and wins, he will have to live up to the hopes of the diverse coalition that wants to see the city move away from never-ending political wars and on to a collegial approach to solving the city‘s problems.

As of Sept. 23, the city had 1,160 Republicans, 9,210 Democrats, 8,755 unaffiliated voters, 70 declared Independents, one Constitution Party member and three Libertarians. The General Election is Nov. 8. Voters, start your engines.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The 'other' Republican on the November ballot

Al Coleman doesn’t yet know whether he will be the only city Republican on the November ballot or whether he will have a unique new running mate in Mayor Albert T. McWilliams.

McWilliams lost the June Democratic primary to party chairman Jerry Green’s candidate, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, after county Democrats dumped the mayor off the line at the last minute. In the past couple of weeks, Republican mayoral candidate Cheryl Arana dropped out and McWilliams became a Republican in order to accept the Plainfield GOP’s offer to fill the vacancy.

The city and county GOP delivered necessary papers Tuesday to Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, but on Wednesday Rajoppi rejected the filing, citing a state “sore loser” statute that says a person whose name appears on the ballot for a primary election as a candidate of one party may not be eligible to serve as the candidate of another party at the general election the same year.

Now the matter is in the courts and may not be resolved for days or weeks. Republicans want the printing of Plainfield ballots held up until it is resolved.

Coleman, a mortgage banker, is challenging incumbent Democrat Rashid Burney for the one-year unexpired balance of a term representing the 2nd and 3rd Wards. Republicans did not file any candidate to run for a four-year term representing the 4th Ward, leaving Democrat Elliott Simmons unopposed.

While the courtroom drama continues, Coleman is campaigning on his belief that the city needs a bipartisan offering to voters.

"It has been my contention that a one-party system does not work," he said.

While only Democrats had a choice in the June primary, all the city's 19,000 voters can have their say on Nov. 8.

Coleman says he wants to "lead by example" and notes he has renovated six Plainfield homes over the last year and a half. In addition, he said, he plans to open the Bankers and Brokers Jazz Club in the former Rusty Spigot on Watchung Avenue as well as a "five-star restaurant" to draw people from throughout the metropolitan area. He also wants to bring in more investors to the downtown area, he said.

In appealing to residents across the board, Coleman said, "We need people that will stand up for what they believe in."

Asked about his view of McWilliams' eight-year tenure, Coleman said, "He can do a good job. I feel that he was in the right direction."

With McWilliams' status up in the air, Al Coleman doesn't yet know whether he will be the only city Republican on the November ballot or whether he will have a unique new running mate in Mayor Albert T. McWilliams.

The local ballot includes Robinson-Briggs and Independent Robert Ferraro for mayor, Simmons unopposed for the 4th Ward seat and Coleman and Burney vying for the unexpired 2nd and 3rd Ward term.

Meanwhile, the state Attorney General's office may get involved Monday, according to GOP attorney Phil Morin. That's because the challenge is an attack on the constitutionality of a state statute. It is possible, Morin said, that Peter Harvey's office will submit a brief arguing that the statute is constitutional.

"Obviously, we differ with them," Morin said.

On Wednesday (Sept. 28, 2005) there will be a final hearing in Elizabeth with Union County Superior Court Judge Walter Barisonek at which time there may be a ruling on the issues presented Thursday. Morin said the judge could give a decision from the bench or could reserve his decision for 24 hours.

So far, Democrats have not intervened, but the possibility of a challenge remains.

Meanwhile, Coleman keeps up his mantra: "Our politicians need to understand something. They're in office to represent the people in the town."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: politics

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Whooping cough cases put families on alert

All parents should be on the alert after three city children developed Pertussis, or whooping cough, this month, Plainfield Health Officer Dr. Jadwiga Warwas said Wednesday (Sept. 20, 2005).

Children who are coughing, especially with a gasping intake of breath, or "whoop," should be seen by a doctor immediately.

Warwas said she informed all school nurses, physicians, hospitals and the Plainfield Health Center as soon as two cases were diagnosed on Sept. 13. Three days later, another case was diagnosed. All three victims, ages 11 months, 3 years and 11 years, were in the same family, she said. Warwas declined to name the school involved.

All the children were "fully immunized," she said, but she did not think a different strain of the bacterial infection was the cause, adding perhaps the problem was a "mistaken vaccine."

All three children and their parents were treated with antibiotics, she said.

Statistics from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services show nine instances of the highly contagious disease reported statewide in 2002, with 59 in 2003 and incomplete numbers of 38 for 2004 and 13 for 2005. In Union County, there were no cases in 2002, two in 2003 and none reported for 2004.

The disease can affect all ages and has been on the rise steadily since the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in December 2003. It targets those too young to have immunizations and adolescents whose immunity from early childhood vaccinations is no longer effective.

As described by the CDC, the disease lasts for weeks and causes severe coughing, whooping and vomiting. It debilitates young people and can kill persons of any age whose immune systems are weak. Epidemics occur every three to five years.

Children who are coughing should be examined and have a nose swab done to test for the disease, Warwas said. If the doctor believes the child has whooping cough, antibiotics will be prescribed and the child must stay out of school until five days of treatment have elapsed.

Warwas said the restriction will remain in effect through the end of the month.

Warwas, who took office in September 2003, is a medical doctor as well as a public health officer. She said her credentials are "a great advantage to the administration of Plainfield" and said her job is one "I do with all my heart."

In this case, she said, "We took the action immediately, and it was a good one."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: health

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Court case looming large for local GOP?

County Republicans filed papers Tuesday (Sept. 20, 2005) naming Mayor Albert T. McWilliams as their choice to fill a vacancy created when Cheryl Arana bowed out of the city's mayoral race, but GOP County Chairman Phil Morin said Tuesday afternoon he expected a legal challenge to the move.

McWilliams was a lifelong Democrat until he changed his party affiliation Monday (Sept. 19, 2005) in order to accept the invitation to run on the GOP line. In June, the two-term incumbent failed to win the Democratic primary by 325 votes out of 5,101 cast for mayor.

County Democrats may undertake a legal challenge based on a state law that says anyone who was a primary candidate may not switch parties to run in the November general election. The sticking point is whether the law addresses vacancies that occur when a primary candidate withdraws.

Some legal pundits believe there is no case law on the subject and it may break ground.

Even though months of speculation preceded the mayor's decision, it still came across as an affront to the Democratic Party and at a meeting Friday (Sept. 16, 2005) Assemblyman and Plainfield City Committee Chairman Jerry Green asked members to pledge allegiance to the party.

Green claims all did, but among personal statements, Councilman Cory Storch said, "No one has my vote - neither Al or Jerry. I joined the Council to help Plainfield move in a positive direction, not to be a rubber stamp for political leaders. Al has done good things for Plainfield during his tenure as Mayor and City Committee chair. Whoever becomes the next Mayor will have my support to help Plainfield. But if actions are taken by the city administration that are not in the best interests of Plainfield, I will oppose those actions. I am a Democrat and an independent thinker and will act accordingly."

Events leading up to the current situation include:

A Thursday (Sept. 15, 2005) meeting of the Plainfield Republican City Committee to consider nominees for the vacancy.

A Friday (Sept. 16, 2005) meeting of the Democratic City Committee to ask all members to pledge commitment to all Democratic candidates on the line for the 2005 general election.

A Saturday (Sept. 17, 2005) press conference at the home of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams to announce the Republican endorsement.

A Monday (Sept. 19, 2005) Plainfield Republican City Committee endorsement and change of party affiliation by McWilliams.

A Tuesday (Sept. 20, 2005) confirmation from GOP County Chairman Phil Morin that the vacancy had been filled.

In switching, McWilliams goes from a Democratic Party with nearly all 68 possible City Committee seats filled (mostly due to challenges to Green's party rule) to a party with less than half its committee seats filled.

Republican City Committee Chair Sandy Spector talked about an "overwhelming majority" of committee members endorsing McWilliams, but on further questioning, she said the number was 20 of 23 members present for the meeting.

At Monday's City Council meeting, former Democratic Mayor Rick Taylor warned council members who were elected as McWilliams insurgent "New Democrat" allies that their future political careers now depended on showing their allegiance to the Regular Democratic party headed by Green.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections

Monday, September 19, 2005

Police lieutenant up for school security post

Police Lt. Donald Moye is retiring from the Plainfield Police Division and is up for appointment as the first director of District and Homeland Security for the school system.

The Board of Education will vote Tuesday (Sept. 20, 2005) on his appointment, at a salary of $105,000. The board meeting is at 8 p.m. at Clinton School, 1304 W. Fourth St.

The job includes responsibility for safety in all schools and district buildings. The director will plan and implement Homeland Security measures and will serve as a link to governmental agencies. Training and direction of security officers, monitoring of safety equipment and establishment of a mobile district security force are among the many other tasks for the year-round position, according to a job description adopted by the school board in July.

If appointed, Moye will take charge Wednesday (Sept. 21. 2005).

Police Chief Edward Santiago confirmed that Moye is retiring after 25 years with the Police Division.
Moye is the second superior officer this month to retire for a high-profile security position. Captain Michael Lattimore, formerly the city‘s Public Safety director, was appointed public safety director for the Newark Campus of Rutgers University.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey made school security a key item in his State of the State address in January 2005, citing a terrorist infiltration of a school in Russia and the revelation that New Jersey school floor plans were found on a computer disc in Iran.

Codey called for inspection of the state’s 3,400 schools, security courses for school personnel, a school security summit in April 2005 and a campaign to get more federal funds to increase security.

Noting that terrorists used construction work as a cover to hide explosives and weapons at the Russian school, Codey also called for monitoring of school construction sites.

Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow and county police chiefs are working closely with school superintendents in each district to create safety plans, spokesman Robert O’Leary said Monday.

Besides improving communication and security measures, the goal is to produce “real, working documents” outlining steps for all kinds of emergencies, Romankow said.

Moye is already part of the security network.

“We have worked continuously to find better ways, with the total support of all educators, to provide programs such as drug interdiction, gang awareness, anti-bullying and violence prevention,” Romankow said.

“Members of our Counter-Terrorism Task Force and the Gang Unit have already worked with Lt. Donald Moye on other prevention programs to make sure some of these policies are already being carried out in the schools.”

The governor’s initiative is being carried out in Union County through the prosecutor’s staff and the staff of Union County Schools Superintendent Carmen M. Centuolo, Romankow said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: School district

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Assemblyman Green is not too happy about the mayor's party switch

If Mayor Albert T. McWilliams was a thorn in Assemblyman Jerry Green's side before, he has just pricked him deeper with his late re-entry into the mayoral campaign as a Republican.

Green, also the city's Democratic Party chairman, had been leading early transitional activities for his candidate, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who beat the two-term incumbent in a bitter June primary fight. In this heavily Democratic city, it was assumed that the primary win meant an easy glide to victory on Nov. 8.

Green's main focus over the summer had been aiding the gubernatorial campaign of Sen. Jon Corzine. Now, instead of intensifying his efforts for Corzine, he said Saturday (Sept. 17, 2005), he will have to raise funds to fight off the new challenge from McWilliams.

"I can't go out of Plainfield," Green said disgustedly.

At his Saturday press conference announcing the switch, McWilliams said in the primary, Green's forces outspent his backers six to one with a $347,000 war chest garnered from Democrats all over the state.

Green said even though McWilliams accused him of pulling in outside money for the local battle, the mayor will now be doing the same thing and campaigning all over the state with Doug Forrester, the GOP's candidate for governor.

The new lineup could also strain local elected officials and administrators who were on their way to accepting the primary results. Several City Council members came into office as New Democrats, bucking the entrenched party rule. McWilliams himself had to run as a New Democrat after he was kicked off the line just days before the primary.

Both Green and McWilliams ran slates for the 68 Democratic City Committee seats up in June, but after the election all the winners automatically became Regular Democrats.

"For the first time in eight years, we had unity in the city," Green said.

Green said he held a city committee meeting Friday night. "Four of the council members are prepared to work with us to move the city ahead," he said.

With Regular Democrat Elliott Simmons running unopposed for the 4th Ward seat in November, Green said he will have a majority of five on the seven-member council after Jan. 1, when Simmons takes office.

The New Democrats held a reorganization after the primary and named Democratic Freeholder Adrian Mapp as president. Mapp said Saturday the group cannot endorse anyone, but individuals are free to vote for whomever they choose.

"It's all about Plainfield. It will be an interesting six weeks," Mapp said.

"I hope at the end of the day that it's victory for Plainfield." McWilliams said he wants to debate Robinson-Briggs as soon as possible. She said Saturday all he has to do is contact her campaign to have a debate arranged."The issues will still be the issues," she said.

But she seemed less annoyed than Green at McWilliams' move. "This is America, and Americans have the right to run for any election," she said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections

McWilliams says "Yes" to the GOP

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams said today (Saturday, Sept. 17, 2005) he has agreed to run for another term on the Republican line, appealing to all the city’s 19,000 voters as a “fusion” candidate.

A two-term Democrat, McWilliams was forced to run offline in the June primary and lost to Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who was backed by the Regular Democratic Organization.

At a press conference in his Prospect Avenue home, McWilliams said he was asked Thursday night by Republican Party Chairwoman Sandy Spector to run for mayor in the November election. The GOP had a vacancy due to the withdrawal of Cheryl Arana.

Before making his announcement, McWilliams took time to thank his family - his wife, Darlene, and their five children - for supporting him in his political career, most recently through what he called “the ugliness of campaigning” in the hard-fought primary.

“Thank you and I love you,“ he said.

McWilliams said after his primary loss, many people asked him to run as a write-in candidate, but he said the effort would be difficult and not enough “to keep Plainfield moving forward.”

“Plainfield needs leaders,” he said, “leaders that are not afraid of pushing back or refusing mandates of county political leadership.”

Speaking against nepotism and patronage, he said, “My belief is as it has always been - Union County party politics will only be acceptable if it benefits the residents of Plainfield.”

Now, he said, “I consider myself to be a ‘fusion’ candidate for this city, connecting a future with the Republican Party with a successful Democratic past.”

Citing his background, which includes eight years as mayor and service on the City Council, he said Robinson-Briggs has “absolutely no city government experience.”

McWilliams said he wants to debate Robinson-Briggs as soon as possible.

As McWilliams spoke to reporters with Union County Republican Party Chairman Phil Morin and longtime mayoral supporter Chris Onieal looking on, a small group gathered across the street.

City activist Joan Hervey held up a “Stop the Violence” sign left over from a rally last week.

Asked how long she would stay there, Hervey said, "Until the violence stops."

The Regular Democrats blamed McWilliams for a string of 14 killings and said he laid off police, but McWilliams said Saturday the City Council laid off police against his wishes and that most of the killings were done by persons who knew their victims.

Another of the four people across the street was Keith Biddulph, who ran for City Council as a Republican against Democrat Cory Storch. Storch is now the 2nd Ward councilman.

Biddulph said he was there to find out what the mayor was going do to and when he heard McWilliams was switching, he called it a “good move.”

“The mayor has made progress,” he said.

Spector said she could see Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters “getting rejuvenated right across the city“ and felt the mayor‘s decision was “keeping Plainfield on the right path.”

McWilliams must still change his party affiliation, which he said he intends to do Monday at the Union County Board of Elections.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections, mayor

Friday, September 16, 2005

Saturday EVENTS

Despite a student's off-campus shooting Wednesday (Sept. 14, 2005), a planned celebration of the Plainfield School District's new season will take place today (Sept. 17, 2005).

The "We're Serious About Learning" event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Plainfield High School Field. A flier for the event pictures the district mascot, the Cardinal, with glasses, a pile of books and an apple, suggesting a scholarly approach to schooling.

Library Park, West 9th St and Arlington Avenue
Environmental info and demos, fun, food and entertainmnet for the entire familySponsor: Plainfield Municipal Utilities AuthorityInformation: (908) 226-2518

At the Plainfield home of Paul Phillips and Shep Brown,1217 Cambridge Avenue (off Leland Avenue)

Sakia Gunn was a 15-year old African American lesbian who was murdered in a hate crime in Newark in 2003. Compared to the 1998 gay-bias murder of Matthew Shepard, Sakia Gunn’s murder drew limited media coverage.

The goal of the Sakia Gunn Film Project is to make black LGBTI kids more visible and less vulnerable, to elevate them and signal to everyone that these black LGBTI young people are worth loving and protecting.
A minimum donation of $25 is being requested.

An anti-violence event that organizers hoped would take place this weekend will now be rescheduled to next month, according to staff at Cathedral International.

The 7,000-member group based in Perth Amboy and led by Bishop Donald Hilliard holds outreach services in Plainfield High School under the name, "Cathedral in the Fields." A spokeswoman at the church office said the event was rescheduled to October, with a date to be announced.

Mayor McWilliams on the verge of declaring for GOP?

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams will spend the weekend pondering whether to seek a third term, this time as a "fusion candidate" for Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters, he said Friday (Sept. 16, 2005).

In a fierce June primary struggle, McWilliams lost to Assemblyman Jerry Green's choice for mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, by 325 votes out of 5,101 cast. In the Democratic reorganization just after the primary, he also lost the party chairmanship to Green. McWilliams had to put together his own slate of New Democrat candidates after he was rejected by the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County just days before the primary.

McWilliams said GOP Chairwoman Sandy Spector offered him the line Thursday to fill a vacancy created when Republican mayoral candidate Cheryl Arana dropped out. He said he has to give the GOP his answer by Monday (Sept.19, 2005). The official deadline to fill the vacancy is Wednesday.

"I'm honored to be considered," McWilliams said Friday. "This is an opportunity I and my family will consider."

McWilliams was the first two-term mayor in the city's history when he won re-election in 2001. Both his elections were powered by his "New Democrats," who after the June primary reorganized with Freeholder Adrian Mapp, a former City Council member, as president.

McWilliams said after June he wanted to know "how my opponent won without giving any factual information."

The warring Democrats crammed voters' mailboxes with glossy fliers that were heavy on rhetoric. A large contingent of unaffiliated voters became Democrats on Election Day so they could weigh in for one faction or the other.

As of Aug 1, 2005 the city had 1,164 registered Republicans, 9,250 Democrats (a 17 percent surge over pre-primary figures) and 8,708 unaffiliated voters, a 14 percent drop from before the primary.

Green said Friday he was not surprised at the GOP offer and predicted McWilliams will "come out of the closet" and declare "I am a true Republican."

"Here's an individual who in the last campaign (has) accused me as well as Democrats statewide of party politics," Green said, alleging McWilliams was now trading GOP support for a much-needed African-American credibility boost to Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester. Green said Forrester only has a 6 percent rate of approval among blacks.

In return for campaign support, Green alleged, McWilliams would have "no problem going around the whole state with Doug Forrester."

"My biggest problem and embarrassment has been Al McWilliams," Green concluded sourly.

McWilliams said he has not discussed a possible GOP campaign with major Republicans in the state, just with Spector, his family and local supporters.

Asked whether he had looked into the legalities of a possible switch after losing the primary, McWilliams said, "That's probably a good idea." But he said he believed a recent case in Perth Amboy had set "a clear legal precedent."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: mayor, elections

Ballard Fox cuts back on city development work

The city’s economic development director, Pat Ballard Fox, has launched a consulting company and is only working 21 hours a week at City Hall, she said Thursday (Sept. 15, 2005).

Ballard Fox was hired in June 1998 as deputy city administrator in charge of economic development. She remained on the job through both terms of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, but her tenure ends Dec. 31 when McWilliams leaves office.

Ballard Fox said her firm, PBF Consulting, specializes in project management for transit and economic development projects.

“I have a major consulting contract working for two state agencies, but I wanted to continue the Plainfield work to the best of my ability for the rest of the year,” she said.

She declined to name the agencies, but said one is affiliated with Rutgers University.

When Ballard Fox came to the city, the downtown Park-Madison and Tepper’s sites were the main focus of redevelopment. An office building, stores and a parking deck have since been built on the Park-Madison site and the former Tepper’s department store has been converted to 75 apartments with stores and a day care center at ground level.

Ballard Fox said she was also pleased that the city has set up a Special Improvement District to fund improvements downtown and in the South Avenue business district. In addition, she has helped foster a new Plainfield Chamber of Commerce.

The first phase of a Downtown Streetscape project is being completed, bringing new sidewalks, trees and benches to the central business district. Her office has also developed new marketing materials, she said.

"We've done a lot with a small crew," she said.

Currently, there are more than a dozen redevelopment projects in various phases.

“Were I to leave Economic Development now, there would be only one staff person,” she said. “There is too much work for one person.” Ballard Fox said she hopes several projects can progress before the end of the year.

Some of her goals:
  • Amend a plan covering 197 properties to allow the sale of some parcels for commercial purposes.
  • Seek City Council adoption of a redevelopment plan for the downtown block that includes the Strand Theater.
  • Amend a plan for the Tepper’s block to allow sale of two city-owned properties.
  • Seek adoption of the Downtown Station South redevelopment study that covers 23 blocks south of the main train station.
A couple of major projects went through all the study and planning steps of the redevelopment process, only to be rejected by the City Council. Ballard Fox said the $25 million mixed use project for the North Avenue Historic District and the $15 million Marino’s project, which would have brought a supermarket to the West Front Street tract, failed to win council approval.

Asked whether she would serve as a consultant to the next administration, Ballard Fox said, “Absolutely. I would be glad to continue on a project by project basis,“ she said.
--Bernice Paglia
KEYWORDS: development, planning

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Republican candidate for mayor bows out and her replacement is...?

Republican mayoral candidate Cheryl Arana, who said in early July she had to drop out for family reasons, finally withdrew from the race Tuesday (Sept. 13, 2005).

The Plaintalker first reported that Arana had not formally withdrawn two weeks ago. (GOP mayoral candidate reluctant to withdraw?)

Her formal withdrawal triggers the process of filling the vacancy. The Union County Elections Division of the County Clerk's office will notify the county and local chairmen of the vacancy and the Plainfield GOP will have until Wednesday, Sept. 21 to fill it.

GOP Chairwoman Sandy Spector announced last week the party was holding screenings for the seat, but as of Wednesday, no name had been made public.

As of Aug. 1, there were 1,164 registered Republicans in the city, down from 1,553 when Mayor Albert T. McWilliams won his first term in 1997.

McWilliams lost the Democratic primary to Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Former Councilman Bob Ferraro is also running for mayor as an independent candidate.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections

Lattimore Moves On

Last week, Rutgers would not confirm what Plaintalker already heard: Former Public Safety Director Michael Lattimore was taking a key security job at Rutgers Newark.

Now, we have a press release dated Monday (Sept. 12, 2005) that spells out the news.

Lattimore, formerly in charge of the city’s two most costly divisions, Police and Fire, will now head a force of 85 public security employees covering safety on a 36-acre campus for more than 10,000 students and employees.

According to Rutgers' press material, Lattimore's past experience working with schools and community groups "will be a huge benefit as we shift to a community policing model on our campus.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: police

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Anti-Overcrowding Ordinance To Be Enforced

Property owners will soon receive notice that city inspectors will begin enforcing a new ordinance aimed at curbing overcrowding.

The City Council approved the ordinance in November 2004. It calls for registration of all one- and two-families homes where the owner does not live on the premises, annual inspections of all such homes and limits on the number of people living there.

Since passage of the ordinance, the Division of Inspections has been busy hiring more inspectors, purchasing vehicles, training the new hires and assembling software to support the new program.

By Oct. 23, the first inspections will begin.

Owners will have to submit their names and addresses, 24-hour emergency numbers, floor plans showing the number of sleeping rooms and the number of tenants in each unit. Registration will cost $75 for each unit. Inspections may be made from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, with the occupant‘s consent. Unregistered units may not be occupied.

Multi-family dwellings must be registered with the state Bureau of Housing Inspection.

As reported in the Plaintalker Sept. 6, 2005, stepped-up code enforcement is already causing an uproar as residents are finding inspectors in their back yards or are being cited for violations not found previously.

Inspections Division Director Jocelyn Pringley and Chief Code Enforcement Officer Oscar Turk met with the City Council Monday (Sept. 12, 2005) to discuss questions and concerns raised by the intensified effort.

Pringley said inspectors have had authority since 1965 to go on private property. City Administrator Norton Bonaparte said the most recent instance of inspectors having to go into yards was after the city passed an ordinance on abandoned cars in yards. To check whether cars are registered, inspectors must go up to the vehicle and may even look under tarps over cars.

Residents’ alarm is such that some inspectors are being threatened, one even with a gun, Public Works Director Priscilla Castles said.

“When you walk onto property, it is going to come as a shock,“ City Council President Linda Carter said, asking what was being done to inform residents of the changes.

An open house on the overcrowding ordinance will be held Nov. 9, Pringley said, but she cited efforts to educate residents about a prior ordinance that ensured at the time of sale that either the buyer or seller would bring the property up to code.

Pringley said to publicize the Certificate of Compliance program, her staff visited all city Realtors to explain it. In addition, she and Turk taught local adult school classes on the topic for three years.

Council members said residents were calling them about inconsistencies in violations issued and about gruff language from inspectors.

Inspections officials said recent training for inspectors covered customer service.

John Campbell, head of Century 21 John C. Campbell Agency on Park Avenue, told the council, “I never heard of nobody recently dying from overcrowding,” as he presented his objections to the ordinance.

But Castles said fervently, ”People do die from overcrowding,” citing fires, disease and other harm.

“Don’t we want our citizens to have a better environment than being stacked on top of each other?“ she asked.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, September 12, 2005

'Nobody is asking the hard questions except'...Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who camped outside George Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, made a low-key visit to Westfield Monday where she spoke outside Town Hall at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone.

Sheehan is demanding a face-to-face talk with the president on the war in Iraq, where her son, Casey, was killed in combat.

Pallone, Plainfield's congressman, said he asked Sheehan to visit Westfield because Bush stopped there on his tour to promote his Social Security privatization plan in March (Mar.4, 2005).

On that winter day the congressman's bus tour to support Social Security made a stop on South Avenue to pick up a number of Plainfield residents.

Sheehan and Pallone faced a bank of television cameras and microphones on the lawn of Town Hall, but only a few citizens showed up for the event.

Barely audible over the noise of East Broad Street traffic, Sheehan pressed home the points she is making all across the United States in a bus tour following her August protest in Texas.

"We need to hold somebody accountable for the tragedy and travesty that is going on in Iraq," she said.

Sheehan cited the human toll in soldiers killed, or wounded, mentally or physically, in the war.

She said she began speaking out because "nobody was asking George Bush the hard questions" about why soldiers and innocent Iraqis were dying. After the Downing Street Memo confirmed there were no weapons of mass destruction, she said, she wanted even more to know why billions of dollars were being expended on the war.

"It has been proven that George Bush is failing our country in Iraq," she said, and pointed out the Hurricane Katrina disaster response as a further dereliction.

"Nobody is asking the hard questions except me," Sheehan said.

Her support, she said, includes "Gold Star mothers who don't want any more people to join our group."

Pallone said he voted against the war from the beginning and is a member of the "Get Out of Iraq" caucus that supports internationalization of the war.

Pallone said the Pentagon has determined that of 18 Iraqi provinces, 14 are secure. He said there should be an international presence in those provinces.

"Then the United States can concentrate on the four provinces that are not secure," he said.

Pallone said the United States cannot continue to pour lives and resources into the war effort.

"This war has to end and we have to have an exit strategy," he said. "There is really no accountability in Congress about this war."

Fran Middleberg of Springfield, whose son served in Iraq, said military families are seeing their soldiers sent back to Iraq multiple times.

"We need empathy," she said. "We need some shared sacrifice here."

After sharing hugs with Middleberg and other supporters, Sheehan left Westfield to resume her tour, now in Pennsylvania.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: national politics

PMUA Reaches 10th Anniversary

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's 6th Annual Environmental Fair Saturday (Sept. 17, 2005) has special meaning for authority officials. The fair, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Library Park, coincides with the authority’s 10th anniversary. Plaintalker met with officials to discuss the authority’s first decade.

Its early days were marred by lawsuits and fiscal woes, but at 10 years the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority is successfully carrying out its mission to keep the city clean, Executive Director Eric Watson said.

The authority was created by the city to deal with two major problems: illegal dumping and a dilapidated sewer system, Assistant Executive Director David Ervin said. The city’s Public Works Division was spending more than half its time cleaning up vacant lots and abandoned property where people were tossing trash to avoid paying garbage bills. The sewer system, built in 1913, was a marvel in its day but had clogs and leaks that needed attention to remedy chronic backups and basement flooding that plagued several neighborhoods. Municipal government, limited by tax revenues, could only do so much to address the problems. An authority is able to determine the cost of its operations and can set rates accordingly.

Ervin said the state was trying to limit the number of municipal authorities at the time that officials were trying to form the PMUA. He said former Senator Donald DiFrancesco came to Plainfield to observe one of the Public Works cleanups. When he saw hordes of rats run out of the debris, Ervin said, DiFrancesco told then-Mayor Mark Fury, “Clean up that town!“

Created in 1995 by ordinance, the PMUA began as little more than Watson equipped with a cell phone, a desk and a private van. The city extended start-up funding and the authority got most of its initial staff from Public Works. All its executives - Watson, Ervin and Louis Jones - had served as Public Works directors and were very familiar with the sewer system and the trash problems. The city and the authority signed an Interlocal Services Agreement and the first board of commissioners was appointed.

But soon the fledgling authority found itself the target of lawsuits by the City Council, citizens and trash haulers, Ervin said. The legal battle stalled its operations for two and a half years, he said.

Watson wryly recalled being named in the Courier News “People to Watch” list in 1995. But despite its rocky start and widespread suspicion by residents, the authority was finally able to start managing the city’s 116 miles of sewers in 1997. It also began a recycling program, using a contractor. In September 1997, Ervin said, the authority went out for bids to conduct citywide garbage pickup.

Soon contractors began backyard trash collection and six bulky waste pickups per year. The change from using private haulers rattled homeowners, who bombarded the authority by phone and in person with complaints.

“It was mass confusion,“ Watson said.

At first, people welcomed the chance to empty their cellars and attics of accumulated trash, making piles three and four feet high on the curbs. But later, residents tired of seeing mountains of cast-offs every other month. Some complained they were embarrassed to have out-of-town guests visit. But when the authority reduced the number of pickups, others complained they were cutting services.

The contracted garbage pickup allowed the authority to learn more about the volume of trash that needed to be collected weekly, but officials knew that when the contract ended, they would never get such a low bid again.

“We knew costs would go up and drive rates through the roof,” Ervin said.

So the authority decided to get its own staff and equipment to do the work in-house. Residents now receive two curbside trash pickups and one recycling collection each week.

Besides cutting costs, the move provided dozens of Plainfield residents with an employment opportunity. Many of the early employees had past brushes with the law or other reasons for being rejected by the job market, but with training and encouragement, a solid staff emerged.

“We’ve got a good group of guys now,” Watson said. “They like the job - they like the benefits.”

Most people are now familiar with the black-and-white PMUA logo. They see it on the shirts of workers, including those who clean up the business districts on foot; on the authority‘s fleet of trucks and specialized equipment; and on its quarterly newsletter to residents. The authority has its own administrative building at 127 Roosevelt Avenue and has other offices in several locations, including the Rock Avenue transfer station that the city owns but which the authority has improved to the tune of more than $600,000.

The next step, Watson said, is to renovate the transfer station to handle more tonnage and to build a complete maintenance facility for its fleet on Cottage Place, Watson said.

The authority has also expanded its educational outreach beyond classrooms and block associations to make sure all of the city’s many new Spanish-speaking residents understand its workings.

“People know who we are and what we are doing,” he said.

Asked what he is most proud of at this milestone, Watson said, “We‘re here and continuing to operate.”

The authority is now the city‘s fifth-largest employer, Watson said.

“Plainfield’s own people are making the city look better. They are cleaning our neighborhoods and making a living,“ he said.

--Bernice Paglia


Sunday, September 11, 2005

That's why they call it 'Park' Avenue

When I moved to Plainfield nearly 19 years ago downtown was a ghost town of boarded up storefronts.

I try to describe to newer residents how you could stand in the middle of Front Street between Park and Watchung on a Saturday afternoon and be hard pressed to count more than three passing cars in a 15 minute period. Honest!

That was then. Plainfield has changed. Downtown is bubbling, even if it isn't your cup of jugo de tamarindo. There's new life and I like it, but it comes with a whole lot more cars.

The traffic jam that snared me on Friday was a temporary situation due to random street closings for repaving and the result will be a great improvement. Still, I would have avoided Park Avenue had I known it would take me an extra ten minutes to make a five minute drive.

Memo to City Hall: The Plaintalker will be happy to publish street closing notices so that residents can plan alternate routes through town.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: traffic

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stopping the violence and staying positive

Aaron Spivey turned 27 last month. His twin brother, Corey, did not.

Corey Spivey was fatally shot in an early-morning melee a year ago in the same 500 block of Park Avenue where Aaron was buying food at Kennedy Fried Chicken Saturday (Sept. 10, 2005).
A few doors down the block, Priscilla Phillips recalled finding bullet holes the next day in the windows of her shops, Braids Beauty Boutique.

"Three bullet holes went through three different sections," she said.

Things have since quieted down on the block, where three late-night eateries had been attracting hundreds of people after closing hour at local clubs. The only reminder of the violence there is a scrawled memorial on a wall near where Corey Spivey was shot.

Corey Spivey's death was one of nine homicides in 2004. This year, the city has been stunned by a rash of 14 violent deaths.

Stephanie Alexander, whose brother, Gavin Smith, was killed in 2002 and whose daughter, Aieshia Johnson, was paralyzed in 2001 by gunfire, wanted to hold a "Stop the Violence" march and motorcade Saturday, but could not get official approval.

Instead, about 25 people met at Rushmore Playground for a rally, then a dozen cars and vans formed a motorcade to the 800 block of Richmond Street, where they held another rally.

Participants included members of People's Organization for Progress, mayoral candidates Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Bob Ferraro and former Mayor Richard L. Taylor.

POP state leader Larry Hamm gave a litany of the kinds of violence that must be stopped: Domestic violence, violence in the streets, anti-gay and lesbian violence, police brutality, the violence of war and that suffered by economically deprived people such as those suffering last week in New Orleans.

"We must stop the violence of poverty," he said.

Despite the screaming headlines about homicides this year, Hamm did not think the turnout for the rally was poor.

"It takes time to build up," he said, describing the movement as in its "nascent stages."

Back at Kennedy Fried Chicken, employee Manzoor Ahmed said, "It's been quiet."

Phillips said more police presence is needed. Aaron Spivey agreed. "The first thing they should start doing is show more police officers on the street," he said.

The Spivey family will spend a quiet weekend, remembering Corey's passing with a family cookout.

We'll stay positive," his brother said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: violence

Dig Deep For Katrina Relief

A day before federal legislators began calling for an investigation into what went wrong with the response to Hurricane Katrina, two City Council members made a plea for both an investigation and a strong local response to the disaster.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, (Sept.6, 2005) Councilmen Ray Blanco and Rayland Van Blake broke protocol by introducing a resolution on the spot regarding the disaster.

Blanco said the government was “clearly unprepared” for the hurricane that virtually destroyed New Orleans and many Gulf Coast towns.

Van Blake faulted the timeliness of the response, saying the weather forecast made it clear that a disaster was impending.

Van Blake condemned the portrayal of hurricane victims as looters.

If faced with a lack of food and water, he said, “I would probably kick in WalMart’s front door as well.
“The fact that they are being portrayed as animals is completely despicable,” he said.

“This is something we cannot just sit back and let go quietly.”

Van Blake said he wanted to go to New Orleans to help out.

He asked city residents to give whatever help possible.

“Please dig deep, Plainfield,” he said, asking all to make sure they helped someone in need.

All City Council members present endorsed the resolution.

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams also called a meeting thi s week to form a task force to coordinate local response to the disaster.

For more information or to volunteer, call the mayor’s office at (908) 753-3310.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Protests In Limbo

In the wake of 14 violent deaths this year, two city protests are awaiting official approvals.

One group expects to hold a march Saturday (Sept. 10, 2005) nearly from border to border in the city, but approvals are still lacking.

The group wants to hold a march and motorcade from Rushmore Playground in the West End to to Milt Campbell Field atthe city's east border.

Another group wants to carry a symbolic casket across several blocks in the troubled West End but has not yet received permit approval.

Public Safety Director Jiles Ship said Wednesday the proposed Sept. 10 “Stop the Violence” march and motorcade from Rushmore Playground in the West End to Milt Campbell Field at the city’s East End had not received final approval as of Wednesday (Sept. 7, 2005).

Another protest is scheduled for Sept. 17, by Cathedral International., a church that is currently meeting at Plainfield High School. Organizers want to carry a casket along Fourth Street between Clinton and Plainfield avenues. Church congregant Sarah Pretty said Tuesday the group wants to hold a “Stop the Funeral” march.

Citing 13 deaths in recent months, Pretty said, “We do not feel it’s normal to have that kind of violence.”

By the next day, news reports notched the total deaths to 14.

-- Bernice Paglia

City Responds To Katrina

No police officers will be leaving the city for hurricane relief, city officials said Wednesday (Sept. 7, 2005), but the city will mount a volunteer response from individuals and local organizations.

At a meeting in the YMCA on Watchung Avenue, public safety officials and Mayor Albert T. McWilliams hastened to say that a news report Wednesday about 20 officers wanting to go to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast was erroneous. Fire Chief Cecil Allen, Police Chief Edward Santiago and Public Safety Director Jiles Ship said no personnel can respond to the disaster without state authorization.

Earlier Wednesday, Plainfield Police Benevolent Association Local 19 President Andre Crawford said, “We never reached out for our members to go there. We don’t have the luxury to have people to send down.“
The city has had 14 violent deaths since March and a countywide task force has been assigned here to deal with crime.

About 70 people attended the meeting at the YMCA, where former New Orleans resident and chaplain Eva Santemore described her attempt first to help relatives and then to aid those in need of counseling after evacuations.

Santemore described the people of New Orleans as clannish and extremely proud. In the wake of the disaster, she offered her assistance as a chaplain to victims of the hurricane.

The city response involves identification of what each organization or person can offer.

City Information Officer Dan Damon said Wednesday the task force will become a clearing house for relief requests.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fatal stabbing of North Plainfield man becomes Plainfield's 14th death since March

A North Plainfield man died in the city's 14th fatal encounter this year.

Larry Virola, 25, of 115 Cypress Gardens, North Plainfield was fatally stabbed when a fight broke out Monday night (Sept. 5, 2005) in a city parking lot off West Front Street, police said.

Since March, the city has had 12 homicides and one death due to aggravated manslaughter.

In the latest incident, a crowd of about 40 people had gathered by the Green Brook for a party when the fight erupted near 10 p.m. Police arrived to find Virola unresponsive in the back of a car.

The Plainfield Rescue Squad and Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center's Mercy 6 Unit responded. Virola was taken to Muhlenberg, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

Police said the party was in Municipal Lot 4, between Madison Avenue and Somerset Street. An ongoing dispute between two people turned into a fight and it was unclear whether Virola was taking part or trying to stop the fight, police said. There were no suspects as of Tuesday evening.

Anyone with information should call Plainfield Detective Fernando Sanchez at (908) 753-3415 or Union County Prosecutor's Office Detective Michael Manochio at (908) 527-4645. Anonymous callers may also leave information at (908) 654-TIPS.

On Tuesday, the parking lot was empty except for children riding bikes, a couple of men having a beer after work and a residents' group from Horizons at Plainfield digging a hole to plant a tree.

Nobody knew anything about the party, which police said took place "near some large potted plants," but all any visitors saw was a group of weedy concrete planters that formerly stood on Front Street.