Monday, October 31, 2005

"I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!"

East Side...

West Side...

all around Plainfield town....

It's Halloween, All Saints Eve, El Día de Muertos - whatever you celebrate, decorations can be found in all parts of the city.

Whether they're grandiose displays for the whole neighborhood or small expressions of the harvest season, the city has been dressed up with witches and cobwebs, cats and owls, pumpkins, ghosts, scarecrows and creatures of all sorts...

They are looking out and they have their eyes on you.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Warning, warning, warning--politics full speed ahead

Plainfield residents are growing increasingly agitated with the political tactics being put into play as the November municipal election campaign enters its final week. In a small scale rerun of June's painful primary campaign, the battle is being waged through mailings to voters.

The current flashpoint is a flyer sent out by Plainfield 2005, the local Democratic party campaign committee which is supporting Sharon Robinson-Briggs' mayoral run. It cautions voters they could lose hard-won voting rights if they use an absentee ballot.

The right to vote is not an insignificant issue in a city like Plainfield with a majority African-American population, still the "Warning!!!" mail piece has raised the ire of residents across the city. Its message also flies in the face of efforts statewide by both Democrat and Republican parties to increase voter participation through this method of voting.

"It's unfortunate that it is coming down to a street-level fight," Marion Fowler said. "We don't need any more negativity. Everyone has to live together after the election is over."

On one side of the flyer bold type states: "Too many people have died for your right to go to the polling booth to vote. Don't give it up." On the reverse it makes a charge that supporters of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams' write in campaign are "urging voters to cast absentee ballots for McWilliams and no other candidates."

"I don't get it. How do you lose your right to vote?" Brenda Desena asked. She grew up in South Plainfield and eventually bought a home in Plainfield with her partner because of the supportive community and the nice homes the city offered. "You can vote for everybody. I think they are trying to take advantage of voters."

The flyer goes on to say, "To do so means, you CANNOT vote at your polling place on Election Day for Democratic candidates for Governor, State Assembly, Union County Offices, Mayor or City Council."

"They should be ashamed of themselves for making people think that they can't vote for anyone else than Al," Plainfield home restoration specialist Bill Santoriello said, referring to the Robinson-Briggs camp's attack on Mayor McWilliams' write-in campaign. "That's what they are insinuating."

It's untrue," said Chris Onieal, spokeman for the McWilliams campaign, regarding the flyer's accusations that using an absentee ballot would restrict voters' rights. He also pointed out that "absentee ballots have been a part of both gubernatorial campaigns."

In July Acting Governor Richard J. Codey signed four bills into law that greatly expanded voter access for New Jersey residents.

In fact, Assemblyman Jerry Green, the principal backer of Robinson-Briggs' candidacy, was a co-sponsor of one of those bills. Green, nevertheless said McWilliams is going beyond encouraging people to vote by mail for 'personal reasons', alleging the mayor's supporters will go to homes to help voters fill out the forms.

The whole purpose of the reforms were meant to "restore accountability to state government" because "government cannot function without the public’s trust,” Codey said, according to a press release issued at the time. “But improving the integrity of government also requires that we strengthen the electoral process itself.”

Do Plainfield residents think those values are being upheld in the Queen City?

"I found the flyer very misleading," Robin Gates said, "It's really a scare tactic."

"When Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq," Gates continued, "they used scare tactics to convince people" that the war was necessary. Gates believes that, in a similar way, the Robinson-Briggs campaign is trying to make people believe something that isn't true.

Recently the Corzine campaign put out a very expensively produced brochure promoting the "EZVote" process. It included an actual absentee ballot application that was pre-filled out with the voter's name and a second blank copy to pass along to a friend. The state's new vote-by-mail project is a major undertaking meant to boost voter participation.

Onieal questioned why the local Democratic Party's municipal campaign would not follow the path set by state leaders. He pointed out that "the state and the Corzine campaign are investing millions of dollars" in the Vote-by-Mail initiative and that the "Warning!!!" flyer runs counter to efforts to improve the electoral process throughout the rest of the state.

The mailer overstates the law on using an absentee ballot, saying a voter "receiving an absentee ballot CANNOT vote in person" on Election Day. While this statement is true on the face of it, the worrying language surrounding it unnecessarily raises questions about the legality of peoples' effort to cast their vote.

Consistant with that line of argument, Green said, "People are actually stretching the law to the point where they are actually becoming illegal."

Both the flyer and Assemblyman Green's comments seem to conflate outside interference in filling out the absentee ballot, with the assistance McWilliams supporters are offering to encourage voters to send in applications for the ballot.

"They are talking down to people and insulting the intelligence of the people of Plainfield," Gates said about the Robinson-Briggs campaign. "Its disgusting that they're playing such politics."

"I'm not saying Mr. McWilliams has done everything 100%, but I have yet to see one piece of paper that shows me what Mrs. Robinson-Briggs stands for," Fowler said. "[People] may not like what they have, but they don't know what they're getting" in someone new.

The Plaintalker has contacted both the Corzine campaign and the New Jersey State Democratic party several times by phone and email over a three-day period, but no response to our questions about the flyer was forthcoming from either organization.

Barbara Todd Kerr, with additional reporting by Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: politics, election

Second Forum Splits Voter, Candidate Choice

A new group called “Women Across the City“ is staging its own forum Tuesday (Nov. 1, 2005), countering the traditional League of Women Voters Forum.

While the League holds its forum for mayoral and City Council candidates at 7 p.m. in the Plainfield Public Library on Park Avenue, the new group will hold its forum at 7 p.m. in Washington Community School on Darrow Avenue.

Democratic mayoral candidate Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Assemblyman Jerry Green will take part in the alternate forum, Green said Saturday. Green said the new group, headed by Gloria Taylor, wife of former Mayor Richard L. Taylor, is inviting candidates for any level of government to its forum as long as they are "on the ballot".

Green said the local League of Women Voters had tailored its rules to allow incumbent Mayor Albert T. McWilliams to take part, even though he is not on the ballot. Only Robinson-Briggs and Independent Candidate Bob Ferraro are on the ballot.

McWilliams lost the June Democratic primary to Robinson-Briggs and then lost in court a bid to run for mayor in the general election as a Republican. Currently, he is running as a write-in candidate.

Green said the local League of Women Voters has McWilliams partisans among its members and has tarnished its reputation by allowing the mayor to take part.

The Plainfield League of Women Voters assumed that McWilliams was likely to get at least 15 percent of the mayoral vote. The League ran forum advertisements last week featuring responses on issues from McWilliams, Robinson-Briggs. Ferraro and City Council candidates.

Green insisted the local League had hurt itself by its stance and candidates were entitled to seek an alternate venue.

“Why get involved in a circus?“ he said.

Not everyone agrees with Green's assessment. "I've been living in this city for 30 years. [Politics here] is like a dynasty," Marion Fowler said.

"It's an insult to the people not to have [Robinson-Briggs] speak in the same forum. Who is she?" Fowler asked. "What's her platform?"

Ferraro said Saturday he also objects to allowing McWilliams to take part, but will be at the League forum.

“I’m not happy that they put him on, because he’s not a candidate,“ Ferraro said. “I was never a candidate when I did write-ins.”

Ferraro has run under both party banners and as an independent in various campaigns.

Regarding the League forum, he said, “Whether Sharon shows up or not, that doesn’t bother me.”

Others on the local ballot will also have to decide where to be on Nov. 1.

The local roster includes two candidates for the 2nd & 3rd Ward at-large seat, Democrat Rashid Burney and Republican Al Coleman Jr. and one 4th Ward candidate, Democrat Elliott Simmons who is running unopposed.

--Bernice Paglia, with additional reporting by Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: politics, elections

Saturday, October 29, 2005

It's that time again

Fall back. It's bonus time.

Tonight you get an extra hour of sleep to make up for the one you lost last spring.

It's official at 2:00 am, just turn your clocks back an hour to 1:00am.

For those of you attending costume dramas tonight, Happy Halloween dreams.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

Friday, October 28, 2005

'Don't cry for me, Argentina?'

The onions stopped me dead in my tracks. They didn't call my name, they shouted out their own.

¡Holy cebollas! I didn't expect the roots aisle of Supremo's produce section to be where I'd encounter a question of allium cultural identity. Yet there they were: "Hispanic" onions 69 cents.

When I was a kid those big yellow onions were 'Spanish' onions. And the giant white ones were Bermudas. But whether it was big round onions or scallions or leeks I didn't make much of a distinction, I hated them all. I didn't like their smell, I didn't like their taste.

One summer helping out at the church rummage sale my assignment was cutting up onions for the hamburgers the minister was grilling. That was my pre-teen idea of hell. Onions were miserable condiments and I spent a very long hot morning in the church kitchen slicing and crying and slicing and crying.

Flash forward to the 'politically correct' 21st Century and a cart-stopping moment at the grocery. In my heart I knew something about the sign was wrong. If it was a translation that would be okay, but that's not what this was about.

Why not allow Spanish onions to remain Spanish? Or maybe call them cebollas de españa. After all that's their origin which is not true for the many people who now call Plainfield home. And yes, I have been well-schooled to use the term "Latino," yet in our city the popular word is "Hispanic." In reality, neither is correct when applied to either onions or people.

Hispanic is about a language and a proper Latino could be Italian. If we were to follow this pattern, why wouldn't Americans and Australians and many South Indians be simply "English?" Clearly that doesn't work, so what's missing? The fact that our 'Hispanic' neighbors are Spanish-speaking tells the rest of us very little about who they are.

A few years ago I was in Twin Cities, my closest grocery store. Standing there, head and shoulders above my fellow shoppers, the blatantly obvious finally hit me: The Maya had moved to Plainfield! Wow!

The reality is that our growing 'Hispanic' population includes individuals who are indigenous people and of mixed blood. They come from many distinct cultures with long histories in Central and South America as well as from islands in the Caribbean. Look around the next time you go through the city and take in the richness right under your nose. Plainfielders' roots have grown to include Columbians and Cubans, Mexicans and Guatemalans, Peruvians and Salvadoreans, Hondurans and Equadoreans and Puerto Ricans and...

Or picture for a moment the family who recently moved to my block:

Edgar is Columbian and his first wife was Spanish. His children from that marriage live in Spain. Go ahead, you can call them Spanish.

Maria was born in South Carolina to a Mexican mother and Irish-American father. At the age of five her family moved to Mexico and little Maria didn't speak any Spanish. Then, as an adult, she returned to the U.S. not speaking a word of English and these days she still has a definite accent.

Together the couple have a 5-year-old son who is fluent in Spanish and English. If you were to ask Andres who he is my guess is he'd say he is an American, just like his mother.

'Hispanic' onions? I don't think so.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

FURTHER UPDATE (11/15/05): I finally asked Andres where he's from, "Englewood," he said.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Council Approves Pool Repairs But Demands Better Information

A delayed City Council vote on a $1.2 million bid for pool repairs passed Thursday, but not without more of the same kind of complaints that held it up 10 days ago.

Council members refused to vote on the measure Oct. 17 because administrators could not tell them what proportion of $750,000 in Green Acres funding for the project was grant money or a loan. On Thursday, City Administrator Norton Bonaparte's comment that Green Acres funding is almost always 50-50 did nothing to appease council members who felt that information should have been given at the Oct. 17 meeting.

Councilman Ray Blanco said he wanted to make a "tiny little correction" to Bonaparte's remark, noting nobody in the administration could answer at the prior meeting.

Blanco voted a "reluctant 'yes'" to the pool repairs and said it would be the last time he made such a "reluctant" vote for something presented as an emergency item.

"If it means that nothing gets done from here to eternity because it wouldn't get four votes, so be it," Blanco said.

Councilman Don Davis dressed down the administrators, saying, "You guys got to be more professional."

Councilman Rashid Burney voted "yes" for the pool repair bid, but said, "I feel like my hands were strapped behind my back" in the decision and said, "We're not getting enough information."

Burney said if the council can get adequate information from administrators, "It will really help the whole working relationship."

At the Oct. 17 meeting City Engineer Carl Turner said that the project had to be approved by Oct. 27 or risk having the pool project not being finished in time for next summer.

Recreation Director Dave Wynn said the large pool and kiddie pool at Rushmore Playground have been closed for at least three years. Children were bused to Hannah Atkins pool or to Seidler Field this summer, he said. But the Seidler pool also needs repairs, he said.

Corporation Counsel Jacqueline Drakeford raised the thought that many projects take place over a span of years and that even though the administration may view the council as a continuous body, members should be brought up to date on any given project.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: budget, city council

Council Set For Pool Vote In Special Meeting

A crucial City Council decision for repairs to city pools is up for a vote tonight (Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005).

The council will meet for budget deliberations at 7 p.m. and will hold the special meeting at 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Council members refused to vote on the matter of a $1.2 million contract for pool repairs on Oct. 17 because city administrators could not explain exactly how much of $750,000 in Green Acres funding for the project was a grant and how much was a loan. Objectors on the governing body said they recalled the whole amount being described as a grant.

The city has municipal pools at three locations, Rushmore Playground and Hannah Atkins Field in the West End and Seidler Field in the East End.

According to the 1982 "This is Plainfield" guide published by the League of Women Voters, at each site the city has 75-foot by 40-foot pools with depths of three to more than 10 feet, as well as smaller pools 42-foot by 36-foot with depths of 2.5 to 5-feet.

Recreation Director Dave Wynn said the Rushmore main pool has been closed for three years and the kiddie pool has been closed for at least 15 years.

Wynn said Seidler Field pools were in almost as bad shape.

Hannah Atkins Field had the best pool, he said, with repairs made and showers installed.

The pool season normally runs from the closing of school in June to Labor Day, Wynn said, but the need for college-bound lifeguards to leave in late August often means early closing for some pools, he said.

The pool operation requires one lifeguard per 50 patrons, Wynn said, with each lifeguard visually checking a section of a pool. At least five lifeguards must be on duty at any given time at each site during pool season, he said .

All lifeguards must be trained in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation as well as lifeguard skills, Wynn said.

Besides the municipal pools, swimmers can use pools at the YMCA, YWCA, Plainfield High School and at the Black United Fund building at Seventh Street and Central Avenue., he said , but most charge for use of the pools.

Wynn estimated the use of the Hannah Atkins pool at 1,875 weekly, including children enrolled in city summer camps.

Although the most immediate problem is repairs to the pools, Wynn said he hopes to establish ways to make the pools self-sustaining through fees and grants.

Because Rushmore was closed this summer, children from that neighborhood were bused at city expense to the two other pools.

Regarding the Green Acres question, Wynn said he believed the loan aspect of the funding was only two percent.

At the Oct. 17 meeting, City Engineer Carl Turner said if the vote was put off until the Nov. 14 meeting, the pools would probably not be open in 2006, which triggered the special meeting tonight.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: budget, pools

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Three Shootings and an Anti-Violence March

A church group planning a march against violence for Saturday (Oct. 22, 2005) took a rain date postponing their event one week. Just hours later, three men were hurt in shootings.

Early Sunday, gun violence resulted in injuries to three men, two at a notorious corner where a young man was shot to death a year ago.

Police went to Park Avenue and East Fifth Street at 2:10 a.m. Sunday to investigate reports of shots fired, but the two victims had already arrived in the emergency room at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. Arthur A. Goffe, 26, had an apparent gunshot wound to his upper body and was taken to another hospital, police said. John Johnson, 18, was grazed by a bullet and was released after treatment.

The intersection has two late-night eateries where crowds gather after bars close. Last month, someone scrawled a graffiti memorial to victims of violence on a wall near where Corey Spivey was shot to death in September 2004 during one such gathering.

Anyone with information on the two shootings is asked to call Plainfield Detective Frank Wilson at (908) 753-3066.

In a separate incident at 5:15 a.m. Sunday, police returned to Muhlenberg to investigate a reported aggravated assault. Altereek S. Whitlock, 23, had also been shot in the upper body and was also taken to another hospital for further treatment. Police said Whitlock was shot by unknown persons while he was in the 100 block of Liberty Street. He walked home and was then driven to the hospital.

Plainfield Detective Jean Calvin is investigating this incident. Anyone with information may call him at (908) 753-3036.

In response to a record number of deaths by violence in the city this year a “Stop the Funerals” march is being sponsored by Perth Amboy-based Cathedral International. Members plan to carry a coffin along West Fourth Street from Clinton Avenue to Plainfield Avenue.

The group, which also holds services in Asbury Park and Plainfield, is calling on all churches, community organizations and individuals to join the march from 5 to 7 p.m. this Saturday (Oct. 29).

Cathedral’s senior pastor, Bishop Donald Hilliard Jr., said there have been so many funeral processions for young people that they have become “normative.“

“Jesus wants to deal with the young men and women with dreary hollowed-out eyes we see daily on street corners and in vacant lots,“ he said. “Within America's children today, there is a tug of war going on. That’s why we don’t have time to play church. We’re out of time for foolishness. Jesus is raising up a funeral-stopping church because the funerals are occurring daily, and we’re fighting for our lives.“

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: shooting, anti-violence

More On the Mail-In Ballot

As readers know, this reporter decided to give the “No Excuse” mail-in vote a try this year. A new law permits absentee voting without having to give a reason such as illness or absence on Election Day.

The packet an absentee voter receives includes the ballot itself, an inner envelope with a detachable verification of the voter’s identity and a larger envelope to be mailed to County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi with the secret ballot inside.

The voter marks each choice by filling in an oval with blue or black ink or pencil. Write-in votes may also be cast.

This writer absentmindedly filled in one extra oval and feared the ballot was spoiled. The remedy for a messed-up ballot is a trip to Elizabeth with the bad ballot to get a replacement.

But a call to the County Clerk’s Elections Division revealed that one extra filled-in oval on the Absentee Ballot will not invalidate it.

The optical scanner used to read ballots records filled-in ovals next to the big black arrows on the form, so a random spot will not mar the ballot.

So after obeying the final rule to “affix proper postage,“ I mailed it at the main post office on Watchung Avenue. The deadline to mail in the ballots is Nov. 1.

Voters can write in names for any category of candidate - governor, freeholder, county clerk, mayor, Assembly representative or City Council member- but one candidate is relying solely on write-in votes.

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams lost the June Democratic primary to Sharon Robinson-Briggs and was later denied a ballot spot as a Republican. Only Robinson-Briggs and independent candidate Bob Ferraro are on the ballot for mayor.

The incumbent mayor’s fate hinges on getting enough voters to write in his name properly, so a blunder on a campaign flier recently distributed to voters took on more importance than an ordinary typo.

The flier describes the write-in process and then asks voters to print “Al McWilliamns” in the mayoral line.

A campaign worker said Monday the error was due to lack of proofreading and would be corrected. McWilliams said at a kick-off rally for the write-in campaign that voters should print “Albert McWilliams” on the line.

All three mayoral candidates have been invited to speak at a League of Women Voters forum on Nov. 1 to be held at the Plainfield Public Library, Park Avenue and West 8th Street.

--Bernice Paglia


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Voting By Mail

For this story, I am departing from the reporter’s viewpoint as observer.

I’m telling what happened after I decided to vote by mail in the new state initiative that requires no particular reason to do so.

A few days after I sent in my Civilian Absentee Ballot Application, I received the ballot itself.

It was in a big envelope with lots of contents, but I was horrified to see that the outer envelope was not glued shut. The glue on the flap was unmoistened, leaving the envelope open to anyone who cared to pry.

A quick call to the County Clerk’s office verified that all the contents were intact. They included the ballot itself, a yellow insert explaining the two public questions in depth and a return envelope with lots of reminders about how to return it to the County Clerk.

The ballot had a detachable flap with the warning, ”DO NOT DETACH,” which required the absentee voter to write in his or her name, address, and signature in the form of an oath that the ballot had been completed in secret and that anybody who brought the ballot to the county was duly authorized by the voter.

There was a big disclaimer on the ballot itself: “It is against the law for anyone except you the voter to mark or inspect this ballot.“

As if that weren’t enough, there was a bar code underneath the flap with the voter’s name, city and voting district.

The flap gets detached and the sealed ballot gets scanned on Election Day. And don’t forget, you can’t vote at the polls if you file an absentee ballot.

I started to fill out my selections, which you do by filling in the oval next to the arrow for your choices. I got to vote for three freeholders, two State Assembly members, one County Clerk, the mayor of Plainfield and in my case, a Councilman at-large for the 2nd & 3rd Wards.

Residents in the 4th Ward can vote for the only candidate running, Democrat Elliott Simmons, or for a write-in candidate.

I marked the ovals with a black pen, but then absentmindedly filled in an extra one without an arrow pointing to it.

Ooops! Too bad I didn’t use pencil.

I have no Wite-Out but am not sure it is even allowed. The rules say, “If you tear, soil, deface or incorrectly mark this ballot, return it to Joanne Rajoppi, Union County Clerk, and obtain another ballot.“

Yow! That means a trip to Elizabeth, doesn’t it?

I will ask on Monday.


--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: voting

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Salvation Army Plans Safe Halloween Event

Puzzled by the “Trunk or Treat” sign outside the Salvation Army?

Salvation Army staff and “concerned individuals” will park in the group’s lot and open their car trunks packed with bags of candy, according to operational manager Donald Nichols. Costumed youngsters will go from trunk to trunk, filling their bags with treats.

It’s a twist on the “trick or treat” tradition that has nowadays become even more scary than the ghosts and goblins of Halloween. Many parents are reluctant to let kids go door to door anymore, for fear of contaminated treats or encounters with strangers.

The Trunk or Treat event offers all the fun with none of the worry.

“It’s a little safer,“ Nichols said.

Last year, an outside group offered to hold the Trunk or Treat to help “inner city” children, Nichols said. About 30 cars made a circle in the lot and opened their trunks full of candy for the kids.

This year, the event will be from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30 at the Salvation Army, Watchung Avenue at East Seventh Street. Nichols said children should have a parent with them and may wear costumes.

“All are welcome,” he said.

While Plainfield’s event is geared to providing fun for city kids, there are lots of variations on the Trunk or Treat idea. In Fanwood, “Scary Family Storytime” at the borough library will precede the Trunk or Treat, followed by a parade to La Grande Park. In Alexandria, organizers are charging $10 per car, with prizes for the best-decorated trunk, costume judging and a jack-o’lantern contest.

A quick online search reveals the popularity of 'Trunk or Treat' at churches and schools all over. But besides being a new one on The Plaintalker, it was something Plainfield Recreation Director Dave Wynn had never heard of.

Wynn said Plainfield will hold its annual Halloween party from 6 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31 in the Plainfield High School cafeteria for children ages 5 to 10. There will be a costume parade, arts and crafts and refreshments, Wynn said.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lots of Trees Grow in Plainfield

New Jersey Youth Corps member Donnell Bailey carefully removed a tiny Eastern White Pine tree from the plastic sleeve that protected its root system. The rich brown earth and root mass that emerged was three times the size of the sapling tree.

Following the directions of Shannon Buckley, outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Tree Foundation, Bailey and other Youth Corps members planted 30 of the small pines at the city’s tree farm on Berkeley Terrace Thursday (Oct. 20, 2005).

The young pines complemented a planting on May 13, when members of Plainfield Community Girl Scout troops and the Plainfield NJ Youth Corps planted silky dogwood, tulip poplar, green ash, sweet gum and more Eastern white pine saplings.

Buckley said the small trees will be spread out in two or three years for more growing room and will be ready for transplanting to neighborhoods in about six years.

The pines are expected to grow eight inches to one foot per year, Buckley said.

Bailey said he has helped his mother with planting around their home.
“I do some of the tilling,“ he said.

His interest Thursday was to make sure the trees have a healthy environment “so they can grow good,” he said.

The tree farm project is related to the work of the Ten Cities Tree Committee, which held an Arbor Day event April 29 and is in the process of establishing a tree ordinance and commission to protect and nurture the community forest in Plainfield.

Buckley said 16 municipalities are involved in either the Ten Cities or Second Cities initiatives to promote tree management. Of those, she said, “Five are phenomenal,” including Plainfield, for their efforts.

“They’re eager,” she said. “They took this grant money and the program and just embraced it.”

Plainfield used its $14,000 grant to work with Certified Tree Expert Marcia Anderson to develop a tree management plan and a draft ordinance to form a shade tree commission.

At a conference in Cherry Hill this weekend, Plainfield is expected to receive an award for its exemplary effort.

Plainfield Public Works Superintendent John Louise said Thursday, “The benefit that I see is really the education piece.”

Glancing around at the mature 80-foot oaks that surround the tree farm site, Louise said the young people learn from the tree-planting experience how long it takes for the saplings to grow.

“My expectation is to see the trees going into the community,“ he said. “That will be my gift when I retire.“

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Group Calls For Bush Impeachment

Several Plainfielders rallied outside City Hall Wednesday to show their dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush, whose approval rating nationwide has dipped to a new low.

Plainfield resident Steven Hatcher, local leader of People's Organization for Progress, held up a large sign calling for the president's impeachment, getting honks of approval from motorists and even an NJ Transit bus during the demonstration that started at 5 p.m.

City resident Colleen Fields hugged demonstrators as she passed the group.

"I thought it was very good, a just cause," she said.

Fields enumerated her beefs with Bush.

"First of all, he lied. We shouldn't even be in Iraq in the war."

In addition, she faulted his delayed reaction to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, calling it "just awful."

The POP group holds a demonstration every fourth Saturday at Park Avenue and Front Street to protest the war.

Fields said she sometimes joins another demonstration for peace and an end to the Iraq war that is held every Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. outside the Quaker Meeting House on Watchung Avenue.

Quaker Jeff Hitchcock said the peace vigil includes not only Quakers, but other concerned city residents. The Quaker meeting is pleased to welcome all participants in the vigil, he said.

In a press release, Hatcher said his group calls for all citizens "to raise a general call for George Bush's impeachment, by notifying elected representatives, writing letters and holding demonstrations to publicize concern and the need for action."

--Bernice Paglia


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Two Evacuations, No Big Deal

The Plainfield Fire Division responded Tuesday (Oct. 18, 2005) to two incidents downtown that displaced employees for a time.

The new governmental office building was evacuated around 11:30 a.m. after fire alarms went off. Dozens of employees wearing ID badges stood at Park Avenue and Front Street outside the building, while others took advantage of the controversial downtown benches across the street to sit and chat while awaiting the all-clear.

The building contains state and county offices upstairs and commercial space downstairs. White strobe lights could be seen flashing inside the Chase Bank office that just held a grand opening Saturday.

A worker for Union County Social Services said the agency had been there since May without incident.

An employee of the state Division of Youth and Family Services said the agency had just returned to Plainfield after a four-year hiatus in Cranford. The agency was forced to move from an unsuitable building on Park Avenue, but due to litigation over Green Acres issues, the project was held up for months, forcing the relocation to Cranford.

“This is a beautiful building,” she said. “I hope everything is OK.”

The employee declined to be quoted by name, as state rules forbid direct contact with the media.

Union County Police were in charge for the evacuation, but did not respond to a call for information on the incident.

Captain Jeff Courtney of the Plainfield Fire Division said the incident at the county building was caused by dust in a smoke detector.

At 1:25 p.m., Courtney said, firefighters were back at the neighborhood after a suspicious package was reported at PNC Bank, south of the county office building. The package proved to be a bag of clothing. No further response was required.

The last big scare was on July 18, 2005 when Union County pulled out all the stops, bringing in the Union County Bomb Squad to investigate a suspicious fire in a mail box outside City Hall. The building was evacuated while U.S. Postal Service, county and local authorities investigated the incident.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: evacuation

County office building evacuated

The fire department was called this morning to respond to the new county office building downtown at Park and Front Streets. Alarms were going off inside and all occupants had an impromptu opportunity to enjoy the late morning sun.

The all clear was given just before noon and workers and those there on business returned to pick up where they left off.

It looked as if this was a false alarm, nevertheless The Plaintalker will bring you further details as we learn them.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: evacuation

Monday, October 17, 2005

Questions Delay Pool Repair Vote

City Council members balked Monday (Oct. 17, 2005) at voting on a $1.2 million pool repair contract because administrators could not explain one of the funding sources.

The elimination of a low bidder also raised concerns, but officials and Corporation Counsel Jacqueline Drakeford explained that the bidder had failed to include proof of business registration in the sealed bid package.

The city has three pools, at Rushmore Playground and Hannah Atkins Field in the West End and Seidler Field in the East End. Rushmore has needed repairs for at least two years and in the record-breaking heat of last summer, the city bused children from that neighborhood to the other two pools.

The bidders were Allstate Technology of Oak Ridge, NJ, with a low bid of $873,000; RJR Engineering of Califon, NJ with a bid of $1,762,000; and Stoneridge Inc. of Feasterville, PA at $1,177,800.

Council members said they believed that $750,000 in Green Acres funding to go toward the pool repairs at Rushmore and Seidler was a grant, but Finance Director Ron West said part of it was a loan. Because neither West nor City Administrator Norton Bonaparte had the breakdown on hand at the meeting, the council decided after a lengthy discussion to put off the vote until a special meeting on Oct 27.

The special meeting was a compromise after city engineer Carl Turner said Monday, “If it is not acted on this evening, we will probably not have the pools open next year.”

Given that the next regular council meeting will not be held until Nov. 14 due to the general election hiatus, the council agreed to hold the special meeting along with budget deliberations Oct. 27.

Public Works and Urban Development Director Priscilla Castles said the Green Acres funding had been committed to pool repair at least two years ago.

The council also included pool repair funding recently in a major bond ordinance. Councilman Don Davis was irked that the council did not know the grant/loan ratio for Green Acres funding, because he said it might have influenced the council’s thinking on the bond issue.

But mostly the council was upset at not receiving all necessary information from the administration.

Davis said the issue was presented as “Oh, our kids won’t have a pool,“ adding, “but our kids’ parents may not have a home” when the tax impact hits.

Another issue raised at the City Council meeting for the second time was the problem of children who used to attend Jefferson School now having to make their way to the “swing school” on West Front Street.

In a late development at the beginning of the school year, the Jefferson building was designated to house administrators displaced by a large influx of ninth-graders at Plainfield High School.

Parents complained they received short notice of the change, which meant their children had to go through an industrial section on their way to school instead of residential neighborhoods as before.

Council members said the matter was best pursued with the Board of Education, as the city’s governing body has nothing to do with school issues except for having two liaisons to the board.

According to a Board of Education agenda for Tuesday (Oct. 18, 2005) the board will be voting on a resolution to “conduct a feasibility study” on transportation to the swing school for Jefferson students and also to look into the safety of students “walking to all schools in the district.”

The Board of Education meeting is 8 p.m. at Washington School, 427 Darrow Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget, schools