Saturday, July 01, 2006

Onieal Chooses Harding Township

The news media had a frisson of excitement over Plainfield's most famous new resident, Gay American and former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. The ex-gov and his partner, financier Mark O'Donnell, bought an eight-bedroom mansion on Prospect Avenue for a reported $1.4 million.

But who moved out?

Longtime economic development activist Chris Onieal and his family have moved to Harding Township in Morris County, the Hoboken restaurant owner said Friday.

The Onieals had lived at 1101 Prospect Avenue before moving to 1332 Prospect Avenue in 1998. According to tax records, the purchase price was $380,000. The 1914 home was formerly owned by the Swain family, who acquired it in 1974 for $75,000.

Onieal served as chairman of the Plainfield Redevelopment Agency and worked intensively on a downtown redevelopment deal that, like many others over more than 30 years, did not pan out. More recently, Onieal backed former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams in his failed bid for a third term.

Onieal said the family now lives in an old farmhouse closer to where his children attend school. It's now just a three-mile drive to the school instead of 27 miles from Plainfield. Onieal said.

McWilliams lost the June 2005 Democratic primary to Assemblyman Jerry Green's choice for mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs. He also lost the party chairmanship to Green shortly after the primary. Onieal and other McWilliams supporters then waged a fierce campaign to find another way to get him on the November ballot, resulting in one of the most bitter political seasons in many years. But Robinson-Briggs won and became mayor Jan. 1, 2006.

Political adversaries Green and McWilliams both live on Prospect Avenue.

Established in 1922, the Onieals' new home town was named for the president at the time, Warren G. Harding. The 2000 census found just 940 families living there, in contrast to Plainfield's 15,000 households, half of whom are renters. According to a real estate source, the average home in the former agricultural stronghold near the Great Swamp is priced at $3.4 million.

Trading Central Jersey's only urban center for the bucolic township, Onieal said, "We're going to take a rest for a while."

--Bernice Paglia


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