NAACP Hosts Candidates' Forum
The seats up in the Nov. 7 general election are Citywide At-large, 1st Ward and 2nd & 3rd Ward At-large.
Incumbent Democratic 1st Ward Councilman Rayland Van Blake and Democratic 2nd & 3rd At-Large Councilman Rashid Burney are seeking re-election to four-year terms. Republican opponents are Arlington Johnson in the 1st Ward and former Assemblywoman Angela Perun in the 2nd & 3rd Wards.
The Citywide At-Large seat must be filled for the unexpired term of City Council President Ray Blanco, who died tragically at age 50 on July 28 of an apparent heart attack. City Council appointee Harold Gibson, a Democrat, was named to serve until the general election. His challengers Nov. 7 are Republican Deborah Dowe and Independent Robert F. Edwards. The winner will serve the balance of Blanco’s term, ending Dec. 31, 2008.
All but Van Blake took part in the NAACP forum, which was moderated by Peter Briggs, husband of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Candidates made opening statements and fielded questions before summing up.
Edwards cited 15 years of community activism, highlighted by development of the Civic Responsibilities Act, which is meant to open public service opportunities to more citizens. He said he was recently asked to share his expertise with Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Gibson, a former city administrator with 55 years’ experience in law enforcement and government, said he is the most qualified candidate. To improve public safety, he recently arranged a city gun buy-back program that netted 42 firearms. His church, Fountain Baptist Church of Summit, provided the funding.
“I’m a doer, not a joiner,” Gibson said.
Johnson said he is a lifelong city resident who has devoted himself to helping young people statewide. He wants to reduce crime and cut down on “smoke and mirrors” in government.
Dowe said she is running to uphold the two-party system. If elected, she will seek more information on city organization and how employees do their jobs.
Perun said as a former councilwoman, she worked to bring new businesses into the city to broaden its economic base. She also spoke out against “bossism” and said she would explore how every part of city government functions.
Burney said he was raised in Africa and worked for AT&T in Chicago before moving to Plainfield. The woman who helped him find a home became his wife and the couple had a baby girl last year. Burney said he has invested a lot of money and time in the city, serving on the Historic Preservation Commission and the Board of Adjustment before taking office. His web site contains information on city government and he supports development, he said.
Some of the questions from the audience addressed issues the governing body does not control, such as public education or the addition of a White Castle restaurant to South Avenue’s fast food lineup. The Planning Board approved the White castle’s application.
Asked what each would do differently if elected, Edwards said he would empower citizens, while Gibson said he would visit residents in their homes to hear their concerns. Johnson said he would walk the 1st Ward to ensure inclusion. Dowe said she would seek “innovative funding” to improve the city. Perun said residents who ask questions at City Council meetings should get answers in public. Burney said council meetings should be videotaped for broadcast on the city’s local cable channel.
In specific questions, Burney was asked to explain his position on the Union County Improvement Authority’s role in city development. Burney cited the authority’s resources and expertise, but said development must be managed. He said he asked for a “sunset clause” on the senior center proposal so that if it is not done after two years, the land will revert to the city.
Asked about city expenses, Edwards said he would get a printout of each department’s expenses and would compare costs with those of other cities.
In response to a question on what city problem she would tackle, Dowe said she would foster youth employment.
“I think the government at least owes people their first jobs,” she said.
Gibson was asked whether the city could get rid of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, which provides solid waste, recycling and sewer services. Gibson said he did not favor its establishment, but it is now in place as an autonomous authority. The PMUA, not the council, sets rates for its services, he said.
Asked what she would do to improve her ward, Perun said roads must be repaired and she wants an end to the “race-track syndrome.” She would station police where they could catch speeders.
Voters will get another chance to review the candidates Nov. 1, when the Plainfield chapter of the League of Women Voters holds its forum. It will take place at 7 p.m. in the Plainfield Public Library’s meeting room. The library is located at 800 Park Avenue.
The Republican slate will have to rely on unaffiliated voters and disgruntled Democrats for extra support on Nov. 7, because the GOP has fewer than 1,500 registered voters out of about 19,000 in the city.
A harsh political season last year included a Democratic primary fight and factionalism, but there was no primary contest in June this year. With two incumbents and a former city administrator on the slate, Democrats have a strong ticket. The Kean-Menendez Senate battle will likely be a big factor in voter turnout this year. Results may show whether Democrats still rule absolutely or whether last year’s “fusion” of New Democrats and Republicans has gained traction.