Monday, December 31, 2007

More 2007 in Review

Plaintalker has already dealt with the school issues and redevelopment plans for 2007. There are several more events and issues that marked the year.

City residents mourned the untimely death of former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams in April. McWilliams died of renal cancer at age 53, leaving his wife, Darlene, and five children. But his political legacy, including being the first two-term Democratic mayor in 114 years, remains an example of positive confrontation to bosses who denied him the line for a third term bid in 2005.

Among other notable deaths, the city also lost firebrand activist Angela Perun, who served on the City Council, in the state Assembly and on the school board. An octogenarian in 2006, she nonetheless ran again for a council seat. And philanthropist Mary Vic Griswold, who quietly worked over many decades to help major city agencies and institutions, died at the age of 97.

Safe housing took a hit in 2007 when the City Council repealed an ordinance aimed at curbing overcrowding and a special Inspections Division unit to address occupancy issues was disbanded. Inspections, once called the city division that generates the most citizen complaints, was studied by the Department of Community Affairs, which found staff lacking in job skills such as data entry and even showing up on time. In December, Assemblyman Jerry Green promised an end to favoritism toward landlords in 2008, in effect confirming what the city’s 7,500 renters already surmised about how Inspections works.

Now in its second year, the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs found itself without a finance director again after A. Raiford Daniels quit in November with less than one year’s service. Chief Financial Officer Peter Sepelya’s retirement created another gap in fiscal management. Marc (Correction: Dashield)Daniels, on the job as city administrator since January, is now also acting director of Finance, Administration, Health and Social Services. Communication with the public is still a problem, as the administration has yet to solve the ongoing issues with the city’s malfunctioning web site and community television channel.

The school district’s 1,200-member staff finally settled a contract after many months of acrimony, including dueling newspaper ads by the Plainfield Education Association and the Board of Education. On the city side, the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association signed a contract retroactive to 2003 with increases of 3.25 percent that year, 3.85 percent in 2004, 3.95 percent in 2005 and 4 percent in 2006 and 2007. It expires today (Dec. 31, 2007). Police, who last year won a similarly long overdue contract, agreed this year to raises of 3.75 percent for 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The city’s increasing Latino population became more evident as schools noted high enrollment of children from Spanish-speaking homes. Plainfield also became one of only three cities in the United States to have a specially blessed image of La Virgen de Guadalupe, revered as the Patroness of the Americas. The faithful held several processions to St. Mary’s Church, where the image is now enshrined.

All the several hundred Plaintalker posts for 2007 can be viewed in its archive. For the Courier News, I covered the McWilliams funeral; the fatal car crash of Cassell “Sonny” Wood; the fire at 1003 Park Avenue that displaced 37 people; the sale of 45 Pittis Estate storefronts to Paramount Property Management of Bayonne; the YWCA’s plan to convert the Catherine Webster home into transitional housing for eight women and up to 30 children, later dropped; the refurbishing of the YMCA under the direction of new President Addy Bonet; the final meeting of the Monday Afternoon Club, founded in 1888; the Democratic Party’s rejection of Freeholder Adrian Mapp for a second term; the student assault on a Plainfield High School vice principal; former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard’s denial of school violence; stalled school construction funding; transit village plans; and a bunch of “good news” features. Those stories are only available online in a paid archive.

--Bernice Paglia


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