Crime and economic development, two staple campaign topics, were not forgotten by City Council President Rayland Van Blake
as he took on leadership of the governing body for a second year.
“We as a city have to do more,” Van Blake said, calling for zero tolerance of crime. “All citizens must feel safe.”
Also marking the start of his second four-year term, Van Blake commendably gave a clear-eyed view of the city’s needs for the future.
“Crime and economic development hinge on each other,” he said.
With the city poised for transit-oriented growth, commuters and new condo residents will have to be sold on choosing Plainfield as a hometown over others along the Raritan Valley Line. Stories like the Halloween assault on a city man and the fatal shooting of a young girl loom large in the minds of outsiders who don’t know much about Plainfield. And residents who want to stay here must weigh the increasing possibility of random violence as gang presence becomes more and more evident. Plaintalker finds Van Blake’s assessment of city priorities correct.
For those who weren’t there for the annual reorganization, blogger Dan Damon
captured Van Blake’s remarks and most of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs’
State of the City address on video and put the results up on YouTube. The videos may be seen on Damon’s Plainfield Today
In another life, this writer sat through many a State of the City address, ranging from vitriolic harangues to tedious puffery. One memorable moment occurred when former Mayor Richard L. Taylor
used the occasion to invite then-Councilman Harold Mitchell
to walk the plank off the Good Ship Plainfield. Mitchell went on to become mayor himself and got to make his own State of the City address.
At the risk of appearing to carp, Plaintalker found the current mayor’s speech heavy on feel-good items and a bit light on significant issues. The mayor made just a passing comment on “the growing Latino population” and her wish to partner with its business community. It is this very community that, with or without city partnership, has revitalized commerce in this changing municipality and improved many of its homes.
Latinos are now a quarter to one-third of Plainfield’s population and will be the deciding factor in whether the city breaks 50,000 in the 2010 census, giving more direct access to federal funds that now filter through county government. Children from Spanish-speaking homes made up more than half the incoming kindergarten class of 2006. Being the mayor here means getting to know a lot more about everyday needs and concerns of Latinos.
The mayor spoke of many festivities, toy giveaways, events with food for the public, even giving out “goodies” while touring the city with public safety officials after a major blizzard. Citizens have taken note of this mayoral style in 2006, some wishing the city’s first female African-American mayor would leave off the candy and show a little more political steel in light of Plainfield’s problems.
At the reorganization, the mayor was able to introduce a new city administrator, a new director of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services and the director of Public Affairs and Safety. The third department head, for Public Works and Urban Development, was absent, presumably at the council meeting in Rahway, where she is a councilwoman. Robinson-Briggs said she intends to reorganize the departments and also to save money by not filling vacancies. After a year of internal shake-ups and major administrative vacancies, let’s hope the mayor will proceed with caution and give City Administrator Marc Dashield
the power to apply his expertise in municipal government to running the city day-to-day.
If the mayor’s one-year legacy appears more like putting the “party” back into party politics instead of leading the city, the good news is that she has three more years to write her chapter in Plainfield’s history. For 2007, she has a full cabinet, a supportive City Council and a largely hopeful populace to help carry out her goal of “Growth by Unity.”--Bernice Paglia