Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Interview with Councilwoman Bridget Rivers

Councilwoman Bridget Rivers with school board attorney Raymond Hamlin, who administered her oath of office on Jan. 1, 2010.

Plaintalker sought an interview with new Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers in advance of the 4th Ward Community Forum, 6 p.m. at Washington School, Feb. 17. Rivers, City Council President and Citywide At-large Councilwoman Annie McWilliams and First & Fourth Ward Councilwoman Linda Carter will discuss issues with residents.

Q. The idea of a new middle school linked with revitalization of a 44-block section of the West End became stalled with the failure of the Schools Construction Corp. Now that the PPS has a new emphasis on K-8 configurations, the middle school population has shrunk. Do you see any alternative means of developing a broad-based revitalization program?

A. Yes. I feel that the emphasis needs to be on quality affordable housing and businesses on the West End, potentially something similar to what we have on South Avenue. As you know for most residents in this area, they must travel either downtown or to the East End to access businesses. Quality, affordable housing will remain a priority for me. As a former BOE member and President, and now the Council's Liaison to the BOE, I will work directly with the district as they review their educational plans such as grade changes and new models that have recently come to Plainfield under the Superintendent.

Q. What do you think a renewed Transit-Oriented Development program would do for the West End? Are you encouraging citizen participation in the visioning study that the City Council endorsed?

A. Yes. Any and all consideration of the West End in Transit Oriented Development (is welcome).

Q. In terms of public safety, what are your most pressing concerns? Examples: Abandoned houses attracting squatters, drug activity, gang recruitment of young people. In terms of public safety, the most pressing concerns involve persistent drug activity and the violence that comes with it.

A. Yes, abandoned housing and gang recruitment are also concerns. But the increased drug activity and violence as that which occurred last week and cost the life of a young person needs to be a priority. There needs to be a planned approach to addressing this matter and not one that simply relies on locking young people up and creating a wider divide between them and law enforcement.

Q. The Fourth Ward has lost several voting districts over the years due to voters not going to the polls. Do you have any strategies for increasing voter participation?

A. Yes. Strategies include doing a better job of registering voters and convincing them that their votes do count. Many voters have felt that they were not a part of the city's plans for improvement and when people feel neglected, they either withdraw or rebel. Many of the voters in the Fourth Ward have simply withdrawn from the political process. Creating more informed voters is also a part of the strategy to ensure that they are aware of what is happening and how it can both impact and improve their lives. Through community meetings, and door to door interaction, I plan to increase voter turnout in the Fourth Ward.

Q. As the Fourth Ward representative, how are you connecting with the many new Spanish-speaking households and their needs as new residents?

A. I plan on reaching out to Spanish-speaking residents in several ways that include community meetings with translators and providing information in their native language. Coming from the BOE, I fully understand and appreciate the importance of being able to connect with Spanish speaking residents that represent a growing population. We made a great push to reach out to them and saw increased parental involvement as a result. A similar approach in terms of communicating with them in their language and being openly sensitive and aware of their needs will be key.
--Bernice Paglia


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