Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tales of the Plainfield Democrats

In Plainfield, Democrats now outnumber Republicans by about 15 to 1, but they're not always one big happy family.

After being assigned to the Plainfield news beat around 30 years ago, I realized there were three rivals among the Democrats: Jerry Green, Harold Mitchell and Rick Taylor. All held public office. Mitchell and Taylor served terms as mayor and as members of the City Council.. Assemblyman Jerry Green could not be mayor, due to a prohibition on dual office holding in the city's special charter, but as the longtime Democratic Party chairman, he had considerable say in political outcomes.

The Regular Democratic Organization of Union County locally once had 84 City Committee members, a male and female in each district in the city's four wards. Lack of voter turnout resulted in a reduction of voting districts, so currently there are 68 committee seats. In the 1980s, I used to annotate the committee member lists to show the political alignments and the occasional shifts. The rivalries could be intense. I recall Mayor Taylor giving a State of the City address in which he invited Councilman Mitchell to walk the plank off the Good Ship Plainfield.

More recently, the power struggle has been between Green and Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, a former councilman and leader of the New Democrats. Mapp retained his leadership even as he served as a Union County freeholder, although winning the seat made him a member of the RDO. In 2015, Mapp's New Democrats captured enough seats on the City Committee to unseat Green as chairman of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, though Green is still in charge of the RDO County Committee.

The irony of challenging the RDO is that by winning in the June primary, a New Democrat or other independent candidate then goes on the November ballot on the RDO party line. It's confusing,  though not as much as the electoral college system.

Perhaps even worse than having one's true political identity clouded by winning the party line, occasionally a faithful RDO member is simply cast out, denied the party line in the primary or the chance for a seat on the city committee. That's when the spurned one defiantly runs anyway ...as a "Real Democrat."

Nonetheless, as November approaches, city Democrats of all stripes will no doubt band together to support the party line in this most important election.

--Bernice

Monday, July 25, 2016

Taking A "Heat Dome" Day

It's too hot!

I took three books out of the Plainfield Public Library to read while waiting for the "heat dome" weather condition to dissipate, but it's almost too hot to pay attention. The default is listening to the radio while making origami stars - less effort than trying to read.

Mau is also suffering from the heat. 
He tends to become more lively when it cools off at night, but mid-afternoon heat knocks him out.
 
He likes to nap with a pillow made of of a freezer-pack wrapped in a washcloth when the heat is at its peak.

I hope all Plainfielders, especially elders, as well as all companion animals, get relief soon.

--Bernice

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Charter School Seeks to Build on Dunn Property

On Aug. 3, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear a proposal for a charter school on Central Avenue for 240 students, 30 staff members and two administrators.

The site, across from Cedarbrook School, is owned by Flora Dunn. Dan Damon described the property on a July 2013 blog post when it went on the market. The charter school, Barack Obama Green Charter High School, is currently located at 35 Watchung Ave.

The application to the Zoning Board seeks permission to combine two lots at the site and add two stories to the building. The notice states that schools are not a permitted use in the R-2 neighborhood. Variances are requested for five parking spaces in the front yard and 40 off-site parking spaces at the art school next door, as well as for signage and fences.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting is 7 p.m. on Aug. 3 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. Documents regarding the application are on file in the Planning Division office on the second floor of City Hall. Anyone interested in the application will have an opportunity to present any objections they may have to the proposed application at the Aug. 3 hearing.

--Bernice

New Road Repair Program Sought

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West Eighth Street in 2008, now repaired
In 2006, new City Council President Ray Blanco launched committees to monitor important aspects of government. One was The Roads Construction Oversight Committee, to monitor a 15-year, $75 million plan to repair or reconstruct all city roads. The committee’s goal was to keep the plan on track to prevent a backlog of repairs. 

Alas, Ray Blanco died of a heart attack months later. By 2008, the plan had only advanced to Year Two and the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs sought to pay $1 million to the engineering firm of Remington & Vernick to reassess the schedule because road conditions had changed since the original assessment in 2004.

By 2010, hard times caused deferment of capital expenses and road repair began to be spoken of in "phases" rather than years.

On Thursday, the Planning Board discussed returning to a regular schedule. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said Mayor Adrian O. Mapp wants "an actual road plan as we had years ago,"  not only to fix roads but to maintain them. Because so many changes have occurred in the interim, a new schedule must be developed.

(Obstacles over the years have included a lack of spending on capital improvements in addition to council representatives of the city's four wards competing over priorities for grant-funded repairs.) 

Nierstedt mentioned a "bridge" capital improvement plan to be presented with only one or two items while the long-range plan is reconfigured.  The Planning Board develops a six-year CIP which the governing body approves as part of the annual budget. During the previous mayor's two terms, the process had its glitches including high turnover in directorship of the Department of Administration & Finance.

--Bernice

Friday, July 22, 2016

Planners, Pastor Aim to Advance East End Neighborhood

An East End neighborhood with long-held dreams of renewal could see a significant step next month.

The East Second Street Neighborhood Commercial District, now bounded by Johnston and Leland avenues, is on the verge of an "in need of redevelopment" study, with a Planning Board hearing on Aug. 18. But the neighborhood has changed so much lately that Planning Director Bill Nierstedt urged board members to go see the site in person before making the designation.

The neighborhood had been a mix of run-down buildings, viable businesses and homes when it was targeted in 2010 for $1.1 milllion in streetscape improvements. The plan, proposed under a previous administration, would have used Urban Enterprise Zone funds. Business owners and city officials held many meetings and gained camaraderie, but not results. Meanwhile, the state changed the UEZ funding program and recently one major building was demolished by developer Steve Cheung. ..

The "in need of redevelopment" study represents a different approach. Nierstedt said Thursday a draft report to the board was incomplete because assessments of each structure were still under review. Besides needing more input from board members on the state of buildings in the neighborhood, Nierstedt said the study area could be made smaller or perhaps extended to side streets.

In such a study, each building is rated on whether it meets any of the criteria for redevelopment. Nierstedt said homes in the target area are in good shape and commercial buildings vary in whether they meet criteria. If passed on Aug. 18, the board then forwards the "in need of redevelopment" study to the City Council, which can then order the board to create a redevelopment plan. If the council subsequently approves the plan, it could lead to a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement with a developer.

Rev. Paul Dean, a supporter of the neighborhhod's revitalization, attended Thursday's meeting and introduced himself as "project manager" of the East Second Street team. In 2014, Dean and a group of residents spoke out at a council meeting about their desire for positive change. He said Thursday the group has "done a lot of cleanup" in the neighborhood and is purchasing garbage cans.

"Last year was phenomenal and we will do it again," he said of the efforts.

In addition, he said he has also spoken with young men who hang out at a liquor store in the neighborhood and has helped them to get jobs.

"We're in progress to moving to a better place," he said.

--Bernice

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Take Part in National Night Out on Aug. 2

Book bags and a caravan will be two features of Plainfield's 2016 National Night Out on Aug. 2..

City residents can donate book bags and school supplies this year for students in low-income families, and the caravan will visit neighborhood National Night Out events before arriving at City Hall for the annual event in the plaza and parking lot from 6 to 8 p.m.
National Night Out 2015
Donations for the schoolchildren will be collected by Plainfield Action Services by July 25. For details on donating, call the agency at 908 753-3519. Plainfield Action Services is located at City Hall Annex, 510 Watchung Ave.
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and officials, 2015
 “My vision is a superior education for every child in Plainfield,” Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said in a press release. “No child should ever have to miss a day of school because they do not have the financial resources to get the learning tools they need. The distribution of book bags and school supplies from generous donors on National Night Out is just a part of our plan to support our scholars in every way possible. We are partners here in our community and we all have a vested interest in seeing our children achieve as much as possible.”
National Night Out 2015
Block associations and neighborhood groups are encouraged to have cookouts and gatherings on Aug. 2 to build neighborhood camaraderie and public safety awareness. Police-community partnerships are a primary goal of National Night Out events across the nation.

--Bernice

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

City Releases Funeral Arrangements for Public Works Director Eric Watson

A message from City Hall:

Funeral arrangements for our dear colleague and friend Eric C. Watson, Director of Public Works and Urban Development are as follows:

Friday, July 22, 2016
Lying in Repose at City Hall
515 Watchung Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Friday, July 22, 2016
Wake at Plainfield High School
950 Park Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Tributes: 6:30 pm – Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
7:00 pm – Masonic Ritual Service

Saturday, July 23, 2016
Viewing at Plainfield High School
10:00 am – 11:00 am

Funeral Service – 11:00 am

Repast immediately following service in Plainfield High School Cafeteria

From the administration:
"Our condolences go out to his family, his close friends, and everyone who has been touched by his passing."