Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sell the Bierstadts?

Well! While I was having a relapse of my late-winter cold, I came across Jenn Popper's news story on possible sale of the Bierstadt paintings. First I thought she had a scoop, but then I found out the Courier News and Queen City Pride also posted the press release online.

It seems Mayor Adrian O. Mapp wants to sell them and use the proceeds to launch "Plainfield Promise," a scholarship and financial literacy program for students. The idea of selling them goes way back, but city attorneys have always said terms of the gift by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles in 1919 prevented a sale.

For many years, Columbus Day in Plainfield brought out friends and foes of the painting that shows the explorer landing in San Salvador and being greeted by kneeling indigenous people. Resident Kay Cotignola went to extremes to stick up for Italian heritage, while Rasheed Abdul-Haqq repeated his distaste for what he saw as a racist encounter. See Plaintalker's 2005 post "Columbus Day in Plainfield." Both protagonists are now deceased, and the subject has seldom come up again.

Mapp wants to start a trust called "Plainfield Promise" that will include establishment of a bank account for every child entering the school district and financial aid for eligible college students who cannot afford tuition.
He mentioned it in his State of the City Address in February and I asked for more information, but was told it was not ready yet. See my Commentary on Plainfield Promise
.
There is a sort of precedent for scholarships in the Adele DeLeeuw fund established with $1 million the late Plainfield author earned. Plainfield Promise has many hurdles to cross before becoming real, so let's wait and see what the court says first.

--Bernice

40 comments:

  1. Time to hire an attorney, and save our Assets for the sake of our city.the backroom this deal has been crafted. Shame on those involved. What will Mapp try to sell next, the library achieves...next. Trump last week made reference to get rid of PBS, Mapp is doing the same. Save our Art for future generations to enjoy locally

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    1. Timothy - I see that you are back to your old "pre apology" ways. Shoot from the hip, snotty snap judgements and ridiculous comparisons.

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    2. If this was so "under the table" we would not be hearing about this. Histrionics does not make something true, so stop politicking and be honest yourself, Mr. Priano..

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  2. Adrian Mapp needs to find another way to fund his election year ploy of "Plainfield Promise" and stop trying raise campaign funds on the backs of tax payers.

    Where's my hand out Mr. Mapp? I've been living here for almost 8 years and my $80,000++ paid in property taxes, over that time period, does not seem to cover the cost of keeping our streets clean or, keeping prostitutes from turning tricks down the street from my house or that of my neighbors' or, having someone shot on the other side of town.

    My tax dollars don't seem to be sufficient to sustain the work of the good people of this city who went out week after week this past fall to clean the garbage from train stations and numerous miles of streets and sidewalks. Only to have all the garbage pile back up. Yes, you were also there -- the photo op pictures came out great.

    Our tax dollars don't seem to be enough for Plainfield schools which heavily rely on state aid - just yesterday a NJ.com report declaring Plainfield as #12 of 20 of NJ schools most dependent on state funding. http://www.nj.com/education/2017/02/the_20_nj_school_districts_most_reliant_on_state_f.html

    Yet, you have chosen to spend tax payer dollars on filing a claim, based on a very weak argument, to sell city treasures that belongs to ALL of the residents of the Plainfield, at your discretion; all with an aim to dole out cash as part of a politically motivated election year ploy you think will catapult you into "rock star" status with prospective voters. A wishy-washy plan for which you have failed to provide adequate information on its infrastructure and ability to implement, monitor and sustain. Poor planning is indicative of poor leadership.

    The art is historical in nature and allows for a variety of interpretations. You may not like it, you may not agree with the unintended message you think it sends but, you don’t censor it and you don’t discard it.

    What will you sell or censor next just to garner another vote?

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    1. OMG all that blather based on Bernice's blog post? No offense to Bernice (she is amazing) - but I am sure she didn't intend her post to be a complete list of all the details and facts etc. Does anyone ask questions and gather information first before shooting off their mouths?

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    2. People are running for office, so their friends and supporters are trying to make hay in a field full of nothing but good intentions.

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    3. @ Anonymous 11:15AM it's hard to gather information and ask questions when there is a lack of transparency and one does not have the opportunity to ask; and, what else would you expect if not details and facts to back up a story or comments?

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  3. I am a taxpayer. If these paintings are sold I want the funds to go to the taxpayers. This should not be a means for Mapp and his puppets to garner votes.

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  4. Residents of Plainfield call the NJ Attorneys General office, make your voices heard. #saveourart http://www.nj.gov/lps/phone.htm Main number 609 292 4925 Citizens Services 609 984 5828 tell them what is going on in Plainfield City, NJ

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    1. Timmy - you are really annoyingly dramatic.

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    2. Drama queen. Get real. This paintings are not that great and demeaning to native Americans.

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  5. Why did the City not fight for the Muhlenberg medical scholarships? There was an order to show cause for those back in July 2015. Did the City Council have a say? If not, why not.

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  6. This is a Job creation program for ----- Lawyers

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  7. There are other parties that have standing even though J. Ackerman Coles died without heirs. Last count in 1997, there were 12. They would be next in line to get any monies from the "sale." So the City may not see a penny. I hope Mr. Minchello did his homework on this. Otherwise the taxpayers are paying for others to get the money.

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  8. A creative use of the paintings, but not as creative as establishing the ground rules for the program, or developing a diverse group of funding partners at least somewhat proportionate to the 'Oakland Promise' which, according to the mayor, is the model, and is mostly privately funded. http://www.oaklandpromise.org/our-funders.html

    Apart from the terms of the original gifting, I'm not a particular fan of either painting. Neither speaks to the history of the city, and one is ominous and foreboding, while the other is subject matter that is controversial to many, and in its own way ominous and foreboding as a result.

    But the mayor needs to go back to the drawing board. The spirit of Plainfield Promise may be right, but when it comes to logistics, its another in a line of clunkers that is not thought through.

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    1. Alan - just a word of thanks for your post. While I don't agree with you on the last part, your comment is very well reasoned and I appreciate that. Possible it isn't as reasoned and measured as I think - but in comparison to Timmy and some of the others that just spew nonsense based on little information it seems very reasoned,

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  9. The Plainfield Promise should be funded privately - not use a Plainfield asset. Whether or not you like the paintings or not, they were left to the citizens of Plainfield much like the Muhlenberg endowments that were fizzled away just like the sewer money.

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  10. Once again Timmy is speaking out of the side of his face without any facts. If this was a backroom deal we would not know about it. It was a press release, Timmy. Meaning the public knows about it. These things are not unusual. They happen all the time, that a city sends out a query about what assets may be able to be sold. To get all hysterical and make these baseless accusations once again on Bernice's blog and on your supposedly "non political" facebook page, and without any facts shows that you just have a pointless vendetta against this administration. You have no facts. There are several questions here. Should the paintings be sold? What should the money be used for? Our youth? Our seniors? Bank accounts? Upgrading parks? Recreation center? Stop creating hysteria without facts. Anything that is potentially to be done has to come before the city council anyway. Oh but then you slander them all the time as "puppets" without even knowing them, that is shameful. Again with no facts. As Bernice said and maybe you should follow her advice, "Let's wait and see what the court says first."

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    1. Transparency is the name of the game.

      Claiming that a press release was issued is merely a “cover your tracks” tactic to make it appear as though parties are being transparent; it is never certain a media outlet will move to report on the release, nor is the press release issued or communicated directly to each resident.

      In the interest of good faith and public awareness, the administration would have advised residents of its intentions at a public meeting instead of having to learn about it through the media as though it’s a done deal. Moreover, any tax paying resident concerned with how a public official chooses to assert their power to benefit a self-serving agenda, will not wait until the courts decide – at that point, it may be too late.

      It's curious that after so many years on the City Council and for the time he has reveled in the title of Mayor, Adrian Mapp has not brought forth the issue of these paintings. It appears that, only now, in a rush to establish funds for his poorly conceived initiative, he is grasping at straws to bring a campaign promise to fruition. He, slowly and steadily, keeps taking more money out of the tax payers’ pocket to, indirectly, fund his campaign.

      For those who are concerned regarding this action, reach out to the Attorney General’s office: http://www.nj.gov.lps/phone.htm - Main number: 609-292-4925; Citizen Services: 609-984-5828.

      @ Anonymous 7:30AM – your comment would carry much more weight and credibility if you attached your real name to your remarks. As such, the public would be able to understand your partiality to Adrian Mapp and his administration or, lack thereof.

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    2. Anon 7:30 - I think I love you!!!

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  11. Once again Plainfield's short sighted politicians are willing to rid us of our few cultural treasures for unimportant but vote getting purposes. This is again a self-serving action and a disgrace to even contemplate, WE should be happy to own paintings by a great American artist and forget all the BS about racist depiction and understand that what was shown was part of OUR culture when painted. Let us not be local ISIS or other zealots who will destroy anything of value that doesn't conform to their beliefs.

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    1. Thank you Sir!

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    2. Timothy O'ConnorMarch 2, 2017 at 8:28 PM

      I agree completely - Art is meant to facilitate discussion - the one work depicting Christopher Columbus should be shown to the children of our town to let them know what happened and let them never forget. That is what art is for!! Art is there so that we remember and understand the massive leap in civility that we have accomplished and the continuing work that we need to do. Other wise we are Just Jessie Helms.

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  12. While I truly believe the Mayors heart is the right place by wanting to promote and fund higher education, I have to agree, selling our treasure is not the way to do it. Nor is asking taxpayers to foot any portion of the bill. Sadly we are grossly over-taxed as is. I have always said and always will say, every black person should be entitled to a free education, at least to a two year college of their choice, (providing they have the grades and can pass the college entrance exam). Yes I said entitled and this is one of the reasons, we are the only race of people that was denied the right to be educated, we were punish, beaten and sometime murdered if caught learning how to read or write. When we talk about reparation a free education to a 2 year college is a start. As far as the paintings being racist, whether they are or not, it’s part of our American history and for now these paintings should be reserved here in Plainfield. Plainfield’s Promise should be solely privately funded until we can measure the success of the program. With all the new development of projects in excess of millions, why not ask some of these developers to fund 2 or 3 scholarships to UCC? I’m sure with the profits their making this should be a drop in the bucket for them.

    RB

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  13. Timothy O'ConnorMarch 2, 2017 at 7:46 PM

    Plainfield Broken Promise

    The Plainfield Promise should be that we educate our children from the cradle, to provide them with the skills and tools they need to succeed in the world like the other communities do around us – Broken Promise.

    The Plainfield Promise should be that our Firemen can go to work in buildings that aren’t hazardous to their health – Broken Promise.

    The Plainfield Promise should be that our children can walk to school safely with working cross walk signals – Broken Promise.

    The Plainfield promise should be that illegal garbage dumps are not allowed to fester for years - Broken Promise

    The Plainfield Promise should be that twelve young talented people would not be murdered within our borders – Broken Promise.

    The Plainfield Promise should be that housing codes are enforced so that our children have safe places to sleep at night – Broken Promise.

    The Plainfield Promise should be that the Administration embraces local grass root organizations and supports their efforts – Broken Promise.

    The Plainfield Promise should be that the Administration works to help the homeless and the disadvantaged – Broken Promise.

    These aren’t promises these are obligations that good government accepts and works to achieve. If you can’t handle these obligations then you are in no position to make promises that you can’t keep. Selling this art for more broken promises in not an item that should be on Mayor Mapp’s agenda. This Administration has bigger problems to address.

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    1. Timothy #2 - your comments are interesting and on a base level aren't things that most people would agree with. However, your not so subtle attempt to lay every ill in Plainfield on the lap of the current Administration is out of left field and likely the result of your ever so brief residence in our fine city. Let us look at the issues from a fact based approach:
      1) Education - not managed by the Mayor and has been controlled by the Campbell family for many years with a history or failed management and interference with effective leadership within the system. Fixing it has been the goal of many, including our current Mayor.
      2) Fire Department - has had serious issues for years that have only begun to be addressed by the current administration. RFP's to review efficiencies and costs, Study to review necessary improves to facilities, equipment and relocation of stations to more suitable buildings AND the purchase of a ladder truck after the prior administration allowed for two trucks to sit broken and unusable are all things undertaken by this administration.
      3) Safety to school - I think you made this up because not only are crossing signals functioning but we have actual human crossing guards that almost carry the kids across the street - and by the way this is a school board issue so please refer to #1 above.
      3) Illegal Garbage Dumps - not sure if you mean homes with trash or illegal dumping but both have been addressed by this administration in ways that prior administrations failed. Illegal public dumping is most often done by out of towners and is the purview of PMUA, diligent citizens and great assistance by the DPW. Private property is a zoning enforcement issue which Mayor Mapp has increased but is not an immediate fix - there are summons, court appearances, appeals and chasing absent homeowners. Also, the Mayor asked the prior council for additional funding for more enforcement (zoning officers spend a great deal of time in court) but they refused to approve the additional cost.
      4) Murders - this is a cheap shot and is far more complex than the individual sitting in the Mayor's office.
      5) Housing Code Enforcement - I think you mean Zoning Codes but since you got the term wrong I am sure you have also done little to understand the process (by law at the state level) and what the Mayor has done to increase zoning enforcement. See # 3 above for more information.
      6) Support Grassroots Organizations - I can think of many that the Mayor and others have supported - so you may just mean to say they should support yours - but your tone isn't that of someone that is particularly friendly.
      7) Help the Homeless and Disadvantaged - you are revealing that you are pulling this out of your rear and have chosen populist rhetoric over fact finding and understanding. I say that as someone involved in this issue who has seen tremendous support from the city directly as well as through their efforts to obtain funds and services of other entities county, federal and state - I will give you a pass since you have been here 5 minutes and probably haven't had a chance to really do your homework.

      I can see how you would come to these conclusions if you assumed that Mayor Mapp has been the Mayor for the last 15 years - however that is not the case. If you did your homework and looked at Plainfield today versus under Mayor Sharon you would see the improvements that have been made and the efforts that continue. Your approach is the equivalent of me blaming the condition of your home on you and not understanding that you entered a home with issues after years of neglect by the prior owners and are working methodically under financial, time and environmental constraints to improve the home - but it isn't done overnight and nor should you be held responsible for that. But you may disagree with me and in that case - why didn't you do something with your yard before winter arrived - you should be ashamed at your failure to improve your neighborhood.

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    2. Once again @ Anonymous 2:42AM - you undermine the credibility of your comments by choosing to not identify yourself and, moreso, by choosing to personally attack a private citizen merely because you do not agree with their perspective – that is “shameful”, to borrow a word from your multiple postings.

      It’s obvious you have chosen to crusade against one particular resident, considering other identifiable long-time residents have made similar comments and have not suffered the wrath of your anonymous remarks.

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    3. Dear Oscar - you know what they say about people that Assume right? The word shameful is so dramatic and dopey that it does not enter my thoughts so any posts that you attribute to me appear to be completely made up in your head.

      Please also note that I do not attack private citizens - I merely respond to their vitriolic posts that are based in very little fact.

      Now with respect to "undermining the credibility of my posts" - if you take the time to research those topics you will find that the facts are there to support what I have said without posting my name. Interestingly, the Timothy's put their name on their posts but the content does not stand up to reality or very simple fact checking. So I think your thesis statement here is not just strange but bogus.

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    4. Dear Neighbor: I'm will to take my chances with assuming, after all, that what one must do when there is a lack of transparency, whehter it be an elected official or someone who chooses to remain anonymous. ;-) I'm sure we'll bump into each other around the neighborhood.

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    5. Timothy O'ConnorMarch 6, 2017 at 9:08 PM

      Sorry this is long Bernice.

      I truly hope that if the Plainfield Promise comes to fruition that it is successful; however, I believe the program is ill conceived and not practical. Yes, college is expensive and always has been. However, the reason people don’t go to college is because they lack the confidence and because it is not drilled into their head from a young age that they belong in college and that they can succeed in college. It’s not easy but most things that are worth the effort aren’t easy.

      I grew up in a very large family; the thought of not going to college was never an option. I think I was told that I was going to college from the day I was born. Unfortunately, I was fifth in line and by the time it was my turn, the money was gone. When I spoke to my parents about how we would pay for it my mother told me a story.

      She grew up in Washington Heights in a very poor neighborhood. My grandmother worked as a Super in a building so that they would have a roof over their head. This, if you knew my grandmother was very hard for her. She was a recluse and only left the house to go church, but she needed to provide for her four children. One day the parish priest come to the apartment and told my Grandmother that Mary, my mother, needed to attended a private school in Manhattan and that he would pay for it. My Grandmother quickly declined the offer. Ensuring the Priest that my mother would go to the school but they could afford it. Of course they could not.

      My grandmother bid the priest good bye and promised to contact the school the next day. She closed the door to the basement apartment, turned to my mother and said, “I guess you need to get a job”.

      This is exactly what she did. She went to the school and paid her own way.

      I realized what she was telling me. I told her I had been working since I fourteen and she told me to work harder. I needed to get creative and figure out a plan. Together we decided the path that I would take. Not once did we ever mention the idea of not going to college.

      To save money I went to Middlesex County College for the first two years and then transferred to a four year school. County colleges are an overlooked and vital resource for people like me who don’t have the funds for school and even today the tuition is affordable.

      People don’t go to college because they are told that is out of their reach. The narrative needs to change and we need to tell our children everyday that college is accessible to them and they belong there. I went to college in the eighties and you may say that college was cheaper, but $15,000.00 in 1985 might as well have been a million.

      As for my yard, please accept my apology. The previous owners planted bamboo that took over the yard and was damaging the neighbor’s patio so the yard needed to be cleared. Unfortunately, even trees need to come down because the bamboo had grown into the roots. So now we can’t plant for a year to make sure that all the bamboo has been removed. However, we have a wonderful landscape plan for when we can plant. The back area will be woodland garden and the yard closer to the house will be more formal. I can’t wait. You should see the inside , its coming out beautiful, even though it took four months to get permits from the city. They kept on losing the documentation. Where is a good CRM system when you need it?
      Also, by the way the cross walk signal in front of the police station has been broken for years. I think that is city issue.
      Anonymous are you doing anything for St. Patrick’s Day? I am making the usual American St. Pat’s dinner and I make incredible soda bread so if you are free, you and your significant other are more than welcome.

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  14. This court action has opened a Pandora's box. The City has now put on notice to anyone who has standing in this matter that there is an intent to sell. So...good intentions or not this was not well thought out. The Public should have heard about this at a City Council meeting.

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  15. The City has now opened a Pandora's box with a legal filing to sell. Now all people or groups with standing can go to court to petition for their piece of the pie. The City has opened themselves up for the "drama."

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  16. Good Lord I wish people would do some research and get an understanding of what is going on - the Administration asked for an opinion on options - that is all. It is similar to me asking Timmy Priano his opinion - I can either move forward and follow it or I can realize it is baseless nonsense and do the opposite - or I can do nothing. So everyone should really just relax already.

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  17. The Bierstads are a National treasure which Plainfield has had the good fortune to receive as a legacy. No administration has the prerogative to auction off the Public's inheritance. Its tantamount to hocking your wife's wedding ring absent her consent. To make application to the Courts without the prior consent of the Council or public discussion and reflection is reprehensible. As to the education plan it is suggested that a voluntary fund be established from which grants are made by a select committee to graduating Plainfield resident high school students based on merit and need. The concept of the $500 in kindergarten, barring checks and balances which have not been described, seems bizarre. Thirty years ago the Plainfield Mayor's compensation was $2,000 a year. The Mayor used his own car and was paid a mileage allowance when he used it on Municipal business. Now I believe the Mayor is provided a car with its expenses paid, and his salary is $40,000 a year plus Employer side benefits. Perhaps the Mayor in his zeal to fund his nascent plan should donate a large portion of his salary to inspire others to do the same. I tremble a s to what next proposal might be forthcoming.I am curious as to what the remuneration will be for Plainfield regarding the deal which is apparently going forward regarding the Muhlenberg property? Bill Kruse

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    1. The sale - if any would ever even take place - would require consent so that is solved.

      The Mayor's salary 20, 30 or 40 years ago and how he transported himself around is really relevant. At one time the mayor rode a horse to city hall - should we go back that far and require that again? Not that long ago the Mayor was only a white man of comfortable means - should we promote that approach? Currently, women statistically are paid less than men - so should a female Mayor get a reduced salary? It is a part-time position with full-time requirements and the position should have respectable pay level with some basic perks/benefits. Anything short of that or a requirement that the Mayor contribute part of his salary is silly populist rhetoric meant only to raise a false issue.

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  18. I'm going to echo Bill Kruse. Bierstadt was one of 19th Century America's greatest painters--a monumental painting of his proudly hangs in the Brooklyn Museum, and there are others in major museum collections and in private hands throughout the country. The fact that the city where I chose to live owns them is a source of pride. For the same reasons, they are as important as are the mansions on West 8th Street. They should be kept, and not used to fund a pet project--if the Mayor truly believes in this endeavor, I'm sure he can tap resources, such as foundations and private donors that share his ideals. The fact that we have these paintings, and they are accessible to all, is something that should be publicized, along with all of our irreplaceable 19th Century architecture. To sell them would be to squander our legacy.

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  19. Could a compromise be to acquire one of the stately homes/buildings, e.g, The for sale Higgins Funeral home, turn it into a museum, place the paintings and other artifacts (aquired from donors), local and regional art; start a foundation to use the fees collected by admission, grants and donations to partially fund the Plainfield Promise. Working together towards a solution could be a win win for all.

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    1. Anon 1:26 - without getting into your suggestion specifically, I just want to say that your post was so refreshing. At no time did you attack anyones intentions or claim corruption or squandering of assets or legacy. I appreciate your tone and approach and I wish more of the individuals that post comments on the blogs were as open minded as yourself.

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    2. Dear Anonymous 3:6--I'm not sure what the thrust of your post is. My use of the word squandering meant exactly what is was supposed to mean. America's urban legacy is littered with the consequences of bad decisions, whether made for the purpose of short-term gain, or lack of forethought or thorough research, or just done for no good reason at all and ratified by apathetic or uninformed public opinion. Examples abound: the demolition of Penn Station. The destruction of viable neighborhoods and their replacement by multistory warehouses for the poor. The construction of interstate highways through city centers. The demolition, in the name of urban renewal, of significant and irreplaceable architectural treasures in central Newark, Elizabeth, Trenton, Camden, Plainfield, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, etc. etc. etc. Nothing of true value was ever realized at the end. The cities were left worse off than before, and the legacy was gone. Whether the intention of those who were responsible was good, bad, uninformed, or disinterested is immaterial: the result was the same, and the public, who was supposed to benefit, is worse off.

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  20. The city must own a empty building or a large house in town that we could re-purposed as a Museum for Plainfield. Fundraisers held to raise funds, that would support the arts and and historical area with scholarship elements.

    The Dudley House, would be prefect size or something similar to that could house art work and artifacts.

    Grants could be sourced for maintenance or maybe someone would leave their home to the people of Plainfield, as Dr J Ackerman Cole and others have left large sums of money and Art work in the past.

    We have 10 historical neighborhoods, this will bring another Jewel to the Queens Crown.

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