Monday, October 29, 2012

GOP Fades As Dems Increase

Compared to 2008, the number of voters registered as Republicans in Plainfield dropped by 16 percent to 930, while Democrats increased slightly to 12,869 in this presidential election year.

Registered voter numbers released by the Union County Board of Elections a week ago show a drop in unaffiliated voters (8,859 to 8,750), but overall totals a bit higher than 2008's surge going into the general election.

Voter totals for 2012 compared to 2008 decreased in the Third and Fourth wards, but increased in the First and Second wards. Democrats increased in each ward.

The bottom line, with a few Green Party, Libertarians and Conservatives in the mix, is 22,555 residents eligible to vote in 2012. Now the trick is to get people to the polls on Nov. 6. All registered voters should have received sample ballots by now, so check your polling place and find a time between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. to get there.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Waiting For Sandy

This wind projection is kind of scary. Whatever the week brings, the National Weather Service says the sun will come out on Friday.
I didn't see a lot of preparation around Park & Seventh. Scott Drugs had a little tape, Twin City had none as of Sunday night.
Took some "before" photos, expect the late-season Sunflowers to get flattened.
I'm hoping the mighty oak out front will come through with only all the leaves and just some branches blown off.

Take care, everybody!


Note: Blogger won't let me post replies on this computer (it is still in Audrey's name), but to Pat, your best bet is to call (908) 226-2518 or check for updates on pickups. I am not in the loop with PMUA decisions!

Commission Candidates Eager To Serve

Mary E. Burgwinkle, Jeanette Criscione, Carrell Martin, Ricky Allen Smiley.

Participants in the Plainfield League of Women Voters' Charter Study Commission forum said they are ready  to take on the nine-month commitment and urged voters to approve the ballot question on establishing the commission.

Seven candidates are vying for five seats on the proposed commission, but unless voters pass the question, none will be seated. Candidates are Mary E. Burgwinkle, Jeanette Criscione, John Stewart, Ricky Allen Smiley, John Davis III, Marie L. Davis and Carrell Martin. Stewart was unable to attend the forum due to a death in the family. The Davises, mother and son, did not attend.

Before opening statements, moderator Michelle Bobrow of the League of Women Voters of Maplewood-South Orange read information prepared by the Plainfield League, including the ballot question:
"Shall a Charter Commission be elected to study the special charter of the City of Plainfield
and to consider a new charter or improvements in the present charter and to make
recommendations thereon?"
and some background:
Voters must approve both the Question and five candidates for the Commission. If the Question is not approved, the Commission will not be established.
Plainfield’s government operates under a special charter passed by the State Legislature in 1968. It provides for a seven-member City Council, an elected mayor with administrative powers, and a city administrator in charge of day-to-day operations. All government operations fall under three departments led by directors. They are Administration & Finance, Public Works, and Public Affairs & Safety.
The Commission, if approved, will study the charter and may suggest changing to one of 11 forms of government recognized in New Jersey; changes to the present special charter: or no change.
Once the Commission offers its findings, voters will have a say in adopting any changes.
The current charter became effective on Jan. 1, 1969. Previously, the city had a special charter granted by the State Legislature in 1872. Changes were proposed in 1972 and 1990, but never enacted.

In opening statements, Burgwinkle said it is a "given" that the charter study should happen. She suggested ways to reduce three main costs of a study. Instead of printing and publishing, she advocated use of the Internet and weblogs. To save on consultant costs, the commision could use the services of a Rutgers professor emeritus at no cost. As for travel, she said New Jersey is "a driveable state" and commissioners could carpool if necessary.

She said the study would be done "as efficiently as possible."

Criscione said the study was about "potential" and "possibilities."

"Plainfield is a great city. The destiny for Plainfield is here."

The charter is outdated and stale and is superseded by state law, she said.

"Why do we have a charter that's not relevant?" she asked.

With a good document, she said, "Plainfield will achieve its destiny."

Martin said the charter is 44 years old and should at least be reviewed.

Smiley said he is in a unique position to be a commissioner, as he was employed by the city for nearly 25 years. He said he was involved with the 1990 study, which "didn't go anywhere." Taking part in a new study, he said, would be "an opportunity to give back to a city that gave me so much."

The Plainfield League posed two questions to the commission candidates. The first was whether candidates knew about the timeline for the study and whether they were prepared to commit to it. Criscione noted the nine-month study period and said, "There's no dragging your feet. You need to hit certain milestones."

Smiley said he was "very aware" of the timeline and that it was laid out in state regulations.

Burgwinkle had already mentioned it in her opening statement and said there was a guide to one-month increments for study. Carrell and all others pledged commitment to the process.

The second question was whether candidates had any aspects of the current charter that were especially in need of study. Smiley said he was trying to keep an open mind, but would probably want to take a look at the office of the corporation counsel and the department of Public Affairs & Safety. Criscione was concerned about how the powers of government are distributed, a view Martin shared. Burgwinkle said she should probably not tip her hand, but said the way municipal government was structured was "clearly not working." 

In closing statements, Martin said she wants to make a difference in the community and will "listen to the people" to make sure their needs are met.

"We have to communicate," she said.

Burgwinkle said it is clear that the charter needs to be changed and wants an open public meeting format for all commission sessions. She said commissioners are needed who will pitch in and do their homework.

"When we are all gone, the charter will linger," she said.

Smiley again cited his unique experience and said having the city work better is his only goal.

Criscione asked everyone to vote for the charter study, saying the citizens deserve it and deserve an open forum.

"Truly I'm committed to Plainfield," she said.

Bobrow later reminded people to examine their sample ballots. The Charter Study Commission question is at the top, while candidates are at the bottom of the block that starts with the office of president. Polling hours are from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 6.


Candidate Info Online, Forum Reports Coming

The Plainfield League of Women Voters held three forums Saturday, for Board of Education, City Council and Charter Study Commission candidates. It was quite a long day for LWV members, including me. I have a lot of notes, but meanwhile I invite you to read the League's new blog, now featuring candidate bios and other information. Click here to read it.

Posts on individual forums will follow on Plaintalker II.


Friday, October 26, 2012

LWV Forums At PHS!

Plainfield League of Women Voters
Saturday, Oct. 27 schedule
Plainfield High School

10:00 - 11:30 am "Ready, Set, Vote!": LWV-Plainfield presentation on voter education. This is especially important for new voters! 

12:00 -1:00 p.m. Charter Study Commission: There will be a short discussion of the public question on studying the City's Charter, and then brief opening statements from each of the seven candidates for the five seats, and their answers to two questions asked by the LWV-Plainfield.

1:15 - 2:45 p.m. Board of Education: The Board of Education candidates will provide opening statements, followed by questions from the audience (submitted on cards), and closing statements. 

3:00 - 5:00 p.m. City Council: The City Council candidates will provide opening statements, responses to questions from the audience, and closing statements.

What's That Acronym?

So ... a commenter signs as "Dave the PITA."

After puzzling over this acronym for some time, I look it up and find in Internet jargon it means "Pain in the ass."

Geez, and my best guess till then was "Passionate, Intense, Terrific Armenian."

Maybe it has two meanings ...


Meme alert! 
bound women in binders in the dog cage on top of Willards car, playing with "small, shiny objects"!

A West End Walk

Someone suggested that I take a walk in the West End sometime, so on Sunday I spent an hour with my camera looking around between Park and Plainfield avenues. Click on an image to enlarge.
One of the first things I saw was a congregation arriving at church. There are many churches in the West End.
This one is relatively new and is in the former state unemployment office on Madison Avenue.
Here is the Seventh Day Baptist Church with a bright yellow Ginkgo tree in front.
Shiloh Baptist Church is one of the largest and most prestigious in the West End.
Shiloh is a cultural center and also home to a charter school in addition to being a major church.
I saw a lot of nice gardens on my walk.
Here's a bunch of cheerful marigolds.
Birdies on a stump decorate this yard.
I saw some quirky sights as well, such as this collage of reindeer and satellite dishes.
Boots on the roof!
Somebody tarred a sidewalk on West Front Street, right over the GAS connection.
Another block on West Front had a series of valentines etched in the sidewalk.
Let's hope Troy and Pooh are still sweethearts.
The West End is home to the Drake Museum, which is operated by the Historical Society of Plainfield.
I believe this building was one of Plainfield's early movie theaters.
Here's a venerable building from 1926.
The array of posters would seem to indicate this business is closed.
West Front Street has a commercial strip in the blocks before Park Avenue.
Action Billiards and several restaurants are along this block.
Dollar General is one of the stores on the Park-Madison block. Note the flag and Fall banner on the Victorian-style lamp.
You are being watched. McDonald's is reflected in the window.
You are still being watched. And that was just about all my watching in the easterly West End. Maybe someday I will take the 59 bus west and get off near Green Brook Park for more picture-taking.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

PMUA: Recycle or Else

Tie up your newspapers, put only bottles and cans in the blue containers, place only trash in the green bins - or face fines from $250 to $1,000 per incident for not separating recyclables.

So says the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority in its latest newsletter, which cites an improvement in recycling, but still too many violations. Inspections will be conducted for compliance.

PMUA will change its once-weekly, citywide pickup of recyclables to alternating weeks by zones starting in 2013. Trash pickups will also change in 2013 to twice-weekly by zones. Residents are advised to call (908) 226-2518 if they need to verify their zone.

If possible, a map of zones on the PMUA web site would be helpful. I always thought they followed the zones on the Public Works maps, but maybe not.

The City Council made an unprecedented change to having its agenda-fixing session on Thursday, Nov. 8; now PMUA has announced a schedule change to place its November meeting on the same night. The PMUA meeting is 6 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Avenue and the City Council meeting is 7:30 8 p.m. at 515 Watchung Ave, both on Nov. 8. Oy vey.

PMUA sends newsletters to every household, but some people in my building just ignore them. Given the changes, if you think you are affected, make sure you read the newsletter. As of this writing, the new one is not on the "Newsletter" link at but you can see the article on recyclables here.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Debates Are Over, Now VOTE Nov. 6!

I watched Monday's debate (or as much as the cat would allow) and I agree with the pundits who gave it to Obama. My vote was for him anyway since the day he announced a second-term bid, despite my concerns over drone killing and some other policies.
Romney has ultimately come across to me as brittle and too willing to change to suit the range of constituencies within his party. But the worst thing to me is how he touts his ability to gain consensus on important issues when his party from Day One vowed openly to fight the president at every turn and ensure that he would be just a one-term president. It reminded me of schoolyard bullies.
President Obama has refused to be broken by political thuggery and in my opinion has brought a new way of thinking to the White House, one that I trust more than Romney's outlook on America. I am voting for the man who, in my mind, has the acumen needed to guide the nation through the next four years, and that is Barack Obama.

Regardless of my opinion or anyone else's, please go to the polls on Nov. 6 and vote for the candidates of your choice. In the general election, you can vote for any individuals, regardless of party, who you feel are the best for the office they seek.

You will soon receive your sample ballot. Look at it carefully, as locally there are two new categories of candidates, those for the school board and for the Charter Study Commission. Plainfielders can also vote for a Congressional District 12 candidate, new since redistricting after the 2010 Census. Make sure you note the entire list of voting choices, including the three questions, and check your polling place. Then go vote on Nov. 6!


Monday, October 22, 2012

"Police Activity" Delaying Trains

CBS Radio explains that there will be 20-minute delays on the Raritan Valley Line "due to police activity in Plainfield."

Well, that explains the hovering helicopters that showed up at 6 a.m. The rest of the story remains to be told. I am not inclined to stroll over in the dark to the main train station. Be careful, Jackie, if you are out there.


Debate Tonight, Forums Saturday

Tonight the American people can see the Democratic and Republican candidates for president debate each other on foreign policy. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney will speak at 9 p.m.

Here is a link to more information. This site also has full videos of previous debates.

Don't forget, on Saturday, Oct. 27, the Plainfield League of Women Voters is holding candidates' forums for City Council and school board races, as well as for the Charter Study Commission. The day includes a voter education program. See the League's new link for details.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

TODD Zones, New Key To Revitalization?

Hopes to center revitalization around city train stations surfaced very early in the first term of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, now completing her second term and aiming for a third. In 2006, the mayor advocated having four "transit villages," a state designation that singles out a municipality for special assistance in such revitalization.

Click here to read Plaintalker's post on those early plans.

There was a flaw in the thinking at that time, as the administration wanted these "villages" to spring up around four city train stations, two of which had long since been demolished. And the designation goes to the municipality, not a train station, so there could never be four transit villages here, even if the defunct stations were somehow revived.

The thinking has evolved more toward "transit-oriented development," though officials still intend to apply for transit village designation in 2013. Meanwhile, an ordinance establishing seven zones for "Transit-Oriented Development Downtown" has passed on first reading and will be up for a public hearing and final passage at the City Council's Nov. 19 meeting. Plaintalker missed the Oct. 1 presentation on the TODD zones due to being in Seattle, but will give a detailed report before the hearing.

Readers can learn more about transit-oriented development here. Just as the advent of the railroad brought about the city's expansion and prosperity in the late 19th Century, TOD principles are held up today as the key to 21st Century revitalization for municipalities with train stations. May it be so for Plainfield.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

WBLS Probe, One Year Later

It was exactly one year ago today that Plaintalker posted a report on the mayor's testimony on the WBLS matter. Take a few minutes to read it again, or if you didn't see it, to read the report and comments. This issue took and continues to take attention away from many more concerns about day-to-day operations of the city.

Click here to read the 10/20/2011 post. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

LWV's New Blog, Forum Info

Click here
for the new
Plainfield League of Women Voters
blog with news about
Oct. 27 forums
and voter education event!

City Sights

A marquee on the old Courier News building on Park Avenue has been painted to blend in with the new doors and facade of a proposed "French bistro." The marquee reads, "Frost Building A.D. 1909." Developer Frank Cretella still has to restore or remove two lion figures that flank the entrance.
Across the street on North Avenue, debris from a December fire still lies on the sidewalk. This is what new residents of the Courier News buidling see on their way to the main train station on North Avenue.
Another eyesore is this weedy mess in the 600 block of Park Avenue.
On a more positive note, this pole on the lawn of the Quaker Meeting House on Watchung Avenue bears a wish for peace on earth in four languages.
Here's another view of the pole.
On Cleveland Avenue, someone mended a damaged tree with metal patches. Never saw anything like that before.
A spooky orange cat is on the sidewalk on East Fourth Street.
Another bit of whimsy is this sticker on the 59 bus going from Plainfield to Westfield.
The gardeners among us are enjoying the last blooms before frost withers everything.
On Block 832, successive plantings have kept us in sunflowers for several months.

And on that sunny note, we suggest an autumn walk for everyone, to see what's interesting before the cold weather makes us want to stay inside.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pay Respects At Police Memorial

Someone suggested that I take photos of the Police Memorial outside headquarters on Watchung Avenue.
It is a very well-maintained site and a beautiful tribute to the officers who died in the line of duty.
Next time you are nearby, stop and reflect on the sacrifice these officers made and the dangers all sworn officers face daily as they work "To Protect and Serve." (Click images to enlarge)

See Plaintalker's coverage of the 2010 dedication here and learn more about those honored.


Women In Binders

 Isn’t it a shame that a governor should have to be so lacking in knowledge of administrative talent among women in his state that he needs other people to identify “binders” of qualified women for him?

Imagine a governor saying, “I don’t know any people of color, but I know people who do.”

And then he asks those people to recommend individuals to serve in his cabinet to increase diversity. Wouldn’t such appointees always be at one remove from real power?

Gov. Mitt Romney must be unaware of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, which was formed in 1975, or MassGAP, the Massachusetts Government Appointments Group, founded in 2002, if he had to ask for outside help in identifying qualified women to serve in his cabinet. in August took a look at Romney’s claim that he increased the proportion of women in state government and found a discrepancy in his remarks. See “Romney’s Big Night” and scroll down to “Women-filled Administration?”

Women have worked hard to break through the so-called “glass ceiling,” but in Massachusetts it seems they have to break out of “binders” to be seen as real people with the talent and skills to serve their state.  When Romney looks at one of these women around the cabinet table, does he see a person or a “binder”?

To bind someone is to restrain her. Does Romney really want to be "Binder-in-Chief" of the nation? One hopes such attitudes will make his campaign fold and he can then be consigned to a dusty Folder of History.

A feminist invocation in the 1970s was "May patriarchy fall." Looks like it needs to be invoked once more.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DSL Is Misbehaving

My computer line failed in the wee hours and is spotty currently. Most people in my building are having phone or computer issues with Verizon right now. If the blog is missing in action, that's why.

Peninsula Pix

Here's the dramatic ending to the landscaping on the traffic peninsula at Park & Ninth.
This colorful array was the initial effort. Maria is asking for comments and suggestions for next year.
I think the tall plants here are from Cosmos seeds that I shared with Maria. Some plants were purchased.
My preference is always for free plants from saved seeds, but others like this Dahlia are great additions.
Maria's Master Gardener skills shine through in the lovely arrangement of border, mid-height and tall plants. Brava Maria! A great beginning in 2012 - I'm sure Spring 2013 will be superb as well!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Clerk's Office Open Late To Register

From City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh:


(City Hall is at 515 Watchung Avenue with parking in the rear)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

League Conference Bumps Council Meeting

The City Council's next agenda-fixing session was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 13, due to the federal Veterans' Day observance on Nov. 12. In what seems to Plaintalker to be an unprecedented move, the agenda-fixing session is being moved back to Thursday, Nov. 8, due to a conflict with the Nov. 13 opening of the annual League of Municipalities conference.

There is language in the Municipal Code that allows for shifts from the second Monday in November due to the federal holiday. The code also allows for the meeting to be held on a subsequent date if there is some "specially recognized event" on Tuesday. I just don't recall the League being so special in past years.

There has been talk of possibly recruiting a new chief financial officer at the conference, which would be a very good thing. Another factor might be that as finance director of the City of Orange Township, Council President Adrian Mapp has a need to attend the conference in that capacity. Whatever the reason, I hope all who attend will take the conference seriously and use it to learn best practices in municipal government. In years past, the conference has had a party-time aspect that former Gov. Jim McGreevey detected on his first time in attendance and to which he alluded in his book, "The Confession."

Another past issue has been the number of city employees in attendance. The new strictures on spending public money have no doubt influenced the number and rank of attendees. Still, it can be tough to get hold of folks in City Hall that week, so plan accordingly.


No Outcome Yet On Senior Center Tab

The controversy over naming the Senior Center reminds us that there has not yet been any outcome on the issue of condo fees the city must pay for it, nor for a quarter-million dollar debt the developer claims the city owes for fitting out the center.

The last we heard on the subject was a statement from Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson in May that those matters and the state of the Veterans' Center were in arbitration. Since then, Williamson has left the city's in-house legal office behind to become executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and no new corporation counsel has been named.

Plaintalker's report from May has all the details, so to see it click here.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Last Chance To Register


If you want to vote on Nov. 6,
 make sure you are registered by Tuesday, Oct. 16

On Naming Places For People

The controversy over naming the Senior Center for the late Charles Nelson brings to mind other such plans, some that succeeded and some that didn't.

City Hall Annex was renamed in honor of Everett C. Lattimore many years ago and the Plainfield High School auditorium was dedicated to the memory of Westry Horne. Both are marked with very nice plaques, but generally people just use the site name without the memorial title.

An attempt to name a downtown plaza for the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams did not succeed completely, as it won City Council approval but a proposed memorial was never erected. And then we have the big office building built by the Union County Improvement Authority that has not yet been named for anyone.

The resolution to name the new Senior Center at 400 East Front Street for Mr. Nelson was introduced by Council President Adrian Mapp, but after several seniors objected at Tuesday's meeting, it was amended to add a plaque with names of others who advocated for a new center.

When I read the Oct. 1 agenda online while in Seattle, I saw the proposal and thought it was a fitting memorial. But perhaps I assumed it had been discussed with the seniors when it had not. The objections Tuesday seemed to indicate a consensus had not been sought before the legislation was put up for a vote.

On further thought, I wondered whether the controversy was fueled in part by the political rivalry of the mayor and the council president. At the time of his passing, the mayor spoke of honoring Mr. Nelson's advocacy for the new center with some sort of tribute. But the resolution Tuesday came from Mapp. Both have announced their candidacy for mayor in 2013, the mayor for a third term and Mapp in a rematch of the 2009 contest he lost to her. The filing date for the June 2013 primary is many months away, but the race is on right now.

Not only are the two contenders in political mode, the center itself at times gets caught up in politics. Before each election, seniors are courted with food and festivities by the various factions. They are also solicited for support at other times, as in this 2009 incident where a group was brought to a council meeting to support a tax abatement proposal.for the center.

One person who made an outburst Tuesday against the naming of Nelson versus a more inclusive memorial also happens to be a longtime ally of the mayor. The more I took in the scene, the more nuanced it seemed politically, which is too bad, because my impression of Mr. Nelson was that he lent his professional expertise and personal passion to the cause of getting a new center without playing politics.

I hope I am wrong in thinking that there is some sort of political tinge to this situation. It would be a detriment to Mr. Nelson's memory, or to the memory of the many others who fought for a new center, to be seen as pawns in a contest of wills over how the center should be named.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Mayoral Lawsuit Bills Draw Outcry

Legal bills related to investigation of a 2010 radio broadcast brought criticism from residents and officials alike Tuesday before one was approved and the other tabled for a review of its legality.

One resolution was for a $9,146 increase to $10,000 already authorized to pay the legal firm of Genova & Burns to defend the council against a lawsuit brought by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs against the governing body. It was approved after a pitch from Councilman William Reid to table it failed. Reid alluded to high murder rates in other cities and hinted that the Aug. 1, 2010 broadcast may have reduced crime in Plainfield. But the resolution passed with  council members Vera Greaves and Bridget Rivers voting "no" and Reid, Annie McWilliams, Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams and Council President Adrian Mapp voting "yes."

The other was to pay $22,126 to Shwartz, Simon, Edelstein & Celso, LLC for representing  the mayor in the council's investigation of a $20,000 payment to WBLS for the broadcast. Williams commented that the legal bills were not about the WBLS broadcast.

"The legal bills had to do with the fact that the mayor broke the law," Williams said. "Every penny should be paid by the mayor."

Williams recalled that the council investigation came about after the mayor did not respond to requests for information.

"We had to find the truth on your behalf," she said.

The resolution was tabled in a 4-3 vote, with Greaves, Rivers, Reid and Storch voting "yes" and McWilliams, Williams and Mapp voting "no."

Inquiries on how the event was funded began immediately after it took place, but it was not until the council invoked its investigative powers under the city's special charter that irregularities were uncovered.

In public comment before the votes, Dr. Harold Yood said approval of the mayor's legal bills would amount to condoning all the improprieties that led up to the findings.

Residents James Pivnichny and Delois Dameron also spoke against payment of the mayor's legal expenses, while Dottie Gutenkauf recalled she had offered to mediate the matter before it went to litigation.

The result of the investigation was a reprimand and a $200 fine imposed by the council, but the fine was later dropped.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Whither PCTV?

A reader commented that no new City Council meetings have been PCTV for some time (this was regarding my advice to watch the hijinks at the Oct. 9 meeting on television, as they were too much to describe on the blog).

So today I called the phone number on the city web site for PCTV. No answer. The latest schedule posted is for December.

I no longer have a television set, so I was unaware that the meetings are not being televised.

The blog about PCTV seems to be stuck in time back between April and June.

Considering that franchise fees are used to run the operation, maybe someone can explain why operators    are taping the meetings (and presumably getting paid) but then the meetings are not being televised.

This division is under Administration & Finance, so maybe Mr. Restaino or the division head can explain to the public at the November agenda-fixing session, which has been rescheduled to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012