Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Transporting Sound of the Kora Harp

My visit to the Plainfield Public Library Tuesday took me back to another era, the time of the griot,

It still exists in some places, that tradition of story-telling with music, an aural/oral history far removed from tweets and likes. Between songs on the Kora harp, performer Sean Gaskell described going to West Africa to study with a griot, living in a large communal household and learning songs centuries old that told of warriors and leaders.

It reminded me of my Irish ancestors' life in the days before planes and trains and social media, when traveling bards brought news and history to villagers through music and poetry.

The griot is a revered figure in African culture, still invoked today. This biographical note on Queen Mother Mary Carter Smith describes a re-awakening of understanding the importance of the griot.

Before attending the Kora harp concert, I wondered a bit about that new issue, cultural appropriation. But Sean Gaskell's obvious respect for the Kora tradition and his acceptance as a live-in student reflected more of a mutual celebration than an appropriation.

Maybe that's the trade-off in sharing cultures - we are no longer confined to our villages, but can have the best of world music no matter where we are or where we came from. Mickey Hart's Planet Drum is one such effort, Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble are another and last night Sean Gaskell brought the enchanting sound of the Kora harp to Plainfield.

Thanks to Plainfield Public Library for this wonderful event and I hope Sean Gaskell will be back again soon.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dems By the Numbers

The Union County Board of Elections has posted the final affiliation stats before the primary. There are 14,309 registered Democrats eligible to vote on June 6.

As everyone must know by now, four Democrats want to be mayor, three want the Fourth Ward City Council seat and three are vying for a one-year unexpired term representing the Second & Third Wards at-large.

Your last chance to hear the candidates is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Emerson Community School when the Plainfield League of Women Voters holds a forum. If you can't make the forum, you can review the candidates online at the LWV website. (Click the link)

Broken down, all 14,309 Democrats are eligible to vote for mayor in the primary. For the Fourth Ward seat, 2,552 Democrats are eligible, and 8,329 can vote for the Second & Third Wards at-large seat.

Turnout is generally much lower than the number of those eligible to vote. In the 2016 primary, turnout among the city's 34 voting districts ranged from a low of under 23 percent to a high of over 46 percent.

Before these final numbers, it appeared that the total of all registered voters had dropped by 864 from the 2016 general election. That number now is down to 779.

For all the rhetoric leading up to the primary, the thing that really counts is making sure the voters get to the polls on June 6. Some people may already have voted by mail, but most vote in person. You can bet candidates will be offering  reminders and rides to get out the vote on June 6. In the not too distant past, "street money" and vouchers for free drinks were also used to convince people to step into the voting booth.
You should soon get your sample ballot. Note your polling place and review the candidates. And go vote on June 6!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Urban Nature Study

Crossing the city parking lot on Cleveland and Fourth, I came across this supersized puffball. It's a relative of the Dandelion and from past nature study I recalled the name, Goat's Beard.

A Dandelion puffball might be the size of a ping-pong ball, but this one is almost as big as the "Spaldeen," the pink rubber Spalding ball so vital to the old game of stickball..

How times change. I just found out online that instead of scouring the street for a suitable stick, you can now buy one on Amazon for $46.98, or two Spaldeens and a stick for $61.82!

I think I'll stick to nature study.

Memorial Day Ceremony Photos

At City Hall
Vietnam Veteran
Color Guard
National Anthem
Through the umbrella
Mayor Adrian Mapp
Council President Rebecca Williams

Memorial Day

Memorial Day will be observed today at City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave.

See more images of past Memorial Day observances here.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Trouble In Rivers' City

With a little more than a week to go for the all-Democratic primary contest, cries of plagiarism arose as offline candidates struggled to call attention to their ballot location.

The creator of a poster for Rev. Tracey Brown took to Facebook to complain her design was lifted without her permission. Graphic artist Najiyyah Bailey posted side-by-side images on Facebook of the two fliers. the original for Rev. Tracey Brown and the alleged rip-off for Bridget Rivers. Both are running for mayor, and landed in Column G on the ballot, along with candidate Dr. Henrilynn Davis Ibezim.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text
To direct voters' attention to the far right side of the ballot, Bailey used a large, bright red "G" and spotlighted Brown on line 15. A background pattern repeats the ballot location.

Bailey took umbrage at the copycat version that has many of the same elements and notes Rivers' ballot position on column G, line 17. A slogan is superimposed on the repeat images of 17G, with what appears to be a misspelling of "United."
Image may contain: 1 person

Rivers' campaign had another apparent gaffe when the person she calls her boyfriend posted on FaceBook a photo of an employee in his restaurant wearing a campaign shirt for Mayor Adrian O. Mapp. Rivers posted separately that the Mapp campaign did not put the woman up to it, and tried to distance herself from the stunt.

Mapp and his running mates are all on Line A, a full roster of Democratic candidates for governor, freeholder, Assembly, County Sheriff and so on down to City Council candidates. Five other Democratic gubernatorial candidates without slates occupy lines B through F, resulting in the Plainfield pileup on line G.

Republicans running for governor have ballot positions on lines A through E, with only E having a slate.

To add to the confusion, some FB posters urged Brown and Rivers to team up against Mapp, an absurdity at this late date. Rivers could have chosen in April to seek a third term as the Fourth Ward council representative, but instead filed for mayor with no Ward 4 running mate. Brown has a Fourth Ward running mate and couldn't switch now even if she wanted to.

The candidates have one more forum, 6:30 p.m. May 31 at Emerson School, and then it's just a matter of getting out the vote on June 6. Primary winners will be on the Nov. 7 ballot, along with any independents who file on June 6.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

More On The Shiloh Forum

A lot of the talk at Thursday's candidates' forum had to do with young people.

One of the questions from the audience was on what youth services each mayoral candidate planned.

Mayoral candidate Bridget Rivers said, "Our youth, our millennials are important," but quickly added, "Our youth are lost" and said a community center is needed.

Rev. Tracey Brown, also running for mayor, said she has a background in counseling. She said young people need a place to go and while other youth centers close before dark, young people 18 and over are still on the street, so a center needs later hours and also job counseling.

Making  his first foray into Plainfield by running for mayor, Dr. Henrilynn Ibezim chided the others for "talking about things that should have been done 20 years ago" and said it is time for change and a new direction.

Incumbent Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said $1.7 million will be invested in a "multi-service sports facility" and also hailed a new skate park for youth. He mentioned job training and nanotechnology and said, "We are focusing on the whole person."

On combating crime and gang violence, Brown and Ibezim both said jobs would help keep young people off the streets. Mapp noted he had 62 students shadow City Hall staff last Monday (with an eye to future careers) and also held "Mayor for a Day" sessions for students.

Among council candidates, Steve Hockaday advocated coding and STEM education, noting the film "Hidden Figures," and said he wanted Plainfield to become the "Silicon Valley of the East." Elliott Simmons said children should be educated about gang violence, but also be shown love.

"It sounds kind of corny, going back to the '60s," he said, calling for "love and understanding."

Cameron Cox mentioned the Boys & Girls Club as a resource.

In response to a question on helping young girls at risk of incarceration, Joylette Mills-Ransome said there are sororities "that reach out very early to young ladies."

"The engagement piece is very important to them," she said.

"Reach out to the resources we already have," Terri Briggs said.

Briggs, Simmons and Hockaday are all running for the Fourth Ward seat. Cox, Mills-Ransome and Alma Blanco are vying for a one-year unexpired term representing the Second & Third Wards at-large. (Blanco was ill and did not attend the forum.)

See the Shiloh Baptist Church Facebook page for videos of the mayoral and council forums.

The League of Women Voters candidates' forum is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 31 at Emerson Community School, 305 Emerson Ave. All the candidates are Democrats running in the June 6 primary.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Regarding Safe Haven

A couple of candidates mentioned the Safe Haven program at Thursday's forum and one blamed the city for its demise. As I recall, the Safe Haven program was initially based on a five-year grant. When the grant expired, I believe the city helped out for a time, but could not fund it indefinitely. I wondered at the time why, if there was a five-year grant and five years elapsed, why was it a big surprise and dilemma that there was no more funding? As I recall, a city that received the grant could not just reapply, so the logical thing would have been to look for other outside funding sources in time to assure continuity.

I hope anyone who remembers the situation will add factual information about what went down.

Meanwhile, here is a very good description of "Project Vision" in Plainfield, a 2005 program meant to deter young people from gang involvement. The elements of this program can still be applied by any other organization today, on whatever scale possible.

Posting on Forum Later Today

Last night a thunderstorm broke out while I was trying to do a blog post on the candidates' forum. I turned off the computer to wait it out, but when I got back on, I was too tired to compose a post. After nodding off a few times, I gave up.

These forums are difficult to report on, because there is so much content packed into a short time.As promised, there is video of the forum up on Facebook at Shiloh's FB page. I suggest taking a look at that and I will post later. Thank you.


Initial Post on Forum, More Later

About 150 people came out Thursday to hear mayoral and council candidate pitches at Shiloh Baptist Church, but if you missed it, a video may be up soon.
videos are up on Shiloh Baptist Church Facebook site
Pastor Hodari K. Hamilton welcomed the crowd and gave a prayer before the four mayoral candidates and five of the six council candidates spoke.

The mayoral field includes incumbent Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, seeking a second four-year term; first-time candidate Dr. Henrilynn Ibezim, a former Citywide at-large Councilwoman Tracey Brown, pastor of Ruth Fellowship  Ministries; and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers.

Running with Mapp are Fourth Ward candidate Steve Hockaday for a four-year term, and Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome, who was appointed in January to the Second & Third Ward at-large seat and is seeking the balance of the unexpired term;to Dec. 31, 2018. Ibezim's running mates are former Councilman Elliott Simmons for Fourth Ward  and Cameron Cox for the unexpired term. Brown is running with Terri Briggs for Fourth Ward. Rivers will be on the ballot with Alma Blanco for the unexpired term. Blanco was ill and did not attend the forum.

Reminder: Candidates submitted bios to the League of Women Voters - see here

Issues included public safety, redevelopment, gun violence, need for a community center and the type of medical facility desired for the Muhlenberg site.
Bridget Rivers
In opening remarks, Rivers said, "I understand politics," and promised a "full-services community center for our youth."

 Dr. Henrilynn Ibezim
Ibezim mentioned Psalm27 and said, "I am running to make a difference."
Rev. Tracey Brown
Brown gave a long list of credentials, including leading 30 churches, and said the city needs a youth center that is open late.
Mayor Adrian Mapp
Mapp said when he came into office, he found "a city in need of being remade," lacking a chief financial officer for seven years, among other things. Now, he said, crime is down 25 percent and economic development is at an all-time high.

Regarding the 10-acre Muhlenberg tract, Brown, Ibezim and Rivers said the city needs a full-service hospital. . Mapp said, "We are returning health care services to the Muhlenberg campus," saying it had been "abandoned" for the past eight years.

To be continued tomorrow

 Terri Briggs, Cameron Cox, Steve Hockaday

Hockaday, Joylette Mills-Ransome, Elliott Simmons

Ramadan Mubarak

Ramadan Mubarak
to all our
Muslim friends

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Stepping It Up

Looks good, eh? Never mind that the device considered my gyrations while sifting compost to be "steps."

My daughter gave me the little step counter a while back and I used it until the battery died. I forgot about it while we were enduring the most recent dislocations in the apartment. In fact, I wasn't even sure where it was with all the shifting of possessions since the November squirrel invasion, January's Friday the 13th massive leak and six weeks of repairs starting in March.

This month, I took action! Looked up the kind of battery needed and ordered it from Amazon. It arrived in a box plastered with warnings about lithium batteries (land shipment only, not by aircraft, etc. etc.). I had to mummify the old one in tape lest it get wet or touch another one in the trash and explode.

Next task, unearth that set of tiny Phillips screwdrivers and pick the right size, Unscrew the back, replace battery, screw it shut. It didn't want to line up - I nearly said "screw it" but persisted until it took hold.

Since then, my step totals have varied wildly but never reached 10,000 until I did some errands on foot and then spent an hour shaking compost through a large sieve (or riddle, as the English say). The result made me think a 1950s belt massager would have shaken out those last thousand steps, or in these times a Big Freedia tutorial might help. But I do love sifting compost, so I'll just keep it in mind for back-up to get those "steps" when I don't feel like traipsing down to the bank or the P.O.


Shiloh Community Forum Tonight

From the Shiloh Baptist Church calendar:

Shiloh Community Forum

When: Thursday, May 25, 2017 @6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Where: Sanctuary

The church is located at 515 West Fourth Street. According to Dan, this forum is for mayoral and council candidates.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

LWV Posts Candidates' Bios, Responses

The Plainfield League of Women Voters is holding a forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on May 31 at Emerson Community School, 305 Emerson Ave. Candidates were asked to submit brief bios and responses to LWV questions. (At the forum, a moderator will also ask candidates to respond to written questions from the audience.)

See Candidate Bios and Responses to LWV Questions

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

An Image of Plainfield

A chance comment on Facebook led me to a web series filmed in Plainfield. In the genre known on IMDb as "hood" movies, it included drug dealing, gun violence, murder, jail, poverty and general social dysfunction.

I had two reactions (well, three) after seeing this production. It depicted Plainfield as a dangerous place, with crime part and parcel of the residents' lives, a shooting in a downtown alley, and a cameo appearance by one of Park & Seventh's prime disrupters - in other words, just the image that people say outsiders wrongly pin on the city. As a  Plainfielder since 1983, I was horrified.

Another reaction was to wonder how the series was filmed. Was it all freelance, without any city permissions or knowledge? I know nowadays practically anyone with a camera is their own auteur, but I remembered how "The Messenger," "Basket Case" and "Kinsey" all required approvals for use of city locales.

I will reserve my other reaction for a later date, but let's just say the series had an unexpected (to me) political coda.

Comments on YouTube showed the series had a lot of fans, and I guess overall it was no worse than some thriller filmed on the streets of New York City. It was just disconcerting to see someone "shot" just a few steps from a downtown bank I use, among other juxtapositions of the familiar with the unthinkable.

I know some will say it is not my place to say anything on this topic. It recalled to me a time when as a reporter I stopped at Clinton School on election day to get a comment on turnout, and a woman said, "What are you doing here?" There are divides and lines in the sand here. But I am a Plainfielder too, and this is just how I feel today.


Voter Numbers Down As Of May 1

The number of registered voters in Plainfield dropped by 864 from October 23 to May 1, with Democrats showing the greatest loss.

All the primary candidates for mayor or City Council are Democrats.

In contrast to a drop of 282 for Democrats, the small Conservative, Green and Libertarian parties all gained members since the 2016 general election.  The numbers of Republicans and unaffiliated voters, already puny compared to Democrats in Plainfield, saw further reductions.

The last day to register for the June 6 primary was May 16, so numbers may change in the Union County Election Board's next tally. Several groups held voter registration drives and City Clerk AJ Jalloh opened his office from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. for registration on May 16.

Moving can affect one's eligibility to vote. See a FAQ on New Jersey voting rules for various circumstances, including moves. There is also a section on challengers and one on electioneering that voters should check. We have all heard stories of people trying to interfere with voters at the polls or going into the booth with a voter to "help" them. Be forewarned - know your rights!

It's probably too late for the primary, but before the Nov. 7 general election a person with a criminal conviction should follow ACLU guidelines for registering to vote.

After the Democratic primary, only one mayoral candidate, one Fourth Ward candidate and one choice for the unexpired Second & Third Ward at-large seat will have the party line on the November ballot. Independents who file on June 6 for any of those seats will also be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Two More Forums To Go

With everything else on my mind, I totally forgot about yesterday's candidates' forum.

If you missed it too, you can see at least the mayoral portion on Facebook. Three of the four candidates took part. I found myself yelling at the netbook over some non-factual items.

If I attend the other ones, I will have to take notes, mind my manners and never mind the whoppers that may crop up.

Dan reports that there will be a forum at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (May 25 23) at Shiloh Baptist Church, 515 West Fourth Street. I thought it was somewhat unusual to have a candidates' forum in a church, but while searching online I found there had been a mayoral candidates' forum  at Shiloh in 2009, when six people were competing for the line in the June primary. This year, it's a four-way race.

The Plainfield League of Women Voters will hold a candidates' forum on May 31 at Emerson School. The mayoral candidates will give statements and answer written questions from the audience between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. City Council candidates will do the same from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The primary is June 6. Winners will be on the November 7 general election ballot, along with any independent candidates who file on June 6.

As a reminder, here are the four slates with their slogans:

Mayor, Four-year term: Adrian O. Mapp
City Council, Second & Third Wards Unexpired Term: Joylette E. Mills-Ransome
Fourth Ward, Four-year term: Steve Hockaday

Mayor, Four-year term: Dr. Henrilynn Davis Ibezim
City Council, Second & Third Wards Unexpired Term: Cameron E. Cox
Fourth Ward, Four-year term: Elliott Simmons

Mayor, Four-year term: Bridget Rivers
City Council, Second & Third Wards Unexpired Term: Alma Blanco
(no Fourth Ward candidate filed)

Mayor, Four-year term: Tracey L. Brown
Fourth Ward, Four-year term: Terri Briggs
(Second & Third Ward candidate filing was ruled invalid)

Please, No "Jake Brakes"

Day or night, trucks pull up to the traffic light at Park & Seventh with a loud stuttering roar that drowns out my radio. This noise is due to a form of braking that some drivers use. It's called "Jake braking" and is banned in some places, although the company that makes the mechanism has sued municipalities for putting up signs that link it to the racket.

I have mentioned it before, but it has become so frequent lately that it is beyond annoying. The most recent blast was at 1:30 a.m,

I know other people on major roads in Plainfield must be hearing that horrible noise. I have wished for police to ticket drivers for this excessive noise, although :it might be too hard to catch them in action. Hear an example here.

My building is set back 100 feet from the street and the corner is about another 100 feet. Anyone living at an intersection with a smaller setback must be even more affected by this noise. Have you heard it? What do you think would help?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Stressed Out

A few too many recent challenges have just worn me out and impaired my ability to come up with blog posts.

Luckily for Plainfield, there are many more news sources than when the blog started in 2005. Jennifer Popper is doing an excellent job as the new editor of Tap into Plainfield and Timothy Priano has lots of information on his Queen City Pride website.

Every week, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp publishes a newsletter with events, updates and news about Plainfield, which residents can sign up for.through the city website at the "Stay Connected" link.  The website itself has City Council and land use board agendas, links to departments and divisions (including a roster of Recreation programs), and much more.

Most of the resources above are also on Facebook, and there is also a link to The Buzz In and Around Plainfield. As always, Dan publishes event notices and links to news articles on his blogs.

In my expanding menagerie of devices, laptop repairs took a month but something failed and another month is elapsing for more repairs. Meanwhile I am making do with the little netbook. I have to go back to PNC Bank for more help in setting up online banking on the iPhone and I am trying to learn how to operate a new tablet device. Even the Kindle demands attention for an update that so far I can't attain. It's harder for me to read small letters and numbers nowadays, which adds to the stress.

My measures to reduce stress have included getting some ylang ylang oil for an aromatherapy locket and fixing a little step counter to encourage more walking. Intrigued by a notice for a kora harp concert at the Plainfield Public Library, I looked up kora music and I must say it has a beautiful, calming sound. Hoping to make the May 30 concert by Sean Gaskell at 7 p.m. in the library. See more about the kora here.

The garden is also a stress reliever, except when landscapers denude it with weed whackers. We have a new landscaper who seems to be more attuned to gardens.

Love in a Mist
There is always something new coming up in the garden and this week it is a delicate flower called Love in a Mist, with blossoms in shades of blue surrounded by feathery foliage. So pretty!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New ABC Board Organizes on May 31

A legal notice Tuesday heralds the organizational meeting of the new three-person Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

The meeting is 7 p.m. May 31 in City Hall Library and the two items of business are selecting a chairman and designating meeting dates.

Plainfield has about 38 places where liquor is dispensed, including social clubs, bars and restaurants and liquor stores. All the liquor license establishments are subject to review by the Police, Fire, Health and Inspections divisions. License holders must also meet state requirements before municipal approval. All licenses must be renewed annually and were formerly approved or denied by the seven-member City Council.

Earlier this year, the governing body approved a change to a three-member ABC board, as allowed by state law. In 2014, the change was blocked by then-Council President Bridget Rivers, who wanted the council to retain control. In 2015, she voted approval of a controversial night club which has since gone out of business.

This year, she joined in unanimous votes on two readings to pass the ordinance for the three-person board.

The three ABC board members were approved unanimously in April. Initial nominees have staggered terms. Successors will all have three-year terms. The ordinance also requires one of the three to be of the opposite political party. They are:

- James Perry, who cites extensive board service on his resume in addition to being the founding Chief Financial Officer of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, serving from 1996 to 2013. His board affiliations include 23 years with Union County College,and 28 years with King's Daughters Day School. He was former chair of the Plainfield Redevelopment Authority and a founding member of the Plainfield Business Development Corp. A Democrat, he is nominated for the initial three-year term.

- David Graves, a repairer with the State of New Jersey, having previous managerial and technical positions in entertainment and manufacturing. Though not noted on his resume, Graves is well-known for community activities as well. He is a Democrat and is nominated for the two-year term.

- Oscar Riba, who is now vice president of Two Sigma Investments, LLC but who gained knowledge of ABC regulations as owner/operator of a New York bar for a decade ending in 2012. According to the resolution, he is a Republican and is nominated for a one-year initial term.

License renewals are supposed to take place by June 30, but a few license holders miss the deadline every year. The board may also have to schedule hearings past the deadline in case of denials.

(I will not be able to attend the May 31 meeting, as it coincides with the League of Women Voters' Primary Candidates Forum at Emerson School, but will post a follow-up on the chairman and meeting schedule.) 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Three Weeks To Primary, Please Curb Insults

I made the mistake yesterday of posting a response on my blog to something that Dan posted.

Dan does not post comments, so people brought their reactions over here. I held most of them, but I regret initially putting up one.

With three weeks to go, we are now in the ugly phase of primary campaigning. Call me a tender blossom, but even after 30 years I feel very queasy when the stink bombs are tossed just before an election.

I have seen some extreme tricks in the past. One year, someone paid a quarter to open a newspaper box in front of City Hall, then inserted a scurrilous flyer in each of the newspapers inside. Anyone who legitimately bought a paper saw the flyer. It caused much gossip and also made it seem that the newspaper company was complicit.

Another very bad incident occurred when a local politician took out an ad in the daily newspaper warning of a huge tax increase. A woman who came to a City Council meeting to complain became so distraught that she collapsed and later died. The projected increase later proved to be falsely exaggerated.

I hope people will stick to the issues and not make personal attacks or false claims between now and June 6. Comments along those lines will not be posted. If you agree or disagree with Dan, you can send him your questions or suggestions at

The primary race will be over soon and so will the decision on chairman of the Democratic City Committee. We may then be free to enjoy the summer before people take up the cudgels for the Nov. 7 general election and school board contest (yes, it was moved from April to November, then back to April and once again back to November).


Monday, May 15, 2017

Be Ready To Vote on June 6!

Tuesday, May 16 is the last day to register for the June 6 primary!

Make sure you are registered. If you haven't voted for a while or have changed your address, you need to check your status. The City Clerk's office in City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave. will be open from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday for voter registration.

See for more information.

This primary is very important! Four Democrats want your vote for a four-year mayoral term, One will go on the ballot for the November 7 general election. See mayoral and City Council candidates at the NAACP forum on May 21 or the LWV forum on May 31.

People have died for your right to vote - don't waste it! Take part! We all see what happens when a large number of voters fail to exercise their franchise. Don't let it happen here.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mother's Day Remembrance

Sometimes when feminists gathered in the 1980s, a meeting would start with naming. A woman would say her own name, then name her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and so on, Some could go back five generations, but after I said, "I am Bernice, daughter of Jean," I was pretty much out of luck.

My mother was only 9 when her mother died, one of millions who did not survive the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. Her father married another woman and gave his own four children to a childless relative to raise. As the oldest, my mother was expected to do household chores, The youngest child was only nine months old and knew no other home, but my mother was bitter over her losses for the rest of her life.

She escaped from the small coal-mining town in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania by running away to Philadelphia as a young woman. Much later, she returned as a wife and mother. Her baby sister grew up in the house and in turn took care of the woman who raised her. She married and lived in the same house for the rest of her life. We children loved our summer visits to that house after my mother and her sister reunited.

Maybe because she was taken in as a baby and knew no past life, Aunt Kay was very nurturing, in contrast to my mother's toughness. While my mother tossed my notebooks and artwork when housecleaning, my aunt subscribed to my high school newspaper as a gesture of support for my writing.

Although they enjoyed telling tales about the neighbors and mimicking them, the sisters had little to say about their own family history. In the 1940s and '50s, children went out to play and did not inquire about family secrets. I did know they had recreated themselves, Catherine becoming Kay and Mary Teresa becoming Jean.

My mother saw a parallel in her four children to her siblings. As the oldest, like her, I was expected to do everything right. My sister Jane equated to my mother's less capable sister Helen and got a dollar for every "A" on her report card. My brother Robert and my mother's brother John both escaped the family, Robert joining the Navy and John moving to California, both dying early. My sister Ellen and Aunt Kay were the babies, enough said.

Motherless, growing up in forbearance in a relative's household, my mother developed a cynicism and a sarcastic attitude as an adult. She was a demon shopper, intimidating salesladies into giving her discounts and defying the rules when rationing was in effect. Near the end of her life, when asked in a hospital if she knew where she was, she snapped, "Yeah, Folsom Prison!"

She did her best for the four of us, despite her hard childhood. I think she enjoyed having grandchildren more than raising the lot of us. My son and daughter revere her memory. I also fondly remember Aunt Kay for her encouragement and have to respect Great-Aunt Ellen for raising my mother and her siblings.

On Mothers' Day 2017, let us remember and pay respect to all who raise and nurture children.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ramadan Starts This Month

While some Plainfielders will be launching the picnic and grilling season at the end of May, observant Muslims will start a month-long period of fasting.

Ramadan coincides with the Memorial Day weekend in 2017. The date is based on a lunar calendar, not the solar one in general use in United States.

Ramadan begins on the evening of May 26 or as soon as an imam sights the crescent moon, and ends a month later with large gatherings to mark Eid ul-Fitr, Click the links for more information.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Update On PMUA Concerns

Lack of a particular designation for the Rock Avenue transfer station should not affect the PMUA's outside contracts, CFO Duane Young said Tuesday.

Young confirmed that the authority does not have a Class C designation to accept grass clippings, but said most of its contracts with other municipalities are for brush and debris that is rated as Class B.

The issue came up at Monday's City Council meeting when Councilwoman Diane Toliver questioned City Administrator Rick Smiley. She said a landscaper told her the PMUA was not accepting grass clippings. When told grass should be cut and the clippings left, she said they would "end up in the street."

Oren K. Dabney, director of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development, said the city may be able to provide bags for the clippings.

Although the city and the authority are separate entities, Councilman Cory Storch commented that he was glad that the city was looking for a solution.

(Having covered the PMUA since its inception, my concern was over the authority's possible loss of revenues from outside contracts with nearby communities, a longtime goal that was only realized in recent years. I am glad to report that it will not affect the contracts.)

The council will also seek a joint meeting with the PMUA to discuss mutual concerns. Click to see a report on the May 2016 joint  City Council/PMUA meeting.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

City Clerk's Office Extends Hours on May 16

The last day to register to vote in the June 6 primary will be a long day for the City Clerk's office. To accommodate last-minute registrants, the office will be open on May 16 from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh's office is on the first floor of City Hall at 515 Watchung Avenue. You can get a voter registration form or absentee ballot from the city website, just make sure you fill it out and submit it by the deadline.

Another great resource for voters is Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi's "Union County Votes" page with many useful links.

The June 6 primary is just four weeks away, so inform yourself on the candidates. Locally, candidates for mayor and City Council are on the ballot. There is a race for governor and also some freeholder seats to fill, as well as 68 Democratic City Committee seats.

Regarding the latter, one voting district (Ward 2, District 6) ended up with no one on the ballot. If you live in the 2-6, you can write in Peter Price if you wish. Or Jerry Green, if you wish. Hey, just trying to be nonpartisan even though both are Democrats. You can look up the backstory on the blog.
Here's my candidate for official flower of the campaign season. It's called "Honesty."


See the CBAC Report

The 2017 Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee report
is online. Click the link to view.

Toliver, Rivers Denounce Budget

I sat up last night for hours pondering the City Council meeting and finally went to bed without posting. Here's my attempt to report on it:

The 2017 budget passed 5-2, with Bridget Rivers and Diane Toliver voting "no." Each one later made harsh comments, Rivers saying the budget was full of "slush" and "fluff." She objected to a $10,000 reserve item in the $83.4 million budget, saying it should "go toward the seniors." Toliver railed against an $11,000 raise "someone" was getting, also saying it should go to the seniors.

The senior issue was about a shift in responsibilities. City Administrator Rick Smiley explained that the administration made a "change in reporting," but Toliver and Rivers drilled away at who reported to whom at the Senior Center. Although rules forbid naming personnel in discussing the budget, the comments made it obvious that the titles involved were Superintendent of Recreation and Senior Center Director. Smiley told Toliver it was the administration's decision, but she retorted, "I'll speak to you after the meeting."

Later, two members of the Senior Center spoke in public comment. Mafalda James said programs were not better over the past six to eight months, describing delays in getting supplies for millinery and jewelry-making. She said members had been contributing toward the cost of supplies, but were told not to do so any more. The senior lunch program declined from 100 per day to 60, she said, calling other changes in the program "a smack in the face for all of us" and "unconscionable."

"Someone said, 'We know what you need.' You don't know what we need - don't try it," she said.

Senior Center member Carolyn Johnson said she did not understand the "restructuring" of the program.

"It's been in existence a long time," she said. "How come we need overseers?"

Toliver next pivoted to why landscapers can't take grass clippings to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Public Works Director Oren K. Dabney said the PMUA is not a "Class C" facility that can take vegetative waste.

(I looked on the PMUA website for more information on whether vegetative waste can be accepted at the Rock  Avenue transfer station/Plainfield Environmental Resource Center and I am hoping to get to the 6 p.m. meeting tonight to ask whether the NJDEP still rates the facility as Class C. The Authority in recent years has contracted with other municipalities to accept vegetative waste and could lose a revenue stream if its status has changed.)

Toliver's inquiry reminded council members that they have not held a joint meeting with the PMUA for a while, and they will now look into scheduling one.

Although Rivers took up a lot of time with accusations such as "money hidden in pockets everywhere," she said "I am not up here campaigning."

Monday's council meeting was the last before the June 6 primary, where Rivers is one of four mayoral candidates. Two council seats are also on the ballot. At least two candidate forums have been announced (NAACP on May 21, League of Women Voters on May 31) at which voters can weigh the options.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Do Plainfield Avenue Sites Need Redevelopment?

click to enlarge
A large lot formerly used by Shiloh Baptist Church for parking, along with other properties on the next block south, will be studied for redevelopment, if the City Council adopts a resolution Monday directing the Planning Board to do so.

The large single lot has frontages on Plainfield Avenue, South Second Street and West Third Street. It is directly across Plainfield Avenue from Hannah Atkins Playground. The other area to be investigated fronts on Plainfield Avenue, with three lots facing West Third and three others opening onto West Fourth. In all, 10 lots comprise the proposed investigation area.
Correction: Properties on the south west corner of Plainfield Avenue and West Fourth are also included.  

From the agenda packet:
Background information on the resolution

Block 111, lot 18.01 has existed as a partially completed parking lot for Shiloh Baptist Church since 2005 as part of a Zoning Board of Adjustment use variance decision requiring the church to purchase other surrounding lots for additional parking. Now that the church has purchased and received approval for parking lot improvements on those lots, the city is encouraging the redevelopment of this property, as well as adjacent properties to the south along Plainfield Avenue for redevelopment. This resolution directs the Planning Board to undertake the research necessary to make a determination, to conduct a public hearing, and to forward their recommendation to Council.

All costs associated with this redevelopment- both the study and the plan process- will be charged to the designated redeveloper upon City Council designation. 

 As followers of redevelopment know, the process involves both the governing body and the Planning Board through all steps. It is a long and thorough process, moving from an investigation to a possible declaration that a site is in need of redevelopment, and then to a redevelopment plan. The public has opportunities to speak at each juncture.

The best way for interested parties to follow the action is to have representatives, maybe from a block or neighborhood association, monitor the steps and report back to the group. Often I am the only member of the public at some of these land use meetings, but they are open to all.

In 2008, redevelopment projects overflowed my big red folder, but not all came to fruition. Since then, Plainfield's Transit Village designation and rezoning for transit-oriented development has helped to attract new developers, and there is talk of revisiting the roster of past proposals.

Plainfield is changing, and residents need to gather information and weigh in on redevelopment as it occurs.

Tonight's regular City Council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. See the full agenda here.
(As Dan has mentioned, the 2017 Budget is also on this agenda for passage.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Having Computer Troubles

The laptop is not working. We are left with just the wee netbook. We just had the laptop repaired, so we will ask them for some help.

Is  Mercury still in retrograde???

Friday, May 5, 2017

Woodland/Cook School Saga Goes Way Back

As Dan wrote on his blog, the Planning Board briefly discussed the proposed new Woodland School Thursday. Chairman Ron Scott Bey said no one appeared for the Capital Project Review.  The applicant was listed as New Jersey Schools Development Authority and the subject was "demolition of the Woodland Elementary School and the construction of a new elementary school with site improvements."

Plaintalker has had occasional posts on the subject for a while. See this 2014 post on Woodland School with links to other information. I used to report on school board meetings in addition to land use and municipal government, but can no longer do it.

In 2009, Woodland was only due for renovations, as mentioned in this post on Steve Gallon III's first meeting. The post provoked this reaction from our Assemblyman.

The NJSDA page on school projects for Plainfield still lists repairs for Woodland, but there is also a link for "new school" that says "Construct new K-5 elementary school on district site for 756 students to replace the existing Woodland ES and Cook ES, the existing Woodland ES will be demolished upon completion of the new school while Cook ES will be used for district"

Interested residents can check the NJSDA link for updates in addition to inquiring at school board meetings. Scott Bey mentioned that the Planning Board needs a long-range facilities plan from the district.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Image result for mexican national colors
Cinco de Mayo
to all our
friends of 
Mexican heritage!

Redevelopment Plan Includes A Whole Downtown Block

The Planning Board painstakingly reviewed a draft redevelopment plan for Block 247 Thursday and members hope to have it to the City Council for approval in June.

While parts of the block were previously discussed for redevelopment, the plan includes the entire 11-lot block bounded by Madison Avenue, West Front Street, Central Avenue and West Second Street.

It currently includes a large mixed-use building on Madison Avenue.

West Front Street has businesses with apartments upstairs and one very large commercial building at the Central Avenue side.

A rather dilapidated city parking lot opens on both the West Front Street and West Second Street sides.

Rather than try to report on the somewhat tedious page-by-page  review which included fixing typos and spelling errors (supercede? supersede!), I am offering links to past stories on the block. The possibility of a brew pub was mentioned Thursday, as it was in December 2013, and that post includes a definition.

August 2016 - City Block Attracts Developers

January 2016 - Is Downtown Block In Need of Redevelopment?

July 2014 - HAP-py, The Council Rendition

February 2014 - HAP Wants City Lots, Council to Discuss

December 2013 - Landmark Eyes Lot 9 For New Project

November 2013 - City Land Sought for Development

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Zoners Approve PNC Bank Project

The historic Sutphen House will have a makeover and PNC Bank customers will drive up to new ATMs when a project approved Wednesday is complete.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment approved conversion of three lots on the large parking lot behind the Park Avenue bank building into two lots, one for future development and the other for the ATMs and Sutphen House. The ornate bank, with classic architectural features, will be shuttered and operations will shift to a new office nearby on West Front Street.

PNC representatives first had to obtain a "certificate of appropriateness" from the Historic Preservation Commission before presenting the application to the Zoning Board. HPC Chairman Bill Michelson spoke to the board Wednesday, describing that process. He explained that because the Sutphen House was a locally designated landmark, the proposed new lot 3.01 containing it needed HPC review, including the new ATMs.

Michelson said the application presented an "opportunity to get some attention" for the pre-Civil War building. It will be painted, receive new carriage lights and landscaping and gain other amenities. The new lot will also have brick pavers, four shade trees, 75 shrubs and 63 perennials and ornamental grasses.

Attorney Diane Hickey of Riker Danzig, engineer David Witkowsky and planner Keenan Hughes presented the application. Zoning Board members asked whether pedestrians could use the ATMs, but were told the devices were meant to replace drive-up windows at the bank building that will be closed. There will be a walk-up ATM at the new West Front Street bank office, Hickey said.

A couple of board members grumbled that the drive-up ATMs went against the goal of having a pedestrian-friendly downtown, but Hughes pointed out that surrounding uses include a parking garage and a PSE&G substation, less likely to attract walkers than downtown streets with stores.

Security was another concern. Hickey said the bank will have security measures, but does not discuss such things publicly. Bank representatives will consult with Plainfield police on specific strategies for that location..
The board also discussed signage to direct drivers to the new ATMs on West Second Street. Witkowsky showed a "perspective" sign indicating what drivers will see as they approach. The bank team agreed to alter the placement of greenery for better visibility, and also to install a noisy "rumble strip" to alert passersby to the presence of cars exiting the lot.

Hickey and others first met with the HPC inconclusively on March 29 and canceled a planned appearance at the April 5 Zoning Board meeting as a result. Having received .HPC approval on April 26, Hickey and her expert witnesses were ready for Wednesday's Zoning Board meeting.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Price Launches Write-in Campaign

Within its four wards, Plainfield has 34 voting districts. On alternate years, Republicans or Democrats choose male and female representatives for two-year terms serving in these most grass-roots of all elected offices. This year, it's the Democrats' turn to fill those 68 seats.

As some may recall, the male seat in Ward 2, District 6 was the subject of a controversy. Petitions were signed for Peter Price, but then petitions for Jerry Green were filed. Price said he was asked by  local Democratic chairman Adrian Mapp to step aside in favor of Green.

Green, the District 22 Assemblyman and chairman of the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County, then withdrew for whatever reason, leaving no one on the ballot for the 2-6 committee seat.

I wrote a commentary on the 2-6 and today Peter Price alluded to it in announcing a write-in campaign for the committee seat:

"In regards to your article of April 18, Commentary on 2-6, I wanted to provide and answer to your question "What is the status of the original filer now?" Answer - I am running as a write-in candidate on June 6, and welcome the support of my neighbors and friends in the 2-6. I along with my surrogates will be visiting homes in the 2-6 with instructions on how to cast their vote for me. Folks should also check their sample ballot for instructions on how to make a personal choice. If they still have questions on Primary Day, June 6, they should ask assistance from the District Election Board Worker before entering the voting booth."

CBAC: Keep Us All Year

Among takeaways from the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee report Monday, the city is figuratively rifling the sofa cushions for money (finding unspent bond ordinance balances) to fund long-desired road repairs, supporting development deals that amplify tax income and using other people's money (aka grants) to get stuff done.

CBAC Chairman Sean McKenna put it much more formally, stating the end result as "tremendous results in stabilizing and managing" the city's finances.

The full report will soon be online at the city's website. Meanwhile, CBAC findings included a recommendation that the committee should be formed early and serve all year in an advisory capacity.

The committee made specific recommendations for each of the city's three departments. For Administration & Finance, CBAC urged full implementation of Mitchell Humphrey, a software system that improves operations, and suggested using upcoming union negotiations to seek more control over long-term pension costs and sick-pay liability.

For Public Works & Urban Development, CBAC recommended completion of a road improvement program, updates to city recreation facilities and continued improvement in Parks & Recreation management.

Public Affairs & Safety covers the 24/7 Police and Fire divisions, which are prone to overtime costs. CBAC hailed the proposed hiring of twelve additional recruits for each division as a way to rein in overtime costs, noting the two divisions account for about 60 percent of city expenditures.

Economic Development is not a department, it is the job of the Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development. Besides having the most cumbersome title in the cabinet, Carlos Sanchez inherited the challenge of changing the city's reputation with developers. CBAC's comment was to "continue with excellent management" which has resulted in over $230,000,000 in active development projects.

Plaintalker will put up a link to the full report once it is up on the city website.

The City Council's Finance Committee will meet this week to discuss possible amendments to the 2017 budget. There will be a reserved space on the May 8 agenda for passage of the budget if no amendments are needed. If there are any amendments, they will have to be published in a legal notice and final passage will then take place at a special meeting.

A special member of the audience was Daionna Taylor, a nominee for the Plainfield Youth Commission, which is in the process of being reactivated. Mayoral nominations for Taylor and Khahriyyah Muhammad will be up for a vote on May 8. Taylor is already involved in public service as a cadet for the Plainfield Rescue Squad.

So far, the commission has two adult members as required, Nancy Jordan and Kelly Shaw. In addition to the two mayoral nominees, the commission can have two City Council members and nine more young people. See a link to Boards & Commission and an application form here.

The first members of the Youth Commission in 2006 were four members of the same family. When their terms expired no new members were appointed.

The regular City Council meeting is 8 p.m. Monday, May 8 at Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.