The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ethics and Responsibility: The City Council and "Politics"


I will be serving as Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch's campaign manager as he runs for re-election, and will be working to elect Dee Dameron as well for the First and Fourth Ward At-large seat. I support Cory for another term because he has been a progressive voice of reason, and many of the initiatives he has led over the years have added positively to Plainfield's quality of life. I think that as one of his allies on the council, I can work with Cory to pass those initiatives that have been stalled by a recalcitrant and ineffective administration. I support Dee because she is knowledgeable about the city budget, outspoken, and deeply committed to serving the people of Plainfield. She is what we need on the council, an independent voice who understands well the inner workings of our municipality. Dee and Cory will have clean campaigns.

At the PDCC meeting a few weeks ago, when the Democratic line was conferred upon his opponent by Jerry Green, Cory stated that he would not engage in mudslinging. He has a record, and any discussion of that is fair game for politics; however, personal attacks on his family and his character were not going to be taken lightly. Jerry Green said that he, too, would stick to the issues, as would his candidates, Rucker and Greaves. 

Already, we have seen Jerry Green attack Cory, Adrian, me (tiresome), and other New Democrats by making silly statements aligning us with the "tea party" right-wing of racists and demagogues who continually attack our president. If this is the high road that Green said he would take during this campaign (many of you remember Green's attack on me during my campaign last year), I would hate to see the low road--it would have to be mighty low indeed. It's early in the season, and there is plenty of time for the candidates to re-focus their respective energies on the campaigns and publicly disavow any and all currently serving elected officials who make ad hominem attacks, as well as those whose behavior as elected officials brings dishonor to their elected office.


I am mostly writing, however, in response to comments and questions about the behavior of my colleague, Councilor Bill Reid. Apparently, Reid went to Dee's place of employment during working hours to attempt to convince her not to run for elective office. I don't know why he would do this, as he lives around the corner from her, and could just as easily have gone to her home. Frankly, I don't think it's right for elected officials to visit prospective candidates to try to dissuade them from running. I think, further, that it's highly inappropriate for sitting councilors to go to anyone's workplace for politicking. An equivalent situation would be one of my city council colleagues coming to my classroom at Essex County College last year while I am teaching my students. That did not happen, but certainly, it would be a matter of questionable ethics.


I would add, also, that an attempt to dissuade a woman from running for local office is, in my view, even more egregious. Just the other day, I blogged about a recent event that I attended honoring women in politics--our own former councilor, Linda Carter, was one of the honorees. As I sat listening to the speeches, I thought about Shirley Chisolm, Fannie Lou Hamer Barbara Jordan--all heroes of mine--women who stood up and made a difference. Given the gender inequities that still exist in American politics, which most of the women speaking noted, I think more women should be encouraged to participate in the process. 


I haven't spoken to Councilor Reid about what happened, but will be taking it up at our next city council agenda meeting, scheduled for Monday, May 2. Several people have asked me whether the city council has the power to "censure" a colleague for conduct unbecoming. That is a question for the Corporation Counsel to answer. In the meantime, I look forward to a vigorous, issues-based campaign. 


All best,


Rebecca

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Freeholder Linda Carter: Notable Woman in Politics!

Linda, our "Notable Woman"
I wanted to give a "shout-out" to newly-minted Union County Freeholder Linda Carter, who was honored as one of 2011's "Notable Women in Politics" recently by the Union County Women's Political Caucus, along with Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz of the 21st Legislative District. It was truly a wonderful sight to see Linda receive recognition for her longstanding commitment as a public servant and for her role as a woman working in government. 

The Women's Political Caucus's stated mission is to increase "...the number of progressive women in elected and appointed positions in government, protecting reproductive freedom, and promoting equal rights for women."  After being lauded for her work over the past several years, Linda offered her own remarks on being involved in politics and on her efforts to truly make a difference. 

Linda with Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, LD-21
Linda had her own cheering section at our table, including her big brother Ricky, her girlfriends DaShawn (with her charming little one, Mya, in tow), Erica, Dawn, my colleagues Councilmen Adrian Mapp and Cory Storch, and Dee Dameron, the New Democrat city council candidate for the 1st and 4th Ward At-large (Linda's recently vacated seat). As we sat enjoying the food, speeches, and conversation, we reflected on Linda's entry into Plainfield city politics back in 2003, as an off-the-line New Democrat, running with Cory Storch in Column C.* 

I was proud to have been Linda's campaign manager during that very first run, in which she triumphed over two opponents, and to see her elevated to the county level makes me prouder still. She is an inspiration to women like me. The other speakers at the event detailed the struggles that continue to confront women candidates, including sexism and the "old boys" network that shuts women out of the process, along with continuing difficulties in raising money for their campaigns. All paid tribute to the pioneers who trailblazed the paths women such as Linda now trod upon, women such as Shirley Chisolm and Bella Abzug. 

Linda has the brains as well as the people skills to go quite far, so I wouldn't be surprised to see her rise even higher in her next political iteration. Thank you, Linda, for the service you have given to our city. As a new councilor, as a progressive, and as a woman, I hope one day to be as "notable" as you! Congrats!


Your friend,


Rebecca

*The New Democrats for Plainfield are back in Column "C" this year, so it looks like deja vu all over again, as the saying goes!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflections on Hate from a Humanistic Perspective

 
Our constitution protects the right of  individuals to live unmolested and undisturbed from the predations of those who would harm them. Americans (theoretically, at least) agree with this humanistic perspective. I am speaking out about this through all my “identities,” i.e., as an African American, a woman, a lesbian, a progressive, a teacher, and as a citizen of the world, to borrow the Socratic phrase.

Recently, Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow ruled that a hateful flyer disseminated at Plainfield City Hall, although considered “ugly” speech, did not rise to the level of a hate crime. He also said that Plainfield would have to move forward with its own thorough investigation of the flyer. Our city, which prides itself on its diversity, is currently undertaking this investigation.

The outcome, I hope, will lead to the identity of those individuals who have decided that it is acceptable to malign, degrade, and deny the humanity of their fellow brothers and sisters, thereby contributing to a poisonous atmosphere designed to divide our city. The circulation of hateful flyers filled with homophobic and racist ranting against residents (including elected officials) promotes a climate of fear and repression that goes against every principle of American freedom.

It just so happens that today is the birthday of Adolf Hitler, the premier 20th century exemplar of hate. Promoting hate and divisiveness has led to tragic consequences throughout human history—in our modern context, genocide has been the logical outcome for those who believe that others do not deserve to live because of who they are.  

Tyler Clementi, 18
Last year, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide in the aftermath of humiliation after the public exposure of his homosexuality, which he was still struggling with; homophobia equaled death for Tyler, as well as for many other young people, who felt so much despair that death was preferable to facing possible rejection from their own community and people. Even young people who did not identify as gay (such as young Carl Walker-Hoover, 11 years old, and Asher Brown, 13) could not take the bullying that is part and parcel of homophobic attitudes. I am glad that a Middlesex County grand jury has determined that Tyler’s roommate should be prosecuted as the perpetrator of a bias crime, among other charges—click here for this story.

Carl Walker-Hoover, 11
We have seen the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda and other countries that deny the humanity of our gay brothers and sisters—it has led to genocidal acts. The 2011 Days of Remembrance (also known as Holocaust Remembrance Week) will be observed during the week of May 1-8. This year’s theme is "Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned?" Click here for the link.

Asher Brown, 13



If we truly are to be citizens of the world, we must call out injustice of ALL types everywhere, and not allow anyone's freedom and civil rights struggle to take a backseat to dogma, rhetoric, and hatred.

All best,

Rebecca

Sunday, April 17, 2011

City Council Town Hall Meeting for Residents This Wednesday, April 20--Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Cedarbrook School, 1049 Central Avenue

Please note this is a slightly revised iteration from an earlier blog post--updated a bit!

Dear residents, 

The Plainfield City Council will be holding its third Town Hall Meeting this Wednesday, April 20, from 7:00-9:00 pm at Cedarbrook Elementary School, located at 1049 Central Avenue City council town halls offer an opportunity for you to speak directly to the council about issues of concern facing our city. 

The residents at some of the previous town halls have voiced their thoughts and feelings on rising taxes, gang violence, job opportunities, road reconstruction, speeding, the extraordinarily high PMUA fees, the refusal of the PMUA commissioners to abide by the Interlocal Services agreement, home foreclosures, code enforcement, the investigation into misappropriation and possibly illegal use of city funds without council knowledge or approval, low turnout for city recreation programs, flood zone maps, government wastefulness, possible uses for the Armory building if it were put on the tax rolls, public safety issues, unfilled mayoral cabinet positions, and lack of responsiveness on the part of the administration to the residents. 

Although some of these issues are beyond the ability of the city council to resolve (as we are legally constrained from being involved in the day-to-day operations of the city), please know that all your concerns will be directly and immediately communicated to the mayor (who is also the acting city administrator) and that the council will make sure there is accountability to you as residents regarding how public funds are allocated and spent. In addition, we will be sure to direct you to the appropriate division or department so that you have the ability to follow up on your own as well.

One of the major points of criticism that I received about the two prior meetings was that not enough residents received an opportunity to speak because city council members "hogged" a lot of the time with long-winded and repetitive answers to questions. First and foremost, these town halls are designed for US to hear from YOU, not the other way around. As one with a tendency to be verbose (lol), I will certainly keep that in mind (if called upon to respond directly), and I pledge to you that will keep my responses brief. You can also reach me at another time to talk more in-depth.

I am hopeful that these final two town hall meetings are filled to capacity with residents who want to work with the council to help move our city forward--I was heartened by the desire on the part of many of those in attendance at the first two to volunteer their expertise (financial, legal, etc.) to the city!

As your 2nd and 3rd Ward Councilor At-Large, however, I may call additional town meetings of my own to hear from those of you who are unable to attend this current round. As always, you may reach out to me via cell phone or email (at left).

Finally, please note that the fourth town hall is scheduled for May 11--please share with your friends and neighbors:

4th Town Meeting: Clinton Elementary School on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:00 pm
 
All best,

Rebecca

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Clarification on "Endorsements" and the "Democratic" Process


New Democrats Rebecca and Cory
Over the past few days, as I have perused some of the local blog postings and commentary, some individuals have been repeating the fiction that I asked Jerry Green to give me “the line” when I ran for my city council seat last year. Here’s the clarification: I didn’t ask for the line to be given to me. 

What I asked for (feeling pretty secure that it would never happen) was his “endorsement” (as chairman) to the 68-member Plainfield Democratic City Committee. The reason I did this was because, back in 2008, when Annie McWilliams won her primary election running off-the-line as a New Democrat, Jerry Green said that if Annie had simply asked him, he would have given her his endorsement--hahaha. So, I figured, I am not going to have anyone say I didn’t ask—this was a running joke with my team leading up to the committee meeting.

I was jokingly suggesting the chairman endorse me because, as I had told him several times, beginning in October 2009, he could save himself the cost of a primary, as I was confident that I would win--Jerry is always complaining about how much money the "New Dems" cost him when his candidates lose--lol. 

After I won, I said to him, “I told you that you were wasting your money on that primary, Jerry.” Jerry agreed with me (afterwards, of course--lol), and even came to my headquarters two or three times during the fall to discuss the Pallone campaign and Pallone's "Tea Party" opponent. Since I was now on the “line,” the congressman would need my help in getting out the vote for the fall election. Adrian and Cory and I (and the rest of our team) worked hard to get the vote out among 2nd and 3rd Ward residents, and we all canvassed door-to-door with Linda Carter as well.

Given the way in which Jerry decided to run that primary campaign last year—having his candidate attack my community involvement, my employment, my very livelihood—and having Jerry himself send out a desperate, last-minute mailing filled with absolute lies and a bizarre reference to my sexual orientation, I am hopeful that he learned that folks are interested in issues. I hope his candidates understand that as well.

I had wanted the COMMITTEE to VOTE on the candidate they preferred to run for the election, and I urged the committee to support me. But there was no vote. Jerry simply gave the line to Rashid.  CLICK HERE for the blog post I put up last year on this topic. This year, it happened again—there was no “democracy” on the part of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee. 

While at the committee meeting last week, I asked if there would be a vote. Jerry said no. Neither of his candidates, Tony Rucker nor Vera Greaves, stood up to say that they would prefer a vote by the committee members on the chairman’s recommendation. They sat there and said nothing, and Jerry gave them the line—they are his candidates. 

As an independent candidate, I didn't depend on his money to get me through--I sent out letters requesting donations, and I paid for a lot of stuff myself. I didn’t feel pressured to mitigate my positions to appease him, the mayor, the PMUA, or any other entity. I simply spoke my mind, stated my positions, and I didn’t equivocate on anything.  I hope that all candidates running do the same: don’t mitigate their positions to appease Jerry Green, the mayor, the PMUA, or any other entity, and that they simply speak their minds, state their positions, and don’t equivocate on anything--it's easy to state a clear position--on WBLS funds, on recreation, on taxes, on economic development, on crime, on the persistence of incompetent leadership on the part of the mayor, and so forth.   

Good luck to everyone who is running.

All best,

Rebecca

P.S. Regarding Cory’s 2007 campaign, I was not involved in that campaign—I was not a member of the PDCC at that time. As a matter of fact, I played no role in any campaigns that year. I was in the process of moving, starting a new job, and dealing with the illnesses and deaths of some close friends. I don’t know if there was a vote back then, but I have always maintained that there should be a vote on any candidates who come before the committee—otherwise, what’s the committee for?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Same Old, Same Old...Said With a Sigh

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. --Abraham Lincoln*


On Thursday, April 7, the Democratic City Committee met, ostensibly to choose candidates to run on the "Regular Democratic Organization" line. It was the same old regular meeting, so to speak, but there was nothing "democratic" about it. Jerry Green's council candidates, Greaves and Rucker, need only thank Chairman Green for the line, not the committee, as the committee played no part in the outcome. We were simply there to observe, I guess. As usual, there was no vote by the city committee on any of the candidates. The members of the executive committee didn't even receive the courtesy of a phone call from the chairman about those who were coming before him and what his recommendation to the whole committee would be. 

When I asked whether the committee would be voting, Jerry said that he was making the decision. Now, at the January meeting, at which the council vacancy (for 1st and 4th Ward At-Large) left by Linda Carter's elevation to freeholder was to be filled, Jerry Green appointed Greaves, saying that "this time we'll do it my way, next time, we'll do it the right way" (emphasis mine). Well, I thought this was the next time--I guess I was wrong.

This is part of what is wrong with the local party. The committee is duly-elected, and yet the chairman alone dictates who gets the line.  Now, regarding the Second Ward race, Cory Storch had already said that he was not asking to be considered for the line, as he is running as a New Democrat. However, there were two others who were vying for the line. In all probability, Jerry's candidate may have had enough committee votes to be awarded the line "fair and square," but the problem is the lack of an open and transparent process. It taints everything. There should have been a vote, but there wasn't. Jerry, as usual, did what he wanted to do--he chose who he wanted. Same old, same old. 

That said, it's up to the people of Plainfield to make their choices on June 7. Good luck to us all.

All best,

Rebecca

*The Lincoln quote is from his first political speech back in 1832. Here's a bit more, for context: 

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed.  --March 9, 1832

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Second Ward Town Hall Meeting: My Impressions

Last night, I participated in the second of four town hall meetings set up by the city council to allow the public to bring their issues before us in a larger venue than those in which we usually meet. Several residents stood before the microphone to express their concerns. Other bloggers have focused on the overriding focus of those in attendance on the PMUA, so I need not add to that. My position has been made clear--as it seems there is no desire on the part of the authority or commissioners to reform in any way, I am for dissolution of this entity.

What I want to focus on is a looming issue having to do with willful obtuseness and demagoguery that flattens a complex discourse about moving our city forward into one focused on race and class--of course, race and class are a part of the discussion, but we need to look at these issues in an open and honest way--not in a way designed to exploit or pander for political gain. 

In addition, it seems that there are those who are continuing to spread misinformation about our town, leading some residents to believe that some members of the city council are "voting" against "the children." As an educator (and former child), this troubles me. It happened again last night, as one resident came to the mic with rumors that she had been hearing about the council's involvement in a tentative Armory proposal that never came before us, about charter schools, daycare centers, and other issues. The council was able to provide her with facts to dispel the misinformation she had been given, and I would hope that she is bringing the facts back to her neighbors and friends. She did not disclose to us the source of her misinformation, but it is clear that those who would exploit our children are out there, trying to pollute the minds of residents with lies.

To see the children used by demagogues to advance their own selfish agendas is disgraceful. To see putative city council candidates do it is even more disheartening, because in my opinion, it provides a clue as to how they will govern, if elected. Last night, Tony Rucker, Jerry Green's choice for council, stood before the council and, looking directly at Cory and me, seemed to insinuate that we were afraid to visit Hannah Atkins Park, where he visited recently. What was coded in what he said was a familiar yet convoluted syllogistic trick used to suggest a lack of concern--some would call it class/race baiting. If visiting a playground and pool located over by Plainfield Avenue and W. Third Street is to be some sort of "litmus test" or metric of one's concern for the "community," I am fearful for our future: superficial photo ops and fodder for non-substantive blog posts are not sufficient substitutes for the real work of long-term community involvement.

I have attended at least two dozen community meetings and events all over this city in just three months on the council! Now, unless someone is following me (troubling in itself!), he or she has no idea where I go--I don't go to places just to be "seen" going to them. As I said in my response last night, I worked in the 4th Ward for two years, and walked to work as often as I could. I continue to enjoy my life in all parts of the city, and I have no fear of any of its neighborhoods--neither does Cory. To insinuate that we do have fear or are otherwise unconcerned about the children in our city is morally repugnant. My entire career is devoted to education, and Cory, who has lived here for 30 years--not five or six--served on the Plainfield Board of Education for many years as a volunteer, and as a volunteer soccer coach for ten years, mentoring kids all over the city. These were and remain long-term  commitments. I would expect that anyone attempting to "call anyone else out" on their volunteer service to have an equally long record of volunteer service and civic commitment. 

I would suggest that candidates not play "politics" and be clear in telling the residents what they think they can bring to the council table. I would hope that this campaign season will be one where the candidates will focus on the issues facing our city. The lies and personal attacks made on me last year--lies about my career, my employment record, my salary--all backfired terribly. The final one, with a veiled homophobic attack, was delivered to mailboxes the day before my election, and it came with the imprimatur of Jerry Green. Candidates understand that they are responsible for any material put out on behalf of their respective campaigns.

I am hopeful that the final two town hall meetings are filled to capacity with residents who want to work with the council to help move our city forward--I was heartened by the desire on the part of many of those in attendance last night to volunteer their expertise (financial, legal, etc.) to the city! 

Two more town meetings are scheduled--please share with your friends and neighbors:

3rd Ward Meeting: Cedarbrook Elementary School on Wednesday, April 20 at 7:00 pm
4th Ward Meeting: Clinton Elementary School on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:00 pm
As your 2nd and 3rd Ward Councilor At-Large, however, I may call additional town meetings of my own to hear from those of you who are unable to attend the current round. As always, you may reach out to me via cell phone or email.
All best,

Rebecca

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Proud To Tell It

It's necessary to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an abomination.*


I am blessed--blessed that my parents instilled in me a sense that I could be who I am. I know that I am "...fearfully and wonderfully made." I stand in solidarity with LGBT city workers, here and everywhere, who have to deal with homophobia in the workplace. As a co-adviser of my institution's Gay/Straight Alliance, I will be sharing the events of the past few days with the student members as we discuss ways to effectively combat bullying and hate. Carl Bean, founder of Unity Fellowship Church, had his own way of expressing his pride as a child of God. Click on the link below:


All best,

Rebecca

* Marlon was attempting to express our humanity in all its permutations. I concur with him, especially on behalf of those who have not yet internalized his sentiments.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"A Proper Sense of Priorities" in Plainfield

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular

But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. --Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we commemorate the forty-third anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jan. 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968), I thought that it might be a good idea to have a thoughtful examination of how we might want to respond to the future of our wonderful city amidst the tumult of the past several weeks. 

I have been reflecting on what Plainfield residents have expressed to me, via email and in conversation, about how we, as a city, can come together to do what is in the best interest of us all. I have sat on the council alongside my colleagues for three months now, listening to your concerns and suggestions, offering my input, and voting as my conscience tells me. 

It is not easy to sit and hear epithets, accusations, suspicions, and personal attacks being tossed about--especially, at the last council meeting, in the presence of our young people--what must they think of those who claim to have their best interests at heart and yet cannot seem to carry out a civil discourse with those with whom they disagree? The degree of acrimony has been quite troubling, and that it seems to continually be encouraged by those with a self-interested agenda makes it even more unconscionable. 

The role of the legislative body, as I view it, is to serve as part of the checks and balances of our local government--not to defend entities, enable favoritism, protect nepotistic hires, or turn a blind eye to mediocrity, incompetence, and ineffectiveness. We have a very difficult year ahead of us, and we cannot allow our residents to suffer with ever-higher taxes, wasteful spending, willful mismanagement, and declining municipal services. We must think about how our actions, votes, and public statements either maintain the status quo (which clearly isn't working), or how they may be able to help us take a giant leap forward as a city. 

A little over a year ago, I reprinted a portion of a speech delivered by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two months before he was assassinated--the original context was his opposition to the undeclared war in Vietnam. Given the tenor and tone of the current public discourse in our city, I thought it would be good to consider Dr. King's words once again.

All best,

Rebecca
A
Click below for the link to the whole speech:



Friday, April 1, 2011

WOF! Winning Our Future, Plainfield!

In his State of the Union speech this year, President Obama talked about "winning the future." I have been thinking my own "WTF" thoughts since yesterday afternoon, but today I will put on what Mrs. Irving, my fifth-grade teacher, used to call my "thinking-cap," and see what sorts of proposals I can help bring forth to help Plainfield win the future. I am focusing on reform to ease the tax burden on Plainfielders, such as the local insurance reform measure that I wrote about a couple of days ago.

In a previous blog post, I reiterated the seriousness of Plainfield's financial predicament: 




I am also focused on finding additional ways to mentor young people (this is part of what I do in my professional life as an educator)--specifically, getting them to focus on education as the way to "win the future." I think that the hierarchical structure of our priorities is out of whack--education remains the key element in engendering success. 

A focus on protecting cronies and jobs and maintaining the status quo sends the WRONG message to our young people and hurts our city as a whole. We need to change how we do business, stop playing politics, and demand that the focus be shifted toward true reform. 

What are your thoughts in attempting to answer the "WTF" question for Plainfield?

All best,

Rebecca