The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Friday, March 30, 2012

Deflection and Ignorance

Below is an editorial which appeared in the Friday, March 30, 2012 edition of the Star-Ledger. I am glad that the paper correctly points out that I have a constitutional right to not pledge to symbols, such as flags, if they violate my beliefs. Many residents who come to meetings (even some who support the mayor) do not pledge the flag or pray. Again, this entire issue is a deflection from the true issues facing our city, such as the out-of-control PMUA rates, the Muhlenberg RMC development proposal, the foreclosure problems, and issues of crime. For the mayor to publicly ridicule my rights as a citizen--as well as the rights of other Plainfielders who do not salute or publicly pray--clearly demonstrates her willful ignorance of the Constitution that she is supposed to uphold. As I mentioned in a previous post, Mr. Toliver, a veteran, has said that he will publicly apologize for his intemperate remarks about me at our next meeting, scheduled for April 9. I look forward to hearing from him.

Plainfield mayor's meaningless fight over flag, prayer ignores city's real problems

Published: Friday, March 30, 2012, 7:04 AM 
Plainfield has problems. Over the past year, the news out of the Union County town has not been good: gang activity, armed robbery, people shot at randomly in the streets and domestic violence involving a machete. A uniformed police officer recently was viciously beaten in the middle of the day by a man wanted on outstanding warrants. Look up from the police blotter and you’ll find another area of hand-wringing concern: About 12 percent of Plainfield’s population is living below the poverty level. At least five soup kitchens operate in the city.

So where is Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs focusing her energy? The flag. And prayer. The mayor is upset that council president Rebecca Williams doesn’t salute the flag or pray at government meetings.
For Robinson-Briggs to be focusing her concerns on this non-issue defies belief. Williams stands for the Pledge of Allegiance and the prayer, but says her religious beliefs forbid her to salute any flag. And praying at public meetings offends her belief in the separation of church and state. Williams isn’t breaking any laws and isn’t hogging council time trying to win people over to her point of view on these sensitive issues. She’s simply obeying her conscience and respecting her colleagues’ differing viewpoints by standing with them. That’s commendable.

Robinson-Briggs’ actions are considerably less so. Her constituents shouldn’t be fooled. Plainfield’s problems have nothing to do with whether one council member salutes the flag or prays with others. And the city’s solutions require leadership, not meaningless distractions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Town Hall Meeting Tonight: On Muhlenberg Development

With Councilman Adrian Mapp and Gabby, August 13, 2011
This evening (Tuesday, March 20) at 7:00 pm, the Plainfield City Council will be holding its first Town Hall Meeting of the year at Cedarbrook Elementary School, 1049 Central Avenue. The topic of discussion is the proposed Muhlenberg development. Please come out and make your voice heard. 

Reposted from 8/17/11: On Saturday, August 13, several dozen Plainfield-area residents attended the 3rd Annual Commemoration of the closing of Muhlenberg RMC, organized by the People's Organization for Progress/Restore Muhlenberg Coalition. Below is a remembrance that I think captures the flavor of the event. We need to restore our hospital, but we also need the help of more folks from the surrounding towns, and we need to put pressure on our elected officials at the state and county level. We are all affected--remember, Muhlenberg is a REGIONAL facility. Thanks to IVPM for producing this video, "Ain't Gonna Mourn" (written and sung by Bennet Zurofsky, accompanied by Diane Beeny).

All best,


What hope is there if/
Apathy is the new black/
Who will speak for her?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Patriotism and Deflection

For the past twenty-four hours or so, my life has been disrupted because the mayor decided to challenge my patriotism by calling attention to the fact that I do not recite the pledge of allegiance. I was contacted by several news media outlets to explain my position, and I have received hate mail. 

The people of Plainfield should know that this is NOT about pledging the flag.

This is about the mayor's attempt to deflect attention from her willful misuse of public funds. The city council UNANIMOUSLY issued a reprimand (all that is allowed under our charter) to the mayor for her actions. This is about a mayor who wants to deflect attention away from her mismanagement of our city. This is about a mayor who is infuriated by the fact that she has made herself a laughing stock. This is about a mayor who refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing on her part, and who has decided to wrap herself in the flag. 

This is a reprehensible and cynical move, and the mayor should be ashamed of herself. She felt no shame in disrespecting our veterans by junking up the city hall rotunda and obscuring the Plainfield War Memorial with clunky furniture, boxes, a trash can, and other debris for years. It was only through the efforts of those of who brought pressure and attention to her disregard that the administration finally removed all that junk. She feels no shame about her broken promises to the veterans of our city regarding the veteran's center she promised them years ago.

People of conscience everywhere should be horrified by the mayor's deliberate attempt to inflame the public by suggesting that there is something wrong with individuals whose beliefs preclude them from pledging and that not pledging is a sign of disrespect. I demonstrate my respect for those who pledge by standing. This is how I have conducted myself ever since I came onto the council.  Many in attendance stand but do not recite while the pledge is being read. If the mayor is suggesting that all those who do not pledge should leave the council chambers, I would ask that someone explain the constitution to her.

All best,


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Of Demagogues and Patriotism

I do not pledge to a flag. To ANY flag. As I have stated elsewhere, my religious beliefs preclude me from saluting or pledging allegiance to ANY type of emblem or flag. The mayor’s cheap insinuations about my patriotism are par for the course, however. Unfortunately, nothing better can be expected of her, after these six and a half long years. Her tenure in office has been notable primarily for its pettiness, ineptitude, and incompetence--long before I came to the council in 2011. To publicly attempt to ridicule and misinform our veterans about me is just one more example of her despicable demagoguery.

PMUA Commissioner Toliver is well aware of my strong support for veterans and veteran’s causes--I have attended virtually every event our local veterans have held since taking office (and many for years before). Mr. Toliver is also aware of my efforts (since last year) to have the mayor remove the insulting obstructions that had been blocking the bronze war memorial plaque in the city hall rotunda for years—in fact, we had a brief conversation about it only two weeks ago. Last summer, I wrote, in part:  

The desk blocks the huge bronze plaque that memorializes Plainfield veterans. Veterans have been among those who have expressed anger at the disrespect shown to their sacrifice. Nothing should EVER block a memorial.” 

Here is the entire link, along with photos of the mess:

For Mr. Toliver to equate my adherence to my religious beliefs to a figurative burning of the flag was deeply offensive--the applause that occurred in the wake of his commentary suggests that perhaps folks ought to become familiar with the establishment and free exercise clauses, respectively, of the constitution's First Amendment. I spoke to him after the meeting about this, and he assured me that he would come to the April business meeting to make a public apology for his intemperate and inaccurate remarks. 

Among my students at Essex County College are many, many veterans, both young men and young women, who have returned from fighting our nation’s wars in various states of wellness--some still suffer from PTSD. By and large, they are among my most dedicated students—we talk about their military experiences in class—their perspective on the texts we study is greatly valued by the other students, and we honor them for their service and commitment. In addition, the Director of Essex County College’s Urban Issues Institute, Dr. Margaret Stevens, is herself a veteran, whose commitment to those who serve has become a significant aspect of the institute’s mission at the college (I serve on the UII Steering Committee).

 Finally, I would suggest that the calling into question of my patriotism is merely a political deflection on the part of the mayor for the continuing inadequacies and shortcomings of her leadership. The business of the people, however, is what is important to me.

The affirmation I made upon being elevated to the city council on January 3, 2011 was as follows:

“I, Rebecca Williams, do solemnly affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same and to the Governments established in the United States and in this State, under the authority of the People; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of Plainfield City Council Member Rebecca Williams, according to the best of my ability.”

Those are my final words on this topic.

All best,


Post Scriptum: I guess I can tell my mom that I got my picture in the paper. Unbelievable.