Off the Broiler Covers the Ironbound

Jason Perlow at Off the Broiler sent me what could only be described as a prodigious list of articles he’s written about restaurants in Newark’s Ironbound. I’ve lived here for over two years, and I still don’t think I’ve eaten at all the places he’s covered here.

WOW. My favorite so far is the small and cozy Casa Vasca — walking distance from our apartment (a BIG plus after a pitcher of sangria), and fantastic food. They’ve been covered by the Ledger’s food tour feature and was mentioned recently by one of the DJ’s at WPLJ. Go check ‘em out and stop up at Mompou for a night-cap!

Couldn’t Help Myself

Rutgers Observer: Can white people live in Newark?. This was one of those stop-and-take-a-deep-breath moments. A Rutgers student who has been mistreated by Newark (or R-U?) police on at least one occasion has seen fit to spill out his aggression across the pages of the Rutgers Observer against Mayor Booker. Apparently, Mr. Gifford has felt mistreated for being white and puts the ball in the court of the city government to fix the problem.
Having been a Rutgers student and lived in the city for a couple of years — and being white — I found Gifford’s argument haughty and his solution misguided. So I, well, vented on the comment section of the message board. My response:

During my 2+ years living in and 3+ years commuting in and out of the city, I’ve had very few experiences with Newark Police or the division of the State Police that run the Rutgers-Newark campus security. The experiences I /have/ had with Newark’s finest, though, have been positive and respectful.

Just how many interactions have you had with the NPD to call the Mayor to task? Sure, race does matter in a city with as diverse and rich a cultural heritage as Newark, but do your run-ins with some bad eggs running security detail at R-U tell the whole story?

If you’ve found yourself the victim of racial bias, do something constructive with your frustration: get the police officer’s badge number and file a formal complaint with the department. As for Booker’s approach to integrating this city of 250,000+ citizens, I think his program of partnering with non-profit organizations to work with children, at-risk youths, the poor and the elderly is a good one.

And if you’re /really/ interested in breaking down racial borders in the city of Newark, you may want to consider volunteering for a mentorship program yourself.

Rutgers-Newark has been a hallmark of studies of race and the promotion of social equality (consider their analysis of the 1967 riots and respect for the Conklin Hall student protest in 1969). I would hope that a faculty member would take some time to turn in a corrective editorial on this particular “observation.”

Just in passing, while doing some research for this blog, I stumbled across The Newark Metro, a gorgeous publication of the University about the city of Newark. I looked around for an RSS feed and couldn’t find one, so I used the FeedYes service to create one (don’t you just love the Interweb?). We’re displaying newsfeeds from The Newark Metro in the sidebar now, along with the Times, Topix and Newark Speaks feeds.

Mayor Booker Gets New Digs

New York Times: Evicted, Newark’s Mayor Finds Another Blighted Street. Cory Booker takes on new digs after he and the remaining tenants at Brick Towers are finally evicted by the Newark Housing Authority. Having held out for several years in the towers with local residents in order to bring attention to the squalid living conditions and criminal behavior of the landlord (currently doing time for tax evasion), they have finally agreed to move out of the towers to make way for a new set of apartment buildings to take their place.

In the end, Mr. Booker and his fellow renters agreed to decamp after Newark’s Housing Authority promised to build a gentler, kinder Brick Towers to replace the forbidding twin slabs that had become magnets for drugs, violence and despair. The holdouts were also given first dibs in the new quarters.

During the election, Booker got a little flak from the crew at Newark Speaks about his current living conditions. When asked whether he would move into quarters more suitable for a mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, his response was classic:

But as far as where I live…I am not concerned about what people say. It is my personal choice. And I tell you this, you may be surprised where I choose to live next. This city has communities that are in a state of crisis. And for the next four years I am committed to making every neighborhood safe. I am willing to go to any personal lengths necessary to accomplish that as my past living choices have shown: from a mobile home to a tent at garden spires. So if I win, your mayor might “embarrass” you again, but I think in the end you will be proud that I got the job done in our city.

Booker has decided to make good on his promise and has moved into the heart of the South Ward near Hawthorne Ave Elementary School. The neighborhood is well known for being a rough part of town:

Last week, after a search of some of the most menacing corners of this down-and-out city, Mayor Booker began unpacking his Hugo Boss and Custom House suits in his new apartment on Hawthorne Avenue. It is a $1,200-a-month three-bedroom apartment in a building on a browbeaten stretch of Newark’s South Ward, where boarded-up homes outnumber inhabited ones and crack dealers hawk their product outside an elementary school.

Convinced that his very presence can have catalytic effects on a neighborhood, he said he would spend a year or so on Hawthorne Avenue. His new home, on the top floor of a three-unit building, looks out onto an elementary school. Eventually, he said, he would like to build his own house, ideally in another trouble spot. “I want to live in a place where I can leverage myself in the best possible way, where I can be part of the struggle for deeper justice in an urban community,” he said.

New Newark novel

For those who are interested in Newark fiction, there is a new novel out set in Newark during the Riots.
The Lightning Rule: A Novel by Brett Ellen Block is out. It is set in that long hot summer of 1967 and is about a detective’s search for a serial killer who hunts men on the streets of Newark, much like “The Most Dangerous Game.”

“Block’s evocative third offering (after The Grave of God’s Daughter, 2004) is set in late 1960s Newark, New Jersey, where the real-life arrest and subsequent beating of a black cab driver launched days of deadly race riots. As the novel opens, Martin Emmett, a white detective in the city’s predominantly black Central Ward, has been relegated to desk duty for protecting the identity of a critical witness. Emmett, who abandoned his pursuit of the priesthood to become a cop, already has plenty on his plate: he’s caring for his brother, Edward, wheelchair bound and bitter after serving in the Vietnam War. The detective sees a chance for professional redemption when his sergeant quietly assigns him the case of a young black teenager found dead in a subway tunnel. The murder, it turns out, is no isolated incident, but part of a racist predator’s carefully orchestrated plan. The mystery angle here pales in comparison to Block’s vivid portrayal of a city where racial tensions have escalated from a steady simmer to a raging boil. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Brett Ellen Block doesn’t list her New Jersey connection in her book jacket biography, but she is originally from Summit. Her father was a Newarker of Polish extraction. Ms. Block had a book launch on November 1st at the New Jersey Historical Society.

Pay to Play Goes Away

New York Times: Ethics Bills Up for Vote in Newark. The Times has a write up on the recent ethics reforms Booker has written for city law. The new laws would substantially curb the “Pay to Play” methods used by the previous administration for years to keep select contractors getting choice development deals while leaving other — potentially more efficient — contractors out in the cold. The reforms also aim to increase the transparency of the political process by establishing declaration rules for political contributors. From the Times:

Among the six ordinances that the Council is expected to approve on Wednesday is a rule that outlaws fund-raising on public property and another that creates a position of inspector general to oversee complaints of fraud and ethics breaches. The measures will apply to both the mayor and the nine council members as well as to future candidates. All but two of the current council members were elected in July.

Mr. Booker has also said he would sign a separate executive order on Wednesday that forbids municipal employees from giving money to mayoral candidates.

“This legislation will put Newark on the cutting edge of pay-to-play reform not only in New Jersey but in the nation,” said Harry Pozycki, chairman of the Citizens’ Campaign, an advocacy group that helped draft the legislation. “It basically draws a line in the sand against corrupting influences and says Newark is open for honest business.”

Craig Holman, the campaign-finance lobbyist for Public Citizen, the government watchdog group, said he knew of no other city that had passed such far-reaching ethics reform legislation. “This is massive,” he said. “Even localities that have endured a grave scandal haven’t gone this far.”

The city council voted last Thursday on whether or not to approve the changes. They voted to establish three of the six ordinances, claiming they wanted more time to evaluate the others having to do with campaign finances. Star Ledger analyst, Joan Whitlow, isn’t discouraged about the halting reforms (which, she is keen to point out, are still historic for Newark and for New Jersey). Rather, she asks some skeptical questions of an administration that has already displayed a few of the tactics used by “certain former mayors”. 😉 Here’s Joan:

And speaking of pay-to-play, did I point out that the Booker administration gave more than $1 million in no-bid legal contracts — which the council approved — to nine firms, seven of which had made campaign contributions to the Booker team? Or that the administration tried to give a $17,500 contract to a firm connected to Carl Sharif, the mayor’s campaign director — $17,500 being the magic number that puts contracts outside of state pay-to-pay rules?

Does Wednesday’s fanfare mean officials are ready to practice what they preach? I hope so because (unless someone’s planning to push through contracts that would be prohibited after Jan. 1) there is not much lost by having the council vote next month and there is something important to be gained.

Glad to see the Ledger continue to hold this administration accountable, even if it is being led by the young and talented rock star, Cory Booker.

NY Times Chronicles Booker’s 1st Year in Office

The New York Times has begun a series entitled “The Hard Part” which will chronicle the young mayor’s first year in office. After having completed his first 100 days in office (which Booker established as a crucial measure of his success during his first week as mayor), the Times reports the expected mixed results.
New York Times: A New Mayor Tests His Promises on Newark’s Harsh Reality. The Times has already moved this content to the subscription “Times Select” service, but a trip to the local library let me grab these salient quotes:

After a campaign in which Mr. Booker sailed into City Hall with a landslide 72 percent of the vote to replace Sharpe James, the 20-year incumbent mired in accusations of malfeasance, he has found running New Jersey’s largest city more challenging than he ever expected. To watch his new team up close is to witness the clash between political promises and the nitty gritty of governing, to see goals and plans sidelined by the realpolitik of race and budget gaps, and to experience the frustratingly sluggish pace of change.

Turning Newark into the paragon of American cities sounded nice in campaign speeches, but 100 days in, the ambitious 37-year-old mayor is starting to settle for a city that is a little less bruised. Campaigns are run on emotion and white-knuckle grit, he has discovered, while governing demands ruthless dispassion to tolerate reordered priorities and a disappointed public.

In these early days of his administration, Mr. Booker has infuriated homeowners by pushing through an 8.4 percent property tax increase to fill a deficit he did not anticipate. His openness with the press has sometimes backfired, such as when an offhand comment about needing to shrink the municipal workforce of 4,000 by as much as 20 percent angered the City Hall rank and file. Firefighters’ union officials were irked by a reorganization of the department that led to the closing of three firehouses.

And stepping up arrests, he has learned, does not necessarily reduce violence; shootings and homicides rose compared with the previous summer, along with burnout on the 1,300-officer force and overtime costs mounting to $20 million.

“Things come at you 1,000 miles an hour, and much of the time you’re dealing with chaos,” an exhausted Mr. Booker said one recent evening as he rode to Manhattan for a private dinner with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York. “You can easily get distracted by issues that are not central.”

To keep focused, Mr. Booker often pulls a crumpled square of paper from his pocket.

“To be America’s leading urban city in safety, prosperity and nurturing of family life,” reads the note he typed to himself shortly after his election in May. “Newark will set a national standard for urban transformation by marshaling its resources to achieve security, economic abundance and an environment that is nurturing and empowering for families.”

His BlackBerry buzzes with the news of each shooting. One afternoon, Mr. Booker bolted from a staff meeting and sped to the scene when a 14-year-old girl was hit in the knee as she walked home from school, then to the hospital to console her family.

“Listen, Mr. Mayor,” said Daisy Hargraves, the girl’s grandmother, as she lectured him in the emergency room. “I don’t want to hear any blame about the past administration. I just want you to stop the violence. It’s not enough to just lock people up.”

As he passed the 100-day mark in office last week, Mr. Booker had compiled some things to crow about (though he postponed a celebratory news conference until Wednesday because the glossy handouts were not ready). Despite a rise in homicides, shootings were down 20 percent in September. Dozens of no-show employees have been purged from the municipal payroll. In the coming months, 50 police surveillance cameras will be installed across the city — the first ever.

One recent day, Mr. Booker sang with 8-year-olds at a charter school, doled out hugs to teenagers at a homeless shelter and delivered a celebratory speech, flecked with Talmudic aphorisms, for the inauguration of a robotic surgery training center at Beth Israel Medical Center. Then he headed to the offices of the Essex County prosecutor for a meeting with two 16-year-olds who were caught spray painting “Death to Cory Booker” in a high school hallway.

Sitting in a conference room with the boys and their parents, Mr. Booker asked the teenagers, Duwon Diggs and Sean Bennett Leboo, about their dreams, peppered them with quotations from Frederick Douglass and Nelson Mandela, and scolded them for their muddled diction and messy hair. He has since taken the boys on as a sort of project, escorting them over the past few weeks to suburban bookstores and first-run movies like “Fearless” and “Gridiron Gang,” treating them to paella in the city’s Portuguese Ironbound section and arranging for tutors from Rutgers University.

The mayor has set ground rules for their relationship: the boys must read books and, when in his company, wear collared shirts and speak thoughtfully constructed English. “People will judge you by the way you look and talk,” he told them. “You’re only 16 and it’s not fair, but that’s how life is.”

It was a hard summer for Booker and the city of Newark. A jump in shootings and statistical acceleration of homicides this summer was discouraging for those of us who had hoped that the regime change would bring sweeping change to the city. Those of us at the Newark blog just got tired of blogging about a teen shooting fatality every couple of days.

But we’re encouraged about the work Booker is doing. He’s tackling the issues that matter to the city most: safety, economy, and making the city a place to raise healthy families. We applaud his efforts and dedication to his passion.

More Reading from the New York Times

  • Cory Booker – News about Cory Booker, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.
  • Cory Booker Slideshow – Photos accompanying the story
  • Gateway Newark – Op-ed article on how Newark can position itself as the new face of urban renewal

Newark Residents Had Enough Bull

No, this isn’t your typical city government corruption headline. I woke up this morning to the sound of helicopters: rarely a good thing. Previous helicopters have indicated press-covered joyrides by car thieves as they evade cops, really bad accidents, or the police tracking down roving bands of teenagers with baseball bats.
But, this morning, a quick glance on the web turned up this story: WCBS: Bull Runs Wild Through Newark. What?! Update: WCBS now has video up of the actual corralling. Where’d they find this cowboy, anyway?

Chopper 2 is over a wild scene in Newark, where a wild bull was corralled in a parking lot on South Street after running through the streets of New Jersey’s largest city Friday morning.

The bull was finally captured at 114 South St. near Mulberry.

CBS 2’s Joe Bierman reports as the bull was lassoed, and brought under control

It’s unclear where the animal came from.

You heard it here first. 🙂

Another Update: CBS has more details on the bull story: Urban Cowboy Lassos Bull Loose in N.J.. The bull, after having led animal control officers on a chase through the city for 10 hours, will now get a new lease on life at a Humane Societies zoo.

The bull was first spotted at 10 p.m. Thursday, running up and down an industrial street leading to Newark’s heavily populated downtown. Police shooed onlookers away and blocked off streets to keep vehicles away from the animal, which managed to elude its pursuers until Friday morning.

“He was jumping over air conditioning units and over small fences,” Infield said. “He was a little wild.”

Infield finally chased the bull into the empty parking lot, where he tossed a rope around its neck and nudged it close enough for a second animal control officer to jab it with a tranquilizer syringe.

“He’s asleep now,” Infield said, rubbing the animal’s flank.

Authorities called in a trailer from Popcorn Park Zoo in Lacey Township, a refuge for abused or unwanted animals that is operated by the Humane Societies. Infield said the bull would be taken there to live out the rest of its life.