Renaissance or Decline?

The Decline of Downtonwn Newark as a shopping area is a long story – but a new chapter has been developing recently with the closures of multiple furniture stores on Market Street. There is an article in today’s Star Ledger that highlights some important points:

Departure of Bushberg’s signals end of an era in Newark

Bushberg Brothers’ [BB] was already a landmark in Newark, a family-owned furniture store with generations of repeat customers […] in its early years, it was a trendsetter in social responsibility, one of the very first Jewish-owned stores to hire black salespeople.

In later years it became a symbolic vestige of an era when people came from all around to shop in Newark […]

Now, of course, it’s the other way around. People leave Newark to shop. And parking has gottenso squeezed near the downtown store that even if people do come down, they have to circle for 15 minutes to find a place to put their car.

[The owners] prided themselves on serving everyone – regardless of color – with dignity. BB was one of the first stores in Newark to give credit to people on public assistance. […] “My father taught me that if you give respect out, you’ll get respect back at you,” Steve Bushberg said of Harry Bushberg, who at 91 still comes out into the stores on Saturdays.

[…] When the riots hit, their store wasn’t touched. “People in the community respected them, because they were good to people” […] After the riots, when many Jewish- and Italian-owned businesses fled town, BB also decided to move – to another location in Newark […] which has been their location ever since. […]

“It was my father and uncle’s decision to go against the flow,” Steve Bushberg said. “They basically decided that Newark had been a comfortable and happy home for many years and would continue to be a comfortable and happy home.”

It’s been comfortable for the people who work there, too.

Nelson Santiago, the warehouse manager, has been there more than 20 years […] Ron Manley, the credit manager, 28 years; Maxine Thomas, cleaner, 29 years; Lucille, Seritella, the recently retired bookkeper, was there 44 years; and John Martin […] has been there 48 years, despite trying to retire three times.

There are a couple of points to be made:

-The absence of parking is obviously a problem – but it certainly doesn’t deter people from shopping in Manhattan. So one could also observe that the absence of parking, combined with the lack of desirable public transportation has been a problem for Downtown businesses.

-The family firm has properties that make it different from stockholder corporations: people have commitments to places, and to values, while corporations have only one commitment, to to short-term profit. The shift in the United States from the family-owned business to the corporation is one of the causes of the economic decline of Newark (see Paul Stellhorn’s book: Depression and Decline. Newark, 1917 – 1947)

-The decline of businesses like BB also continues (or perhaps completes) the erosion in the availability of good quality jobs (“jobs for life”) that do not require a college education in the Newark area.

So, while there has been some talk that a Barnes and Noble might open in Downtown Newark, the average clerk who worls there will probably make minimum wage or close to it, with few benefits. It may be good for the PR image of Newark, but will it help the citizens, either through tax revenue or through the creation of good jobs? I remain skeptical…

So let us salute the Bushberg family, and bemoan the end of one more chapter in Newark’s continuing economic decline.

The Past is Catching Up to Sharpe James

Well, it look as though we may see some scant justice from the going-out-of-business discount land sales Sharpe James piled up in his last few weeks in office. Through one connected businesswoman alone, James was able to relieve the city’s coffers of $700,000. *Through just one person*.
Here’s the Ledger Updates blog: Feds subpoena records on Sharpe James, businesswoman

Between 2002 and 2005, Riley and her company purchased nine city-owned lots for a total of $46,000 and resold them quickly for a total of $700,000, real estate records show. Federal investigators subpoenaed city records regarding those transactions late last year as part of a wide-ranging probe into James.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have to suck it up while the Booker administration raises taxes to cover the difference. Well, buckle up Sharpe, because things are about to get a little more interesting

Subprime Lending Impact on Newark

The New York Times covers the impact of the subprime lending fallout in Newark, and is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve read in weeks: Behind Foreclosures, Ruined Credit and Hopes. The Times does some excellent work here at painting the big picture and adding to it the personal stories of some of the folks hit hardest by the massive debt squeeze of borrowing beyond your means:

But after two lenders told him he did not qualify for such a loan, he settled for something less: a $325,000 subprime mortgage from Wall Street Financial. It was actually two loans, with an 8.5 percent interest rate on the larger one and a 12.2 percent rate on the smaller one. His monthly payments are now more than $2,600.

Earning about $2,000 a month on his salary, he quickly fell behind. At first, he had assumed that he could find a tenant to help offset the cost of the mortgage, but soon discovered his neighborhood had a glut of vacant apartments. So last fall, he took a second job working nights helping mental patients at a state hospital.

In December, his wife gave birth to their first child, a son. But because they were still straining to pay their bills, she returned to work part time this month, at a home for the elderly.

Last month, they found a tenant, who pays $400 a month, far short of the $1,200 rent they had thought they could charge. They have fallen more than $3,500 behind on their mortgage payments. In November, they received their first foreclosure notice.

The Booker administration should take note: you can clean up the streets of drugs and gangs, bring business and jobs, and provide healthcare facilities, but the foreclosure crisis will only add to our already large number of working poor. And we already know that poverty adds to all of the other ills our city now endures.

For those who lost their shirts in unfair home financing, who have clear cases of abuse by predatory lending firms, Newark Now should step in and provide pro bono legal counsel to bring those lenders to accountability. The city should also seek to expand its efforts to provide financial education to city residents and seek to teach fiscal discipline — so those who might be thinking of taking out risky loans can think through the long-term consequences of their actions.

Providing leadership here would be a huge win for the Booker team by bolstering credibily with the community, as well as provide a national standard for urban transformation.

The Newark Teachers’ Union Infuriating Ad Campaign

So, a few months ago, when the Newark Teachers Union took out billboard ads across the city condemning the spike in gun-related violence, I understood that it was a response (however misguided) to the pain the community was feeling at the time.
But this is getting ridiculous.

Since then, the campaign has only grown bigger. Almost anywhere you go throughout the city, billboards and public transit bus banners plead, “HELP WANTED: Stop the killings in Newark now!” Here’s a glimpse of the ad from one of the highways past the city:

Katie Wang at the Star Ledger recently covered Newark business owners’ reaction to the campaign: Merchants and mayor say billboards are hurting business.

Arthur Stern, chief executive of Cogswell Realty, the developers of the luxury high-rise apartment complex at 1180 Raymond Blvd., was so frustrated by the billboard that he decided to rent the space out with his own advertisement.

One of the six billboards is located in Military Park on Broad Street, facing the apartment complex.

“We felt it wasn’t very helpful with regard to our marketing efforts for 1180 and the general image of the city,” said Stern.

Wang notes that the Teachers Union backed a political rival to Mayor Booker during last April’s election, suggesting the ad campaign is a political tactic. The massive Associated Press coverage: of the union’s adamant unwillingness to take the ads down would seem to be politically driven, because there’s just no other way to interpret the signs. Let’s take a look:

  • Help Wanted: Okay, fine, Newark is looking for help. To do what? And from whom?
  • Stop the killings in Newark now!: Got it. Help Newark stop the killings. Sounds good. Where do I sign up?
  • Paid for by the Newark Teachers Union, Joseph Del Grasso, President: Huh? But how do I help stop the killings?

Every sign throughout the city says the same exact thing, with no actionable steps to take to help reduce Newark’s crime problem. This leaves one to wonder: who is the intended audience for these signs? Is it suburbanites? Doubtful, we’re not telling them how to help, so they keep driving. City residents? Maybe, but there isn’t a phone number or website to get more information, so we’re left being confused. Oh, well, maybe it’s the thugs doing the killing. They’re the ones who have direct control over the situation to stop the crime, right? But it’s just not likely that a billboard telling them to stop is going to change anybody’s mind who’s tangled up in a turf war or drug deal.

Or maybe it’s the city government — and I think this is the right answer. The NTU is publicly ridiculing the city administration’s apparent inability to contain crime. But, rather than work with City Hall to try to turn their neighborhoods around, they’ve wasted tens of thousands of dollars airing their dirty laundry in a massive FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) campaign. The question behind the question is, what do they hope to get out of it?

Homicide Rate in Newark on the Rise

The Star Ledger as an excellent report on Newark crime rates compared with the national average: Crime study grim on Newark slayings. Here’s the spoiler: Newark ‘s jump in homicides is way higher.

The study, which contains 2006 data being made public for the first time, shows that the 25 percent increase in Newark murders between 2004 and 2006 was nearly two-and- a-half times the average of those 56 cities.

Chuck Wexler, executive direc tor of the research forum, said the study clearly establishes that violent crime is on the increase in many — though not all — parts of the country. But he said some cities, often those with the kind of gang problems that plague Newark, have seen more bloodshed than others.

“Crime in the United States looks substantially different in the last two years than it has for some time,” Wexler said. “If you look at Newark, it is the kind of city that has been really hard hit by this.”

Tell us something we didn’t know. While the Booker administration contends that crime is down month-over-month in the past six months (since police director Garry McCarthy was appointed), the news is pretty sad.

One of the reasons the study points to for the increase both here and across the country is that a large number of prisoners have finished their jail terms and returning to their neighborhoods — most of whom have had no education or job training. This is a pretty bleak situation, especially given that the country is growing prison expansion at a national scale. It seems to highlight the importance of Booker’s initiatives to reintegrate ex-cons back into their neighborhoods by partnering with non-profits to provide education and job opportunities.

Here’s hoping it works.

NJIT Doing Great Things for Newark

I just saw that someone had posted this March 12 Star Ledger article on Newark Speaks: Revitalization plan gets old college try. From the article:

If approved, the project would alter about four blocks in the University Heights section, which includes NJIT, UMDNJ, Rutgers University’s Newark campus and Essex County College. Newark’s higher education institutions have all embarked on major capital improvement projects in the last decade, leaving a deeper footprint in the city.

The NJIT plan calls for the school to move out the fraternities that occupy the townhouses and refurbish them so businesses and residents can take over. The school’s 15 fraternities would be relocated to new townhouses in another part of campus and clustered together in a “Greek Village” — an idea that has gotten mixed reviews from fraternity members.

The school also wants to add a parking structure and convert the old section of St. Michael’s Hospital, which closed five years ago, into a residential and retail spot.

I spent some significant time at NJIT while I was working on my undergrad and continued to be impressed by the expansion efforts the school has undertaken. Before I got there, friends who lived up in the dorms used to talk about how dangerous the area was around the school. I had two buddies in Redwood Hall that used to joke about the “chop-shops” across Lock Street that would get some nice pretty ritzy cars in at odd hours of the night.

But, man, has that area changed. The school has expanded West and South, putting up new residences and parking facilities — leveling sketchy half-abandoned buildings. NJIT put up an impressive new student center in the middle of the campus, overhauled the main historic hall, and landscaped the lawn facing Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. I know that they also provide facilities for small start-up companies that partner with the school’s senior capstone and research programs.

This strikes me as just another step in their long-time improvement of the area, and should think that residents have reason to trust the school’s long track record in revitalizing University Heights.

Cory Booker, Power Broker?

New York Times: Booker Tries to Unseat Legislators, Dividing Party. The Times is reporting Booker’s role in the upcoming state congressional election. Reporter Andrew Jacobs notes that Booker’s influence as mayor of the most-populated city in New Jersey could unseat political opponents to Newark’s agenda including State Senator (and one-time Newark mayoral hopeful) Ronald L. Rice.

“It’s time to bring in new ideas and energy, but more importantly, it’s time to bring in people who are willing to work together,” Mr. Booker said on Wednesday after introducing the 29th District ticket made up of two woman and a man, all in their 30s, who reflect the three main voting blocs in the city — African-American, Portuguese and Hispanic.

The primary will be an important barometer of Mr. Booker’s newfound political heft. But in supporting a slate of self-described reformers, some of them political neophytes, Mr. Booker is angering longtime enemies and those who have been his allies, including a family of elected officials whose power extends from Washington to the streets of the Central Ward.

My, how times have changed. In just a few years, we’ve seen Cory Booker go from political underdog to contender to victor — the Booker machine has picked up momentum like a steamroller. With the hand of Steve N. Adubato Sr. behind Booker’s choices for New Jersey’s senate seats, will we see more attention given to Newark by the state legislature? And, pehaps more interestingly, is this just the beginning of a larger political movement that Booker has only started with Newark?

The Young Reporter

5Reasons, “master member” contributor at Newark Speaks has submitted a fictional story to the Daily Newarker! Here’s a sample.

Kyle Patrick, the editor in charge of the night shift at the Fox Ledger, groused as he rambled into Alex’s work area. There was nothing unusual about that: Kyle always had a frown on his face, was always spouting some command, and was always barging into Alex’s work area. They call this a work area?

“Alex, there’s been another shooting.”

Shit, Alex thought. I’m almost as bad as the other ambulance chasers. “Sir, I’ve covered murders all this month. Isn’t there anything else to write about?”

Kyle wasn’t used to people talking back. Alex couldn’t recall anyone else ever questioning an assignment except for Julia, his “favorite.” He froze for a second, then replied, “When you work the 6 pm to 2 am shift, you cover the shit that happens. We’re in Newark; murder happens.”

Oh, brother.

Want more? Check out the rest (PDF).

Busta Rhymes Filming in Newark

Well, okay, it’s mostly because he got snubbed by the Bloomberg administration, but Busta Rhymes is filiming in Newark. The Star Ledger has the story: “Busta Rhymes Makes the Scene”:

Lupe Todd, a spokeswoman for Mayor Cory Booker, said the city of Newark had no problem with Busta Rhymes shooting here. The Mayor’s Office is responsible for approving film permits.

“As far as we know, Busta Rhymes was acting accordingly and we thank him for his business,” said Todd.

Webb described the movie as an “urban thriller with a hip-hop feel.” Scenes were filmed at the Riviera Hotel and on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Busta Rhymes plays a murderous villain who throws a baby out of a window in one scene, said Webb.