Layoffs Loom at City Hall

New York Times: Newark’s Mayor, in Office a Year, Says Major City Job Cuts Are Likely.

In a news conference heralding the anniversary of his inauguration on Sunday, Mayor Cory A. Booker warned on Friday that the city’s looming fiscal crisis could lead to substantial layoffs, shaving as many as one in five people from the 5,000-worker municipal payroll this year.

Speaking in the imposing rotunda of City Hall, with the city’s business administrator standing grimly by his side, Mr. Booker explained that the early retirement incentives announced this month were not yielding enough takers to chisel away the $180 million budget gap projected for 2008.

His face grave, the mayor said that the city would try to avoid large-scale layoffs by extending the buyouts to the police and fire departments, but he added that employees should steel themselves for significant staff cuts in the fall.

“We are spending far more than we have, and the reality is that tomorrow is a year of comeuppance,” he said. “I was not elected to push the pain off to another day. We are going to do what needs to be done.”

Although the event was initially billed as an opportunity to highlight his first-year achievements, Mr. Booker saved a recitation of accomplishments for the tail end of a speech that was mostly freighted with dire news, his only visual aid a bar graph titled, “Newark’s Structural Budget Deficit,” which showed a $300 million shortfall for 2011 if nothing is done to rein in expenses and increase revenue.

Mr. Booker, who approved an 8.4 percent property tax increase shortly after taking office last July, said he would not consider raising taxes again to bridge the deficit.

7Online has some video from Booker’s press conference, interviewing some City Hall employees and asking Booker about his own hiring practices in the first year in office: More trouble brewing for Newark mayor?.

Newark’s budget for next year is $740 million. The deficit Booker is looking at is $180 million right now. So that is a big problem, and if more city workers don’t take the mayor’s voluntary buyout, then residents could be looking at the kind of layoffs they haven’t seen in decades.

It’s not an easy way for Cory Booker to end his first year in office, announcing that City Hall simply has too many employees. Since he says raising taxes again on Newark residents simply is not an option, that means more workers will have to accept the buyout, called “voluntary separation,” or face the chopping block.

“So right now I’m here to tell everyone the bad news,” Booker said at a news conference. “The bad news is that if the voluntary separation plan is not successful, we will have to look to other means.”

City workers and Booker critics crowded today’s announcement. They are worried about the possibility of massive layoffs come September. Up to 1,000 jobs could be cut. That equals about 20 percent of City Hall staff.

“I’m very much worried,” city employee James Burse said. “Because it looks like no matter which way he goes, there’s going to eventually be some type of layoffs. So it’s a concern.”

Residents Welcome New Recreation Center

The Star Ledger has an in-depth piece on Newarkers’ reactions to the new communitycenter opened last week : Newark’s new hangout is a knockout.

With his back on the floor and legs spinning in the air, Clark Abesamis did the “windmill” inside a circle of Newark teenagers cheering him on.

Abesamis was brushing up on his break dancing skills in a state-of-the-art dance studio of the new Central Ward recreation center called the Club House, which opened yesterday.

“It’s really a good place to practice and move freely,” Abesamis said.

Before the Club House opened, Abesamis mainly practiced dancing at home in a basement half the size of the new dance studio. The cramped space didn’t give him much freedom to dance, but he said the studio does.

Newark residents, city officials and boxing legends came together yesterday to mark the center’s opening.

“It’s a phenomenal lift. This points to the new direction of where Newark is going,” said Mayor Cory Booker. “The crowning achievement of our first year is getting this facility completed.”

During a boxing demonstration, Booker donned Everlast boxing gloves and faced off against two teenage boxers in the new ring.

One of the contenders, Tyshawn Jones, 16, showed defensive and offensive moves, playfully jabbing Booker, who was still wearing his business suit.

“It’s great. It’s a lot of space,” Tyshawn said.

Cooling Centers Open Throughout the City

From the press release:

Newark Opens Cooling Sites to Help Residents Beat Summer Heat

Facilities available in every ward to keep citizens cool

Mayor Cory A. Booker today announced that the City of Newark has opened a cooling center to help residents stave off the soaring temperatures in air-conditioned environments.

The city’s Department of Health and Human Services has opened the facility at the main offices located at 110 William Street, for seniors and other residents who do not have access to air conditioning. The cooling site will be opened from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. while the high temperatures continue.

Additionally, Newark has 12 multi-purpose senior citizen centers and nutrition sites that will welcome Newark residents seeking relief from the heat.

This Friday, Mayor Booker will officially launch Newark’s Super Summer Initiative by hosting the grand re-opening of the newly renovated Boylan Street Recreation Center (one of six that have undergone major work), which boasts an Olympic-size swimming pool, air conditioning, new tennis courts and a state-of-the-art computer lab for residents.

Mayor Booker urges all residents to take precautions, stay hydrated, avoid exertion, and keep cool.

Deputy Chief of Staff Cleared of Cronyism Suspicions

We noted this story from the Star Ledger earlier when we wondered whether cronyism is alive and well at City Hall. We’re glad to discover that James has been cleared by police, and that they are continuing their internal investigation into a strange series of phone calls seeking the release of Timothy Jones during his questioning: Man denies calling ally of Booker in cop matter.

A man who was being detained by Newark police said yesterday he did not make a call to Mayor Cory Booker’s deputy chief of staff in an effort to secure his release.

Timothy D. Jones, 26, said he didn’t call anyone looking for help on June 15 when he was being checked for outstanding warrants by Newark police and issued two summonses.

“I didn’t call anybody,” said Jones, a resident of Scranton, Pa., who volunteered for Booker’s 2006 mayoral campaign.

Shortly after Jones was detained, someone claiming to be Deputy Chief of Staff Jermaine James called police several times asking a records clerk to “take care” of Jones.

“Take care of the individual being looked into and I will give you a call. Take care of it … you follow my drift?” said the man, who identified himself as James. The copy of the recording was obtained by The Star-Ledger.

On Tuesday, James denied making the calls saying he was on vacation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica at the time the calls were made. James said he felt “vindicated” after hearing the recording.

Police Director Garry McCarthy said that it was “clearly” not James on the recordings. McCarthy has confirmed the police department’s internal affairs unit has launched an investigation to determine who made the call.

One of Newark’s Most Wanted Shot, Killed in West Ward

Star Ledger: ‘Most Wanted’ man fatally shot near bar.

A man on Newark’s 12 Most Wanted List was shot and killed outside the Cozy End Bar on South Orange Avenue, police said.

Joshua Adams was shot around 2 a.m. Sunday then taken by a friend to University Hospital, where he died, police said.

Adams, 23, of Irvington, had been on the police department’s Most Wanted List since April 21, when he allegedly participated in the robbery of a Branford Street clothing shop.

Adams, the driver of the getaway car, tried to run over officers, police said. He was facing charges of extortion, robbery and aggravated assault on a police officer.

The Newark Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office are investigating his murder. They have neither identified a suspect nor determined a motive for the killing.

Super Summer Starts Tomorrow

From a press release received today:

Mayor Booker to Launch Super Summer Program with Grand Re-opening of Boylan Street Center

Six renovated recreation centers spearhead a raft of summer activities and events

Mayor Cory A. Booker will officially launch Newark’s “Super Summer” program by hosting the grand re-opening of the Boylan Street Recreation Center, located at 916 South Orange Avenue, on Friday, June 29, at noon. After cutting the ribbon to re-open the renovated center (one of six that have undergone major work), the Mayor will lead local residents in a tour of the facility.

The Super Summer Initiative is a partnership between the city, Newark Now and community organizations to engage and empower the residents, strengthen their communities, and continue Newark’s transformation. Summer youth jobs and internship programs are available to provide residents with a variety of employment opportunities. Our multi-purpose recreation centers now offer computer and nutrition programs, as well as various activities including tennis, aquatics and weightlifting.

Newark: Fastest Growing City in the Northeast

The New York Times has a story on the recent census numbers that show that Newark is the fastest growing city in the Northeast: Biggest Urban Growth Is in South and West.
While the story leads with the Newark numbers, reporter Sam Roberts goes on to discuss national trends in city growth, indicating that the US has seen the largest increases in population in small western cities with populations similar to Newark. Phoenix is now the nation’s fifth largest city.

Newark, for four decades a symbol of America’s urban decay, is growing faster than any major city in the Northeast, according to census figures released yesterday.

Newark’s population, which had been declining for 50 years, has increased 3.3 percent since 2000, including a 0.5 percent increase from 2005 to 2006. The city’s population now stands at 281,402.

Newark: Most Dangerous City to Drive In … Again

Star Ledger: Survey: Newark tops in auto accidents. Funny, this sounded strangely familiar when I came across it. Oh yeah, we got the same dubious honor of “American City Most Resembling a Demolition Derby” just last year from an Associated Press study. Great.
These are the kinds of quality of life issues that this city really needs to address.

People driving in Newark are more likely to be in a car crash than in any other large city in the country, according to a recent study by Allstate Insurance.

New Jersey’s other big cities, Elizabeth, Jersey City and Paterson, aren’t much better. The survey found all four are among the six worst cities to drive in.

Allstate customers in Newark were in accidents an average of once every 5.2 years, tops on the list and nearly twice as often as the national average of once every ten years. Elizabeth was third on the list, with its motorists averaging an accident every 5.7 years. Jersey City was No. 5 (once every 6.2 years) and Paterson No. 6 (once every 6.5 years).

The study was based on collision data collected between January 2004 and December 2005 for the 197 largest cities where the firm does business.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and home to the highest auto insurance bills in America. “When you have more people on more roads driving more miles more frequently, just intuitively you think there’s more chance of accidents,” Stephen Carrellas, spokesman for the state chapter of the National Motorists Association.

Four-Story Building Fire on Broadway in North Ward

Star Ledger: Seven hurt in Newark fire

A four-story Newark apartment building caught fire this afternoon, injuring seven people inside – including an elderly couple rescued by an off-duty fire chief who ran into the building, authorities said.

The two-alarm blaze at 69 Broadway started in a second-floor apartment at about 4:20 p.m., and quickly spread to the other floors, authorities said. Seven people who were inside the building suffered smoke inhalation; three were taken to University Hospital while four others were treated at the scene, authorities said.

An elderly couple living on the top floor escaped more serious injury when off-duty Lyndhurst Fire Chief Paul Horvath drove by the building and spotted the fire, authorities said. Horvath, 51, ran inside and found them upstairs, oblivious to the fire, authorities said. The 30-year firefighting veteran kept them calm until Newark firefighters could execute a ladder rescue about five minutes later, authorities said.

“I think he played a pivotal role,” Newark Fire Director Dave Giordano said. “Without his help, we may have had loss of life, or people would’ve been critically injured.”

7Online has a video interview with Horvath, the off-duty fire chief from Lyndhurst who ran into the burning building and saved several people: Off-duty fire chief to the rescue in Newark fire.

Paul Horvath, an off-duty Lyndhurst fire chief, was driving down the street about 4:30 Tuesday afternoon when he saw flames shooting out of the four-story building and responded. He saw no firemen in sight.

He could have kept driving, but he didn’t. Instead, he ran inside without any protective gear.

“I kicked the doors in the lower apartments and there was no one in them,” he said.

And again without any safety equipment he climbed the stairs looking for people who might be trapped inside the burning building.

“When I got up to the fourth floor … I saw two elderly people on the fourth floor … I just kept the door closed. I got to the window and let the firemen know I was up there,” Horvath said.

Eight families were left homeless in the fire, and 10 people were injured — none of them seriously.

If Horvath hadn’t come by, it might have been a whole lot worse.

“He kept them calm waiting for the Newark firefighters to get here and to exit the building. I would say without his part here, there may have been loss of life here,” said Newark Fire Director Dave Giordano.

School Apologizes for Gay Student Censorship

The Star Ledger reports on the end of a saga at East Side High in which a student’s picture was blacked out with marker because it featured him kissing another teen. Gay teen receives an official apology Marion Bolden, superintendent for the district vows to build more awareness and tolerance among school staff, who showed her the picture — and only that picture — before she suggested it be censored out of the yearbook. The school is reissuing yearbooks at their expense for the gaffe.

When Andre Jackson graduates from East Side High School to night, he’s not only scheduled to get a diploma, but the only copy of the school’s yearbook that doesn’t have black marker scribbled over a picture of him and his boyfriend kissing.

Jostens, the yearbook’s publisher, has agreed to send the copy overnight to Newark Public Schools and Jackson should receive it at the ceremony, said Superintendent Marion Bolden.

Bolden met yesterday afternoon with the 18-year-old for the first time since the controversy un folded.

Their face-to-face meeting followed Bolden’s appearance before East Side’s senior class, where she addressed the incident, which has attracted a national attention and become a cause célèbre for gay and civil rights groups.

It was a difficult day all around, she said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hurt a child like that,” Bolden said, her voice choked with tears. “Not only did I not intend it but I am trying to make it right.”