PATH Delays at Penn; New Cars Roll Out

A structural fire at Penn Station has affected PATH service between Newark and World Trade Center stations. Service in both directions is subject to a 30-minute delay.
In separate news, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey unveiled a full-size mockup of the new PATH car, according to the authority’s Web site. Each new PATH car will be equipped with video news weather and sports feeds from WNBC, as well as PATH service announcements. Each cars also will have three doors on each side to allow for faster loading and unloading; on-board CCTV surveillance capability; improved lighting; pre-recorded station announcements; enhanced signage; and the capability for passengers to communicate directly with the crew. The cars also will have an environmental feature known as regenerative braking, which will allow the car to return some of the electrical power it uses to accelerate back to the power system when it goes into braking mode.

The new cars are a highlight of the agency’s 10-year, $3.3 billion PATH program, which includes, among other improvements, completely replacing the existing 340-car fleet, adding up to 119 new cars to the fleet, modernizing the PATH signal system and increasing capacity on the system by approximately 25 percent.

The new cars will contain customer amenities designed to attract more riders to the mass-transit system to reduce congestion and improve the environment. The system now handles approximately 242,000 passenger trips each weekday.

All of these amenities sound great, but I think the new cars are missing a couple of key features: a train monitor to keep some of these creepy commuters in line (“Is that your hand, sir?”), and someone to haul people out of their seats whenever pregnant women or the disabled get on the train and need to sit down.

Star Ledger: Newark teachers, police, firefighters offered rental discount

Newark Star Ledger: Newark teachers, police, firefighters offered rental discount

A real estate investment firm from New York unveiled an initiative today that offers discounted apartments to teachers, police officers and firefighters who live in Newark.

The firm, Apollo Real Estate Advisors, recently paid $43 million for nine rental properties in the city’s Weequahic section and plans to give a 10 percent discount on its apartments in those buildings. The rent for the studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments ranges from $600 to $1,100.

“This is providing the people who work in the city of Newark a quality environment, said James H. Simmons III, a partner with the company. “If they can have quality housing in the city of Newark, they will stay.”

Brilliant idea. Partnering with private firms to create incentives like this for city services is a creative and helpful way for the City Hall to bring talent and encourage investment, without adding financial burden to the city budget.

New York Times: Youth to Be Tried as Adult in Newark Triple Murder

New York Times: Youth to Be Tried as Adult in Newark Triple Murder

A 17-year-old will be tried as an adult for what prosecutors said was his “active role” in the killings of three young people in a Newark schoolyard last summer, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

The suspect, Alexander Alfaro, is one of six people arrested in the Aug. 4 murders, which the authorities have said might have started as a robbery attempt. Prosecutors also have acknowledged that the murders had gang undertones.

The three victims, Iofemi Hightower, 20; Terrance Aeriel, 18; and Dashon Harvey, 20, were shot to death at close range. Natasha Aeriel, Mr. Aeriel’s sister, survived the attack and is under the state’s protection as a witness, according to a spokesman for the Essex County prosecutor, Paula T. Dow.

Coming of Age in Newark

Early last year when I was picking up the street garbage as usual, a large black car pulled up next to me. Mayor Booker jumped out to say, “Thank you for cleaning up our city. Is Rutgers still refusing to talk to your neighbors about its construction plans?” The mayor then asked, “What can I do to help?”

Walking back from the Broad Street Train Station this morning, I saw a Rutgers student unroll her car window, toss out a pile of banana peels, Burger King wrappings, and school catalogs and testing schedules, and fall back to her before-class nap in her parked car on University Avenue. I picked up all her garbage and tapped her window, “Miss, this is a neighborhood, a city. Please don’t litter my street…” “I am sleeping. I didn’t do it. Leave me alone.” “Excuse me. According to Mayor Booker, you just conducted a terrorist attack against my city.” I stood in the cold, garbage in my hands, shaking with anger, even after having experienced this for 17 years.

Seventeen years have flown by swiftly. In April 1991, it was easy to leave our little garden apartment in Harrison, a vast patriotic ocean of American flags during President George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War. Older Irish and Polish residents, under a mayor for 48 years, watched the New York City skyline all their lives, but only visited 30 years ago. On the other side, the Newark skyline created only fear that made the Passaic River the widest in the world. Proud people voluntarily boycotted selling homes to Indian immigrants. When we visited the first rental apartment above a barber shop on Harrison Avenue, the owner told us, “We don’t have minorities here…” The high school, where we occasionally did lap swimming, hired the most qualified physical ed director, a crippled man who was the mayor’s nephew, despite a number of pending cases filed by the NAACP. However, as a lifelong outsider, I had no idea about living in a poor “black” city of a rich white country.

After visiting various insurance agents, stupidly in Harrison and Kearny, we could not get a homeowner’s insurance policy. A State Farm agent tossed back the Polaroid picture of my future home on James Street, shaking his head with an incredulous smile, “Newark! You should at least paint the bay window before taking the picture…” Others required extensive repairs for a policy. After many trips to the Newark City Hall, I could not get a copy of the codes for a back-door deck. “We don’t have codes here,” the Engineer Department clerk told me. One day, I went into the office during the lunch hour. Nobody was there, but the thick code book sat on the counter. I took the book outside the City Hall, copied a few pages, and returned it to the empty room. Finally, our able lawyer had some mystical talks with the bank and the insurance agency to close our deal. The first night in our rundown brownstone was scarily quiet to fall sleep. I got up to write a few lines about owning a place in Newark on my electric typewriter, with which I wrote my doctoral dissertation. A few days later, my wife’s beat-up Datsun 210 was stolen from the street and showed up two weeks later on a Dorchester street in Boston.

One day the following year, when I came back from work, police blocked the street with yellow tapes and TV cameras aimed at my row of brownstones. Our next-door neighbor Darcel was sobbing at the front steps, “Don Dust was killed in his room.” A Catholic gay man, he escaped his perfect marriage with a beautiful wealthy lady and his suburban home with a big lawn. He struggled hard to build his life back in this post-riot land, first as a young reporter for the Newark Evening News, then a mayor’s aid. Fascinated by the city’s history, he devoted all his energy to survey hundreds of old buildings, to found the Newark Historic Preservation and Landmarks Committee, and to put the James Street Commons on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1990’s, Don was tired and depressed. From my back window, I often saw him sitting next to the kitchen counter drinking. A few nights ago, from a local bar, he met a paroled murderer. Don never came out of his bedroom again, until police found his city-owned red car in Baxter Terrace three days later.

Darcel, the beautiful neighbor, and Robert, her intelligent boyfriend, were for years under Don’s protection, sometimes without paying their rent. Without Don, their life soon fell apart. Darcel one day locked Robert out of the apartment until I offered to take him to his grandmother’s home, ending the 10-year love relationship. When we arrived at the house deep in the West Ward, Grandmother opened the door with three little grand-or great-grand children, “Robert, have you received your (government) check? Your father got his this morning.” We saw Robert a few more times in Newark city hall pushing a mail cart. Then, he disappeared forever. Darcel also left soon with her only valuable precession, a new washer. There was not much we could do to cope with our fear, but adopt a dear black Labrador, Morris.

    • *

To be politically active in this city was not easy. As Professor Brendan O’Flaherty of Columbia observed painfully, under 20 years’ ruins of Sharpe James, the basic fabric of a civic society had been destroyed. For the last school board election, only three people out of hundreds in my district voted. The neighborhood association has been torn apart by infighting, by penetration of a powerful neighboring institution’s “community relations” person, as well as by people who see various enrichment opportunities. Most decent people would just mind their own business, just as a corrupted government needs. After all, a “Chinese” man (although with an Irish-American grandparent) is not always welcomed in a city where people have developed a xenophobic habit of flashing their “born-and-raised-in-Newark” credentials. When I parked my car too slowly on my street one day, the driver behind me shouted, “Go back to where you came from.” When I had an argument with my more qualified neighbors, even some “radical liberal” white professionals would often choose to be absent, or keep silent to avoid taking sides politically incorrectly. It took many years for people to stop saying just “hello” to me, and then switch to politics with my (white) wife. Therefore, serving position in local organizations, calling city officials, and even contacting the Rutgers police department about on-going crime have been my wife’s job. I was told, “It is only in your mind.”

    • *

In 1996, my family finally had its first “born-and-raised-in Newark” privilege. My son, and then my daughter, were among the first children on James Street after my neighbor Linda Epps, the president of the New Jersey Historic Society brought her sons here 20 some years ago. Finding a school for children was a challenge. Logistics, finance, and my guilt of not attending the neighborhood Burnett Street School…. My friend, a professor of education, who has lived in Harlem for over 30 years, scolded me, “Think the best for your children; nothing else.” After searching high and low, close and far, we embraced a parent-owned, small progressive school in Montclair. My children became proud Newark children, attending school by NJ Transit from the Broad Street Station.

For their school fund-raising auction, our children used to donate applesauce that we made with our Victory canner from apples that grew on a vacant lot off Bleeker Street, before Rutgers built its new student dormitory. We named it “Forgotten Apple.” Last year after much talk of Newark’s renaissance, we gathered courage to pursue a school fundraising idea by selling a historic walking tour in Newark for suburban parents. Liz Del Tufo, the prominent Newark preservationist, generously led the tour, followed by dinner in our favorite Ironbound restaurant, Campino’s. Only three brave suburbanites showed their curiosity towards Newark, its history, and its ethnic food. The challenge facing our children to grow up in Newark is even greater than what their parents face. They rarely have play-dates because we cannot reciprocate with their classmates, whose parents have many “ideas” about our city. Like their parents, my children have grown their roots in the city. Last fall, we even found another forgotten apple tree to gather over four hundred pounds of apples to can. On the applesauce labels, we wrote:

Christian Feigenspan was the first in the nation to make canned beer. His “Pride of Newark” was among the best. This old apple tree still stands in front of his mansion, turning the bitter Newark soil into these forgotten apples.

    • *

Four years ago, in a rare occasion, the city went to court to challenge a large property’s out-of-town owner for installing mechanical car-lifts in the historic district without a permit. (We later learned that a Sharpe James’ confidant, who was also a county freeholder member, failed to get a “commission” from the owner.) In the first court hearing, the state superior court judge sarcastically challenged every argument of the city’s Assistant Corporation Council. My wife and I decided to spend $12,000 of the children’s school fund to join the case with an amicus brief under the neighborhood’s name. For many months, children attentively listened to their parents arguing about the legal battle and watching them writing papers for the attorneys. To raise a few hundred dollars of extra fund for the legal costs, with a few neighbors, we bought and sold a truckload of oranges and grapefruits from Florida. A year later, after winning the case and negotiating with the owner and his architects for dozens of hours, we actually stopped an assault on the district’s historic assets for the first time since 1980.

    • *

Early last year when I was picking up the street garbage as usual, a large black car pulled up next to me. Mayor Booker jumped out to say, “Thank you for cleaning up our city. Is Rutgers still refusing to talk to your neighbors about its construction plans?” The mayor then asked, “What can I do to help?” Yes, Rutgers-Newark, our neighborhood institution, where my grown-up daughter got her bachelor’s degree. After over 20 years’ effort to destroy a residential community, the school was (is) planning its last blow to the last downtown neighborhood by planning to insert an eight-level parking deck with 1,600 cars in the heart of the city’s first historic district without any community input. After months of talk with the school’s administrators, we were told nothing, but “to accept heavy traffic in a downtown area.” The two children often went to these meetings with us, waiting outside the conference room with their books and eavesdropping on some revealing conversations with the office staff. “I could care less about what is going on in their fxxking neighborhood” my daughter reported hearing to me. In October 2006, they went to the university campus to distribute leaflets to Rutgers’ guests at the new dormitory ceremony, urging the university to contribute to a sustainable and equitable community in our city. From time to time, their deepest fear has not been run-down buildings or crime, such as shooting on our street in the night of June 30, 2006. (We just washed off the blood stains next morning.) The state university and its “urban expert” Provost have been terrorized them with a monstrous parking deck and foul fumes. They know that life is not a beach here, but more meaningful if they do not take our sidewalks, trees and flowers, or even the air breathe for granted. Day after day, the children offered their own versions of parking plans for Rutgers, or “tricks” they could pull that would instantly bring a peaceful world to their streets.

    • *

For most of their early childhood, the city of 270,000 residents provided not a single playground. Our children got to know some playmates in the nearest urban playground at the corner of Hudson and Bleaker Streets of New York City. In 2002, my three-year-old daughter attended her first “political” event, with SPARKS of the Ironbound Community, demanding the clean up of Riverbank Park. For weeks, she chanted at home, “No Park, No Summer….” Many warm evenings, we walked to the grass of NJPAC to watch the moon rising behind Penn Station, to count trains and airplanes in the east, and to touch the brick dedicated to the center in their names in 2001: Myles 6, Maia 3, City Aficionados. Rutgers’ sandbox contains countless buried tunnels the children built over years. Washington Park, the strip of green in front of Rutgers Law School, NJIT’s campus, and all the bumpy sidewalks have felt their flying scooters. From their bedroom windows, we watched trains roaring through Broad Street Station and admired the glass of Mies ven der Rohe’s three buildings reflecting the last ray of the sunlight.

    • *

Many years ago, my boy uttered his first word, reflecting a distinguishing Newark reality: “demolition.” However, he has grown up to be a building fanatic, recording all kinds of historic structures in his portfolio, from Murphy’s Varnish Company, to Sacred Heart Cathedral, to neighborhood brownstones. Last year, he took an opportunity to present to Deputy Mayor Stefan Pryor a green design for I-280 under a park of lush trees. “Oh, great! It will take me only $36 dollars,” Mr. Pryor commented. In various public hearings, he has commented on the Broad Street beautification project, the Regional Plan Association’s Vision Newark, and his favorite architect Michael Graves’ new Newark Museum rendering. Last year, I delivered the devastating news of the eminent demolition of the Westinghouse building over dinner, a much-loved building he had watched and rehabilitated in his mind daily through his bedroom window. He crashed on the table with tears, “I hate Newark. I hate Newark…” Since then, we have retrieved much memorabilia from the Westinghouse building, slipping through an opening in the fence after demolition hours. The treasures include architect Abramson’s blueprints, various glass lampshades, and enamel signs. It is extremely painful to watch the slow death of the building, burying in the crumpled bricks those 275 famous children’s bedside stories broadcast by WJZ in 1922 from this building. To survive, we have all learned to move on to dream about something else in this uniquely great city.

    • *

Since the time when we hung a sign, “Drop Bush Not Bombs,” on our front window, life in this country has become increasingly suffocating. With some escapist desires deep in our minds that we would not want to admit, we traveled summer after summer to Istanbul, to Barcelona, to Prague, to Paris, and to Canada. In this big world, most people, we learned, have been cultivating their cities with pride, love, and gentle creativity. However, every time, we could not wait to rush back to this pathetic place we call home. For all my adult life, I helplessly remember the great pessimist philosopher Schopenhauer’s words, “One can do what he wants to do, but not think what he wants to think…” Growing up and aging in Newark, however, is a powerful experience to emancipate our souls and to enable us “to think what we want to think.”

Star Ledger: Editor charges Newark cops violated his civil rights

Star Ledger: Editor charges Newark cops violated his civil rights

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice, contends police violated the civil rights of Brazilian Voice editor Roberto Lima by detaining him until he relinquished the photos taken by a member of his staff.

“I offered Newark police the original photographs as long as I could keep copies, but they handcuffed me to a bench until I agreed to give them all copies and originals,” Lima said in a written statement released today by the ACLU.

Sounds like a little civil rights sensitivity training is in order for the NPD.

Seriously, this news has a chilling effect on those of us who write about Newark on a day-to-day basis: the NPD or City Hall needs to issue a statement today condemning this behavior towards journalists in the city. I hardly think the Booker administration wants to find itself defending suppression of First Amendment rights.

New York Times: Is It Paris, or Just Newark After Dark?

Paris!

New York Times: Is It Paris, or Just Newark After Dark?

In recent months, particularly since the Prudential Center opened in downtown Newark in October, the buildings here have been fitted with a glittering tiara as their stout bodies have bathed in floodlights. Newark really does sparkle.

Alfred C. Koeppe, the president of the Newark Alliance, a nonprofit organization of business leaders, is a former P.S.E.&G. executive and has worked or lived in Newark for more than 40 years.

“This is, in my memory, the most beautiful the city has ever looked,” he said.

The sharply pitched roof of the renovated National Newark Building, the city’s tallest structure, at 744 Broad Street, is lighted in such a way that the 34-story tower resembles a soldier. The Art Deco aspects of the slightly shorter building just northeast at 1180 Raymond Boulevard are more apparent when lighted.

“People are taking pride in their neighborhoods, and it’s expanding,” Mr. Koeppe said.

This is just about the coolest article I’ve seen about Newark in some time. Comparing Newark to the City of Light — which, in its own right, is famous for its night-time floodlit streets — is high praise, particularly from the New York Times.

Recap: Will St. James Remain Open?

The story is still developing, so it’s hard to make out facts from talk. The NY Times story we linked to earlier in the week indicates that the Cathedral Healthcare System spokesman left the door open to keep St James open:

Mr. Middletown would not comment on allegations that word of the closings was kept secret, but said the decision to shut Columbus and St. James, reported on Friday by The Star-Ledger of Newark, was made only on Thursday during a company board meeting. He added that although both hospitals would lose their emergency rooms and acute-care beds, St. James might be able to continue to offer some prenatal and primary care clinic services.

It sounds as though this window might be the substance of the negotiations Amador and Booker conducted with the CHS that Donna blogged about on Friday.

Well, at Wednesday evening’s council meeting, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador announced that after negotiations involving himself, Mayor Booker and officials the Cathedral Healthcare System, they reached an agreement to keep St. James Hospital in the Ironbound open.

Yesterday, the Star Ledger posted an article about the protest, which brought 700 concerned citizens to the hospital entrance to protest the closing. State Assemblyman Albert Coutinho spoke before protesters to reassure them that the hospital would remain open, but indeed with fewer services.

The crowd cheered as event organizers gave rallying speeches. Applause turned to jeers, however, when Assemblyman Albert Coutinho told protesters Saint James would remain open — albeit with fewer services. The hospital has been dealing with a financial crisis, he said.

“I know this is not what everyone wants to hear, but this is the reality,” Coutinho said. “Urban hospitals are falling left and right.”

So, the hospital will, indeed, stay open. As to whether the city can work out a deal where the hospital retains all of the services that Newarkers depend on is yet to be seen.

Star Ledger: Hundreds expected at rally to protest closing of Newark’s Saint James Hospital

Star Ledger: Hundreds expected at rally to protest closing of Newark’s Saint James Hospital

About 1,000 hospital employees and residents are expected to congregate at a Newark church this morning to protest the impending closing of Saint James Hospital.

The protest begins at 10 a.m. at Saint James Roman Catholic Church on Madison Street and will be followed by a march to the steps of the hospital.

This is the second rally since Cathedral Healthcare System approved an agreement earlier this month to close Saint James, located in Newark’s Ironbound section, and Columbus Hospital, in the city’s North Ward. Both hospitals are slated to close later this year.

Yesterday, we received this comment on the blog from one of the organizers describing the event:

KEEP ST JAMES OPEN:

The hospital has announced March 15th as their closing date. The selling process is not complete, there must be a certificate of need and a list of other permits. However, employees have already been handed their pink slips and only 14 nursing jobs will be transferable. 500 jobs in general will be lost and the Ironbound will lost their emergency room and several more local medical services. Last year alone the hospital has 20,000 visits.

The buyers/sellers will get away with this illegal selling process because the law has no teeth; no one goes to jail, no one pays a fine, no one feels any repercussion.That is, no one except community members. Even your wallet will feel an impact because the state has promised your tax dollars to bailout Catheral, the current management, with a double-digit, multi-million dollar deal and community members will not receive one benefit from this!

ALL HOPE IS NOT LOST!

Community members are organizing support, clergy has met along with community stakeholders, local politicians have been contacted. We must press politicians to do something!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 19th, 10:00am ST JAMES HOSPITAL

WE NEED COMMUNITY PRESENCE TO PRESS THE LOCAL AND STATE POLITICIANS TO KEEP ST JAMES HOSPITAL OPEN!!!

NJ Voices: An ideation whose time hasn’t come

NJ Voices: An ideation whose time hasn’t come
Joan Whitlow shreds the city’s outsourced PR firm whose ostensible mission is to consolidate the city’s brand to “one message.” The $1.5 million is actually not an outrageous price for brand consultation, and Newark has a significant PR battle to overcome common perceptions about the city. But, for what we’re getting, the price might be a touch inflated.

Some members of the city council are not happy with 6Sixty’s performance — not enough newsletters, nor enough communications about themselves, I’m guessing. They want the city to spend more money on a separate public relations contract for the council. Can’t anyone already on the payroll ideate?

6Sixty’s office is in Irvington, but Sharif’s roots are certainly in Newark. His father Carl was Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s campaign manager, which is why some people — okay, why I — questioned the size of the contract and who got it from a city that says it has a budget crisis.

The city is supposed to get a new Web site for its $1.5 million. Visit the one running now and you will see that some things work but you get a “This page cannot be displayed” message when you click on most of the municipal directory, the calendar of events and other links. Is this what $1.5 million buys?

Sharif and Peterkin-Bell told me the city has problems with its old computer service that prevent the old from interfacing with the new. If a city administration cannot bend a computer service, one it is paying, to the municipal will, how will that administration solve the rest of Newark’s problems?

St. James Hospital May Not Close After All

Many of us were distressed to learn that the Cathedral Healthcare System planned to close two city hospitals. As we’ve read, Mayor Cory Booker was furious about the plan, and rightfully so. It is obvious that certain city hospitals are straining under their patient loads and heavy financial burdens as it is. To lose two community hospitals like that would be disastrous for the city.
Well, at Wednesday evening’s council meeting, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador announced that after negotiations involving himself, Mayor Booker and officials the Cathedral Healthcare System, they reached an agreement to keep St. James Hospital in the Ironbound open.

Between now and March 15, however, the hospital would undergo some major changes, although Amador did not specify what modifications would be implemented. He said there would another meeting on Jan. 22 to discuss future operating plans for both hospitals. Also, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr., is also working on ways to keep medical services in place at Columbus Hospital.

I really hope they find an acceptable way to keep those facilities open and delivering quality medical services — not just to Newarkers, but also those in neighboring towns that might depend on them as well.