Gamble, Indeed

NJ.com: Municipal Utility Authority could bring millions to Newark

The most immediate advantage of the authority will be its ability to bond, earning the city $50 million this year, $40 million next year, $10 million in 2012, and roughly $5 million every year after. Without the revenue, Booker said he will be forced to institute major property tax increases to slash an estimated $180 million deficit. According to critics, the move is a quick fix fraught with potential for corruption and rate hikes for residents. Booker and city officials are bracing for a major public outcry as the idea is presented and voted on this summer. If history is any indicator, the fight will not be easy.

Booker said the alternative to the MUA is a 30 percent property tax hike as opposed to a 2.5 percent increase. Without knowing what the increase in water rates will be, the mayor said he is hopeful residents will take the gamble.

It’s unclear from Giambusso’s reporting here if the Mayor actually used the word “gamble.” To extend the analogy, this isn’t unlike putting the deed to your house on black to avoid bank foreclosure—doing nothing means you lose your house, winning means you get to keep it.

Losing, though, is where the analogy gets muddier. Booker seems to have been referring solely to an increase in water rates (a downside that may not outweigh the upside). But lending concerns and poor governance could make the downside an even costlier proposition for city residents.

Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum. If you believe that the city is on its way to a bright and prosperous future, perhaps even this worst case could be offset by future businesses and corporations taking up shop here in Newark. Staring down the barrel of a slow-moving economic recovery and double-digit unemployment makes that a pretty big “if.”

Adding transparency to the process of drafting an MUA plan could mitigate the risks of implementation. But, with a yawning budget gap despite year after year of cuts and layoffs at City Hall, is it a gamble the city can afford not to take?

Interview: East Ward Council Candidate, Peter Pantoliano

With the municipal elections looming large next month, we’ll be making an effort to interview the prospective city council candidates.
This week, I’m pleased to present this podcast interview with Peter Pantoliano, candidate for the East Ward council seat.

Mr. Pantoliano has been a leader in the Ironbound community for years. He is currently serving as a representative for the 19th district in the city of Newark. He’s a prominent local business owner in the neighborhood, having started his first optometry office on Ferry Street nearly 30 years ago, and having moved to the East Ward about 10 years ago.

While considered by political prognosticators as the underdog in his race against the established three-term incumbent, Augusto Amador, Mr. Pantoliano’s grass-roots zeal and belief in the people of the Ironbound is palpable.

The podcast is about 30 minutes in length. Click the play button below to listen.

[powerpress]

In the podcast, we discuss:

  • How Mr. Pantoliano came to live and work in the Ironbound and how he came to be interested in Newark politics
  • Plans for the upcoming election and his campaign kickoff
  • The major challenges and opportunities the Councilman sees facing the East Ward right now
  • What platforms Mr. Pantoliano has chosen to make the core message of his campaign (taxes, public safety, and healthcare)
  • What assets and experiences the challenger brings to the table for improving the Ironbound
  • How the recent economic challenges might affect the neighborhood and what opportunities Mr. Pantoliano sees to address them
  • How technology can position residents for the 21st century workforce

To find out more about Mr. Peter Pantoliano, check out his website or follow him on Twitter at @PeterEastWard.

Another American Experience at 80 Lister Ave., Ironbound

The EPA director, our own Lisa Jackson visited one of the nation’s most notorious Superfund sites at 80 Lister Avenue on March 26, promising speedy action towards clean-up, which will be the first step for Newarkers to reclaim the Passaic riverfront.
At 11:59 a.m. on February 20, 1960, a huge explosion blew up the roof of the 125-by-250-foot building at 80 Lister Avenue, sending tons of toxic debris into the Passaic River and surrounding streets. Many workers had to be dug out by fire rescue squads. Soon after, Alfred Casatelli, 35, a chemical engineer, died in St. James Hospital of chemical poisoning, among many others badly injured. The chemical factory, Diamond Alkali, was about to accelerate its 24-7 production schedule to produce one million gallons of Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. By the time the factory closed its production in 1983, it left behind “a sprawling tomb” for the herbicide’s toxic byproduct, dioxin, measuring 500 parts per billion, with some samples as high as 1,200 parts per billion. (The EPA classifies a level of one part per billion as dangerous to humans.) Producing DDT at the Lister Avenue site for over 40 years, Diamond Alkali had ordered its employees “to wade out surreptitiously at low tide to chop up mounds of DDT” to avoid being detected for dumping waste into the Passaic River.

On June 4, 1983, after a chilling contamination report, Governor Kean showed up in the site with Mayor Ken Gibson to order further inspection and to close the nearby Newark Farmers Market, the largest seafood supplier in New Jersey, in addition to fresh and frozen goods for the tri-state area. A few months later, the Federal Government declared it among the first Superfund Sites. However, all politicians, reporters, and lab workers in white moonwalk outfits soon disappeared, leaving scared Ironbound residents puzzled. Governor Kean’s spokesman Carl Golden explained, “This is not the kind of thing that leads to a quick, overnight solution.” In past 27 years, the 65,000 cubic yards of polluted dirt and debris faced a few remedies, none of which led to easy solutions. According to the company, the only place for processing highly contaminated materials is in Coffeyville Kansas, with a price tag of $241 million, plus transportation, that would take seven to ten years. A second solution is on-site incineration, which successfully removed dioxin of lower concentrations (400 parts per billion) at Diamond Alkali’s other Superfund site in Times Beach, Missouri. In a more populated urban area, the two-year decontamination would cost $40 million. Not surprisingly, in 1998, the responsible corporation (Occidental Chemicals) took the third route: to “encase” the four-acre site with a floodwall and a groundwater treatment system at a cost of $22 million, the lowest-cost approach. Some additional debris was put in 932 cargo containers piled along the Passaic River. (For more details about the EPA Lower Passaic River cleanup, see www.ourpassaic.org/projectsites.)

The EPA-approved “interim solution” thereafter turned to be permanent, while the Dallas-based company went into its fast global expansion during the Golden Era of massive deregulation under the Bush Administration. The CEO, Dr. Ray Irani, has lived a high life in Beverly Hills, with a record annual earning of $460 million in 2006. (For a bad year, he made $59 million in 2009.) Meanwhile, Newark has developed “Renaissance on a garbage heap,” as Johns Hopkins University researcher Eileen McGurty has called it. The largest garbage incinerator opened in 1991 to process 930,000 tons of garbage annually. Alan Gerson, a New York City Council member representing Lower Manhattan, complained about the incinerator air: “Some of the stench and toxins could waft right back to Manhattan on an easterly wind.” In our local Jersey, struggling to dispose of municipal solid garbage, the state and the county tried to entice Newark to allow more incinerators by throwing in an employment opportunity – a jail, also in the Ironbound. As adjunct law professor of Seton Hall University Tirza Wahrman observed, “Another thing going on here is New Jerseyans don’t feel a sense of ownership about Newark.”

This typical urban American story will not be completed without mentioning its heroes. With some other enduring Ironbound residents, a young man Arnold Cohen started the Ironbound Committee Against Toxic Waste in 1983. Among many heroic “pushing-backs,” the committee sued the State DEP for its negligent inaction in 1984. In the past three decades, his daughter has been born and has recently left home to attend Princeton University, while his hair turned grey at the age of 62. I hope that my little Newarker daughter will some day join Arnold’s daughter to carry the Committee’s battle for a just and clean America.

Newark’s Ironbound: An American Experience

A few years ago when powerful developers and institutions planned to turn my James Street neighborhood into a giant corporate parking lot, we started to search over the urban Tri-State area for a new refuge. Soon, we happily concluded that one does not have to go as far as Astoria in Queens for a viable, diverse, and un-gentrified community, with a rich history that reflects our American experience, individually and collectively. It’s found in our own Ironbound, which was the subject for Monday’s panel discussion organized by the Newark History Society.
In a small area of four square miles surrounded by a curve in the Passaic River and the Northern Corridor rail tracts, the Ironbound has been the home for generations of working class Germans, Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans, Jewish and African-Americans. In the past decades, Portuguese dominated the area, increasingly joined by Brazilians and other Hispanics. However, according to one of the panelist Maria Pereira of Luso Americano, her nationally circulated newspaper found that 48 percent of Portuguese residents never responded to the 2000 Census. Therefore, the accurate size of the Ironbound population has always been a subject of speculation.

Many well-known early American immigrant communities have been characterized by their extremely transient living. For instance, an average early immigrant family made Lower Eastside Manhattan its home for only eight months before its “upward” migration. In contrast, the Ironbound has retained many proud long-term residents through Newark’s ups and downs. Another panelist, Alice Schreiner, a manager of Ironbound Senior Citizen Center, was born at 102 Houston Street, where her Polish-American parents settled 59 years ago, not far from their own parents. After attending St. Casimir Academy and Eastside High School, she married and moved from the second floor to the first floor of the same building, where she raised her four children. Alice plans her next move “only when the God calls me.” One of the organizers of tonight’s discussion, Nancy Zak once told me about her treasured Sunday morning family tradition—having pancakes with her older upstairs neighbor. Fighting for a stable American experience has kept her working at the Ironbound Community Corporation, which will celebrate in the coming May over 40 years of community service.

The most endearing presentation was by Walter Chambers and Michael Underwood, who grew up respectively in Ironbound’s Pennington Court and Hyatt Court Homes, two earliest Newark public housing projects. While not glossing over their difficult circumstances, they both enthusiastically celebrated their rich diverse experience both socially and culturally. With an often-ill single mother in the 1950’s, Underwood enjoyed his freedom as an “Ironbound Tom Sawyer.” As a child, he roamed around neighborhood factories, foundries, and even the police auto pound, where he learned from manufacturing workers about the real world. Finding his love of railroads at Ironbound’s edges, he has become a Conrail locomotive engineer and a union leader. Chambers, a 78-years-old African-American, distributed his brief history of Pennington Court (1939-1960), in which he quoted the 1940 statement by Neil Convery, the accomplished Newark architect and first Newark Housing Authority director, “The housing program is truly American. Twenty-three nationalities and two races (white and black) are living in friendly neighborliness in a government-aided project.” However, that was long before the “Real Estate Lobby,” as President Truman called it, mobilized corporate powers to sabotage public housing and create the most economically and racially segregated housing market in the industrialized world.

As one of the participants pointed out, Ironbound’s ethnically diverse history was once well represented by over ten local newspapers of all languages. Forward, a progressive Yiddish newspaper still has its old building standing on Ferry Street. Students of Newark history can also testify about Ironbound’s reflection of national and regional politics through a century of turmoil. For instance, during the World War I, Ironbound’s Hamburg Place was changed into its current name Wilson Street. The area closely witnessed the wartime industrial boom and then the final decline of the country’s manufacturing power. Since 1947, Newark’s port and airport, a part of Ironbound, have been taken over by the Port Authority to become the world’s only comprehensive air-rail-sea infrastructural complex. At the same time, nobody seems to remember that Newark is a costal city while it declines into a mismanaged inward city. However, tonight’s discussion was all about celebrating Ironbound’s diverse, enduring, and ever optimistic people. Walter Chambers closed the discussion by quoting the late Charles Cummings, “People will always be the most valuable resource of America.”

(The Newark History Society’s event in May will be about the Star-Ledger’s history.)

Interview: West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice

With the municipal elections looming large in the coming weeks, we’ll be making an effort to interview the prospective city council candidates.

I’m pleased to present our first podcast interview this week with Councilman Ron C. Rice, representing the West Ward. In Mayor Booker’s 2009 State of the City address, he referred to Councilman Rice as the hardest working person on the Council, claiming that the Mayor’s own aggressive schedule is matched by Mr. Rice, who is also known for driving around his neighborhood late at night in his own car.

The podcast is about 30 minutes in length. Click the play button below to listen.

In the podcast, we discuss:

  • Plans for the upcoming election and the Booker Team kickoff
  • The major challenges and opportunities the Councilman sees facing the West Ward right now
  • What efforts have been undertaken to improve the West Ward, such as the Family Success Centers and the West Ward Collective
  • How Councilman Rice had seen the Ward change over his four years in office
  • How the recently-announced state budget cuts affect the West Ward and the city overall
  • How his office is leveraging technology to serve his constituency and how the city is addressing the digital divide to position residents for the 21st century workforce

To find out more about Councilman Ronald C. Rice, check out his website or follow him on Twitter at @ronaldcrice.

Getting to Know You: Introducing a More Social Daily Newarker

We’ve been working hard on some exciting new developments at the Daily Newarker.  We’ve added some new features to the site to make it more interactive, build community, and help you connect with fellow Newarkers — all while staying informed about the city you love.
This new development takes us to the next level in our goal to cultivate conversation about the city.  Develop a public profile, share your Newark story, or start a community group.  Keep reading to find out how.

Profile Pages

Profile Pages are a great place to share your Newark experience.  Post your picture, tell your Newark story, and post your favorite places.  Find others who share your interests and get connected: add them as friends to stay in touch and see their updates around the site.

For an example of a profile page, check out my page.  To create your own: http://dailynewarker.com/register.

Groups

Create Groups to bring people together.  Get your block association or Super Neighborhood online, collaborate on a community project, support a political candidate or cause, or post scores and news about your local sports team.

To see an example of a group, check out the Ironbound Parents group.  To join others or create your own: http://dailynewarker.com/groups.

As Always, Thanks for Reading

We’ll be covering some new features in more detail over the next few weeks, but the best way to check them out is to experience them for yourself.  Get started at http://dailynewarker.com/register.

Cory Booker, Runner-Up

Well, that’s it. Mayor Booker was ousted handily from the race. After diligent efforts and a once-thought unstoppable campaign, it appears that the 6.1 Million Dollar Man has met his match and ought to throw in the towel and concede victory.
As the New York Times, reports, Booker was beat out by nearly 300,000 followers, Gavin Newsom, the Twitter Prince:

Samepoint, a social media search engine based in Manhattan, has named Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, “America’s Most Social Mayor.” The start-up company accorded Mr. Newsom the title after running a formula that primarily considered the number of politicians’ followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Mr. Newsom, with almost 1.4 million followers on Twitter, far outstripped the mayor in the No. 2 spot, Cory Booker of Newark, who has just shy of 1.1 million followers.

Oh, wait, what? You thought I was referring to that other race? Oh, no — that other guy is still going to lose.

We’re All Connected

Max Pizarro’s pre-game analysis of last week’s State of the City address includes a great point-counter-point between State Senator (and former Booker mayoral opponent) Ron L. Rice and his son, West Ward Councilman (and Booker faithful) Ron C. Rice: Newark in gear for Booker’s election-year state of the city.

“I know the mayor is not exactly renowned for showing up at the barbershop and hanging out, jawing around with the guys,” said [Ron C.] Rice. “Fine. That’s just fine. I would rather have a mayor who’s out there shaking the trees for my city like this one is – getting us money to build Nat Turner Park, getting us grant money to increase our police force in an economic downturn and to install surveillance cameras – rather than a guy at the barber shop telling me we have no money. I would rather have a mayor landing a grant from the Gates Foundation for resources, money for crucial prisoner re-entry programs rather than a glad-hander showing up at a chicken dinner and telling me the city has no money.”

Stack-like with his cellphone, the councilman said some members of the older generation – his father’s generation – will never catch get wired with email let alone text messaging and twitter.

But, in his view, modern communication devices have turned him — and the mayor — into better and more keyed in elected officials.

“My dad, when he was a councilman, relied on letters and phone calls to deliver constituent services,” said Rice. “Now I take complaints off my website, BlackBerry, cellphone, three facebook pages, twitter, etc. People tweet me. Constituents. I do this 24-7. I don’t have another job, like my dad did. Because of the accessibility, I have three to five times the number of complaints than my dad had when he was the West Ward councilman.

“Everyone my age or younger has no problem with Cory tweeting,” added the councilman.

The relentless narrative out there that Booker has mostly shuttered Newark while hitting New York and L.A. high society doesn’t comport with reality, Rice insisted, even as his father groused, “Most of my constituents don’t tweek and do computers.”

The definition of “availability” is shifting as more of our relationships are increasingly developed online. Let’s agree that — whether because he is on the speech circuit, trying to lobby for grants from philanthropists, or meeting with tech entrepreneurs — Booker travels a fair deal more than any former Newark mayor. It’s always been an undercurrent of this administration that a globally-connected Newark is a stronger Newark, precisely because we can leverage resources that aren’t available within the confines of the city, county or state geography.

(I think there’s also an argument to be made that because Newark’s travel options make it a global city, so the Mayor’s travel itself could be a good thing for the city’s image, in a medium-as-message kind of way.)

Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we’re starting to see our globally-connected, local politicians start to use technology to communicate with constituents here in the city? Acknowledging that technology, for all its benefits, can also be alienating: is this generation of 24×7 connected politicians more or less “available” to its constituents?

Sure, you can make the argument that high illiteracy and poverty rates in the city (which this 2006 Earth Day Network survey puts at 51% (!) and 28%, respectively) prevent a large constituency from participating in this new style of availability. But Rice Sr. isn’t raising the digital divide to claim that Booker and the council are out of touch with their electorate — that would actually be a compelling criticism. Instead, he’s using it as a sort of political shorthand to paint his former opponent as elitist and technocratic.

It’s no small irony that as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace continue to glom millions more registered users that the senator’s words might later paint him as the out-of-touch career politician. It wouldn’t be the first time that the senator failed to grasp a fundamental shift in his electorate, as his refrain during his 2006 mayoral bid that Booker wasn’t “black enough” revealed he had missed an important change in the perception of race in the city and our larger national culture.

Taking Back Our Streets: Crime Reduction in Newark

Newark’s longstanding narrative of progress has had many names (anyone remember the “Renaissance City?”), but a singular, pernicious problem: how can any administration claim progress in the city when the crime problem has showed unsteady improvement?
Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy joins me to discuss how the city is approaching the crime problem and his expectations for the future. More after the jump.

Newark’s longstanding narrative of progress has had many names (anyone remember the “Renaissance City?”), but a singular, pernicious problem: how can any administration claim progress in the city when the crime problem has showed unsteady improvement?
Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy joins me to discuss how the city is approaching the crime problem and his expectations for the future.  More after the jump.

[audio://dailynewarker.com/files/2010/01/TDN Podcast – McCarthy.mp3]

When the Booker administration arrived in City Hall, they inherited a city with a rising murder rate and a reputation for lawlessness.  In his inauguration speech in 2006, the Mayor promised to add hundreds of officers to the street and implement zero-tolerance policing:

His focus landed squarely on crime. Citing the city’s rising murder rate, and naming victims who died young, he said, ‘‘We have work to do in America when any child is killed.’‘

Specifically, Mr. Booker said his administration would immediately implement zero-tolerance policing. Reiterating his campaign promise to add hundreds of officers to the streets, he said, ‘‘I will enforce all laws, from traffic laws, with people speeding down our suburban streets, to littering laws.’‘

Much of the mayor’s success in his first term hinges on crime reduction, particularly after the tragic murder of three college-bound Newarkers in 2007, which made national headlines and devastated the city.

Since taking the civilian post in 2006, Mr. McCarthy has made strategic changes to the Newark Police Department to focus resources on the city’s most difficult issues.  The Star Ledger recently reported the 2009 results by highlighting an increase in homicides, though every major crime category — including shootings — was substantially down for the year.

The director joined me on the podcast to discuss how these numbers square — how can you have more murders with fewer shootings? — and how the NPD is sustaining its focus going into 2010 in order to see further crime reduction.

Habeas Lounge: Democracy Out Loud in Newark

Linda Pollack is a public artist preparing for a community dialogue project that will open in Newark October 23. The HABEAS LOUNGE is a space for civic dialogue, where she curates a series of public discussions and other exchanges.

In the podcast, we discuss how the lounge came into existence, the goals for the project, and where you can find out more information.

[audio:http://dailynewarker.com/w/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/tdn-podcast-habeas-091023-var.mp3%5D

The HABEAS LOUNGE series are developed to be timely and relevant to the communities where they are based. The idea is to break away from the typical dynamics of the panel discussion and instead create a more fluid and inclusive atmosphere where candid exchange can occur. The series has since been featured in downtown Los Angeles, Manhattan and, most recently, Wroclaw Poland for the 20th anniversary of Eastern Europe’s political changes of 1989.

On October 23, HABEAS LOUNGE will be displayed in the street level window of Rupert Ravens Contemporary Art Gallery, at 85 Market Street in Newark. The fomer “Furniture King” will once again be infused with its original mandate to display furniture. The LOUNGE will first serve as a still life in the display window, then in mid November we will activate it by hosting public discussions that address city life issues specific to Newark – transportation, infrastructure, development, housing, renewal, safety, the river, health services, etc.

For more information, check out their website: rupertravens.net.