Pru Arena Job Fair Draws Thousands

New York Times: Newark Arena Hangs a ‘Help Wanted’ Sign, and Thousands Line Up.
The Times reports long waits and tough competition for the 1,200 jobs to be filled at the Prudential Arena. The arena, which is slated to open next month with a Bon Jovi concert, has been the subject of much contention over the past several years. Mayor Booker himself had threatened to shut down the project even as the skeletal framework had begun to rise behind City Hall. A key negotiating point for the Booker administration was that the Pru Center hire local Newarkers for jobs needed to run the arena.

While it appears that there were far more applicants than jobs, it’s good to see our neighbors benefitting from the deal. It will be interesting to see the proportion of Newarkers still working there after the arena has been open for 6 months.

By 9 a.m., the line of hopeful and expectant faces extended several blocks, took a 90-degree turn, then extended for several more. Many who were waiting had turned out in skirts, suits and ties, many others in baggy jeans, construction boots and oversize T-shirts.

Each had come downtown, in a city with an unemployment rate almost twice the statewide average, in hopes of securing one of 1,200 jobs at the Prudential Center Arena, the new home of the New Jersey Devils hockey team, which cost more than $300 million and is scheduled to open here next month.
Such is the state of joblessness in Newark that on Thursday, the first day of interviews, nearly three times as many people showed up as there were jobs available. Organizers were expecting 5,000 additional job seekers on Friday.

“When I saw the line, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, all those people waiting to get in,’ ” said Nikki Singletary, 35, a mother of three. Ms. Singletary said she works full time as a security guard, but after reaching her limit on 16 credit cards — she was just approved for two more — she had accumulated more than $5,000 in debt, and so wants a second job.

“I would work 80 hours,” she said. “I need the money; I got bills to pay.”

Newark’s unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, according to city officials, nearly double the state’s rate of 4.6 percent. Robert Curvin, an expert in economic development, said that a distinct set of circumstances in Newark contributed to its high unemployment rate.

“There is a classical skills mismatch for many of the jobs,” said Dr. Curvin, who has taught economic development at Rutgers University. “If you look at the job listings in the local newspaper, you will see there are listings for many jobs, and many residents of Newark do not have those technical skills or the experience to qualify for them.”

The Prudential Center, which is to open on Oct. 25, is the linchpin of the city’s hopes for a revitalized downtown. The jobs to be filled there — ushers, janitors, bartenders, cooks and others — are mostly part time, pay as much as $17 an hour and do not include benefits.


Fairmount Cemetery Tour, October 14th

Hi, I’d like to invite everyone here to join me for a Newarkology walking tour of beautiful and historic Fairmount Cemetery at 1:00 on October 14th. Fairmount Cemetery, along with Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in the North Ward, is one of two upper class Victorian cemeteries in Newark. Fairmount Cemetery has the graves of many eminent 19th century Newarkers, from Clara Maass to Gottfried Krueger.
Presumably, there are many readers out there who find the notion of visiting a cemetery, even the grave of a relative, quite strange, but for Americans in the 19th century, cemetery visits were a regular part of life. Americans in the Victorian Age spent as much money on graves as modern Americans spend on weddings, and their mausoleums and monuments show it. Those interred at Fairmount Cemetery meant for their graves to be seen, so we are merely fulfilling their wishes by admiring their final resting places.

Fairmount Cemetery is at 620 Central Avenue, Newark, New Jersey.

Check out the announcement on my website, for more information.

Super Summer Gospel Bash at JFK Recreation Center

From City Hall today:

Mayor Cory A. Booker today announced that Newark gospel group Slll & the Truth will headline the “Super Summer Gospel Bash” at the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center, on Saturday, September 8, at 5 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public.

Slll & The Truth, founded by George Sykes III in 2001, combines staccato-infused harmonies with soul-stirring vocals, blending New Age Funk and R&B. They won the McDonald’s 2007 Gospel Fest, and have released two CDs.

Also scheduled to perform will be Deneen Jones (traditional gospel); Vessels of Triumph (praise dancers); SuSu Bobien (contemporary gospel); GL Douglas (clean family comedy); Bro. Haz (gospel rapper); and Azamar of Agape Family Worship Center (family gospel).

“Super Summer Gospel Bash celebrates timeless values and Newark’s rich heritage as a center of gospel music. Slll & The Truth and the other performers are adding new pages to that history,” said Mayor Booker. “We will hear music and words of empowerment, hope and praise, enjoy laughter and dance, and build bridges between people and communities as we continue to transform Newark during our Super Summer.”

The event is sponsored by the City. The Kennedy Center is located at 211 West Kinney Street, with the entrance on Howard Street. No tickets are necessary.

For further information on the event, contact Donnell Redding, the Program Coordinator, at (973) 733-6454.

Desiderium at Gallery Aferro (also, GPS-enabled shoes)

DesideriumSeptember 8 – October 6, 2007
Opening Reception September 8, 2007 6-9 PM
Curated by Evonne Davis

Gallery Aferro 73 Market Street Newark NJ

Desiderium (n.) Deep, unfulfilled longing. Yearning. Desire without hope.

29 Artists explore this theme, including Newark born-and-residing talents Les Ayre and Kelly Pinho. There are numerous interactive elements to the show, including a motion- sensing video display, an artist-designed gumball machine, audio pieces and GPS- enabled platform shoes.

The Platform Shoes: (a monthlong event)
Fulbright Fellow and Eyebeam resident Norene Leddy will be offering the public the opportunity to try on “hacked” platform heels that feature an embedded LCD screen, GPS transmitters and an audible alarm. Their functionality touches upon issues of safety, freedom and surveillance that almost any urban resident can relate to.

The Platforms Store is open:

Try on the Platforms sandals Sept. 15, 22, and 29 from 12-6pm. Take them for a spin around the block, and let us know what you think. Demo sandals are available in a variety of sizes up to a women’s 12 / men’s 10. Aphrodite Team members will be on hand to guide you, answer questions and to take custom orders. To schedule an appointment, call us at (646) 652-7186 or email us at appointments AT theaphroditeproject DOT tv. Walk-ins will be accommodated when possible.

Audible Alarm Demonstration Sept. 29

Sept. 29 at 4pm we will hold a live demonstration to show how you can
build your own personal audible alarm system for around $10. The
system is easy to assemble and uses parts available from RadioShack.
No soldering or special skills are required. In addition to shoes,
this alarm can be used in handbags, jackets and other clothing. Email
diy-aferro AT theaphroditeproject DOT tv for more info and a parts

Aferro Publications Available Now

After high demand, Publication No. 1, “Our Man in Havana” can now be
purchased here. Publication No. 3, “I Dream of a World Where the World Never Happened” will be available at the Desiderium opening as a limited edition of 50 signed by Evonne Davis

Newark Income Growth Doubles National Average

Star Ledger: Newark income rises at double the national rate. The Ledger is reporting this morning that Newark’s household income growth has doubled the national average at 28 percent, according to the national 2000 Census.
It’s clear that this is good for a city whose operating expenses have recently resulted in the elimination of 300 municipal jobs, but is it good for the poor? The Census notes that the middle class in Newark is starting to grow because of the obvious discount on homes, but a number of the poor have been pushed out of the city due to the destruction of lower income housing in the city.

The city of Newark is still one of the nation’s poorest, but Census numbers released yesterday show the state’s largest city has made some of the biggest gains in income this decade.

Newark’s median household in come has jumped 28 percent since the 2000 Census — a rate of increase nearly double the nation’s and far above the state’s 17 percent increase.

Part of the change: A slow but steady increase of middle class transplants who see Newark as a bargain compared to more pricey New Jersey communities.

“They’re coming from places like Jersey City, Hoboken, Manhattan,” said Mo Butler, president of the civic organization Newark Now. “It’s so much less expensive to get a big old house here.”

Still, the underlying numbers show considerable nuance.

The ranks of the poor declined by tens of thousands in Newark this decade, the Census numbers show, a fact observers attribute more to the destruction of low-income housing than to economic advancement. These low-income residents moved out of Newark and into places like East Orange, which helped push Newark’s median income up and hold its neighbor’s income statistics flat.

“A lot of those people were forced to relocate to Irvington and the Oranges. They were displaced. They were absolutely displaced,” said Roland Anglin, executive director of Rutgers’ Initiative For Regional and Community Transformation. “It skews the stats.”

Yet the numbers also show a healthy increase in Newark residents working full-time, and more specifically, higher wages for women who live in the city and work full-time.

City Hall Layoffs Continue

City Hall announced that it will eliminate 295 positions — about a third of which are currently vacant, according to a press release published Monday:

“We are continuing to move forward with our plan to balance this budget on time and in a way that provides the least amount of pain for residents and avoids a tax increase for 2008,” said Mayor Booker. “While we are looking at additional ways to close the remaining budget gap, we have begun to separate municipal employees from the city.”

The move saves the city $12.5 million. Another $4.4 million will be saved by eliminating 95 vacant personnel positions, and the 203 employees who accepted a voluntary buyout earlier this summer saved the City $13 million. One-time revenue streams from the Port Authority ($40 million) and state aid ($45 million), as well recurring revenue in the forms of $20 million in special taxes and $20 million in reduced expenses (i.e. overtime and health care savings) have all helped the city work to close a $180 million gap. However, the City is still short approximately $15.1 million. The Administration is exploring various ways to reduce costs by coming up with ways to generate savings and do more with less.

The state now has 30 days to approve the City’s plan, reject it, or ask for modifications. Vulnerable employees will be notified next month with layoffs planned for mid-November. The Administration has avoided reducing the number of positions that directly impact city services such as sanitation and recreation. All civilian titles and administrative jobs are impacted, including those in the Office of the Mayor and Business Administrator. The Administration will not guarantee that city services will not be affected by this reduction.

The Star Ledger is also covering the story, noting that we still have a $20 million budget gap to close before the start of the next fiscal year: Newark layoffs to hit 200 workers.. It will be interesting to see what other tactics City Hall employs to cover this gap — one hopes that it will be a major announcement about a commercial retailer before the end of the year.

Combining the layoffs and eliminated positions with the 203 employees who accepted a voluntary buyout, at a savings of $12.8 million for the city, Newark will save a total of about $30 million. That’s still $20 million short of the $50 million in savings Kemp says is needed to close the budget gap.

Kemp said his staff will comb the 2007 budget with the hopes of cutting an additional $20 million in the fourth quarter of this year.

“Instead of laying off an additional 200 people we will look toward operations to insure we lay off the minimum number of people,” said Kemp. This puts us in a position where we will have to find the savings elsewhere. In short, we are going to have to spend less money on anything that doesn’t impact revenues.”

The majority of the 200 people laid off will come from the support and administrative side, Kemp said, as opposed to service providers like sanitation or traffic enforcement.

Rahaman Muhammad, president of Service Employees International Union Local 617, which represents 600 city workers, said the cuts will hurt Newark.

“Whether it’s 1,000 jobs or 200 jobs, the city should find other ways to plug a budget deficit than on the backs of working people,” Muhammad said. “Two hundred unemployed in a city with already high employment is a lot of people.”

Kemp said Newark’s shortfall is the result of a long-standing structural deficit where the city has spent more money than it has brought in. The city has filled that gap for several years by using money from the settlement of a lawsuit against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to balance the budget. Booker used $115 million from the lawsuit settlement in the $785.4 million 2007 budget, the same amount the city expects to raise in property taxes.

Controversy Over Immigration Status Yields State-Wide Policy

The New York Times reports today that immigration checks of criminal suspects are now a state-wide requirement in New Jersey: Immigration Checks Ordered in New Jersey. NJ attorney general Anne Milgram seems to have made a helpful, reasonable call here: we need a standardized way to deal with illegal immigrants who have been convicted of a crime.

The New Jersey attorney general, Anne Milgram, on Wednesday ordered local law enforcement agencies to inquire about the immigration status of criminal suspects and notify federal authorities whenever they believe someone arrested is in the country illegally.

The directive comes amid growing debate across the state over the role of local officials in immigration questions since the Aug. 4 schoolyard slayings of three friends in Newark. One of the prime suspects in the murders, Jose Lachira Carranza, is an illegal immigrant from Peru who was out on bail despite three prior felony arrests, in part because the authorities never checked his immigration status.

“There’s a need that was brought home to us all recently with the tragic events in Newark for a uniform state policy,” Ms. Milgram, the state’s top law enforcement officer, said at a news conference here, promising random compliance checks to ensure that local officials are following the policy, effective immediately.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency, praised the new policy Wednesday, saying, “We welcome this newly expanded cooperation throughout the State of New Jersey.”

Ms. Milgram has talked often about helping local law enforcement officials deal with illegal immigrants in a manner that promotes public safety without treading on human rights. That has become more precarious for politicians since the shooting.

On the one hand, Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark has repeatedly said that he opposes the notion of involving city police in immigration matters, and Paula T. Dow, the Essex County prosecutor — whose office was one of several that did not check Mr. Carranza’s immigration status — was even more pointed, saying her policy was to notify immigration officials only upon conviction.

On the other hand, a growing chorus of officials — including the State Senate president, Richard J. Codey, a Democrat, and Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, the Republican minority leader — have recently urged the state to adopt a tougher stance. And on Monday, Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado who is running for president on a conservative immigration platform, accused Newark officials of being complicit in the murders because of their lax approach.

Until now, local law enforcement agencies had broad discretion — and widely divergent practices — on whether to check immigration status or report suspicious candidates to federal authorities. The Hudson County prosecutor’s office, for example, already routinely does so; the West Orange Police Department, which had arrested Mr. Carranza for assault last fall, has no set procedures for contacting the immigration service.

The Star Ledger‘s Tom Moran provides some additional commentary in response to Bill O’Reilly’s accusing Mayor Booker of being “flat-out dishonest, and downright stupid” (wow): Bill O’Reilly’s Newark rant:

Still, Booker led with his chin on this issue. He’s been adamant about his feelings that police should look the other way on illegal immigration. That makes sense on the streets, since cops need everyone to report crime, act as informants, and testify at trial.

But once someone is arrested on a serious crime, why not check on their status? Councilman Ron Rice Jr. had proposed a resolution to require that of Newark police, and today, responding to the Newark murders, Attorney General Anne Milgram ordered all local police in the state to do so.

Booker called Milgram’s order reasonable. But he’s just playing nice. He told Star-Ledger reporter Jeff Mays last week that he didn’t like the idea, saying “We don’t want to have any undue burden. Our job is to arrest them and put them in the criminal justice system.” And his spokeswoman confirmed today that he still feels that way.

In response to the directive from AG Milgram, Booker issued a statement in press release, which found its way to my inbox:

Under this new directive, city law enforcement will inquire about a person’s residency status when charged with a serious crime. This edict is a balance. Local officers cannot inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses to crimes or persons requesting police assistance. That makes certain that the safety of Newark residents comes first and ensures that our most vulnerable residents are protected.

As to whether this would have prevented the schoolyard killings conducted by at least three illegal immigrants, though, this directive might not have helped: Newark police had notified federal officials to check Carranza’s status, but he was already freed on bail by the time federal authorities got back to the NPD.