Infuriating: Ironbound school uses playground for teacher parking lot

Newark children share school playground with teachers’ parking lot
A couple of parents quoted in this piece are friends, but any parent should find this practice infuriating. The school facilities paid for by Newark taxpayers should support the needs of children in the community, not the convenience of staff and administration.

The principal, Maria Merlo, continues a long-standing practice of turning the Ironbound grammar school’s playground into a parking lot for teachers and staff. With the cars there, about 34 of them, students get shortchanged because their play area is cut in half and they can’t stretch out and run as they should for recess and gym outdoors.

It’s been this way for reasons that don’t make sense to parents, who’ve been trying since last year to stop the practice of turning a playground into a parking lot.

“The cars don’t belong there — no ifs, ands or buts,” said Madeline Ruiz. “There’s no reason that can satisfy taking away this privilege from children.”

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.


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.

Politicker NJ: In a quiet city, Pantoliano’s energy spills into James territory

Politicker NJ: In a quiet city, Pantoliano’s energy spills into James territory

However, if the city as a whole lacks the edge of a major campaign contest — “quietist I can ever remember an election year at this time,” observes one South Ward insider — Pantoliano, notwithstanding the odds, is undisputably making an enthusiastic effort to unseat incumbent Amador.

Pizarro gives a rundown of the remarkably muted 2010 election politics.

Ironbound Walking Tour, March 15th

Hello, I’m going to be leading yet another Newarkology walking tour this March. Join Newarkology on March 15th as we tour the fascinating ethnic and industrial history of the old “Down Neck.”
There is no better way to learn about the many cultures that have called the Ironbound home, from Dutch, to German, to Italian, Jewish, Polish, African-American and, of course, Portuguese than by slowly walking the neighborhood, spotting the many artifacts of ethnic groups long past. Additionally, we will see a few of the Ironbound’s most interesting remaining industrial sites, including a chocolate factory, a varnish plant, and a brewery or two.

The tour will begin at 2:00 and will last two and a half hours (so we’ll be ending just in time for dinner). If there is inclement weather please check the main page of my website, on the day of the tour to check for a notice of cancellation. If the weather is bad I will reschedule the tour for some point in April or May.

The meeting place is the intersection of Ferry and McWhorter Streets, by the Dutch Reformed Church.

More information is available at:

Newark Lotto Mystery Solved

If you had a nagging feeling about the $126 million unclaimed lottery ticket from Seabra’s supermarket in the Ironbound, you can put those feelings to rest. The winners of the multi-million dollar jackpot have been found and presented their reward in Trenton: Union County couple collects Mega Millions jackpot.
The Ledger piece is a but sketchy on details — What kind of people are they? What took them so long to claim the prize? How do they plan to spend it? — but it offers a little closure if you had a sneaking suspicion you’d thrown away that golden ticket.

It’s a wonderful life — for life — for Mario and Clelia Lopes, a husband and wife from Union County who won $75.5 million in the July 22 Mega Millions lottery and came forward today to claim their prize.

The couple was presented the check at noon in Trenton as the highlight of a press conference hosted by state Treasurer R. David Rousseau and they New Jersey Lottery.

They speak only Portuguese and spoke through an interpreter at the press conference. Mario is a foreman for a construction contractor and Clelia is a homemaker.

The Ironbound Through My Father’s Eyes

The Ironbound Through My Father’s Eyes
BicycleMark — who recently covered the St. James Hospital closure — has podcasted an interview with his father about coming to Newark as a child. Great insight into the history of the Ironbound.

Before the Portuguese came to the Ironbound, before the uprisings of 1967, and before the manufacturing industry moved south, my father made a life for himself in Newark. In another of a series of podcasts that focus on my family, and the history they have lived through, this program focuses on the Ironbound through the eyes of a longtime educator and civic leader — my dad.


No Logo, Newark!

In this hot summer day, there is no place better than my favorite Newark coffee shop, where my children and I can spend hours reading in cool air and refreshing aromas. We keep getting distracted, pleasantly. On the next table, six deaf people are “talking” all at once, with 12 excited hands waving in the air. On the other side, an old couples and their grandson are enthusiastically eating crispy Cuban sandwiches and fried codfish balls.
The lunch crowd is filing in from different directions. My 9-year-old daughter comments on uniformed nurses, muscular brick workers, and a few regular old Irishmen chatting furtively, “Dad, these are real people!” Two small TV screens are silently showing a fierce soccer match. There is no soft Jazz of urban sophistication in an upscale atmosphere that entices customers to pay $4 for their daily caffeine fix. In fact, even after a few years, I still pronounce my coffee order of $1.50 sheepishly: G-A-L-A-O.

Café Caffe of 274 Chestnut Street is not closing, even without our mayor offering help of city incentives, like he promised to the closing of Starbucks at 744 Broad Street. As CBS reported, the decision by Starbucks to close 600 stores nationwide has hit this Newark location especially hard. After the recent closure of Old Navy and Kinko’s, both around the premier spot in the city’s heart, people responded angrily on losing this window of a ubiquitous coffee chain.

It is hard to swallow the grief of being deprived of the corporate seal of approval for the long cheered revitalization. “Yes, you have invested over $300 million on the brand new arena. Yes, the long-waited multimillion dollar Broad Street beautification project is about to be completed. But you are not good enough yet,” the corporate world said loudly. In fact, for decades, Newarkers have been ridiculed by the rest of the world, particularly by the affluent Jersey suburbanites, who find it hard to lose the symbol of all social illness and political corruption.

The outgoing President of Starbucks, Jim Alling, proudly called his people “the little-pick-uppers.” He said, “We just naturally stop down to pick up that gum wrapper or soda can on the sidewalk as we’re talking with you about how the kids are doing and what crazy weather we are having….” Blah, blah, blah… He quickly added, “Profitability is essential to our future success.”

Obviously, Starbucks, or any corporate big name, is made by neither an altruistic Mother Teresa, nor a paternalist Federal government. In Starbucks’ case, it goes as far as to declare “diversity” one of its guiding principles, and to hire Magic Johnson as its representative. However, a casual google of “Starbucks Gary Indiana” will find nothing but ten shops in the surrounding area. Similarly here, except its inner cities, New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of the latte chain shops, as well as almost all brand-name retailers, in the nation.

Bryant Simon, a professor at Temple University, who is writing a book about the coffee chain, observed the lone Starbucks in Harlem in 2006. The dingy store was busy and cramped and lacked the usual niceties like upholstered furniture. “It’s a classic American story,” he said, “African-Americans get less of everything.”

My take, however, can be a little different. God designates Newarkers a totally different path. We, ordinary citizens, political leaders, and city planners, should have listened to the corporate voice more clearly. If the city does not deserve “Main Street” services, Newark should just as well block those fast food brand-names, like Southern Californian cities are doing.

We need some heavy-lifters, not “little-pick-uppers,” no matter what they pick up. After all, we have our own successful stories. Next to Café Caffe, there is a new copy shop, PrintPost. Arthur Stern, the owner of 744 Broad Street, can easily refill the space of Kinko’s and Starbucks with the much superior pair of Chestnut Street shops. Our mayor will save some city money and trips to trade shows in Las Vegas to lure brand names.

No Logo in a prosperous Newark, would that be cool?

A $126 Million Rumor, Flying From New Jersey to Rio

A $126 Million Rumor, Flying From New Jersey to Rio
The Times chases rumors of the $126 million lotto ticket sold in the Ironbound. The least colorful — and most likely true — is excerpted below.

Antonio Seabra, owner of A & J Seabra Supermarkets XII in Ironbound, where the winning ticket was sold, said in a telephone interview late Thursday that he knew the winners. And while he declined to disclose their names, he said the winners were a married couple, legal Portuguese immigrants who had been shopping at his chain of supermarkets for 35 years and who were putting off claiming the prize until they could get their legal affairs in order.

“They’re wonderful, wonderful people,” Mr. Seabra said. “They are so humble, a hard-working family. One of the American dreams.” The husband, he added, “actually went to work the next day.”

But the tale of the Brazilian lottery winner has become a great example of a world made small by modern telecommunications, media, trade and travel, where rumors in one immigrant corner of one American city can quickly reverberate back home, even if home is thousands of miles and a hemisphere away.

New Parks Coming to Newark

Jesse Allen Park

I received a flyer from the City Hall the other day describing the new parks coming to the city. The city is partnering with philanthropists to bring playgrounds, sports fields, pools and walkable green space to Newark neighborhoods.

Mayor Cory A. Booker and the City Council create the largest historic fund for City Parks

Through Green Spaces, a historic public-private partnership, Mayor Cory A. Booker has announced the restoration and construction of parks throughout the City of Newark.

The City of Newark has committed $20 million of capital funds which will be matched by private dolllars. Mayor Cory Booker is partnering with foundations, organizations, such as The Trust For Public Land, and individual philanthropists from around the country to accomplish this ambitious goal.

The renovated parks will include improved city pools, professional quality football and soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, state-of-the-art playground equipment and more. These parks will provide Newarkers of all ages safe and expanded opportunities for recreation, relaxation and sports competition.

“Every young person and adult in our City, in every neighborhood, should have abundant access to green spaces, parks and recreation. This should be a fundamental part of life in our City and I am determined to transform our City’s landscape to accomplish this goal,” Mayor Cory A. Booker.


View Larger Map


See full release: Moving Newark Forward: New City Parks (PDF).

Luxury condos coming to Newark

Luxury condos coming to Newark
One might be forgiven for waiting on getting excited about this project after the developer’s former project, the Mulberry Street Redevelopment Project, was summarily halted in court over improper use of eminent domain.

That aside, we’re really psyched to see new construction in the city.  While meeting a fellow Newarker over breakfast, I remarked that it was strange not to ever see construction cranes in Newark.  Sure, they happen from time to time, but they’re not constantly around like in Jersey City or Manhattan.

Calling it the trailblazer Newark needs to move ahead, the $19.8 million residential and commercial structure on Ferry and Magazine streets will offer 67 residential units, 12 retail units and 77 parking spaces. “The Continental” is slated to be constructed by next summer.

“The beauty of this project is also the fact that it’s located in the neighborhood that needs this type of development,” said East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador. “It’s in an area that has been, to a certain extent, forgotten and now be ginning to be attractive.”

The four-story structure — a mixed use urban infill project — will feature a roof garden, private balconies and a state-of-the-art exercise room, said Dean Marchetto, the project’s architect and designer.

For more information about the Continental, check out the project website at