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.

Joan Whitlow: Newark politics and the shirts on kids’ backs

Joan Whitlow: Newark politics and the shirts on kids’ backs

Then someone sent me some T-shirts. One was made for a city swim program, one for a community mentoring program, and a small, bright orange one for a children’s basketball program. They’re all paid for by the City of Newark division of recreation. Printed across the backs of the shirts:

Mayor Cory A. Booker

“Here to Win in 2010”

Making Newark’s Recreation/Cultural Affairs “The International Destination.”

I’m not sure what the last two lines mean, but the first two sure read like politicking at public expense.

Smart piece on City Hall’s apparent misuse of public funds for political means. The shirts were not distributed, and the city’s Inspector General is investigating the incident.

However, this is the type of political shenanigans that were business-as-usual in years past, and the exact culture Booker ran to reverse.

Newark Feels the Pinch

From the Mayor’s office today. Anyone whose company has had to implement pay cuts, layoffs and other firm cost-cutting measures recently can relate to this news.

CITY OF NEWARK PROPOSES PAY CUTS AND FURLOUGHS TO HELP BALANCE BUDGET AMID NATIONAL ECONOMIC CRISIS

Non-uniformed City workers will take one-day furloughs each month starting July; Employees making $100,000 will receive 2 percent pay cuts as well as furloughs

Newark, NJ – March 31, 2009 – Mayor Cory A. Booker, Acting Business Administrator Michelle Thomas, and members of the Newark Municipal Council announced in a City Hall press conference this morning that the City of Newark would impose mandatory one-day-a-month furloughs for all non-uniformed employees, beginning in July, and continuing through December 2010, as well as two-percent pay cuts for all unrepresented managers and directors earning more than $100,000 a year.

The measures were in line with similar furloughs announced last week for state employees by Governor Jon Corzine. The municipal measure is anticipated to affect approximately 2,500 employees and save the City about $6 million, as it works to find ways to close by 2012 the $180 million budget deficit that was inherited by the administration upon taking office in 2006. The proposed furloughs must be approved by the state Civil Service Commission.

“In 2006, we took over a city in financial crisis. We have made significant steps to address our financial future and decided that we would not balance the budget on the backs of our residents,” Mayor Booker said. “We have taken drastic and innovative measures toward closing our structural budget deficit of $180 million. The City must work off its dependence on non-recurring payments and state aid in order to balance its budgets within the next three years. We can no longer rely on gimmicks. We must make difficult decisions now, but 2012 will be the year of liberation.”

The planned furloughs will begin in July, and all non-uniformed City agencies will shut down for one day a month every month through December 2010. All non-uniformed municipal workers will be unpaid for that day. The Mayor will propose that the days be connected to municipal holidays. The 18 furlough days amount to an approximate 5 percent salary cut for all employees. Police officers and firefighters are exempt from the furloughs and salary reductions.

Some 61 municipal employees, including Mayor Booker, are impacted by the 2 percent pay cut, which comes on top of the furloughs. He and his senior staff face a total 7 percent salary reduction. The Mayor noted that since taking office, neither he nor any senior manager has received a pay raise or cost-of-living increase. He voluntarily reduced his salary by 8 percent early in his administration. The 2 percent reductions do not affect uniformed personnel, i.e., fire and police.

The City will ensure that there are no dramatic reductions in municipal services during furlough periods.

The Mayor noted that the City was using the money saved wisely, and major projects that will improve the quality of life in Newark are continuing, including the renovations of City parks and the opening of two new police precincts.

“My number one priority upon taking office was public safety. While we have seen dramatic reductions in violent crime, that priority has not changed. We are not laying off police officers or permanent workers, we intend to put a new class of police recruits through the academy this year and to continue our summer youth employment programs. We are using these furloughs to maintain city services and city functions,” Mayor Booker said.

The City is anticipating $436 million in revenues to fund a 2009 municipal budget of $659 million, Mayor Booker said. Filling the budget gap will require additional cost-cutting measures, he said.

The Mayor was joined at the conference by Council President Mildred Crump, Council Vice President Luis Quintana, and Council Members Oscar James, Carlos Gonzalez, Donald Payne, Jr., and Anibal Ramos, Jr.

The Mayor also noted that the City must end its dependence on non-recurring payments, like state aid funds, and pointed out that in 2011, Newark will receive the last $40 million payment from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the settlement for the airport and seaport land reached under the Sharpe James administration. This, he said, added to the global economic crisis, is placing an increased burden on municipal resources.

Mayor Booker also pointed out that while stern measures are needed to address the present crisis, Newark has taken great strides to address a budget shortfall that has existed for years. The City’s dependence on state payments has dropped from $115 million to $40 million, and a balanced budget is in reach within three years.

Mayor Booker’s administration has been “thinking outside of the box.” “We created a Newark Parking Authority, which is extremely efficient. Other ideas on the table include creating an independent authority for our water assets, so we can sell water on the open market to other communities. Finally, I will reach out to other Mayors in Essex County to hold a summit to find ways to create savings,” the Mayor said.

He also pointed out that while other cities and municipalities around the country are experiencing economic contraction and downturns, Newark continues to develop. “We are seeing more businesses opening each day in Newark, or moving here, new warehouses opening, a new hotel, and we are fighting to bring a professional basketball franchise here. These will bring us jobs, revenue, and visitors, which will help to grow our tax base. We will be able to enjoy the collective benefit that comes from three years of sacrifice.”

This is the first time the City of Newark has ordered furloughs for its employees.

Ledger Overview of the State of the City

Ralph Ortega outlines many of the city’s development challenges with a preview of Mayor Booker’s State of the City speech last week: Mayor Cory Booker to focus on Newark economic development, empowerment.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s third state-of-the-city address tonight envisions a 24-hour downtown with 700 additional housing units in two high-rises and an added Seton Hall Law School dorm, the city’s first recreational boat dock in half a century, and the state’s first community court for low-level offenders.

Last year’s address touched on similar issues, including downtown development plans, which will be expanded upon in tonight’s address. But this year, there will be caveats because of the worsening economy. Newark’s unemployment rate has risen to 10 percent since Booker became mayor in 2006, and the city had the 35th-highest number of foreclosures out of 100 U.S. cities in 2008, according to RealtyTrac, a California firm tracking the market. Several hotel chains have already scrapped plans this year to build in the city.

City Seeks to Fund Infrastructure Improvements

Star Ledger: Newark council looks to create utility authority
Booker has gone on record in the past noting that the city’s infrastructure is aged and crumbling. Having been a student and a resident here for many years, it’s easy to see how a modest snowstorm or rainfall can overwhelm the city’s sewer system.

The details on the financing are a bit troubling, with the city essentially admitting that there is no other way to fund improvements to the system without creating a utility authority which can issue bonds.

Newark is considering creating a municipal utilities authority to take over the city’s ailing water and sewer utilities, making it easier for officials to begin $700 million in repairs to its long-neglected systems.

Highlights of the plan, referenced in an application filed with the Local Finance Board of the state’s Division of Local Government Services, mention that the city needs to make more than $50 million in short-term capital improvements alone.

The utility could issue bonds to address more than $700 million in needed improvements, “an amount equivalent to the value of the entire system,” according to the application to the local finance board. The proposal states, “all future capital needs would be met” by bonding, “to fulfill the requirements of upgrading and efficiently operating the system at an adequate cost to the city’s taxpayers.”

With Newark’s own bonding capacity nearly tapped, city officials said they have no other funding source to otherwise commission the work.

“It won’t drag the city down, and be caught up in the competitive demands on our bonding capacity,” said Booker, who also sits on the watershed’s board of trustees. “Now, you (can) create a way to capitalize that system, and keep it so much more flush with cash.”

Newark’s “Autopia”

In a 1957 lecture, the city thinker Lewis Munford observed, “…instead of planning motor cars and motor ways to fit our life, we are rapidly planning our life to fit the motor car… that we have no life that is worth living.” Arguably, Munford has summarized our 100-year collective experience in Newark and far beyond.
In the afternoon of August 20, 1834, Newarkers cheered their first glimpse of rapid transit: a team of powerful horses made an epochal trip, pulling a car (the “Washington”) on tracks from a Broad Street tavern to Jersey City. On December 2, 1835, the first steam locomotive (“Newark”) started to replace horses on the line. In the winter of 1871, the locally built Baxter Steam Car operated on the Bloomfield line going 18 miles an hour. In 1888, a spectacle of cable cars had a short life on Springfield Avenue. Newark’s first electrical trolley car began operation on October 4, 1890, and swiftly took over the city’s streets.

In 1893, America’s first gas-engine automobile was built in Springfield, Massachusetts. On February 21, 1908, the first Newark Auto Show opened at Essex Troop Armory on Roseville Avenue, featuring moving pictures of the thrilling Vanderbilt Cup race. Thousands of visitors admired over 30 brands of magic machines, including Maxwell, Crawford, Jackson, Peerless, Ford, Fiat, Oldsmobile, and Regal. The subsequent shows even gained national significance, attended by President Tufts, and focused not only on sales, but also the politics of auto legislation and road construction. Motor cars aggressively but arrogantly charged into Newark’s maelstrom of dirty horse wagons, trotting carriages famously made locally, darting bicycles, and hyper streetcars.

The city builders of the “Progressive Era” believed that automobiles provided the solution to urban traffic problems. Newark’s Harland Bartholomew said in 1913, “The logical development and growth of a modern city depends almost exclusively upon its transportation facilities.” Once Newark’s streets were cleared of slow vehicles, they would be dedicated to the smooth flow of motorized traffic.

The modern “Autopia,” however, quickly turned into a bloody nightmare, with hundreds of deaths under wheels annually. Local motoring organizations, supported by the automobile industry, directed public attention to trouble makers – “jaywalkers.” They even heavily advertised against popular images of spoiled “joy-riders” and demanded the press to cease attacks on innocent motorists. With the auto lobby, State Motor Vehicle Commissioner Magee said in a 1939 Newark City Hall meeting:

Approximately 3,000 pedestrians have been killed and more than 35,000 injured in the last five years…. Careless action of pedestrians, the almost absolute defiance of many stubborn-minded individuals of their probable chances for injury, is an outstanding reason for these casualties.”

As some people observed, even Ralph Nader’s auto safety reform in the 1960’s did nothing for those lives outside the car. Starting from 1923, Newark adopted strict laws against jaywalkers. Through endless efforts of widening streets, particularly after Essex County took over major corridors (e.g., Springfield, Bloomfield, Central Avenues) as county roads, many sidewalks were further narrowed or even eliminated. Many ordinances were adopted against traffic problems, such as uniform traffic control (1915), street parking bans (1921), and one-way streets (1940). In the 1920’s, Police Director Brennan (the father of our beloved U.S. Superior Court Justice) was the most-hated figure in town for his traffic law enforcement.

The great German historian Oswald Spengler, who chronicled the decline of the West, observed as early as 1932, “In great cities the motor-car has by its numbers destroyed its own value, and one gets on quicker on foot.” Twenty years later, however, the magic machine reached its new pinnacle in American, with an average of three persons owning a car, compared with one out of every 20 Britons owning a car. Optimistic city planners are divided into two camps, like today. Some are confident that cities can build their way out of their decline by making them more auto-friendly, using further regulatory tools, providing plentiful and convenient parking, and building express highways into the city center. (Sound familiar, Newark?) The other school was represented by Victor Gruen, a refugee from Vienna who hated cars and loved old cities. He proposed a wide ring road outside the city center, with an archipelago of commuter parking, an underground freight-delivering network, and an efficient bus system to reduce traffic pressure. His new American downtown would be a car-free mall attracting diverse interests, such as churches, offices, and educational institutions.

In the late 1950’s, Newark commissioned Gruen for a comprehensive study on its downtown and for the design of Gateway One. From a Newark Evening News report, one can see that Gruen did a very decent job educating the public, “For a long time he (pedestrian) was the forgotten man in the soaring dreams of the City Beautiful. The plan often sounded as though tomorrow’s town was expected to have no people, only skyscrapers and unbroken streams of swift traffic.”

With the power of automobiles and anti-urban national policies, however, Gruen was (and still is) too remote to Newark’s business people, politicians, and most planners. Leslie Blau, one of the most influential businessmen in town, predicted in 1957, “The construction of the east-west freeway (Rt. 280), together with additional garages and adjusted downtown taxes, will wipe out most of the store vacancies, greatly improve existing business… bring more business. People want to drive to the shopping area.” At the time, Downtown Newark still had five department stores: Bamberger’s, Hahne’s, Chase, S. Klein, and Ohrbach’s. Pasqual Guerrieri, the president of Kresge/Chase and Chairman of the Newark Parking Authority, predicted with the Military Park underground parking, “Millions of dollars will be spent here. They will go into payroll, supplies, and into the general stream of the economy.” Bamberger President David Yunich said that Newark “is looking forward to its fair share in the space age from visiting consumer and capital expenditures.”

The auto-oriented prosperity, or “revitalization” in today’s term enthusiastically used by politicians, has never really happened. While Newarkers like to boast of its great “transportation advantages,” in the past 100 years, highways and automobiles actually drained the urban center in favor of peripheral areas, where driving and parking were less arduous. Before World War II, Le Corbusier, the great creator of the “Radiant City,” enjoyed driving with his lover in her powerful Ford V8 towards Newark. He noted, “…the ‘sky-way,’ so-called for the way its enormous length rises high above the industrial districts, the coastal bays, the railroad lines….A roadway without art, for no thoughts of that was taken, but a prodigious tool.” He did not know that as early as 1926, Newark’s chief engineer James Costello had to launch a “showdown” with the State Highway Commission against the design and the intention of this “prodigious tool,” the Pulaski Skyway, which had no point of access to the city of Newark.

From the beginning, highway construction aimed for sprawl and decentralization. For instance, for highway funding in 1930, Ocean County got 410 percent of its tax dollars; Sussex and Hunterdon 324 percent and 333 percent, respectively, while Essex got only 37 percent. Federal and state legislation further deprived Newark’s funding for road construction. In the 1930’s, under the County Engineer Stickel, Essex County took over ten “county roads” beyond High Street (MLK Blvd.) to better serve suburban needs.

Under the economic boom with massive highway construction after World War II, a large number of “Boomtowns” mushroomed in New Jersey. For instance, by 1950, New Providence (original Turkey Town), a country hamlet, had expanded threefold in 20 years, becoming the home of engineers, research scientists, technicians, and sales personnel, in general young people with families and “definite” ideas about local affairs. Following Bell Labs that settled in New Providence, large and small corporations located along highways, such as Ciba Pharmaceuticals in Summit and Standard Oil in Linden. Even the native institution, the Newark Academy, followed young families to pastoral Livingston. As Frank Lloyd Wright prescribed for his “Broadacre City,” every family lives in an individual house at the equivalent of the lowest suburban densities, linked by universal car ownership and fast roads.

As a Chinese proverb said, “No banquet will be endless.” The good life in Bo-bo land, La-la land, or wonderland is finally coming to an end under economic and environmental constraints. We even get an “urban president” in the White House, as we have all hoped for. More and more suburban towns have started serious efforts to build more dense and pedestrian-friendly centers, particularly along mass transit lines. That has not happened in Newark! In the City Council meeting a week ago, the Chancellor of our urban university addressed his ambition to grow the school by constructing 3,500 new parking spaces on the city’s best land for transit-oriented community development, indeed the largest parking development in the history of the city and the state. Although the paradigm of Newark’s “autopia” did not work for its five department stores, it seems to still have the support of our leaders and planners, calling it “urban revitalization.”

My grandchildren will see what Newark will look like in 2025. Since this is a discussion of the city, Jane Jacobs will have the last word: “What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles? What if we are prevented from catalyzing workable and vital cities because the practical steps needed to do so are in conflict with the practical steps demanded by erosion?…. In that case we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purpose indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles.”

(See also Newark’s Lethal Traffic and The Iron Cage: A Very Brief History of Parking in Newark, both posted at this site.)

Barack Obama’s Urban Agenda

Barack ObamaNewark’s story just got bigger. With the inauguration of President Obama into the White House, America has a renewed focus on domestic policy in general and cities in particular. We’ll be watchful of how the Obama administration develops its urban agenda, and what impact those policies wil have on the city of Newark in the months to come.
President Obama gave this speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s convention in Miami on Jun 21st, 2008 while running in the general election against Senator John McCain. Below are some notable excerpts on just how the new administration is thinking of cities as hotbeds of innovation and opportunity rather than problems that need to be dealt with.

Barack Obama is arguably the first urban president since Teddy Roosevelt, a New Yorker.  With this level of intentionality toward urban policy, it’s an exciting time to live in one of America’s cities.

But you shouldn’t be succeeding despite Washington – you should be succeeding with a hand from Washington. Neglect is not a policy for America’s metropolitan areas. It’s time City Hall had someone in the White House you could count on the way so many Americans count on you.

…So, yes we need to fight poverty. Yes, we need to fight crime. Yes, we need to strengthen our cities. But we also need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution. Because strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America. That is the new metropolitan reality and we need a new strategy that reflects it – a strategy that’s about South Florida as much as Miami; that’s about Mesa and Scottsdale as much as Phoenix; that’s about Stamford and Northern New Jersey as much as New York City. As President, I’ll work with you to develop this kind of strategy and I’ll appoint the first White House Director of Urban Policy to help make it a reality.

Booker: Obama Stimulus Good for Newark

Barack ObamaBooker told CBS News Radio in an interview today that the planned Obama Stimulus Plan will empower cities to face challenges unique to them: Newark Mayor: Cities Stand To Gain From Obama Stimulus Plan (via @rosepena).

In an interview with CBS News’ Nick Young, Mayor Booker identified some of the priorities the mayors brought to the attention of the incoming administration. These include federal support for “greening” the cities as a way to create jobs and a better quality of life.

They want federal investment in — but not handouts for — their cities. And they are especially concerned that the incoming president’s economic stimulus program balances the needs of urban and suburban areas in allocating federal money for infrastructure improvements.

Listen to the full interview from CBS News Radio:

[audio:http://audio.cbsnews.com/2008/12/31/audio4694083.mp3%5D

Tell Obama how to fix Healthcare

This in from a Newark tipster: Club Sport-Portugues will be hosting a discussion about Healthcare reform next week on Dec 29.

President-elect Obama is asking Americans to host health care
community discussions. The goal is to solicit impressions, thoughts, and suggestions from the public that will help inform the Obama Administration approach health care reform.

Sport Clube Portugues, with the support of Assemblyman Albert
Coutinho, will be hosting this discussion on December 29th at 6:30 pm.