Lafayette Street School kids have their playground back

Newark students regain recess after teachers’ cars kicked off playground

Teachers who used the playground at Newark’s Lafayette Street School like it was their own private parking lot will have to park somewhere else now.

After a year and a half of meetings, letters and petitions, parents of the students finally got their way. East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador spearheaded the passage of an ordinance making it official: The school parking lot is now a place for students to play without having to dodge between obstacle courses of parked cars.

Wonderful news for students and parents alike in the Ironbound.

Whole Foods Coming to Newark

Whole Foods coming to Newark, signs lease for store in Hahne’s building

This always seemed a bit like a pipe dream of Mayor Booker’s.  Absolutely stunning to see it become a reality on the eve of his departure from office.

Whole Foods has signed a lease for a 29,000-square-foot outlet in the former Hahne & Co. department store building in Newark. Mayor Cory Booker has been campaigning to bring the healthy food store to the city since 2007.

The store will anchor the Hahne’s conversion into a multi-use building, featuring 127 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments on the upper floors. The main level will be 83,000 square feet of retail and office space.

Casino brings misery to Queens

In Queens, a Casino Bet Gone Bad

Noting for future reference.

Something unfortunate had happened in the neighborhood, and now there seemed to be no turning back, people said: the opening nearly two years ago of Resorts World Casino on Rockaway Boulevard, adjacent to the Aqueduct Racetrack.

As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushes for the authorization of three Las Vegas-style casinos in upstate New York, and as the possibility of additional casinos in the city looms in the years ahead, there are certainly lessons to be absorbed from what Resorts World has wrought.

Match made in IKEA: Newark couple marries in furniture store

Newark couple marry in the same IKEA department they met eight years ago

Very sweet.

For nearly an hour, mom and daughter skulked through the departments the man was in, trying to figure out if he was single. Unafraid, Jashirele introduced herself and asked for his number.

“I panicked,” said Shirley Stewart, who works at AAA.

On Saturday morning, Shirley Stewart, and Berkeley “Rashid” Smith, who now live together in Newark, returned to that fateful spot in the IKEA’s frame department. He wore a tux; she wore a white wedding dress.

Potential Booker exit previews bare-knuckle 2014 mayoral race

Questions, suspicion dominate debate over Booker’s replacement in Newark

If this is a preview of the 2014 Mayoral race, then bare-knuckle politics appears to be alive and well in Newark.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate in a special election this year has raised questions and opened old wounds in the city he will leave behind if he wins.

The Newark City Council, already fractured from a brutal political fight in November over a council vacancy, now has to choose a president amid a seeming stalemate among the eight sitting council members.

That newly named council president could become interim mayor.

WNYC: Booker’s Senate Bid Sees Support in the Suburbs, Skepticism in Newark

Booker’s Senate Bid Sees Support in the Suburbs, Skepticism in Newark

It would have been interesting to hear more from Newarkers about their skepticism in this brief piece from WNYC, but the headline is, I think, a fair assessment.

But the upcoming election was on the minds of his diehard fans in the progressive enclave of Maplewood. Before and after he took the stage, Booker was surrounded by crowds asking for photos and autographs and offering to volunteer and host fundraisers.

Ellen DeCaro got teary-eyed as she shook Booker’s hand and introduced her wife and son. She lives in Hampton Township and is thrilled to be able to vote for him for the first time.

In Newark on Sunday, Booker’s bid for Senate was met with some skepticism from residents like Joyce Henderson, who is unmoved by the starpower the Democratic mayor has gained from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey.

#PortugalDayNwk draws thousands to the Ironbound

Portugal Day in Newark draws a big crowd

Good times. (But here’s hoping the organizers can also organize a cleanup, too.)

Ferry Street was once again adorned in red, green, and yellow with blaring traditional music as people crowded the streets lined with roughly 50 vendors selling everything from barbecued foods to soccer jerseys to celebrate the annual Portugal Day festival in the Ironbound.

Booker officially announces his senate campaign

Booker announces U.S. Senate run, creating blockbuster primary race

And so, it begins.

It’s not what Cory Booker was expecting. It’s not the marathon campaign that would have given the Newark mayor a year and then some to criss-cross New Jersey, meeting voters in every nook and cranny, using his trademark charisma to win them over.

It’s the complete opposite: A two-month sprint to a special Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, one with an increasingly crowded field of big names who could split the vote and stop — or slow — his rise to national power.

With that as a backdrop, and the death of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg as its grim cause, Booker ended months of speculation this morning and officially announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate.

Christie announces special election for Senate seat, mad scramble ensues

Christie outlines special election for Lautenberg’s U.S. Senate seat

This was one of three options available to Christie: an early special election, a special ballot on Election Day in November when the gubernatorial race will take place, or a special appointment.

The announcement is expected to catalyze the Democratic race for the seat, in which Mayor Booker is widely expected to announce his candidacy.

Gov. Chris Christie today called for a special election in October to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg, setting in motion an all-out sprint for the office but immediately drawing criticism from Democrats.

Christie said the Democratic and Republican primaries will be held on Aug. 13, and the general election on Oct. 16. The winner of the general election will serve out the remainder of Lautenberg’s term, and the next election will be held, on schedule, in November 2014.

In response to the news, West Ward Councilman Ron C. Rice tweeted:

By placing Special Election ahead of November, our Gov not only serves his personal ambition but also sets off political intrique in Newark

Boy, did I ever choose an interesting time to start blogging again.

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.”

Panasonic Hearts Newark

How Panasonic learned to love Newark

Not the most ambitious aesthetic design, but Panasonic’s new downtown building boasts LEED environmental certification and shifting employee commutes from cars to public transit. A welcome presence.

There was also criticism that the state was paying too much to keep Panasonic from leaving, which Taylor says isn’t true when you consider the benefits. “Even after the $102.4 million tax break, the state would net a total of $223 million,” he says.

“Just moving 1000 people into the city overnight could create delicatessens, dry cleaners and a whole infrastructure that would convince other companies to take a chance on this place as well.”

(At the very least, I bet Don Pepe’s is happy.)

Mayoral race kicks off with a slam

Baraka slams Booker over lack of cops, recent violence in Newark’s South Ward

And so begins election season…

South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka accused Newark Mayor Cory Booker of failing to deliver on a promise to bring 50 new cops to the city and openly criticized a police administration plan to hire 100 civilians to help combat summer crime.

Standing outside Weequahic High School, where a 17-year-old was shot and killed last month as he walked home from school, Baraka criticized Booker for saying he would hire 50 cops this year during his State of the City address. The city has yet to announce a 2013 academy class, a move that Baraka said left his ward undermanned as it suffered 12 homicides in the first five months of the year.

How to eat healthier and support local farmers for Newarkers

Power in Numbers: Newarkers Choose to Expand Community Health & Wealth through Group Food Purchasing

Inspired by a series of tweets started by your humble author, Newark’s Office of Sustainability has compiled a list of resources for Newarkers interested in finding fresh food that supports local agriculture. Take a look!

In Newark there are traditional buying clubs where members can purchase pre-selected “menus” or food packages from food distributors. There are also groups of individuals who form a membership to purchase directly from a farmer or a group of farmers who deliver to a host location.

And there is a combination of both: groups that form to buy food from both farmers and distributors. Most of these groups rely on the initiative of a volunteer or volunteers who work directly with farmers and/or distributors to increase their food options in the city.

Contact these groups to join their efforts or get inspired yourself to develop a relationship with our food system and volunteer to host or start a group. If you know of more examples, please share them with us!

New Yorker Profiles World’s Best Pickpocket

The Spectacular Thefts of Apollo Robbins, Pickpocket

Amazing and wonderful story in the New Yorker of a Las Vegas pickpocket act who develops his craft so well that he now advises the Department of Defense on “counterdeception” and coauthors papers in neuroscience journals. Success stories like this just warm my heart.

I love how clinical, even philosophical, he is about how his act works:

I said, “So if you were going to take the wallet that’s when you would have done it, on the turn?” Robbins brought his hand forward to show me that he was holding my wallet between his fingers. Even though he had explained each step along the way, I hadn’t felt a thing.

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. “It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention,” he said. “Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”

Hat tip to journalist John Dickerson, who mentioned the piece on the Slate Political Gabfest.