Sobering Day for Democracy in Newark

Citizens rush council members as chaos erupts at Newark City Hall meeting

But when Speight was escorted by police to be sworn in, a group of residents, led by SEIU Local 617 President Rahaman Muhammad, stormed the dais and appeared to lunge toward Speight and her grade-school-age son.

Police restrained the group as they toppled a podium and residents were caught in the rush. When Muhammad would not give way, an officer doused him with pepper spray, along with residents, reporters and at least one other officer.

“This truly was an out-of-body experience,” said Sharif. “The mayor, who goes all around the country to talk about democracy … literally in the back of the room, hiding in the shadows.”

The Dark Knight spends $2 million filming in Newark

Chicago Tribune: Chicago stand-ins steal revenue but not thunder in new ‘Dark Knight Rises’

“The Dark Knight Rises” has already been a blessing for Pittsburgh and Newark, N.J., two non-traditional film locations that replaced Chicago as Gotham City in the third Christopher Nolan-directed Batman film.

“There was so much attention and media for Newark,” said Gorelick. “We estimated they dropped $2 million during their time here. They created a lot of sets in City Hall and were here weeks before and a number of days after. … We were thrilled. Newark is enjoying this renaissance. Any attention and positive publicity is a good thing. We got a lot of good PR out of it.”

Expecting City Hall to shine on film.

The new Newark CityPlex theater is featuring a marathon of the Dark Knight trilogy tomorrow night for $20/ticket.

Booker’s lack of face time in the city has residents grumbling

David Giambusso: The absentee mayor? Cory Booker’s endless travel schedule pulls him away from Newark

Arguably the most prolific tweeter in American politics, Booker has mastered the art of having a presence without being present. And while his detractors take issue with Oprah Winfrey’s characterization of Booker as a “rock star mayor,” based on his touring schedule she might be right.

Great in-depth piece on the psychological impact to Booker’s national agenda in Newark. Less face time in the community means less trust, and it brings to mind early criticisms of the Mayor’s being an “outsider.”

Booker likely to run for third mayoral term

Cory Booker again indicates interest in running for third term as mayor of Newark

“I don’t want to do anything with my life that is not about healing the challenges that America hasn’t fully faced up to yet,” Booker told the group of local business representatives gathered at the Newark Museum. “The best perch to do that on is the mayor of a big city.

I seem to remember Booker criticizing former Mayor Sharpe James for his lengthy tenure in City Hall, but couldn’t find a quote. Newark does not have term limits for the office of mayor.

Joan Whitlow: Newark's pay-to-play ban: Gaps linger in enforcement of campaign contribution rules

Joan Whitlow: Newark’s pay-to-play ban: Gaps linger in enforcement of campaign contribution rules

Didn’t a 2007 executive order by Mayor Cory Booker prohibit city contractors and vendors from donating to municipal campaigns?

The order, which also prohibits City of Newark employees from donating, was heralded as an ethical upper cut to pay-to-play, the unfortunate tradition of giving money to politicians to advance a municipal career or gain lucrative public business.

Joanie examines the implementation of the city’s “Pay to Play” ethics reforms and finds the controls to be lacking.

Grand-Family Center Opens in Newark

By way of City Hall: in partnership Newark opens NJ’s first grand-family resource center. Over 10,000 families in Essex County, 4,000 of which are in Newark, have grandparents raising grandchildren. These centers provide a single source for services like Social Security, disability, and legal consultation.

Full press release after the jump.
Continue reading Grand-Family Center Opens in Newark

Newark Attorney Arrested for Blackmail

Another city employee has been arrested as a result of the work o the Inspector General’s office.  The attorney worked for city General Counsel Julien X. Neals, and demanded cash and a promotion in exchange for staying quiet about an unspecified offense.  The employee was hired previous to the Booker administration.  Newark city attorney is arrested for alleged blackmail of boss.

A city municipal attorney was arrested at City Hall this afternoon after trying to blackmail his boss for $750,000 in cash and a promotion, authorities said.

Neil Braunstein, 40, of Fanwood in Union County, threatened last week to accuse Julien X. Neals, the city corporation counsel director, of an unspecified offense unless Neals gave him the money and a better job, Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, said today.

Braunstein threatened Neals on May 19 and returned the following day naming the exact amount of cash he wanted, Loriquet said. An assistant corporate counsel, Braunstein was seeking advancement within the city’s law department, he added.

Why he allegedly chose that particular figure is unknown. Other details, including what charges Braunstein allegedly threatened to bring against Neals, were not available last night.

After he was approached, Neals contacted the city inspector general’s office, which launched a joint investigation with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Corruption Unit, Loriquet said. Detectives from both agencies arrested Braunstein around 3:30 p.m. in his office.

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.


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 to Offer Free Lifeguard Training

City Hall: Newark Offers Lifeguard Training to City Residents

Sounds like a great opportunity for kids who are looking for a summer job. While employment isn’t guaranteed, this class could certainly help kids who might like to work at a recreation center, public pool, or camp.

Mayor Cory A. Booker and Director of Neighborhood and Recreational Services Melvin Waldrop announced today that the City of Newark is offering a two-week Lifeguard Training class, beginning on February 23, 2009, continuing through March 7, 2009, at the John F. Kennedy Aquatic Center, for Newark residents.

While the class itself is free, students must pay $50 for the manual, American Red Cross lifeguard certification card, and CPR Face Shield. The $50 is due on the first day of class. The classes will take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two weeks. The minimum age to take the class is 16.

City Hall Launches 'Girlfriends' Mentoring Program

This in from City Hall about a new effort by the  Division of Recreation and Cultural Affairs  to mentor young girls and encourage healthy, positive outlooks and lifestyles.



Biweekly afternoon sessions will mentor girls with sessions on positive imaging and lifestyle choices

Newark, NJ – February 3, 2009 – Mayor Cory A. Booker and Director of Neighborhood and Recreational Services Melvin Waldrop announced today that the City of Newark is offering a mentoring program called “Girlfriends,” aimed at girls aged 10-17, to help them become strong, smart, positive, and successful women. The program is free and will commence on Wednesday, February 4, 2009, at St. Peter’s Recreation Center at 378 Lyons Avenue, at 4 p.m., and continue on the first and third Wednesdays of every month thereafter.

The “Girlfriends” program will mentor female Newark youth, with sessions to help them identify and avoid risky behavior, making wise life choices, coping with stress, anger management, and how to cope with physical, mental, intellectual, and emotional challenges. The class is open to 25 girls, and is free.

“Newark’s youth face enormous challenges in their daily lives which is why it’s even more important to provide them with the guidance and inspiration they need to enable them to live productive and successful lives,” Mayor Booker said, “Ultimately we want to empower the young women of our city who participate in this program, with the knowledge they need, so they can manifest their own excellence as Newark residents and American citizens.”

Instructors in the program are all positive role models from within the Division of Recreation/Cultural Affairs. Volunteers are also being sought to conduct sessions and must be at least 18 years old, sincere about assisting Newark females to succeed, and knowledgeable about fields like etiquette, hygiene, personal finance, higher education, and nutrition.

The program is being run as a pilot at the St. Peter’s Center, and will expand to other recreation centers by year’s end, and become a year-round offering.

The class is sponsored by the Department of Neighborhood and Recreational Services’ Division of Recreation/Cultural Affairs.

“Participants in this class will know their value and potential as a result of this class, and be prepared to lead successful, independent, and fulfilling lives,” Director Waldrop said. “Our mentors will help them learn about decision-making and the consequences of good and bad decisions. I urge all Newark families with girls aged 10-17 to take advantage of this course.

Felicia Jones, the Recreation Aide who created and is overseeing the program, said, “We hope that the girls enjoy the program so much that after graduation from high school they return as mentors themselves.”

For more information on the class, contact the Division of Recreation and Cultural Affairs at (973) 733-6454 or (973) 733-8006.

It's Easier Being Green (in Newark)

Katie Wang at the Ledger describes the green initiatives going on in Newark, from the efforts of a private business going solar to City Hall initiatives to give away energy-efficient lightbulbs: Newark business sees the future, and it’s solar

On Saturday, Newark residents can pick up free energy-efficient bulbs at the JFK Recreation Center. A nonprofit group called Project Porchlight will be handing out the bulbs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The group has been handing out free light bulbs to neighborhoods across the country. Experts say the light bulbs consume 75 percent of the energy that regular bulbs use.

In Newark, officials are hoping to install these light bulbs in all homes.

In addition to the light bulbs, PSE&G is launching a four-year, $46 million initiative to help residents and businesses save money by sealing their homes. The program offers free home audits and free programmable thermostats. The company is also targeting hospitals by offering incentives for combined heat and power projects for new construction.

Newark opens line for citizen complaints

“Newark opens line for citizen complaints”:

The city of Newark steps into the 20th century by implementing CRM (that’s _citizen_ relationship management) software and a streamlined, centralized call center. The new call center will field questions from residents for everything from garbage collection to pothole repair — questions that often fall to the city’s overburdened 911 service.

The city of Newark unveiled a new phone hotline yesterday that is supposed to serve as a catch-all for complaints about graffiti, potholes, traffic signal problems and other city services.

The phone number — (973) 733-4311 — is modeled after similar non-emergency call lines that have been wildly popular in New York City and Baltimore. Newark officials hope this phone number and tracking system will give department directors a clear snapshot of strengths and weaknesses in city services.

“Today marks the day where we finally tell Newark citizens we care about what you say,” said James Bennett, the call center manager. “When you call, we will listen.”

More exciting, though, was this information I received from the company whose system the city implemented, “QScend Technologies”:

“Further, municipalities can offer a full-blown knowledge base and citizen self-help center through their websites, allowing citizens to access key information 24/7, not just when the call center is open,” said LeBeau. “If they don’t find the answer to their question using the knowledge base, they can then submit a form regarding their service request and that request is routed right to the responsible department.”

This would certainly be taking the program to the _21st_ century. Imagine submitting a complaint online about a pothole on McCarter Highway and not just getting that issue resolved, but getting an email or text message (or “twitter?”: to close the loop when the pothole is fixed!

Now THAT would be taking the concept to the next level, and sources say that web-based issue tracking is not only technically possible, but part of the next phase of this rollout.

Putting Newark ahead of the curve on services for residents — that’s the kind of thing that will continue to fuel investment in Newark.