July 01, 2005

P'fielder: 'Our Fight Was the Good One'

One of the grassroot-ers in Plainfield pointed out in an e-mail to the Watchers that my pan of ex-mayor McWilliams didn't do justice to all those who've fought the county machine's grip in that city. My apologies. And since she would know more about her town than I, here is her own take on Plainfield politics:

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I'm a longtime Plainfield resident who was active in the "New Democrats" beginning in 2003 and I was on the slate in the primary in Mayor McWilliams' re-election campaign. I became more heavily involved in the campaign after the April 6 county committee coup. I know most of the players, though I have never been part of the inner circle.

As much as I enjoyed Sergio's spunky opinion, for those of us with a deeper understanding about what happened here, I want more than his post-election skim that doesn't do justice to Plainfield. In light of the research dapparent in other postings, there is precious little substance for serious people to dig into in order understand everything the primary means -- for Plainfield -- and within Union County.

It's pretty shocking to see years of hard work by dozens of grassroots people written off as simply a "pissing match." The blow we were dealt on June 7 was much more than a mayoral swap. I'm not saying Al was great, but we have suffered under the machine more than most Union County municipalities.

As a mayoral candidate, Sharon Robinson-Briggs (SRB) is far less than an "un-stellar contender." She has a short and poor track record. She has only lived in Plainfield two years and her car is still registered outside the city -- and the county -- in Piscataway. As school board president (a position she lost after the April election) her so-called leadership was marked by fractious meetings that would often go on until the wee hours without solving any problems. She did have one achievement -- giving a contract to Weiner Lesniak to represent the school board.

Sergio's conclusion, "As bad as the machine may be, the alternative isn't always better," only parrots the Courier-News' wafer-thin editorial of a few months ago. That's pretty much how they tossed off as unimportant the unprecedented county committee action stripping duly elected, seated Democrats of our right to "Column A." Many Plainfield residents devoted years of effort to take back our city by successfully unseating, one-by-one, the machine candidates on the city council until we got a majority--just last year. Now even these wins are in jeopardy when the next election cycle comes around.

Want to sink your teeth into the money angle? For starters, George Norcross sent a small pile of cash. The war chest the county amassed paid for a scorched earth, Swift Boat-type of smear campaign that milked class, race and ethnic prejudices for all the venom you can imagine. Neither the mayor's wife, nor the grandchildren of Councilwoman Hollis were immune from whisper campaigns. Postal carriers groaned under the weight of the nearly daily deliveries of vicious full-color attack mailings courtesy of Pat Politano. Phones rang incessantly from practically everyone except Walt Disney barraging voters with automated recordings lauding the county's Column A ticket.

And what's happened since June 7? Well, just last Thursday the machine steamed into Plainfield's Planning Board and shut down all the forward movement in our downtown by a swift motion to table any discussion of development. Digression: Part of McWilliams' fault was being too nice and allowing old machine appointees to remain on various boards. Over the years many of these board members would rarely show up for a meeting, but that was then.

Want to take bets on when development discussions will be reopened? Since there is no real opponent in the general election, my guess is we'll hear about it again on November 9. The way this is rigged I can imagine there will be wet ink on oodles of new contracts before the SRB finishes her oath of office on January 1; so help us, God. 

And then there is tonight -- city council -- the topic is liquor licenses. With Jerry Green and the machine flexing their atrophied muscle the meeting ought to be a barrel of fun.

So thanks for letting me vent. Phew.

Barbara Todd Kerr