The City of Plainfield has been in the news quite a bit during the past few months and the news reports have not been good. In fact, the image of Plainfield has taken a direct hit as a result of things that have happened in our school district as well as from the escalation in the acts of violence. These situations have created a very negative perception of our City in the minds of residents and outsiders alike, at a time when we can least afford it. The City is experiencing an unemployment rate of over 15%, a tax burden that is too much for homeowners to bear in an extremely harsh economy, and an inability to attract potential investors.
Hence, it is against this backdrop that I pose the following questions: What was the goal of Sunday’s Town Hall meeting that was broadcast live to the New Jersey tri-state area? How has the broadcast affected the City’s image and reputation? How will it affect its ability to attract potential home buyers and commercial real estate developers? What was the cost of this event to Plainfield taxpayers?
Many of the people who spoke did a fine job of stating the problems that are plaguing our community, reciting the statistics that highlight the disparate treatment minority communities experience under a criminal justice system that is flawed in many ways. Others offered up solutions that, for the most part, involved mentorship through fraternities, sororities, and faith-based institutions. The benefits of gunshot recognition technology were touted, with its ability to pinpoint gun activity within a couple feet of the actual activity. The Reverend Al Sharpton challenged men to start being daddies to their children and asked them to stop dropping babies as if they were having a “bowel movement.” The discussion, at times, took on some racial overtones that are not needed in any community and certainly not in Plainfield, a City that boasts of its diversity.
If the purpose of the town hall meeting was to create partnerships with community organizations and law enforcement to fight crime in our City, why was Union County’s chief law enforcement officer, Prosecutor Ted Romankow, not invited or not present? Why was Plainfield’s Police/Public Safety Director, Martin Hellwig, not allowed to participate and deliver an informed plan of action to allay the fears of residents and potential investors? The absence of law enforcement leadership was glaring to many of us in the audience.
The impact of the Town Hall meeting, aired live on WBLS and its sister station WLIB was like a shot fired into the City, one that was heard across the tri-state area—well within ear shot of potential investors who might have been given cause to pause. This in itself was an act of violence committed against our City by our Mayor. The negative profiling of Plainfield by any elected official is worthy of condemnation. Those members of Plainfield’s realtor community who expressed concerns about the Mayor casting the City in such a negative light did so with justification. Although the harm done to the City from Sunday’s broadcast cannot be measured, it is reasonable to conclude that irreparable damage was done.
I have long been of the view that the City needs to dedicate resources to an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at promoting its housing stock, its business community and business opportunities, and highlighting its educated work force and its diversity. The Town Hall meeting was an opportunity to begin a public relations campaign with a focus on changing negative perceptions and recasting the City’s image. Sunday’s Town Hall meeting was a missed opportunity; it was a costly mayoral blunder.
In Part 2 of my thoughts from the Town Hall meeting, I will explore why I feel the Council was “dissed.”