Author Archive: Ron C. Rice

Brick City, Night 3: The challenge is, How does the village raise a child when it too needs help?

One of the emerging themes in Forest Whitaker’s 5-night documentary film on Newark, Brick City, is that some of Newark’s youngest can’t always count on what they need. Can’t count on a job, their own safety, their school to be ready, a future waiting for them to grow up into. Newark Councilman Ron Rice has been writing a chronicle of these episodes as they unspool every night, and the murders of 3 college students last night’s film deals with happened in the West Ward. His ward. Here’s Blue Jersey’s coverage of that awful day. In this episode, young people are in struggle. And in this diary, a Councilman supports his Mayor, but disagrees on a few key points. – – – promoted by Rosi

Tonight you see the stark real choices we have to make with a major budget crisis and competing demands to keep the level of services up, expand on policing resources (new police recruits, technology, overtime, etc.), new community initiatives, etc.  In 2008, we cut every departments’ budget by 15% across the board, except the Newark Police Department.

You see the father of two victims of the horrible tragedy that befell our three college students in 2007 at Mt. Vernon School at a support group for fathers of murdered children where Ali Muslim is also a member with King Sau.  Those murders still haunt me every day as they occurred in my ward in the back of the school playground that I routinely to this day jog by at 10 and 11 PM @ night.  Those murders of our babies violated what was best about our city in the most racially and culturally diverse area of the city.  It was also, in my opinion, what ignited the city to fight back collectively against the scourge of crime and drugs in our community.  Ali Muslim says it best when talking about the pain and desire to seek revenge against those that killed his child:

It is a struggle…but I am trying, trying to be a better man.

You also see a charge of police harassment and brutality.  You also see the Police Director’s staff not doing what was necessary to react or correct the alleged abuse of power.  Here is a major difference of opinion that I have with the Mayor and his Administration.  I believe that there are strong and very real inequities in how community policing is carried out in our city.  Police and community relations particularly with regards to the Black and Latino community has always been contentious.  The rebellions of ’67 were created as a direct result of a police brutality incident.  And inevitably, as New York City has shown us under Mayor Giuliani, when crackdowns start to fight crime and quality of life enforcements, charges and actual incidents of police brutality and harassment go up.  To be fair, this did not start with Mayor Booker and Police Director McCarthy, but I do think it is up to them, me and my colleagues to do more to fight it within the NPD and its external manifestations against average citizens.  I and many of my colleagues support the continued crackdown on crime, but we support safeguards such as a citizen complaint review board with an Independent Monitor (and subpeona power) as well an increase of our oversight of NPD disciplinary procedures and practices of police officiers via Faulkner Act revisions (statutory).  We are still working on the Mayor to support all three initiatives.  We think crackdowns without these safeguards will doom the chances of real community policing because the community must have faith that the NPD will be policed.

Jayda starts her new non profit and during that same time a friend of the original 9 starting members of 9 Strong Women is murdered in the streets. Again, this is a documentary, but this is literally an everyday reality for the entire city.  That’s a reality I think most in the suburbs do not get.  

And the new Central High School is completed in time for September 2008!!!! And for those that say new school construction has nothing to do with educational achievement, Central High School’s test scores went up last year, my Republican friends. And this year, the Mayor raised millions of dollars and built Nat Turner Park across the street in 2009 with a football field, 8 lane all-weather track, water play locations and fieldhouse.  And Governor Jon Corzine played a role in helping to finance all of those projects and in getting the high school open in time. Now, that is leadership (quick plug, but earned).

Lastly, my friend and school principal Ras Baraka, organized an all boys freshman overnight to mentor, around the same time as Jayda overnights with her girls. The most striking moment is when Todd Warren, my friend and Vice Principal for Discipline at Central, asks how many of the boys were being raised by women and 97% of them raised their hands.  The dearth of fathers in the home to teach these boys how to be men is a problem that must be met head on in exactly these ways. Street Doctor and Todd Warren said it differently, but with the same diagnosis: it does take a village to raise a child, but what does the village do when it is sick and dysfunctional itself?  Stay tuned…

The 4th episode of Brick City is on Sundance Channel 10 pm tonight, with a 1am replay.

Brick City, Second Night: It’s a Battle

Residents of Newark and people tuned to Sundance Channel all over the country watched the second episode of Forest Whitaker’s 5-night documentary about the seismic shifts going on in New Jersey’s largest city. West Ward Councilman Ron Rice, a member of the Blue Jersey community, was watching, too, and this column’s a running commentary of last night’s film, which includes the emotionally-charged romance between Jayda, community leader and member of the Bloods, and Creep, community leader and member of the Crips. Tonight 10pm is episode 3. – – – Promoted by Rosi

Tonight, a young man starts off the episode after asking Mayor Booker for a job during a late night “curfew drive” we electeds in Newark do periodically, by stating what the overwhelming majority of our good, energetic and hungry for success young people feel much too often: “I’m tired of this sh#@.”

The two questions we are asked the most in Newark is, can you get me a job, and can you find me a place to live, basics many of us take for granted. The myth is that jobs vanished from Newark in the late ’60s and early ’70s due to the Newark Rebellion and the racial overtones that rippled from that tragedy.  The truth is that Newark, like most Northeastern “Rust Belt” urban centers, began losing manufacturing jobs to automation and blue collar industries out West slowly since the ’40s and ’50s.   Before we can create jobs, the infrastructure and foundation for job creation and retention has to be created and you see some of that in this episode with our Port Newark Initiative, plans to update a city MasterPlan that has not been updated fully since 1978, and marketing our resources to industries because it is cheaper to build and buy in Newark than NYC or even Jersey City, Newark is the next frontier.

You met Ali Muslim, a man built like Job from the Bible.  After having served his sentence and changing his life (he worked his way up from being a laborer because former Mayor Sharpe James gave him a chance – a reason why the former Mayor is still so beloved in our town despite his conviction), he lost his son to violence in 2006 and in this episode another family member he also raised.  How does a man deal with his anger, pain, hurt, and loss after turning his life around?  Most of us could not forgive much less go on.  And he does so without leaving Newark, he stays, he endures and he fights.  He does not give up.  He is a brick. And brick by brick, Newark grows, rebounds, and we build upon each other.

You see Creep trying to hold his family together in his best Michael Keaton impression from the movie “Mr. MOM,” for you ’80s movie junkies like myself, but you also see Jayda’s step mom, Dave Kerr the indomitable leader of Integrity House – recent recipient of a highly publicized financial contribution from Oprah Winfrey – King Sau and Earl “Street Doctor” Best joining together to fight alongside her.  I think we do this more in Newark than any other place I know. Elected officials, community activists, churches, community based organizations, etc. all band together at different times to help each other . I think this is why we can fight so hard against each other, but still not hate each other and continue striving together.  It is also why everyone in Newark knows everyone from Newark and maybe why we are so xenophobic about “outsiders.”

You see the catch 22 of fighting against violent crime as the Police Director changes the culture of attacking it:  as we dramatically knock down shootings and murders, robberies, burglaries and crimes like prostitution go up, which you heard from a resident at a community meeting as she tells the Mayor, “You have let me down.” Welcome to an elected’s average day in Newark.

Personal plug, you see our new West Ward Abandoned Property Initiative in which we build new housing, rehabilitate bad housing stock, demolish eyesores and construct parks and gardens, expand community centers and create a community clinic within a school – all done by local developers with Newark workers (and it represents my lone cameo in the series).  In addition, Jon Bon Jovi building affordable housing with assistance from our Governor Jon Corzine.  

And all of this as we battle a structural deficit in our city budget built by years of rising costs and inaction by the last Administration to increase revenues and lower costs, in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Depression in America.  Stay tuned to Part 3.

Brick City’s First Night: Change Is Hard, But Worth the Fight

The author is the West Ward Councilman, City of Newark, and a member of the Blue Jersey community. More info on Forest Whitaker’s 5-part documentary series Brick City here. Part Two airs tonight on Sundance Channel at 10pm. Ron’s diary will bring you up to date on the people the film is following, including his mayor, Cory Booker.  — Promoted from the diaries by Rosi

We were introduced to some of the main characters and initiatives of the city of Newark of 2008.  Many of you may not know, but Newark led the nation in violent crime reduction for a major city, a point most news and media tended to gloss over in 2008.  In fact, we had the least amount of murders last year since the late 1960s.  But even as one murder or shooting is too much, we in government with the community, our police department and yes, average citizens started fighting back in ways that will mirror how we will win this battle in the long run.  We are winning battles, but it is a war and this first night of Brick City shows how we have high highs in Newark and stark realities that bring us back to earth to fight yet again.

You met our phenomenal Mayor that personifies a public servant, not a politician.  A man that lives his politics and embodies the need for changing mindsets and mentalities as much as the need to change the economic realities of our city.  As the mayor celebrates another new affordable housing development deal, he gets news of a 10 year old being shot.

You met our Police Director Garry McCarthy, a tough cop from the NYPD who has been given the mission of changing a culture within the Newark Police department and to beat crime back, period.  Easier said than done as you will see later in the series, but Director McCarthy is unrelenting and stays even keel, thank God for us in the city.  He is singly focused to drive crime down to historic lows.

You met Jayda and Creep, two young people in Newark not unlike a lot of our young people.  She is a member of the Blood gang and he is a Crip that met and fell in love and even they cannot explain how or why.  Though “gang related,” they are both coming out of that negativity and trying to fight for a new life, but old charges might stop Jayda from realizing her dreams for her children and her new non profit she wants to start to help girls that were just like her so that they do not have to go through what she has to be the woman she has become.

More is coming and it is compelling and will make you think and rethink how you understand urban cities and the challenges we have.  But what I hope you take away from the first night is how tough change is to make in our metropolis where over 30% of our population lives below the poverty line, but how committed so many of us are in making sure that happens and why we, the Mayor, our Police Director, Jayda and Creep, the Street Doctor Earl Best and, yes, even guys like me who work late into every evening at City Hall and in our community, because we know that change is hard, but the struggle to achieve it is in so many of us and it is worth it.  We are the embodiment of the American Dream that says loudly as Langston Hughes said over 60 years ago “America was never America to me, but this I swear, America will be.”  

Creating Real Jobs in Urban New Jersey: Development of a Residential Construction Policy

By Newark West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice

Work, work, work. Where are the jobs? What are local governments doing to create jobs? For those of us in elected office, we cannot count the amount of times we have these requests and questions, especially in this quagmire of an economy brought to us in a neatly packaged box by the Bush Administration’s policies over the last 8 years. But for elected officials representing urban areas in New Jersey, the refrain of this song does not change in bad or good economic times because when there is prosperity in America, our areas do not benefit quite as well as other more suburban areas and when times are bad in America, they are really bad in our cities and towns. While the median household income in 2007 for New Jersey was $67,035, Newark’s median household income was only $34,452. Likewise, Newark’s unemployment rate was 11.5% in 2007 while the state’s unemployment rate was 5.9%. While obstacles like poor education, lack of workplace readiness, lack of training, the lack of manufacturing jobs due to automation, re-entry after prison issues, and the scourge of crack cocaine are definitive factors in this ‘economic achievement gap,’ cities have an almost insurmountable challenge to increase the availability of quality jobs that pay a living wage.

Members and representatives of the Garden State Alliance for a New Economy (GANE) recently came before the Newark Municipal Council to demand jobs. I challenged them to give me and my colleagues specific ways that our local government (without state and federal assistance) could either create jobs or create conditions to create jobs for hard to employ residents for all of the foregoing reasons listed above. To my pleasant surprise, they answered the call with a one of the best White Papers I have ever seen from a grassroots organization. Their idea? Developing responsible standards for residential construction jobs in Newark. How? Based on the simple notion that Newark benefits from establishing well-defined policies that ensure that the city only provides contracts to companies that pay living wages and hire local residents and the best market to start this process would be in residential construction.

Most construction jobs require a skilled workforce and membership in unions, which far too often, are very hard for minorities in the inner city to access. Many construction apprenticeship programs fall short of meeting national standards and, therefore, insufficiently train residents to meet the needs of employers. They also require rigorous literacy and math standards and demand sophisticated life skills that many residents do not currently possess. Open enrollment for trainings are poorly advertised in Newark neighborhoods and take place in locations inaccessible via mass transportation. And when pre-apprenticeship programs are accessed, the ability to work for long durations is lacking. These are the jobs that will be created by the stimulus dollars of the Obama Administration and many will never be filled by unskilled urban workers that need them the most. Residential construction, by comparison, requires only technical training without traditional union involvement or ‘turf claiming.’ These jobs can offer Newarkers valuable skills, advance their careers and help support their families financially. By providing adequate and appropriate training to local residents and ensuring that public contractors adhere to a set of responsible employment standards, the local government can open the door to employment opportunities to hard to employ residents. Those standards will be part of legislation I will sponsor in the month of June that will establish a Newark Residential Construction policy

A proposed Newark Residential Construction policy will cover all residential construction on projects receiving financial assistance from the city and each contractor hired to work projects receiving financial assistance from the city (tax abatements, HOME funds, etc.) must meet the following requirements:

  • Pay a living wage of at least $15 to $17 per hour to all employees;

  • Provide health insurance to all employees not covered by third parties such as unions;

  • Ensure that 20% of work hours are worked by individuals who have graduated from city approved training programs in the past two years; and

  • Certify that contractors are not subject to any contractual or regulatory barriers that would prevent them from meeting the 30% work hours requirement

    By setting this policy in legislation rather than including explicit local hire provisions, which would be vulnerable to litigation, the training program recruitment standards will ensure that local residents benefit from this policy. Several other cities have adopted similar initiatives such as the ‘prequalification policy’ of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the ‘best value contracting policy’ of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the Park East Redevelopment Compact (PERC) in Milwaukee.

    These recommendations that my colleagues and I plan to make law are not only progressive ideas, but they come from grassroots, blue collar workers that best know what will make their economic reality better and their futures brighter in a 21st century Newark. Gandhi said it best, we must all be the change we want to see in the world. GANE illustrates this truth and other local urban governments in New Jersey need to start listening. We certainly are in the state’s largest city. Who’s next?

  • Announcing my Kickoff for a 2nd Term

    Hello fellow progressives! I’ve been meaning to post more regular here and will do so now on a monthly basis. Blue Jersey has played a vital role in advancing progressive policies in the Garden State and I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many who have done a fantastic job, including Rosi and Jeff. I’m also excited about returning to BlueJersey radio tomorrow night!

    Announcing my Kickoff for a 2nd Term

    Hello fellow progressives! I’ve been meaning to post more regular here and will do so now on a monthly basis. Blue Jersey has played a vital role in advancing progressive policies in the Garden State and I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many who have done a fantastic job, including Rosi and Jeff. I’m also excited about returning to Blue Jersey Radio tomorrow night!

    Obama’s Election Day in Newark: “Get out of the way and embrace the new”

    All week long, the Blue Jersey staff has been examining the races of the ’08 cycle, from the frustrating Stender defeat, to the map-changing Adler triumph, sudden surges of hope in NJ5, and races all over NJ that shed light on the state of the state. Most of New Jersey’s institutional and money forces went for Clinton in the primary, but the momentum for Barack Obama grew strong right past that. Councilman Rice represents Newark’s West Ward, and was both an Obama delegate and a coordinator for Essex County and Newark for the campaign. – Rosi

    It was 5:00 AM on Tuesday, November 4th morning.  I’d been up all night going over every little detail for the day’s GOTV operations – from attorney deployment, to phone banking operations, suburban and urban election day ops, and everything else. I went home, took a quick shower and put on my fav Obama T-shirt thinking that I would just vote quickly at 6:00 AM, and then get to work making sure that Essex County led the state in getting the most votes for our next President.  What I saw caused this veteran of over 25 local, county, state and national campaigns’ jaw to drop in amazement:  my polling location had a line with over 70 people ready to vote at 5:45 AM.

    That line had voters of all ages, many with their children, 35% voting for the first time by my own on line (no pun intended) poll.  As the councilman of the ward in addition to my campaign position within the campaign, I just had to ask folks on that line why they were there. One man with his son said he was there to be a part of history, and to include his son in this momentous occasion.  Another woman wept as she came out of the voting booth.  A machine went down in the church where I vote and although it would take three hours to replace it with one from the Belleville warehouse, most people stayed because voting with an emergency ballot just “was not the same” as pushing “that (one) button”.

    And this was not just in African-American districts in Newark, or East Orange, or Irvington.  My suburban coordinators, instructed to vote as early as possible by yours truly, ALL called to say they were running late as Montclair witnessed long lines as did West Orange.  There were lines in the predominately Latino districts as well – you know, the demographic that Obama was supposed to have trouble attracting to his candidacy? One could sense something bigger than an election was happening right before our eyes.

    The Obama campaign in New Jersey, since its inception, brought the concept of movement politics to a state more accustomed to traditional party/machine campaigns.  There was an active Draft Obama effort in NJ in late 2006 that became the grassroots Obama effort in the state (a few members of which that actually found organizing jobs in the Obama campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, hey Damian Bednarz).