Tag Archive: Paterson

Alarms Are Obscured By Fog as Newark’s Leaders Warn of an Impending Disaster

When you live and/or work in the city of Newark, the presence of history, demographics and economics is all around you. You cannot ignore it. Just stepping a block away from the city’s Art Deco edifice, Penn Station, and you’re thrust into the elegant Ironbound Neighborhood with its Portuguese signs, Brazilian banks and Spanish food. Head in another direction and you’re viewing the massive, modern Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils. The colossal showpiece sits atop what was once the nexus of the city’s long-vanished Chinatown. Head out a different door and you’re a block away from the city’s formerly bustling central dock, where sailors once boarded ships headed for Pacific whaling grounds and distant Asian ports.

But last month, another reminder of Newark’s history emerged, and it was from an unlikely source. First, the reminder was that of the city’s devastating 1967 riots. “The Riots,” as the event is still called, obliterated whole parts of the city, particularly the once business lined, bustling Springfield Avenue corridor. Between 1964 and 1967 the city had experienced a rapid decline as crime, police brutality and de facto racial segregation reached seismic levels.

The source of the reminder was none other than State Senator Ronald Rice, Jr. and State Assemblyman Ralph Caputo. Rice witnessed the riots personally and he knows the city’s history and its present condition. I’m sure Rice was not happy to bring up these disturbing memories, because they scarred the city for decades. But apparently conditions on the ground in New Jersey’s largest city have so deteriorated that he felt, in a press conference late last month, to warn the people of New Jersey that Newark again sits on disaster’s door.

Basically, Rice and Caputo are warning us that we’re on the verge of it again; Newark and perhaps all of New Jersey’s troubled, forgotten cities (like Paterson, Camden and Trenton) are staring at the abyss. Rising unemployment, poverty, a near total absence of law enforcement due to massive layoffs, amongst other factors are ripening the Brick City into a fruit that, when harvested, could be a costly one:

“We are somewhat numb to those situations that occur within certain boundaries of our county and state,” Caputo said. “We have kids in the city of Newark riding on bicycles with guns on their hips.”

These elected state officials and their supporters are urging a comprehensive study of the city and its problems before it is too late. I work and teach in Newark every day, and judging from what I’ve seen and the testimony my students and fellow educators have provided, the situation is dire.

Out of the dozens of people I informally interviewed over the past two weeks, regardless of race, economic status or where they live in the city, they all agree. “Newark is absolutely a forgotten city. There is little or no interaction between it, its people and the larger surrounding population of the state,” one teacher told me. “The city’s basic fabric and order are completely disintegrating before our eyes,” another stated. “People are being tackled and attacked midday in crowded, downtown areas.”

Most alarming are the reports of my students. Friends and siblings are robbed; some are shot. Students claim this is all terrifying, but what is more terrifying is the complete lack of police presence and response. “Bad guys in the neighborhood know that not only are the police not around, but they’re probably not going to show up even if we call them.”

One student had a particularly terrifying story to tell. “Did you ever get scared as a kid at night?” she recently asked me. “Sure…I’ve got two cats that run all over the house at night and even that freaks me out from time to time. At least three nights a week I awake to the sounds of pans falling and feet thumping. But they’re just being nocturnal.” The student chuckled, and then retorted, “a few nights a week we wake up too, but this is to the sound of our locked front door knob jiggling or people pulling on the window panes, trying to pry them open. Sometimes we call the police but they never show up.”

The mental strength that some of my students demonstrate in dealing with such conditions never ceases to amaze me. But even in the midst of such strength, my students constantly remind me that they are being pushed to their very human limits. “I walk around this city and I feel that the walls are closing in on me, and my Dad feels it too, and he’s over six feet tall,” another student recently said.

City services are deteriorating, and this, along with the crime and poverty, are literally eating away at everyone’s nerves. Recent snowstorms have buried much of the state, but only in Newark are major downtown sidewalks still covered in inches of dirty snow and ice. People jostle around everywhere, mothers holding their children routinely and repeatedly slip and fall. “It’s like a never-ending assault on your nerves, your senses, your knees, your ass,” one of my peers stated the other day. “And the scariest part of it all is that if you did fall and really, really hurt yourself, and you couldn’t move, the prospect of having to lay there for a long period of time in the cold before anyone noticed or even cared is a very real one.”

Several of Newark’s schools – large and small – are scheduled to close in June to be replaced by Charters. The prospect of the end of neighborhood schools and the idea that they might have to travel miles around the city using public transportation in the cold and the dark weighs upon many kids. Meanwhile, at these large public schools teachers and administrators all face losing their jobs. At all of Newark’s public schools teachers are now presented with a torrent of paperwork that administrators use to present to their superiors to justify their own existence, to save their own jobs. The effect has been devastating. At some schools teachers have simply halted instruction and personal interaction with students altogether. Students, especially in the high schools and middle schools, spend hours working on elaborate group projects while their most important mentors whittle away in front of computers, emailing administrators, working to revise revisions on plans that will probably never take place. Some of the best, previously honored teachers now walk in to mailboxes filled with vicious write-ups, threats and demands for plans-on-plans. This is especially tragic because so many of the city’s students hail from single parent, grandparent or foster parent-led homes and are in desperate need for positive adult role models and progressive interaction. So whom do they wind up looking to? Immature peers, neighborhood bullies, local drug dealers, troubled siblings…

It’s all wrapping up into a perfect storm, slowly and inexorably. The state has invested billions of dollars in downtown, with its shiny, modern Performing Arts Center and expanding Rutgers campus. But all of the buildings in the world will not be able to stand in the way of this beleaguered population that lives in one of the worst food deserts in America when it explodes. There will not be enough police or national guardsmen to stop the damage if another round of riots ensue.

But don’t take my word for it. I live in Princeton, a beautiful, comfortable, stately academic town. Listen to Newark’s leaders, like Senator Rice and Assemblyman Caputo. Study the problem; act on it. Now.    


For More On The Lawmakers’ Recent January Press Conference:


To Contact Rice and/or Caputo:

Senator Ronald L. Rice (Dem)

1044 South Orange Avenue     Newark, NJ 07106-1723

Phone: 973-371-5665     Fax: 973-733-3725

Service Since: 1986

Email: SenRice@njleg.org     Official Website

Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo (Dem)

148-152 Franklin Street    Belleville, NJ 07109-4051

Phone: 973-450-0484     Fax: 973-450-0487

Service Since: 2008; 1968-1972

Email: AsmCaputo@njleg.org     Official Website

We Should Save More of These Treasures


When I saw Rosi’s Quick Hit on the surviving photos from Newark’s Paramount Theater (whose marquee I have driven past countless times, wondering what’s inside), I was taken aback by how stunning the photos were, and how glorious that theater must have been in its prime.

It got me thinking back to my childhood in Central Jersey, when our movie theater of choice was The Brook in nearby Bound Brook (now the Brook Arts Center), and about so many old theaters scattered about New Jersey whose fates have varied widely.

On the one hand, we have incredibly restored vaudeville houses like The Levoy Theater in Millville, which acts as an economic and cultural engine – a treasure for that river town and surrounding area. And New Brunswick’s State Theater, right in the middle of the Hub City, and very much at the center of its rebirth. Or The John Harms Center aka Bergen Performing Arts Center, which now attracts some of the world’s finest performing artists into downtown Englewood.

On the other hand, we have spectacular losses, like the Paramount, and Proctor’s Theater also in Newark, and what once was The Fabian Theater in Paterson, which appears to be past saving. There’s no doubt a faded beauty near you.

Seems a shame there aren’t more stories like Boonton’s Darress Theater. Its stage abandoned and the building serving only as a camera shop as recently as 15 years ago, the Darress website now proudly proclaims it: “iis one of the few surviving vaudeville stages in the country. Built in 1919, the theatre retains much of its original charm.” It also hosts live stage productions, film screenings, and private parties/functions.

Invariably, these things take community action, local government buy-in, state and federal dollars, and years of tenacity from volunteer stakeholders. But, when stories of urban revival are juxtaposed with photos of urban decay, it is a reminder of what is possible when we put it all together.

Gov. Chris Christie Calls a Black Man “Boy” in Paterson, NJ

This week, Governor Chris Christie let his famous command of his own image slip and said something to an African-American man – in a church in Paterson – that we have not heard in many, many years in New Jersey. In America.

FYI: Exchange between Christie and the man, in the video above, is from NJTV’s NJ Today with Mike Schneider [March 12, 2013]. Here is the full broadcast. Exchange appears in two places; starting the show (:01-:08) and at 4:28.

Paterson’s Negro League Hincliffe Stadium Now A National Historic Landmark

It was the New Deal that financed some of the construction of Hinchliffe Stadium and put local people to work. And now, it’s been made a National Historic Landmark. Cheers to the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed it, to the “Iron Mayor of Paterson,” John Hinchliffe, for whom it’s named, and to the New York Black Yankees and other teams in baseball’s Negro League who played there. Congratulations to Paterson. Promoted by Rosi

Near Paterson’s Great Falls stands a large battleship grey concrete wall that, at first glance appears to be the remains of some industrial building that has fallen into a state of decay.

Steel Grey Majesty in Paterson NJ

Step a little closer, peer through the iron gates and it comes clear that this structure was at one time a stadium.

More pictures and story, below.

Paterson’s Negro League Hincliffe Stadium Now A National Historic Landmark

Near Paterson’s Great Falls stands a large battleship grey concrete wall that, at first glance appears to be the remains of some industrial building that has fallen into a state of decay.

Steel Grey Majesty in Paterson NJ

Step a little closer, peer through the iron gates and it comes clear that this structure was at one time a stadium.

It’s huge, and despite the school busses parked on the infield, and rubble strewn about, the imagination cannot help but wonder how many people used to fill this place for sport and recreation.

Past and Future Converge at Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson NJ

Hincliffe Stadium in Paterson is one of the many forgotten gems of the Silk City that has been waiting to be rediscovered and repurposed. Today, US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar named Hinchliffe Stadium a National Historic Landmark. Woo hoo! National Trust For Historic Preservation Most Endangered Places

Built in the depths of the Great Depression with Government Funds, construction of the stadium gave hundreds of laid off mill workers a job at a time when there were none to be had in the private sector. Like the stimulus of the past few years, the government funds spent on Hinchliffe Stadium benefitted the region during the immediate period of construction, and continued to do so for decades to come as it became a great community resource.

During World War II, Hincliffe hosted war bond rallies featuring popular celebrities of the time including Bud Abbott and Paterson Native Lou Costello. Imagine the experience, at a time when our nation was in such turmoil to come together with friends, neighbors, and strangers in support of something so worthy in an environment of light heartedness. It must have been magical.

During the Jim Crow Era, Hinchliffe was a major stadium for Negro League Baseball. The Negro League team affiliated with the Yankees played here. Sadly most of the old Negro League stadiums in the US have been torn down. Hinchiffe is special because much of the Art Deco structure is solid so any restoration and renovation would not diminish those parts of the original structure.

This Black History Matters, Paterson NJ

I’m a strong believer in the idea of buildings having souls, think of it as a variation of “if these walls could talk.” With so much of that period architecture intact any future use of the stadium will not only echo with the cheers of those fans, but I am 100% confident that if one listens closely enough they’ll hear ever so quietly the last echoes of the last cheers of the last Negro League Baseball game played at Hinchliffe.

In 1971 the stadium hosted one of Duke Ellington’s last major concerts. In the years that followed high school teams from both Paterson and Clifton used the field. With today’s announcement there’s no telling what new history will be made in the Silk City.

Former Home of the Jim Crow Era New York Black Yankees

This New Jersey History Matters : Hinchliffe Stadium Paterson NJ

These pictures are beautiful, John Lee. Thanks for posting. – promoted by Rosi

Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson once held 10,000 people at a time.

In 1971 the stadium hosted one of Duke Ellington’s last major concerts. In the Jim Crow Era the stadium hosted Negro Leage Baseball, and during World War II it hosted War Bond Rallies that featured Bud Abbott and Paterson native Lou Costello. In the late 20th Century both Paterson and Clifton used the stadium for their High School Football games.

Voters in Paterson approved a meaure in 2009 to restore this important American Historic Site. The stadium, and our history, are still crumbling.  

Democracy for Paterson? Meh…

Like a father reluctant to hand over the keys to his 17-year-old, ACTING Education Commissioner Chris Cerf says the people of Paterson just aren’t ready to run their own schools yet:

The state’s top education official brushed aside an ambitious proposal from the school board Monday that sought to end state control of the district by the fall.

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said the city should manage its own schools, but such a rapid transition would not be in the best interest of the district’s students.


Under state control, the board can act only as an advisory body to the superintendent.

Board member Jonathan Hodges expressed concern about low scores reflecting poorly on the board when the state is ultimately in control of the schools.

Cerf acknowledged the state’s failure, saying “the state did not effectively discharge its duty to the children of Paterson.” [emphasis mine]

Got that? Cerf says the state has done a poor job of running Paterson’s schools, but he still doesn’t want to give up control. Apparently, there are ambitious new plans for the city’s schools under the Christie administration.

Well, how’s that going?

Injustice is Just Wrong

Lowes protestMuslim-Americans and others protest at the Paterson, NJ Lowe’s

The Paterson, NJ Lowe’s store is among the highest volume stores in the national chain. And the city of Paterson has among the largest and most diverse Muslim communities in the nation. So, today’s rally in Paterson in the Lowe’s parking lot was the perfect place to send a message to Lowe’s and the nation that anti-Muslim bigotry is an outrage not just to Muslim Americans, but to all who oppose unjust discrimination in every form.

To quote one of the many signs that popped up at the rally: “Discrimination is Low, Lowe’s.”

About 150 people (and I) braved the wind and the cold to make a statement about the sad story that has transpired since Lowe’s was confronted by a fringe extremist group, which pressured the company to drop its sponsorship of a benign but thought-provoking reality television program featuring ordinary American families. Those families were, after all, Muslim. [sigh]

It should have been a no-brainer. But, instead of telling the fringe group that their bigotry was un-American and unwelcome, Lowe’s fumbled the ball, and either believed the lies being spread about the show and Muslims in general, or just caved to the pressure of this fringe extremist group. Either way, Lowe’s managed to draw a well-deserved boycott right in the midst of the Holiday shopping season. Way to go!

So, as a public service to those needing a refresher, I thought I’d offer this handy 3-step guide to anyone who might find themselves in the position of deciding such things:

1- Bigots who spread lies about communities they despise – bad.

2- Businesses who believe those lies, or cave to the bigoted demands of the fringe extremists who spread them – also bad.

3- Americans of all faiths uniting to speak out against bigotry – priceless.

CounterprotestOf course, a protest wouldn’t be a protest if it didn’t draw a handful of counterprotesters. (And by handful, I literally mean 5 people.) In today’s case, they stood holding signs that read “Protest Jihad, not Lowe’s.”

Happy Holidays everyone!

NJ JOBS: Setting a Goal, What Won’t Happen, & How Manufacturing Can Help

In the previous diary on NJ JOBS we examined the wrong track approach which emphasizes reducing government, budgets, and debt. By putting people back to work, however, the state can regain tax revenues needed to reduce indebtedness and replenish our unemployment, transportation, and pension/health funds. More important, it brings a measure of relief, security and optimism, sorely lacking now, to people who want to hold on to their home, put food on their table, pay bills, and reduce their reliance on government support. The argument should not be, as Christie says, over jobs for the private sector vs. the public sector because both are essential to our economy and our well-being.

Our state government, famous for imposing objectives on organizations it funds, could set its own objective for lowering unemployment. A decrease of just 1%, from 9.5% to 8.5%, in the unemployment rate would add about 45,000 new jobs for those who are now struggling. At an average salary of $25,000 it would add over $1 billion to our economy, part of which would go to taxes, strengthening the state’s revenues. A substantial reduction in unemployment to 5% or 6% is a longer term objective which entails retooling education, innovation and automation for new jobs replacing those which are no longer needed and in which we are no longer competitive. A state goal of 1% or 2% is not an impossible dream.