Strong critiques of city and county Democrats anchor first mayoral debate

There was a solid showing at the Grant Avenue mosque, where at some points there were no seats available.

There was a solid showing at the Grant Avenue mosque, where at some points there were no seats available.

On Sunday, three of the four mayoral candidates participated in a debate at Masjidullah Inc of Plainfield and hosted by the Essex County based Muslim League of Voters. Independents Mustapha Muhammad and D. Scott Belin joined Republican Sandy Spector in what almost appeared to be a united front of condemnation for the current state of affairs and current Democratic Party leadership. Adrian Mapp, due to a prior commitment, was not able to defend himself and his political organization in front of the 58 seated guests and the ten or so more who opted to stand. I was able to catch nearly two hours of this discussion.

D. Scott Belin took the first shot at Democratic leadership, who all but decide elections when they place a candidate on “Line A” in the primary. He pointed out a “lack of choice,” stating that “the Democratic Party has decided that they are going to determine who the next elected official is.” He continued, reminding us that the citizens of Plainfield, on the other hand, don’t take the time to learn about other candidates.

Sandy Spector expressed that “everyone who goes to City Hall, to a council meeting, everyone with a problem, everyone with a question, should be respected.” She continued, “I am tired of city hall being this closed door system where none of us have any say.” Spector preached about the need for “open government with no closed doors” where our interests are put first. “We should know what is going on in City Hall,” she said, “but the truth is they don’t know what’s going on in city hall.” She recounted a story of a City Council member making out his Christmas Card list. “That’s not respecting us!” proclaimed Spector, who explained how frustrations with the domination of the Democratic machine made her, formerly an independent, join the Republican Party to restore a two-party system locally.

While Mustapha Muhammad defended supporter Sharon Robinson-Briggs from unfair attacks from blogs, almost certainly a reference to staunch Mapp advocate and controversial blogger Dan Damon, he did offer advice for Plainfield’s political establishment as a whole. “Transparency,” declared Muhammad, “I have been hearing about transparency and accountability my whole life, but I have never seen it.” Muhammad quoted Abraham Lincoln’s “of the people, for the people, and by the people”, concluding that “Unfortunately, when we get elected we think it’s of us, for us, and by us, [for] politicians, [for] special interest groups…We need leadership in the city of Plainfield that will not act as if…the people are a servant of them.”

Mustapha Muhammad replies to a question from the audience as the other candidates listen

Mustapha Muhammad replies to a question from the audience as the other candidates listen

Of course, the entire discussion was not a referendum of the Democratic Party in Plainfield and Union County. The candidates espoused their own ideas for a better Plainfield.

D. Scott Belin, life long Plainfield resident and chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustments, centered his points around quality of life, characterized by a safe, clean environment.

Belin promised to put the right, qualified people in the right positions for the city, including home grown young professionals “whose parents pay all that money for their degrees but who are not able to use those skills because they are not in the in crowd.”

On the issue of high property taxes, Belin called lowering them a “pipe dream” in our current position, but a feat that can only be done through bringing in businesses – the only alternative being to cut vital city services without which we can’t function.

Notably, Mr. Belin, who wasn’t able to voice his opinion at the last council meeting, expressed displeasure about the $50,000 Muhlenburg track study, saying “the deliverable will only be a document. After we pay $50,000, it will be ‘thank you very much for your business, Plainfield.’ We could have had a program for our youth for the whole winter.”  “We do these studies ten times per year, that’s $500,000,” declared a frustrated Belin. Belin, who was born at Muhlenberg, wishes to see a great long-term investment for the city in Muhlenburg’s place, not a plan that maximizes short-term profit for the site’s owners.

Mustapha Muhammad, also born and raised here, made it clear that his platform is built upon the oneness of God, encouraging more city collaboration with religious leaders. He spoke about strengthening families, and politically empowering residents through transparency and engagement. “There’s no reason our city of 50,000 should be suffering the way we are suffering,” said Muhammad, “we have families that have been here many years and pay taxes, but who are not represented.” Of all candidates he spoke the most about social justice issues, while echoing Candidate Belin’s calls for a better quality of life.

Muhammad, who worked in construction himself, expressed the desire to see more such jobs become attainable for youth, noting that 60% of young black men are out of work. Mr. Muhammad stressed that these youth do want to do something with their lives, but that there is nothing for them.

While there were plenty of obvious shots at Jerry Green, the only direct reference came from Mustapha Muhammad. While very clear on not being a fan of the Assemblyman, Muhammad acknowledged how businesses that will lower our tax burden are likely to pass through him on the way to fruition.

Finally, on Muhlenberg, Muhammad urged Plainfield to unite around the citywide consensus that we need a hospital while calling JFK’s bluff regarding their threats and pressuring them to actively market the property. “If we don’t, we deserve exactly what we get,” concluded Mr. Muhammad.

Sandy Spector, who moved to Plainfield in 1989, kept it rather simple, preaching a message of fiscal responsibility and looking inside our own borders for much of the talent and ideas that will improve the city. The Republican candidate urged Plainfield to “fill up empty spaces” and end its reputation as “terribly unfriendly to businesses,” causing the homeowners to bear the tax burden, hers alone being over $18,000. She cited light industry as a potential source of tax revenue. On property tax, the flip side to attracting business, according to Spector, is “getting our fiscal house in order…Stop spending what we don’t have.” If we do so, Spector says that the city would have enough money to hire a Director of Urban Development, which would lead to more business revenue.

Calling Muhlenburg one of her premier issues, she echoed her comments at the council meeting, calling for an acute health care facility at the very least. She admitted, while it is a priority that she’d push, she isn’t sure exactly how to accomplish it as of right now.

The next mayoral debate, a candidates forum hosted by the Plainfield Area NAACP, is set to feature all four candidates. It will take place on Sunday October 27th at 5:00pm at the Plainfield Elks at 1357 West 3rd St. As I will be participating in the Board of Education portion of the same forum, I will not be covering this debate. For the same reason, I will not cover the League of Women Voters forum on Wednesday October 30th.

3 thoughts on “Strong critiques of city and county Democrats anchor first mayoral debate

  1. Formalized time controls and ordering would make for an improved debate format going forward, yet the candidates covered a great deal of territory, much more so than I expect the LWV will be able to offer up with the multitude of offices and candidates scheduled to participate that day. You got a pretty good idea how each of the participants would operate should they be elected and what their priorities in office would be. It is unfortunate there wasn’t more extensive coverage of the program, and I find it hard to understand how any candidates would pass up such opportunities to get their message across.

    Perhaps in the years to come prospective office holders will realize that Plainfield’s success will be more likely with more information and transparency, and of course greater accountability. Low information voters have low expectations and a very narrow sense of communal, as opposed to personal, benefits that may accrue from one candidate or the other, or from one administration to the next. As your header suggests, and as the candidates remarked themselves, machine politics has been very bad news for our city. This is especially so when party support is determined beyond our borders and professional service contractors such as engineers, lawyers, and auditors are imposed on us as part of the package.

    In this voter’s mind the intra-party squabbles have directly resulted in a lack of true political leadership and manifests itself in travesties such a the closure of Muhlenberg Hospital, or a crime rate that maximizes the cost of police protection and minimizes property values. It keeps investors and businesses away that could bring with them jobs to lift incomes, and ratables to offset residential property taxes. I can imagine that without a solid voting bloc as bait for federal, state, and county office-seekers, Plainfield would be ignored entirely. That might actually be a good thing; we’d have to be creative and think for ourselves, from which real solutions might arise. No doubt a melding of these alternative candidates would present a very formidable opponent to the status-quo.

    • I agree Alan, I thought the forum was informative and I was impressed by all candidates and their answers. In fact, I was really disappointed to have to leave after over an hour and a half. Like you said, I think that work could be done with time limits and structure – but as they acknowledged that this is their first go around I think it was a great job! There was a feeling of honesty and candor, not only from the participants but from the host. I hope that they continue to have these discussions there in the coming years.

    • Sorry, replying by phone…On these candidates I agree as well – alternative candidates can pose a threat under the right conditions. We don’t have a real local media – endorsements from corporate newspapers don’t influence voter decisions – there arent many television ads – there are no legitimate polls – no evening news discussion of these races. It’s all a matter of organizing to let people know that they have a choice.

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