PLAINFIELD, NJ - The final Plainfield Candidates' Forum took place on Wednesday evening at Emerson School in advance of the Primary Election on June 6, and just as there were storm clouds gathering as attendees headed to their cars, so, too, were there stormy moments inside.
The event was run by the Plainfield League of Women Voters, a "non-partisan political organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy."
The Plainfield LWV moderator, Ann Armstrong, did her best to corral both the mayoral candidates as well as the large crowd, at times addressing residents and reminding them that outbursts detracted from time spent hearing from candidates.
Mayoral candidates included Rev. Tracey Brown, Dr. Henrilynn Ibezim, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, and Councilwoman Bridget Rivers. After opening statements from each of the candidates, questions submitted by the audience were posed by the moderator.
Early on, candidates were asked to name a project or initiative they helmed as a member of the City Council or Board of Education. Brown cited projects she supported, like paid sick leave as a City Council member, and experiencing no major layoffs as a Board of Education member. Rivers said that as the Vice President of the Board of Education, her board created PAAAS, a school ranked #300 in the country with a 100% graduation rate. She added that as a City Council member, she supported an anti-tethering ordinance.
However, Mapp countered, directing a comment to the moderator that the question had to do with what the candidates initiated rather than supported. Brown responded to Mapp, asking if advise and consent means nothing.
Another question from the audience focused on for what each of the candidates would advocate with respect to the site that was previously Muhlenberg Hospital.
Mapp said that the site had languished for over eight years, and that he and his team set out to find a developer for the site that would bring medical services back to the residents of Plainfield.
Rivers agreed with Mapp, yet noted that the city had politicians who sat idly by as Muhlenberg deteriorated. She said that while she would love to have a functioning full service hospital, it just isn't possible. Rivers then referred to a municipal complex in Edison as an example for what could be. Brown was quick to add that residents are against the possibility of a veterans' home being installed on the property.
A question about property tax relief drew attention to transparency for residents, and the need for crime to continue to fall as a step to lower taxes. Brown quoted a statistic from the Star-Ledger on Plainfield being the 11th most unsafe city in New Jersey, saying there is work to be done. Rivers said taxes will continue to rise every year, and the only chance of stabilization is to have new businesses come into the city.
Closing remarks were made. Rivers told attendees that it was "time to invest in you," and said she helped balance the budget, but noted there is money hiding in slush funds; no further comments were made on this, despite a questioning, "What???" from an unidentified audience member.
Ibezim didn't comment on his accomplishments, but rather called out Mapp for working a full time job in the City of Orange Township. He said Mapp was "too tired to work for Plainfield" after working a full-time job elsewhere.
Mapp began his closing remarks, and said Rev. Tracey Brown shouldn't preach on Sunday, lie on Monday, and then ask for forgiveness on another day. This drew the ire of the crowd, and required the moderator to scold both the audience and candidates. Brown responded to Mapp's remarks as Ibezim played with a pen that lights up.
The second part of the evening was reserved for individuals running for City Council. Those vying for seats include Alma Blanco, Cameron Cox, and Joylette Mills-Ransome who are running for the Plainfield City Council-at-Large seat for Wards 2 and 3. The candidates running for the City Council seat in Ward 4 are Terri Briggs, Steve Hockaday, and Elliott Simmons. Simmons was a no-show for tonight's forum, and no explanation was provided.
In opening remarks, Blanco said, "I've witnessed a great divide in the city," with a need to cut wasteful spending, a need to revitalize downtown, and a need for youth programs. Cox added, "My aim is to bring transparency, accountability, and access to the city."
When asked about each of their visions for Plainfield, Cox added that the most vital thing is to increase safety. He questioned Mapp's math on safety statistics. He also alluded to bringing in a more qualified head of the police department.
Mills-Ransome cited her work writing grants that help expose Plainfield children to STEM programs, and Blanco said it is important to target the at-risk youth.
Briggs said there's a need for a full-service recreation center, but didn't provide answers on how to achieve such a goal. Hockaday agreed with the need posed by Briggs, and mentioned a partnership with Nan Plainfield Tech World as a solution. He added that when developers come into the city, Plainfield residents must be a part of the plan and a certain amount of residents should be hired per each job.
Hockaday's Campaign Manager Derel Stroud told TAPinto Plainfield, "Mayor Mapp, Joylette Mills-Ransome, and Steve Hockaday are clearly the candidates with the best vision and integrity to continue to move this city forward. We will continue to chase progress, not ambulances and alternative facts. On June 6th, they [the competition] will be hit with a reality check."
As a reminder, the Union County Clerk's office will be open in both the Elizabeth and Westfield locations on Saturday, June 3rd from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm for voters seeking last-minute mail-in ballots.