Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Age of Change

The American political scene is changing and observers are wondering whether Essex County and Newark will be left behind. On February 5th of this year Barack Obama stormed through Newark and scored a significant victory in “part one” of the Democratic Primary. Even though virtually all the political power brokers were lined up against him, he prevailed and defeated the 60-year-old Hillary Clinton in Newark and the rest of Essex County. The people wanted change and they made their voices heard at the polls. If all goes well they might just elect the 47-year-old Illinois Senator as its first African American President in just a few short months. Such an act would scream “CHANGE” all around the globe.

Two years ago Newark, NJ elected 37-year-old Cory Booker as its Mayor and swept into office with him a group of mostly young councilmen and women that made an unforgettable statement of “CHANGE” in Essex County and New Jersey. Booker defeated 60-year-old Ronald L. Rice and succeeded 70-year-old Sharpe James. This is not just change, it’s generational change.

Just weeks ago in Orange, New Jersey 28-year-old Eldridge Hawkins, Jr. earned the office of mayor by defeating two incumbent council members from his parents’ generation. 68-year-old Donald Page was his closest rival. Hawkins will be succeeding 66-year-old Mims Hackett. So what does it mean to us? It looks like the age of change.

The world and our nation are taking on new challenges, which require new ideas more likely to be found in new leadership. This is not to be mistaken with change for the sake of change. This is change born of necessity and conditions that demand attention and a different approach. More and more people are growing weary of the same tired failed approach. Citizens are increasingly recognizing that incumbency and longevity don’t add up to entitlement. Communities are making choices that are in their best interests. These choices are not personal choices, they are intelligent choices.

We are faced with such a choice in “part two” of New Jersey’s Democratic Primary being held on Tuesday, June 3rd. Again the issue we face is the need for change. Do we renew a six-year contract with Senator Frank Lautenberg who will be 91-years-old when his term is over, or do we opt for substantive change that happens to be generational and offer that contract to 50-year-old Congressman Rob Andrews? What is the intelligent choice?

We have examined where each candidate stands on the issues and Congressman Andrews has developed detailed approaches to complex issues that offer results and not just promises. Senator Lautenberg seems to gloss over critical points and favors canned comments to concrete plans. Andrews seems clearly better prepared to be New Jersey’s partner for the soon-to-be new president as we move out of the Bush/Cheney era and hopefully into an Obama presidency. Reshaping America, New Jersey, Essex County and Newark will require competence, creativity, energy, enthusiasm and a commitment to rigor. Nothing less than all these components will suffice. Rob Andrews is ready and up to the task.

Is chronological age a factor? If we judge by the attack Senator Lautenberg launched against his rival (Former U.S. Senator Millicent Fenwick), the answer is yes. When Lautenberg challenged Milicent Fenwick she was 72 and he was 58. He implied that she was too old to hold the Senate seat. Now at age 85, he claims that age is not an issue. Senator Lautenberg should be judged by his own words….that would be fair.

We say that 24 years as a United States senator is a great ride. But we also believe that in the face of a better candidate who will better serve our interests, 24 years is enough. If we take Senator Lautenberg at his word when he said that 72-years-old was too old, voters have granted the Senator a generous extension. In the June 3, 2008 Democratic Primary Election the voters of Essex County and Newark should welcome the age of change.

Representative Rob Andrews is smart, considerate, experienced and ready for the future. He has a well thought out plan and the energy to pursue it. Rob Andrews has the endorsement of citizens, elected officials and newspaper organizations up and down the state. Now it’s up to us to provide voter support next Tuesday. Rob Andrews for U.S. Senate.

May 28, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dull Claws and Soft Paws

The changing of the guard is occurring right before our eyes. It’s not as though change was not underway until this moment but it has clearly accelerated and it cannot be ignored.

The old lions are tired. Most are no longer able to compete in today’s jungle. Prey is increasingly scarce and technology is altering the terrain. And as is the case with all things dying, an element of sadness accompanies their exit. These once roaring beasts are barely capable of an occasional snarl and exhibit feeble behavior in their desperate struggle to hang onto power.

The cubs romp restlessly on the sideline showing respect to the dying breed. But this respect could very well spell the doom of the cubs themselves. They, however, are lost without leadership. They are the young lions who themselves exist at the mercy of packs of hyenas. They lack the courage to seize leadership, are without the stature to negotiate a transition and are held at bay by old lions blindly grasping for a last bone to nibble. It is heart breaking and it has surely broken our spirit.

The irony is that the old lions were themselves a feisty lot that challenged the status quo and agitated for progress and change. They created operational modalities and borrowed tactics from revolutionary thinkers. They were both brash and bold. Well, at least enough of them fit these descriptions to fashion movements that pushed reform. Having done that they latched onto a strained concept of power, which in reality was a surrender to process and trappings. They basked in psychic rays and supped on psychic income. It was a collective orgasm of vanity and perceived power that lasted so long that it has nearly rendered us impotent.

There was some feast, but there was mostly roar. And little if anything was brought home to the pride. The cubs were left starving to fend for themselves. They are still hungry. The old lions did not teach them how to hunt and have grown too weak to hunt for them. The vultures and hyenas are circling and prowling and decision-making time has arrived.

The choice is fight or die. It has been the choice of mankind since time. Whether it is fighting disease, crime, ignorance, poverty or corruption, sooner or later we must decide to fight or die. The old lions have not prepared us to fight well. We have witnessed them reaching out with a half-hearted slap now and again but some have been so comfortable for so long as absolute accommodationists that their claws have dulled and their paws have grown soft. The hunt is a long lost concept. They prefer the confinement of the zoo where meals are regular with no elusive prey to pursue. Many are simply holding on and marking time.

We went to celebrate the birthday of an old lion on Saturday past. He is 93 years old. And as we looked at his body taking on the inevitabilities of long life we remembered prowling the legal jungles with him more than 25 years ago. His swift agile attacks and defensive maneuvers were the stuff of legends. His claws were sharp and sure and his paws thundered when they hit the ground. He defended the greater pride and cut a path that all eager cubs could follow to success. He taught us to be fearless hunters. He taught us to protect the pride with our words and our deeds.

Raymond A. Brown was sitting there, 27 years later at 93 years old. The smile was just as infectious, the memory superb, the acidity just as raw and the profanity still eloquent. But above all, the towering intellect and courage were still in tact. This old lion could still roar. His bite remains lethal and the cutting slap of his still sharp claws is hampered only by the felony that nature has visited upon the quickness of his step. Yet there is no real lion that we know who would not on this day accompany him into battle. He still fights as all old lions should but he has taught so many cubs to protect the pride that he need not lead the charge any longer. He takes comfort in those he has prepared. He is a model for the old lions of politics. And he is also an exception. There will always be a few who perform extraordinarily well beyond their prime. But this should be a function of superior performance—not seniority. There is nothing wrong with staying as long as you can but it is always costly to stay beyond your time.

In generational terms, it is time for us old lions of politics to become teachers and the guardians of legacy. We should phase out willingly and refrain from shredding the future in a futile attempt to cling to what once was. Things are changing fast…moving forward. But we are holding back our cubs. And in so doing we are limiting their opportunities, crippling their efforts, dimming their potential and threatening our own survival.

Why don’t we just agree to teach the cubs everything we know about the hunt and take up our stations at the edge of the poli-jungle and roar with delight as we coach and watch them romp to success? It would be intelligent. It’s the lesson that we learn from what Ray Brown did with his pride.

Too often the old lions are not willing to acknowledge the end of their reign and the young lions turn on them out of necessity. It is completely legitimate to defend oneself against ineffective and/or corrupt leadership that threatens the survival of the pride. Particularly when the old lions have dull claws and soft paws.

May 7, 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Port

Growing up in Newark’s Third Ward in the forties and fifties we all knew and looked up to people in our community who had the good jobs. There were those few professionals who lived just up or down the block but most were working-class and poor. A small number of schoolteachers were always in the mix but as professionals went they were not put in the same category as doctors, lawyers and dentists—these were the biggies. Among the working-class these were the dream jobs but some other jobs were equally cherished and vigorously sought after. They were viewed as pathways to retirement and pensions. And retirement with pension was the worthy achievement and sign of success.

The post office, for instance, was a great job to have. And though few and far between, police and fire were highly regarded opportunities. Also a handful of factories were status places to work. The breweries paid well and were steady. All these jobs offered a “stability status” because the pay was more than decent. At the time, municipal government jobs were virtually unheard of and most people landed in factories. General Electric and Westinghouse were plums and you weren’t doing badly at all if you wound up at Breyers Ice Cream Company, even for the summer. At some later point department store jobs were more common and construction trade barriers began to fall. It was all honest work at a level that paid the bills.

Even under the worst circumstances you could actually leave your house in the morning and walk along Frelinghuysen Avenue and have a good chance of finding some kind of a job before sundown. Some of these were the least desirable jobs but they were available if you wanted to work. And in those days, most people wanted to work.

But there was this other world about which we knew little then. It was the world of the Longshoreman. He worked at the Port—a place where strong men willing to work hard could make a lot of money. At least that’s how we kids saw it. But you had to be connected to get a spot at the Port. You couldn’t just walk on without knowing someone. You needed a hook-up. The Port was a place where tough guys with “serious jackets” could hold down a gig. It was its own prisoner re-entry program. Over the years the department stores, all but one brewery and the big factories either quit or died. They have all succumbed but the Port has both survived and thrived. It is bustling, robust and looking to the future. It is a city within a city sporting its exclusive culture and controlled by a unique breed of bureaucrat. Port Newark is the city’s most significant asset and Newarkers know little or nothing of its potential. Most have not even seen it up close. Its inner workings are cloaked in plain sight. As a result it is being largely mismanaged.

Over the next ten years Port Newark will grow dramatically with or without the help or direction of Newark residents and leaders. It is so large, rich and important to commerce in our region that development will be driven by growth, which is running on automatic. But that development might not be smart or best for Newark and its residents. Attention and effort must be concentrated and on making the right choices for Port development if we are to reap the benefits that rightly belong to us now and in the future. The Port and Port District represent Newark’s economic development future more so than any combination of development schema currently under consideration and Newarkers are mostly unaware of what that portends or how they might benefit.

What we do know is that we have gotten far less than a fair shake from the Port Authority for years. We know that there was a costly lawsuit that yielded a questionable settlement whose spoils were used for a private purpose with minimal public say. Such practices and behaviors are likely to continue unless and until the Port receives focused municipal attention. It is a grave error to believe we can take a “by the way” approach to Port development and somehow do what’s best for Newark. Our Port’s future will encompass trillions of dollars in materials, goods and transactions that can propel Newark to become a well off, economically stable city for as far as we can see into the future. It can also generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of significant business opportunities at an unprecedented pace and help Mayor Booker reach his stated goal of creating wealth in Newark’s indigenous community. Port related industries could even be planned to support critical re-entry needs. As such, Port Newark is poised to husband a genuine renaissance to help buttress Newarkers who have hung-in against the worst aspects and ominous threats of gentrification.

Neighborhoods have changed, businesses and industries have moved on and the lives and fortunes of Newark residents have been wildly jostled through it all. The good jobs are still out there but kids growing up in Newark today see fewer and fewer of them. Too many professionals are out of reach/touch in suburbs or urban enclaves. Too few opportunities for role modeling exist on kids’ doorsteps and the past cannot return. But the issues of constructive exposure and survival are as real as ever and the opportunity to address both is at our fingertips. The Port and all it offers can help fill the gaping hole left by the abandonment of Newark by business, industries and outwardly mobile individuals.

Savvy Port development in Newark is the best chance for our city to outpace the never-ending cost spiral that naturally flows from heavily subsidized inefficient government. It will provide the best opportunity to intelligently plan rather than haphazardly confront the gloomy economic realities in the offing. But none of this will be possible so long as the debate over how the Port shall be developed is dominated by efforts at control rather than genuine concern.

We will be hosting tours of the Port. We encourage all concerned/interested Newarkers to become intimate with this incredible asset so as to equip ourselves to guard against the squandering of vital opportunities and to ensure that we are not ripped off yet again.

It is likely that Port Newark will be a dynamic economic engine so long as any of us remain alive. Given what we have learned and know, and given the abuse we have borne in the past, allowing our Port to be treated cavalierly would be criminal.

May 7, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Death and Mayhem

The death and mayhem visited upon innocent young victims who are hard at work building positive lives has got to stop. Their flesh and dreams is now routinely being fed to the animals that are being raised by our community. It would be fratricidal to further ignore this epidemic of senseless horror and the cradle of fear that nurtures it in “the hood”. No man woman or child is safe so long as the “hood maws” are allowed to relentlessly feed on our innocent babies. They must be stopped at all cost. No risk is too great to take in pursuit of their elimination.

Many of us who grew up in what is now irreverently referred to as the “hood”, have youthful memories of criminals. We witnessed a degree of violence and antisocial behavior. But then, even the criminals were not scummy. There is evidence that even their worst behavior was guided by an ethic. For one thing, women and children were off limits. Senior citizens were generally respected. And activities like drug peddling or use were a back alley and underground reality. Gambling and numbers writing and playing were prominent in the culture and apparent, but drugs were almost universally frowned upon. Even the vilest amongst us tried to hide their filth and maintain a semi-respectable front. First class gangsters hid their cigarettes from senior citizens and stepped aside as the old folks strolled along the sidewalks. They operated with a hint of civility owing, perhaps, to a vague recollection of some distant character training. There was a code of basic decency even among criminals. They were crooked but not cruddy.

Today drugs flourish out in the open. They breed abusive, threatening and filthy behavior. People who report drug dealers or their crimes are likely to be targeted for retaliatory violence. Senior citizens are routinely intimidated, terrorized or victimized by the poison peddlers. In many quarters respect for the law has been supplanted by fear of the lawless. Against the backdrop of a war in Afghanistan where young people are sent to kill and die in the cause of “building and securing democracy” for others, kids in Newark are killing and dying over the profits from the harvests reaped in Afghan poppy fields. In other words we are fighting to save the lives of those who are growing the poison to kill us. We are “saving” our murderers.

For us, drugs and handguns are the “weapon of mass destruction”. And in many ways their ready availability is protected and encouraged by our leaders. They tell us we must support the world’s major drug dealing nations because it is in our national interest and we must do nothing to restrict the proliferation of handguns because “the right to bear arms” is protected by our constitution. In theory, following this advice is supposed to protect us but in reality it is killing us. With the appearance of a government collaborating against our safety and welfare, it is no wonder that we easily grow cozy with conspiracy theories.

But even given the ready availability of these weapons of mass destruction (drugs and handguns) we need not become their victims—because our condition is less a function of our environment than a result of our choices. Those choices begin with our choice of leadership (civic, moral, spiritual and political). It is precisely the collective collapse of this leadership that has nurtured a culture of malevolence in which violent crime has put down its roots and engulfed an entire community in a fearful death grip. It has to end! Leaders who don’t tell us the truth and refuse to step up to lead the fight against fratricide must be turned out and rejected. They are not leaders for our time. And ugly sacrifices might have to be made to restore the kind of civility that allows average citizens to pursue normal lives. Otherwise we will remain a captive community ruled and cowed by a ruthless mob. If we can kill and die in wars that save others and fatten the pockets of warmongers, we can certainly muster the will and courage to defend ourselves against “a real and present threat”.

We must be absolutely intolerant of the households among us that are raising and harboring children with animal minds. Too many are vampires who sleep by day and pillage by night. They are sucking the blood of our communities. Snuffing out the lives of children and others who want to make progress and live decent lives. They deserve no words of defense. They are worthy only of every assault that we can bring against their behavior. They must be given up to the authorities and maybe even given up on. Parents and others who turn a blind eye to their obvious criminality must be drawn into the fray. They are not innocent bystanders. They are enablers—plain and simple—enablers who must be held accountable for acts against civilized life. They are accessories to misery and need to be firmly dealt with as such. Anyone that condones and or harbors violent criminals and their acts is guilty.

What we now must have is courage and carefully crafted strategies to combat crime and protect the innocent. We don’t know exactly what that means yet but a collective view of the best approach must emerge from the community. This is not a law enforcement issue. Our enemy is depraved character, obsessive materialism, irrational fearlessness and a total lack of respect for all authority—even force. This is a formidable enemy but it must and can be overwhelmed. The question that the community must answer is at what price? There can be no peaceful coexistence with people who callously murder our babies and elderly. And there can be no war without casualty.

April 23, 2008