Music at St. Peter’s

After I posted about St. Peter’s a little while ago, I was invited to meet with a couple of representatives of the university to discuss working together. I’m so happy to say it’s been very productive, and I’m looking forward to announcing some new projects that we’re going to have happening in the neighborhood.

But for now, I just wanted to let you know about a series of concerts that they would love to have the neighborhood come out for. They’re free, local, and sound really fantastic, and all run through a program at SPU called the Arts on Bergen.

Coming up next Friday there will be a concert at St. Aedan’s called “Reed, Rhythm, and All That Brass.” Totally free and open to all! St. Aedan’s is located at 800 Bergen Ave, at Mercer Street. I’ve never been inside but it looks beautiful from the pictures I’ve seen. Here’s more info on the event:

Arts on Bergen presents: Reeds, Rhythm and All That Brass, a 17-piece jazz swing dance band with vocals. Join us for an evening of classic big-band repertoire, ranging from Ellington, Basie, and Goodman to Sinatra, Darin, and Ray Charles.

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Add the Arts on Bergen on Facebook to see their upcoming schedule. Some of the events are midday, and others are in the evening. I’m thinking of topping off next Friday’s event with a trip to some of McGinley’s restaurants and bars to make a whole night of it.

Anyway – hope to see you next week, and more info coming soon!

Some maps of Jersey City

I’ve been collecting some maps about Jersey City and thought I’d put them together in one post. Back to our regular schedule of events and interviews in a bit, but I thought this might be helpful to have out there in one place.

This map shows you the breakdown of JC by ward, and contains demographics info for each area. Note that it’s a little outdated (Ward B’s Councilperson is still listed as Chico Ramchal when in fact it’s now Chris Gadsden), but it’s a good place to start:

This is a map of all shootings in Jersey City in 2016. It’s a work in progress (almost done), being put together by Jersey Journal reporter Caitlin Mota. Note that in Mota’s methodology, she is counting each individual shooting, not each “incident”:

Here are two maps by the great group NJ Together. This first one shows a breakdown of the city by income. The areas shaded dark read are the highest earning neighborhoods of JC; those colored yellow are the lowest.

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From that same group, this map shows the assessment ratio for JC. The red/orange areas are where property is over-assessed (and property owners are likely paying more than their fair share in taxes) and the ares in green are under-assessed (and their taxes have been held at an artificial low).

(After posting this, I received a question from a reader asking about the methodology NJ Together used to compile this map. From their materials on their site:

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Link to the specific materials is here. Map is below. 

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The reval is coming

I’m going to be writing a lot about the reval in the coming weeks, but for now, here’s a free workshop you may want to know about if you’re in Wards A, B, or F. Take a look at this map (http://www.njtogether.org/appeal) and if you’re in the areas marked orange or red, read more after this flyer:

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This workshop is FREE. There are currently attorneys going through the neighborhood saying they will help you to appeal your property taxes for a fee. You do not have to pay a fee to an attorney to do this (you might decide you want to hire someone to help you through the process, but you don’t have to). NJ Together is a great organization with amazing resources and if appealing your property taxes sounds like something you might even consider doing, please register for their workshop. There will be volunteers on hand to talk you through the whole process and explain to you what you have to do. And again: for free (but you do have to register).

More soon.

 

 

Talking to: Mussab Ali

img_6631Mussab Ali is a Jersey City resident who, at the age of 19, ran for school board last year. A recent graduate of JC public schools and a current college student, he hoped to bring his experiences as a student as an acting member of the board. While he didn’t win, I was really inspired by his campaign. I’m grateful he took the time to write up some answers to my questions and reflect upon what it was like to be a candidate. 


What brought you to run for school board?

I have heard time and time again from “elders” in Jersey City asking the youth to step up and get involved. On my campus, there was a large focus on civic engagement because it was a presidential year. Those two factors got me thinking about running for office. Choosing which office to run for was a no-brainer. When the school board manages nearly $700 million, it seemed obvious to me that they should have had the student perspective represent at least 1 seat on their board. Honestly, my friends who had been a part of the city-wide student council had told me that they never felt their thoughts and opinions were expressed to the board so I decided to stand up for the forgotten stakeholders, the students.

What was it like running for office in JC? Logistically and practically, what are some of the things you faced?

Before I really thought hard about running for office, I had heard all sorts of rumors about “Hague” County. The only time I had followed municipal elections was when former mayor Healy had been endorsed by President Obama. At the time I thought that would be enough and it showed just how little I knew about our city. So, as you can imagine the first hurdle I had to climb was learning how the city operated. Thankfully, I had mentors who helped me learn the political landscape, but a day in politics can be a year to a normal person. There is a constant power struggle and alliances can change within seconds. Just think about how quickly the gubernatorial landscape changed when Mayor Fulop dropped out and endorsed Phil Murphy. That was probably the most challenging part mentally. You end up meeting a lot of great, authentic, awesome people. But, you have to learn how to separate them from the people who smile in your face and whisper rumors behind your back.

Logistically, the biggest issue was fundraising and getting people to take me seriously. It is extremely difficult to fundraise money as a 19-year-old. Most of my friends are still in college and are already dealing with student debt. Older donors, for the most part, didn’t think I was worth their time or money. Money in politics leads to a very uneven playing field, despite the volunteers who knocked on doors spread the word, it’s nearly impossible to overcome slates that are spending more than six-figures on a school board race. No matter how good your ideas are, they can’t change the minds of voters that they can’t get to. I also had to deal with an election that had illegal posters on telephone poles, people who ripped down my campaign material, and a team distributing literature that had a picture of Hillary Clinton saying, “Don’t forget to vote for my friends!”. I think it was a little crazy, even for Hague County standards.

img_6630One of the things that differentiated you and your running mate is that you’re both recent graduates of the JC public schools. Can you talk a little about your experiences as a student? 

I went to school all over the city. I went to Pre-K at PS 23 the journal square area, K-5 at PS #6 in the heights, Academy 1 in Greenville and then McNair Academic in Downtown. I think the biggest thing I noticed as a student was the amount of red tape that teachers had to deal with. Teachers had a really hard time dealing with inefficiencies. Testing was HUGE. I don’t remember a week in high school where I didn’t have an exam or quiz or quarterly exam. It was also interesting how I learned nothing about the BOE board members while I was in school, I knew they existed but I had no idea what they did or that I could one day run for that office.

I think my biggest issue in schools was that it was nearly impossible to get rid of incompetent teachers. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of my teachers were awesome and really cared about the students, but there were some teachers that just put on an act when it was time for teacher evaluations and as a student, I got to spend a year learning nothing. With regards to violence, while I was fortunate enough to avoid being robbed, I have had someone pull a knife on me, I’ve had two kids jump me a block from my house and I’ve had a kid punch my face me right in front of my high school. But I’ve known friends who’ve been robbed and hospitalized from attacks on their way home from school.

There was a record amount of money spent in this last campaign for school board, much of it raised from donors outside of the city. I’d imagine you saw first-hand the effect that this money had on the race. Any thoughts on this topic?

Again, I think money really leads to an uneven playing field. How do you compete with someone who can send all registered voters 5 letters in the mail when you can’t even afford one? I would also understand raising the money from people who are invested in our education in our city. But all those outside donors and PAC funding should definitely raise some eyebrows. Thankfully social media has started to level that playing field, and I credit Facebook for scoring me at least a couple thousand votes. Going forward, I think that voters should really start to pay attention to who the donors are for certain candidates: follow the money!

If there was one issue you would want to change about the JC public schools – just in that “wave a magic wand” kind of way – what would it be?

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution for JC. I think the best thing for the students would be parent involvement. I don’t think parents recognize the impact they can have on their kid’s education from a young age if they just get involved. Even with that solution, there are some parents who have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. These parents don’t have the luxury to be super involved with their children’s education regardless of what magic want you wave. But I think parent’s getting involved will directly impact the violence that kids are subjected to along with inspiring their children to do better.

Do you have a desire to run for office again in JC? With your whole life ahead of you, what are your plans for your future?

As of right now, I don’t plan to pursue any office in JC this November, I don’t want to get caught in between everything that’s going to happen in the municipal elections. As for the future, I plan on living in Jersey City my whole life so I may end up pursuing elected office again. As for my career plans, I plan to go to Medical School while pursuing a Master’s in Health Policy and work as a doctor and help to draft healthcare policies. Regardless of what I end up doing, I plan on working to solve problems of education, crime and economic equity in this city.

Litter in Jersey City; Talking to: Scott Garibaldi

Scott Garibaldi is a local resident of the West Side, who has lived here with his family for about three years. Frustrated with the litter situation in his neighborhood, Scott  – who has a full-time job and two young kids – has taken it upon himself to go and pick up garbage at least once a week. 

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Litter that Scott and I picked up this Sunday.

Have you seen the litter along Duncan Ave? It’s bad. We’re not talking about some fussy thing where we’re complaining about someone occasionally dropping a candy wrapper. We are talking literal piles of garbage – liquor bottles, drug paraphernalia, dirty diapers – abandoned on the sidewalk, that residents have to dodge on their way around their community. Throughout this article, I’ve included several “best of” (or maybe “worst of”?) pics of how absurd this situation is. It’s not just Duncan Ave, either – it’s also West Side Ave and lots of other streets in Jersey City. The condition of our streets is abysmal. 

 

This Sunday, I went out for about an hour and picked up litter along Duncan Avenue with Scott, for four blocks between Mallory and Delaware Avenue. Together, we picked up a huge bag. That was just in four blocks – and believe me, we had to really squish the garbage into that huge contractor bag just to close it. So I talked to Scott about his impressions of this issue, and his thoughts about solutions. 


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Not a great pic of Scott, but just for size comparison. This was about 3/4 of the way done with our trip. 

Why did you start picking up litter along Duncan Avenue?

Well, when we moved here in the winter of 2014, it was a bit of an adjustment. We used to live downtown, on 5th street between Monmouth and Coles in a small apartment. My daughter was starting to get bigger and we knew that we were going to have to find another place soon. Some friends of ours suggested we’d be better off buying, so we began a search for our next place. We were looking primarily in the Heights and here on the Westside. Ultimately, after a year of searching we found our home. I couldn’t really grasp at the time what the true up close make up of the neighborhood was. We had walked around certain areas of the West Side, mostly all the streets that line the front of the park, but not many of the side streets. So it wasn’t till after we really moved in did I get a grasp of what it was like on the streets in terms of the trash.

At first, I was moved to clean up on my street, branching out from immediately in front of my home, to including the addresses to my immediate right and left and then the whole street. After a couple of months in the house, and time spent walking up Duncan to Journal Square for my daily commute did I begin to just get disgusted with what I saw. The amount of litter was just obscene. It was everywhere – on the sidewalks, on the curb line, in the street. It was sickening and depressing. So I took it upon myself to start extending my coverage range to include Duncan avenue. Eventually I got further and further up Duncan to the point I was nearly reaching West Side Ave. At this point, I knew I couldn’t keep this up myself, so I was directed to my councilman at the time [Ed: Chico Ramchal], who I made many a desperate plea to for help. He in turn not only heard me, but put me in direct contact with the head of the DPW, which gave me a chance to express my concerns and issues directly with the department responsible for handling such manners. To this day, I still email them multiple times a week to inform them when the street is in real need of attention.

But that really reads more like a history than a real DIRECT answer to the question. The reason I started picking up garbage is because it was disgusting here. Like truly embarrassing. I was not proud of this neighborhood, I was embarrassed for friends or family to see where I lived, and I myself couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore. If nothing was being done I HAD to take it upon myself to do it.

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Litter along West Side Avenue.

There has been a recent administration change in the Department of Public Works (the appointment of the new director, Paul Stamato). Do you notice a difference? Have services in our neighborhood become better, or worse, or not changed at all?

Well, to be honest, I’d have to say no I don’t see a change. If anything it sometimes is a little more difficult because I had established a kind of relationship with the previous head of the DPW, he knew me ( I had been over to the facility), he knew my problems and I didn’t have to do a lot of explaining or make too many repeated requests to see things get taken care of.

What about the garbage men – meaning, the guys who haul away garbage and recycling three times a week? How would you rate the service they provide?

If the streets are bad before either garbage or recycling night, they are usually even worse after they come. I find more garbage strewn everywhere, plastic bottles, broken glass after they come through. I know being a garbageman may not be the most glamorous job in the world, and I can imagine there are times where it just sucks, but I don’t think it ever warrants someone doing a poor job. I often times feel like if an area has struggled either in the past or currently is in regards to litter/cleanliness it kind of gets no respect from anyone -INCLUDING waste management. When an area perpetually looks like crap, it gets treated that way, like crap.

What could the city do to improve Duncan Avenue? Other than sending crews to come and clean it

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More garbage on the West Side.

up, what other things could the city do to improve the condition?

The way I see it, there are a few things that can be done in regards to addressing this issue. Number one, the obvious answer, is send cleaning crews more regularly and often. I know sometimes this is not possible – the city is big and from what I am told the resources in this particular department are “scarce” and there are many problem areas – but all I can say to that is, prioritize those resources to areas that are the worst. Some areas right now just flat out NEED it more than others. I can guarantee the trash that builds up on some streets would double or triple what happens in other places.

Secondly, I would suggest more trash receptacles. More places to put garbage are better than less and they WILL get used. Yes it means more cans to empty or attend to, but isn’t that better than that trash being on the ground?

And third, enforcement – and I don’t mean just warnings but real fines for not just businesses but home owners. I know most people will cry that it isn’t their garbage that has settled in front of their homes, but I would say to that, listen – you own property in this city and part of that experience is attending to the upkeep of your property. It sucks, it really does. I am cleaning up not only in front of my home but essentially an entire neighborhood. None of the garbage I have ever picked up is MINE – but this is my NEIGHBORHOOD, and I think people here should not have to be threatened with fines to want to take care of it, they should just want to because they love their neighborhood!

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Any thoughts on “Stop the Drop” (the city’s official anti-littering program)?

I think the program, in my experience does very little, at least around here. I see plenty of homes with the STOP THE DROP placard on their fence, but sometimes the sidewalk in front of their properties is just as bad as every other one around it, if not worse sometimes! The only place I think any kind of education could be effective would be in schools where children can be broken of what can only be a learned cultural indifference when it comes to not littering. When you find the same kind of litter day after day, the only conclusion one can come to is that the people perpetuating it either don’t think they are doing anything wrong or just think it’s normal to drop your trash on the sidewalk or in the catch basin. Children should be taught to respect their neighborhood, and their planet for that matter.

The problem with St. Peter’s University

A few days ago, an account belonging to a site dedicated to local news tweeted the following:

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I went through the roof.

Prince of Pizza, Wonder Bagel, Our Hero, and Panda House are all fine McGinley Square establishments. But they’re grab-and-go, or at least grab-and-quickly-eat. They’re not really what I’d consider to be a restaurant. Want a slice of pizza? Prince of Pizza is great; I also hear the tuna subs at Our Hero are first rate. Want to go on a date? I hope you know better than to take her to Wonder Bagel (although their bagels are excellent, it’s not exactly what I’d consider fine dining. And they close at 4pm).

What’s especially annoying about this is that there are several establishments just a block or two away – still very much in McGinley Square – that are way more “sit and linger” places. Some have full table services, others have really nice ambience that encourages you to hang out a bit longer than just the time it takes you to quickly scarf your food. I’m thinking of Carvao (full restaurant with a bar), Harry Street Coffee (independently-owned coffee shop that does open-mic nights and other events), Honey Bakery (Korean-Ukrainian food!) are all within one to two blocks of Wonder Bagels. El Cocotero (a highly-anticipated branch of their NYC restaurant) opened a day after this poll went up, and is even closer.

This would seem like a silly – if incredibly misguided – tweet, the sort of thing that PR people with no real stake in a particular area make all the time. Except that as I scrolled through their timeline trying to figure out who was behind the account, I discovered that the company puts various St. Peter’s University interns in charge of it. This week, the account was being managed by a SPU senior. And so I went from thinking that the tweet came from some person in an office somewhere who had never ventured to McGinley Square, to realizing that the news was far worse: it was written by someone who had been coming to our community for the last four years… and somehow never ventured more than a block or two off campus.

While deeply troubling, this isn’t surprising. It’s rare to see SPU students at community events or encounter them living off campus. When the McGinley Square Pub opened across the street from the school, I feared it would be overrun with college students trying to sneak in with fake IDs. Winds up I had nothing to worry about – not only has this not been an issue, even their professors and administrators don’t see to frequent the place to unwind after a long day. And while SPU hosts a variety of speakers and performances, I’ve never seen an invitation to the non-SPU community, encouraging us to come. I often walk by and gaze longingly at SPU’s immaculate gym facilities (usually empty) and wonder if they offer memberships to people in the neighborhood – as I head to my gym in NYC.

Schools maneuver their relationship to their local community (sometimes referred to as “town and gown”) in different ways. I happened to be getting my graduate degree at Yale at a time when the school had hired a new-ish President, who was making integrating the campus into the fabric of New Haven a top priority. Now, I understand – Yale has a budget and resources that SPU does not, but let’s look at a few things that they’ve started during my twenty years since getting my Master’s:

  1. They have an Office of New Haven and State Affairs:

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This is an office in the university set up specifically to encourage engagement with the local community. It’s impractical to think that SPU could dedicate an entire office to this function, but what about starting with one administrator tasked with connecting the university better?

2. They encourage employees to buy homes in the area:

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Ok, probably a lot to expect from a smaller school like SPU, so how about just encouraging students to live off campus after their freshman year? Or at least encouraging students to consider it? Even something as small as having a bulletin board with rental housing available would be a good start.

3. They encourage local businesses by promoting them on their website, including a calendar of nearby community events:

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Well, this one is just a no-brainer. SPU should do this immediately. (Currently, there is no information about local businesses on the SPU site, other than a short list of hotels in the Newport/downtown area. Not a single McGinley Square, JSQ, or West Side business or attraction is mentioned as far as I can tell.)

4. And they prominently display which events and centers are open to the public in an open and inviting way:

If this info is anywhere on the SPU website, I can’t find it.

Comparing SPU to Yale too much of a stretch for you? What about Rutgers vs SPU? Rutgers encourages its students to buy a meal plan debit card which can be used both on- and off-campus at over 100 local restaurants. This is standard procedure at most schools at this point, often called something like “Flexbucks.” It gives the students a budget to follow and then “use it or lose it” money to spend in the community. So if a student is given a budget every week, chances are he or she will spend most of that on campus because it’s the easiest for them to walk to, but they can also take their debit card into town and spend it at select local businesses. Many schools do this. (SPU offers “Munch Money” but it is to be exclusively spent at SPU-owned dining facilities.)

Let’s just do some quick math to show how important all this can be: SPU reports having a Fall 2015 student body of 3,406. Say we could convince half of those students – just half – to spend $5 at local businesses every week for a year. That would bring in $442,780 into the economy of McGinley Square every year. That’s money that would go a long way in terms of encouraging healthy economic growth and the betterment of the neighborhood overall, which would in turn make SPU a more competitive school that even more students would want to go to.

And what if people living on the West Side felt comfortable and welcome at SPU events? Suddenly our neighborhood would have access to great theater, lectures, concerts and other events that we never had before. Not everything would have to be free – many colleges offer gym memberships or season theater tickets to people in their town for a low fee, but a fee all the same. This could offer a new revenue stream for SPU. Why constantly fundraise only to your alumni when you could branch out and ingratiate yourself to a much larger audience?

St. Peter’s University only stands to gain by becoming a greater part of the fabric of our community. A vital, thriving community makes for an even more impressive and competitive school. They need to do their part to step up and join us. It really is a great place to be.

(Please note: if anyone at SPU would like to reach out to discuss these ideas further, I encourage them to do so via my contact page.)

 

 

 

Community meeting this Saturday

There’s going to be a meeting open to anyone interested this Saturday, concerning the development of a project on Duncan Avenue.

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Located at 276 Duncan Avenue, the developers are looking to get a number of variances in order to build their 12 apartments, which will also have retail space. (Variances are exceptions to the usual rules for building – usually minor tweaks, but what’s minor to one person may not be so minor to another – so this is where community input is especially needed.)

Currently, the property looks like this:

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My personal rule of thumb is that some kind of development is almost always better than just having an empty lot filled with garbage, but that’s a pretty fast-and-loose rule. It’s of course very important to make sure that the building that’s built there makes sense for the neighborhood and that it only improves conditions for the people already living nearby.

Anyway, come on out and see the plans and voice any concerns you might have. There will be other things also discussed at the meeting, but this is first on the agenda so you don’t have to stay the whole time if you don’t want. I’m told there will be free coffee!

Saturday, February 25th; 10:30 am

Gallo Center at Lincoln Park (free parking!)

The meeting is sponsored by WSCA (the West Side Community Alliance).