Mayor Adrian Mapp – State of the City Address February 8, 2017
Mayor’s 2017 State of the City Address PowerPoint Presentation
Members of the City Council, Cabinet Members, Honored Guests, fellow Plainfielders, and friends of Plainfield,
I am pleased to share with you the 2017 State of the City Address.
Tonight I feel humbled and grateful.
I want to thank everyone for coming, and I want to extend special thanks to those who are here tonight because you genuinely love Plainfield. The love for this city is a unique thing that takes hold of you and doesn't let go.
I speak from experience because I also love this city from the bottom of my heart, and while it has not always been an easy thing;
-- I’m pretty sure when I first took office at the beginning of 2014 I had a lot fewer gray hairs --
It has always been rewarding.
Those of you who join me in this love and passion for our Queen City understand that loving this city means action; sometimes it means taking on the difficult tasks and assuming responsibility.
It is much easier to stand on the sidelines and be a critic but the road less traveled is the one that calls for commitment, steadfastness and yes, sometimes sacrifices. Those who are in the trenches every day, volunteering, mentoring, leading are making the required sacrifice. The residents who have assumed responsibility and who are not waiting passively for a positive outcome but have committed to making it happen are the driving force behind the change that’s occurring.
I look around and see them in this room, I know who you are and I want to say that Plainfield thanks you for your passion, and I thank you for your commitment to our city.
Members of the City Council, Cabinet Members, Honored Guests, fellow Plainfielders, and friends of Plainfield,
I am pleased to share with you the 2017 State of the City Address.
I want to welcome and acknowledge public officials from the State and County that are here tonight, (Name them if any present) members of the clergy, members of my administration, community stakeholders and most importantly, the residents of this great city.
We have newly elected Council members who began their four-year term on January first. Congratulations to Councilmember Charles McRae who was elected to serve as Councilman for the 3rd Ward. Congratulations to Rebecca Williams who was elected as Councilwoman-at-large and also as Council President.
Congratulations to Councilman Barry Goode who was elected as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole and to Joylette Mills-Ransome, appointed to serve as Councilwoman at Large for the 2nd and 3rd Wards.
I extend my regards to other Council members, Councilman Cory Storch who serves in the 2nd Ward, Councilwoman Bridget Rivers who serves in the fourth Ward and Councilwoman Diane Toliver who serves in the first ward.
I am grateful for the work that the Council does by interacting with our community on a daily basis. I could not function effectively as the Mayor without their partnership, and I look forward to another year of working together, always for the greater good of Plainfield.
I would like to thank the Senior Citizens Center for hosting us tonight. This is a group I like to spend time with because they built this city, our seniors have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into Plainfield and when they speak, they speak from a position of experience, concern, and love…. and I like to listen.
Some people say behind every great man is a great woman, I like to say beside because nothing I achieve would mean anything without the love and support of my beautiful wife Amelia and our two children Ayisha and Shermona.
I thank them for understanding and supporting the dream to make our home Plainfield a better place.
Tonight I want to tell you a story… it could begin “once upon a time.”
It’s a story about a City, a small yet vibrant city, population approximately 51,000, home to 10 historic districts, boasting a history colorful and rich in culture, home to a diverse collection of people from all across the globe, a Queen City.
Three years ago the economy in this city was in a slump. Unemployment was at an all-time high; crime was on the rise and investors had no confidence in the city's ability to create a return on their investments. The people were tired of settling, they wanted to see something transformative, and we vowed to work together to make that transformation happen. This was what the city demanded.
Today that city… our city, has made that dramatic transformation and I will share the highlights of that change with you tonight; and our vision as we look ahead to the end of 2017 and beyond.
Plainfield, I state without reservation that the state of our city is STRONG,
It is STRONGER than it has been in decades! Plainfield has moved forward in leaps and bounds since 2014 when I stood before you and promised to listen to you and tackle the tough problems with you. I heard your voices loud and clear then, and I still hear them today.
Just because we are strong does not mean we stop working, it doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. We are always seeking new ways to do it better, to fly higher and we recognize that there is more work to be done.
Tonight we come together to discuss achievements, but we're also here to work. Our City's future has always been, and always will be determined by individuals coming together to create opportunities and build our community.
When I took office in 2014, Public Safety was one of my top priorities, and it remains so today. Due to a series of corrective actions and new initiatives; crime has been falling steadily in Plainfield.
Between 2014 when I took office and 2016, crime in Plainfield decreased by 26%.
Violent crime is down by 30%, and non-violent crime is down by 26%.
If I may draw your attention to the screen, you will see the stats. (Slide 1)
Looking at the figures, we see nonviolent crime is clearly down by 26% (Slide 2)
and overall crime is down by 25% with a reduction of 16% happening between 2015 and 2016. (Slide 3)
The point is that our law enforcement officers are out on the streets of Plainfield working hard to keep the city safe and they are battling crime using some traditional and some new and innovative methods.
But, Let’s be candid for a minute.
Crime is only a symptom of a problem. It is not the problem itself. If we throw more police at the problem eventually, we will reduce crime, but we will not stop it.
We can arrest a million criminals and take them off the street, but it will not fix the problem or get at its root
If we want to stop crime, we must offer alternatives to crime; we must fight crime before it can find fertile ground.
One tool I believe is important in the fight against crime is education. That’s why I will share my vision for something called Plainfield Promise before the night is through.
That’s why I want the City and the Board of Education to work in close collaboration to come up with out of the box ideas to capture the imagination and hearts of our young people.
That’s why we have hosted two large job fairs, one of which resulted in the hiring of 100 full-time employees at the US Postal service.
We still don’t have figures from the last one, but I can tell you that unemployment has fallen from a high of almost 14% in 2013, to a low of 5.4% as of last November 2016. (Slide Number 4)
That’s a significant number in the anti-crime toolbox.
That’s why we are investing in expanding our recreational facilities and the programs offered through our Recreation Division.
That’s why we are actively seeking partnership with public and private entities beyond the borders of Plainfield to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives here.
That’s why we are leveraging the strength and resources of State and Federal offices to find new solutions.
The Administration cannot do it alone, but we want to do our part.
In the past year complaints against police officers have fallen by more than 50% with the implementation of body worn cameras. The relationship between local police and our community has never been stronger.
Division-wide community policing has fostered lasting relationships; from block parties to mentorship programs with the youth, to simply walking the neighborhoods and saying hello to our residents… our law enforcement team has been involved and engaged on a daily basis.
There has been greater accountability demanded of supervisors and officers, and this effect has been felt throughout the force and the city.
In 2016, 11 new Police Officers joined the force, and the 911 Phone System Upgrade was completed. As was the Radio System Upgrade
13 New Computers and GPS were installed in Patrol Cars, and the City Wide Camera System was expanded from 8 to 38. Additionally, we were able to Gain Remote Camera Access to Various Private and Public entities
Four-Way Stops were installed at select Intersections around the city to address complaints about speeding within certain residential neighborhoods. And we have stepped up traffic enforcement all across the city.
We’ve installed new scheduling software and a new telephone system that facilitates faster and more efficient communication with the public, and faster response time to 911 calls.
Continuing to beef up Public Safety the Fire Department had some significant additions in 2016.
A new Rescue Squad Truck was placed in service increasing operational efficiency and decreasing maintenance cost and downtime. Additionally, a new Command vehicle and a New 90-foot aerial truck was purchased and is operational.
New Standard Operating Procedures have been instituted to improve performance and proficiency throughout the Division.
The new software was implemented to improve personnel accountability, annual data tracking and improve the configuration of all office forms.
As I said we take public safety very seriously and in 2017, we're sending a message to those that intend to break the law. If you enter Plainfield, we're going to be watching.
Transformation is not about being Perfect; it’s about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day that’s where transformation happens, that’s how change occurs…
One of the greatest challenges we faced in 2014 was stimulating economic growth and attracting developers to Plainfield.
We knew that any transformative change had to include a redevelopment component and we embarked on a campaign to promote the city and highlight the great opportunities that existed for potential investors and developers.
We took a hard look at the assistance provided to developers as they moved projects through the city system and streamlined that process to make it easier.
The word on the street at that time was “Plainfield is a difficult place to conduct business.”
Three years later, that is no longer the case, Plainfield has developed a reputation as a city that welcomes serious business partners, and many investors have shown their faith in the city by backing important development projects.
The future that we envisioned for Plainfield in 2014 is what we are living today.
Tonight, I am proud to say that Plainfield currently has over 60 potential projects in various stages which represent an over $230-million-dollar investment in the City.
The completion of these proposed projects represent over 1,200 new residential state of the art apartments and over 350,000 square feet of new retail, commercial space
While we’ve been eager for growth, we recognized that not every proposed project was going to be right for us. We were very particular about the type of development we wanted to attract and the spaces that would house those development projects.
We kept at the forefront of our selection process the impact on the quality of life of our residents.
Down on South Avenue, we have the South Avenue Gateway Project by JMF Properties. It’s a $50-million-dollar new development of 212 luxury residential apartments in the 1300 block of South Ave. And it's expected to complete in 2018.
The Muse at Grant Avenue Station is a $30-million-dollar investment project by TD Partners and JG Petrucci.
We put the word out to developers that Plainfield was open and ready to do business. We showed how serious we were about that when we were able to bring this project to fruition in under a year.
They've turned a 5-acre brownfields site into a vibrant new state of the art facility for an existing Plainfield business (ABC Supplies) who currently employs 12 Plainfield residents, with plans to hire more in the coming year. Phase two of this project consists of 90 residential units with top quality amenities
At the corner of West Front Street and Clinton Ave. We opened a State of the art Dunkin Donuts facility. This approximately $3.5-million-dollar investment created over ten new job opportunities for residents of the City. Business is thriving, and it has become part of the renaissance of Plainfield.
When I took office, I made a commitment to work hard to bring redevelopment to the now closed Muhlenberg site. We promised that any redevelopment would have a major healthcare component.
I reached out to the CEO of JFK Health Systems built a relationship and was able to make it happen. I’m happy to report that an agreement between the potential developer and JFK has been recently signed. We will continue to work in 2017 to ensure that the site is developed into a state of the art facility with a concentration in healthcare.
We have Kenyon House where JFK renovated the first floor to house a satellite emergency department. They offer out-patient medical services, diagnostic services, and hospital community outreach programs. This new Emergency Room is actively serving the community.
I could go on and on naming each project and sharing details but I’m happy to say there are far too many to do that and there were other initiatives which impacted our economic strategy and growth and I’d like to spend some time sharing a few of those with you.
Every single decision made in City Hall, every new initiative has at its core the impact on the quality of life of our residents.
It's not always easy to find solutions that will please everyone, and it's never possible to please all the people all the time, but we kept particular guidelines in mind as we forged ahead with our transformation efforts.
One of the mandates given to our Economic Development team was to find opportunities that would increase ratables, create jobs and improve retail traffic flow to support the small business community while attracting other major retailers.
We vigorously pursued a One Seat Ride option into New York City, recognizing that this would be a tremendous boost to our residents who commute daily and to our redevelopment efforts.
We were successful in getting NJ Transit to approve a Pilot One Seat program which we continued to market in 2016 and will champion until it is made a permanent part of their schedule.
We received a designation from the NJ Department of Transportation of Transit Oriented Development – Downtown. The One Seat Ride supports this designation and is a critical component to our success as we move ahead with development around our transportation hubs.
We wanted transformation across all sectors of the city and part of that was making our business community competitive and able to expand their customer base.
In March 2014 we partnered with online giant Google to Get Plainfield Businesses Online. The goal was to get our local businesses online and harnessing the power of the internet to promote their business.
I am pleased to say that to date over 35 of our local businesses have utilized this program and now have a presence on the web.
Our Urban Enterprise Zone Program has been instrumental in breathing new life into many of our downtown businesses, and we continue to work closely with the state to increase the number of businesses that benefit from this program. We will continue to collaborate with the State of NJ to reinstate this viable program for our businesses as our designation expired recently.
In 2016 we continued to offer resources to the business community by providing over ten seminars dealing with various topics such as foreclosure, credit, business plan, business lending and quick books
Due to all these redevelopment efforts, I am happy to report that home values in the City of Plainfield increased by 8.01%!!
Last year I told you about the City of Plainfield Loan Fund and its partnership with the Regional Business Assistance Corporation (RBAC) I am pleased to say that partnership is still strong and has to date serviced four loans to Plainfield businesses with more in the pipeline.
Offering loans of between $25000 to $250000 this loan program has been instrumental in saving at least one Plainfield business from closing its doors.
Tonight as I speak of partnerships I want to recognize two persons seated in the audience. Hector Acosta, who is the Senior Vice President of The 504 Company and Nathalia Giraldo who is a Vice President.
I am very pleased to share that the City of Plainfield and the 504 Company have entered into a partnership to create a 504 Plainfield Loan Fund Program.
The program will provide business financial assistance to businesses seeking to acquire fixed assets while retaining working capital to support growth and jobs creation.
The 504 Company has made a commitment to allocate $10 million dollars of their loan funds strictly to service businesses in Plainfield and those looking to expand or relocate to the City.
The loans will range from $25,000 to $5 Million Dollars with variable and flexible terms ranging from 5-20 years with fixed interest rates ranging from 6%-8%.
Thank you, both for being here and expressing your faith in the future of Plainfield.
We are concerned about every aspect of our resident's well-being and we continue to seek partnerships to assist not only the business community but all of our residents facing potential foreclosures in their homes. One such partner program is Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods (SUN) led by Boston Community Capital. They have been active in our city helping to save residents who find themselves in the foreclosure process.
Plainfield, the evidence is everywhere, we are in the middle of a renaissance unlike any experienced in the past few decades, and I am excited. This growth and development is good for every single resident and business owner here.
Homeowners will see property values continue to rise; businesses will generate even more revenue, jobs have been, and will continue to be created and good quality, convenient, affordable housing will be a part of our landscape.
The transformation we’re talking about here will change lives for generations to follow. We are building a Plainfield legacy our children can be proud of… one project at a time.
ADMINISTRATION AND FINANCE
People always say if you want to understand an entity follow the money.
The city of Plainfield is not in the money making business, but we are in the business of ensuring that our taxpayers are getting the best services for the taxes they pay.
We had to make some tough decisions when I assumed office at the beginning of 2014. If there was to be transformation and change it had, to begin with how things were being managed.
So we had to make some changes, and not all were popular, but all were necessary. We had to start within, so with an eye to stringent fiscal management, we worked to reduce overtime hours and streamline city operations.
Excellent customer service is the backbone of any efficient organization, so we tackled that head on and Completed the installation of a Customer Relationship Management system to integrate City offices in the Inspections, Construction, Health and Recreation Divisions.
The remaining Divisions will be implemented in 2017
We took hard measures in our Administration and Finance department, and one of our primary objectives was to decrease the number of audit findings and build trust in the city as a reputable institution; one that could be trusted by our residents, by financial institutions and potential investors.
(slide number 5)
Between January 1st, 2014 and December 31st, 2016 we reduced audit findings by 75% and in 2016 received a Moody's investment grade rating of 1, which reflects strong fundamental credit quality with excellent liquidity.
(Slide number 6)
In 2016 we achieved an unprecedented tax collection rate of 97.08% and generated a surplus of $5.6. Million dollars. Additionally, we were able to generate over $4 million dollars in grant revenues in 2016.
As I mentioned earlier since January 1, 2014, to December 31, 2016, property values in our city have increased by an outstanding 8.01%...
Every single action that we took was motivated by the mandate of transformation; transformation to a prudent government, transformation to sound spending, transformation to superior service for our residents and we knew it would not come easily.
An important part of that transformation was introducing 21st-century technology, bringing city services online and making information readily available to all residents and stakeholders.
Residents spoke of the need for a user-friendly, informative and interactive website, we listened and brought a truly dynamic website online in 2015.
We installed a new 911 and radio system for increased responsiveness and vigilance in our police department, and we implemented a city-wide telephone system upgrade
We took a hard look at every single Department’s technology and systematically applied changes which would make them more efficient and 21st century compliant.
The data network which was old and inefficient was replaced by a network infrastructure eight times faster than the previous one, and we implemented a new payroll system which has superior capabilities for tracking time and hours.
One of our most important initiatives in 2016 was the implementation of a platform to support the rollout and issuance of Municipal ID’s.
We launched the Municipal ID program in October of 2016, and many residents who were not able to get an ID anywhere else have been issued with these ID’s which they can now use for employment, renting a home, interactions with police and other instances.
I believe in basic human dignity and a fair days pay for an honest day's work, this is why in 2016 I advocated for, and with the support of the council was successful in raising the minimum wage in Plainfield to $15 per hour.
We also passed the Earned Sick Time Ordinance which entitles every worker in our city to paid sick leave, accruing at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked.
2016 was the year for progressive legislation here in Plainfield, and we are proud to be leaders in advocating for fundamental rights.
While we are not set up to be a charitable organization - The administration has been funding programs to actively and tangibly be involved in providing relief and solutions to our residents.
(slide number 7)
Over the summer of 2016, the City employed 180 youth and 20 adults and provided services to over 4600 families.
IF you turn your attention to the slide, you will see the breakdown of services.
We believe that strong partnerships help us to find innovative solutions at little or no cost to our residents and I’m pleased to share that in collaboration with United Way of Greater Union County, the residents of Plainfield are benefitting from two new initiatives.
Healthy Plainfield, Building a Culture of Health – Plainfield is now a member of the New Jersey Health Initiative, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
We are one of the several communities in New Jersey funded by Robert Wood Johnson
The primary goal is to overcome barriers and build on the assets within a community that contributes to improved health outcomes
Health outcomes expand beyond physical health to include emotional and mental well-being.
Lifelong Plainfield - funded by the Grotta Foundation for Senior Care, is helping us to identify ways we can improve and make Plainfield a more age-friendly community that supports our seniors to age in place.
The Definition of Age-Friendly is a place that makes it easy for older people to stay connected to people that are important to them. And it helps people stay healthy and active even at the oldest ages and provides appropriate support to those who can no longer look after themselves.
It enables people of all ages to participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age.
IF you haven't already done so, please go to the city’s website and take the health survey posted there. The survey provides information to support the initiatives laid out in the Healthy Plainfield grant.
A resident came up to me recently and said "I've been living here for over 27 years and in all that time this is the first time my street has ever been re-paved. Thank you."
So yes, we listened when you told us in 2014 that smooth, pothole-free streets were important, and we set out on a massive repaving effort. In 2016 we paved 16 streets and one parking lot.
Always with an eye to the bottom line and finding the most cost-effective way to do a great job we utilized some creative methods in 2016 to minimize our operational costs while meeting the needs of our residents.
One such creative method was the purchase of a Pothole Doctor.
Using only a single operator the pothole doctor technology makes repairs to roadways which are then ready for immediate use! The repairs last longer than the cold patch method utilized in the past. There is also a reduction in labor cost.
Another way of minimizing costs was utilizing our shared services agreement with the Union County Road Division.
Our Public Works staff used County employees and County equipment to assist with the completion of several large spot milling and repaving projects; this eliminated the need for expensive rental charges.
We harnessed the collective buying power of the Morris County Co-op, and in the fall several streets were milled and resurfaced representing a tremendous cost savings benefit to our taxpayers.
Another transformation that took place in 2016 was that lighting was either fixed or installed in many previously dark spaces.
This was an initiative called the Mayor's Light Up the City Program: Over 300 streetlights were reported and subsequently serviced by Public Service. Poorly lit streets received new or upgraded lighting fixtures.
2016 was a year of fun in our Recreation Division.
Through its annual Special Event Series, the Division offered numerous free events for our residents to enjoy.
You can see just some of them listed on the screen
(slide number 7 and 8)
The Recreation Division offered over 80 programs for our community in 2016
The Parks were scheduled for 130 hours of private and community programs.
Youth and Adult sports leagues accounted for 1,392 hours of field use.
118 youth received free swim lessons given at our outdoor facilities.
Our 3 pools were open for a combined total of 82 hours
545 youth participated in Water Safety Presentations.
7 community based summer camps and Daycare Centers regularly scheduled visits to the pools.
23 new lifeguards were trained, 10 lifeguards recertified. All programs are part of the City of Plainfield Aquatic School, Pathways to Careers in Recreation.
In 2016 we added what turned out to be two very popular programs the Mayor’s Youth Football Cup game and Plainfield Plays Tennis.
The Madison Avenue Park bathroom installation was completed, and families will have access to barrier-free bathrooms at this heavily used playground.
In 2016 we partnered with even more Community based organizations to bring more programs and increased partnerships by 100% over 2015.
The programs offered are too many to list but you can see them on the slides. (Slides 9 & 10)
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said:
"If you can't fly then run if you can't run then walk if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."
Plainfield, we’ve come a long way in just three years, sometimes it felt like we were crawling, but we never stopped moving forward.
There is much more to do, and we’re here to work, and keep the momentum going
We may have walked before, but in 2017, we’re going to fly.
The administration will be embarking on a feasibility and implementation study that will maximize the use of the Hannah Atkins Center as a place for recreational, educational and entrepreneurial training. We will also be introducing a healthy foods initiative.
We believe that the center can be transformed into a compelling community space with updated recreational and community revitalizing features that will serve as one of the key hubs for providing community-centric services to our residents.
The repositioning of this site will serve a vital role in the continued revitalization of the west end area specifically, and Plainfield at large. We will begin this process by initially addressing the current property at that location so that we can start providing targeted educational and job training services at the current facility while we master plan and develop a new facilities program for this site.
We’re going to complete the building of the Madison Avenue Skate Park and get our kids off the streets and into safe surroundings while they’re skating.
Balance is necessary. Facilitating healthy, active bodies and creating up to date communal space is important. So we’ll finish The Rushmore Playground Concession Stand Building, the Seidler Field Reconstruction and the Walking Trail for Milt Campbell
2017 will see forty-four (44) housing units serviced for safe home lead remediation through the Lead Poising Remediation Pilot Grant through a partnership with PROCEED Inc.
We’ll provide administrative support for a DCA grant for $398,000 which will facilitate the rehabilitation of The Dudley House to provide Housing for Veterans
We’re going to create a Vacant and Abandoned Property Portal that will allow residents, and concerned citizens the ability to notify the office of potentially abandoned properties, and we’re going to increase inspection of vacant and abandoned properties to more stringently enforce property maintenance codes
Non-profit community-based organizations will be developed and offered support with technical assistance in grant writing, marketing, corporate structure and best practices
Keeping our city beautiful is a priority, so we're going to establish a High Impact Landlord Initiative that works with the city’s largest landlords with the most violations to improve their properties
We’ll develop the Outside Art Initiative, which provides an avenue for artistic expression through all wards of the city, which includes murals, underpasses, walls, and businesses. We’ll turn drab exteriors into cheerful expressions of Plainfield creativity.
And – we’re going to light up every street in Plainfield as we expand the Light Up the City program.
In 2017 we’re bringing State of the Art - 21st century IT training to Plainfield through a partnership with National Action Network Tech World.
The NAN Tech Training Model is a community-based Learning Center that bridges the Digital Divide by providing technology rich, after school academic enrichment opportunities for Plainfield's K-12 students including IT literacy, and IT industry related training for Plainfield job seekers and families.
It’s going to be an exciting year in Plainfield, but we're not done yet…
We're going to encourage riders to continue to take advantage of the current pilot one seat ride program, and we're going to keep pushing for a permanent one seat ride into New York.
We're going to seek reliable redevelopment partners and promote the one seat ride as an incentive to invest.
We're going to focus on finding solutions and not applying band-aids. This means securing funding for education initiatives like the Plainfield Promise and moving ahead with it before the end of 2017.
We’re going to maintain a tax collection rate of at least 97% and deliver a budget to the council by the March of 2017 due date.
We intend to generate more than $1 Million Dollars in new grants by December 31, 2017.
We’re going to eliminate the previous year’s audit findings and finance $5 million for roadway improvements by September 15, 2017.
In other words, we’re going to continue this transformation that had its beginning three years ago.
PLAINFIELD PROMISE AND CONCLUSION
A wise man once said, “while ordinary politicians plan for the next election, genuine statesmen plan for the next generation.”
In closing I have a unique initiative that I want to share with you, it's called the Plainfield Promise. It's very near and dear to my heart and tonight I’ll tell you why…
But first, if you’ll permit me I’d like to share a little bit of my personal story to give you a better understanding of my passion.
As most of you already know, I wasn’t born here. Although after having lived here for almost forty years this is where I've spent most of my life, and it is my home, in my mind and my heart.
But I was born in Barbados and spent most of my childhood there…
Life was not always easy growing up; it was very hard. I was raised in a household without a father, but luckily I was blessed with a loving grandmother who raised me with several siblings and cousins.
She did that while my mother migrated to the U.S. and worked with families on Long Island to save money to support her kids.
We were very poor, and we knew it, and it was sometimes difficult to make ends meet. There was very little money for basic things like shoes, uniforms, books and the other essentials needed for school going kids.
Many days I would travel to school hungry and without the prospect of lunch and Let me tell you, it is hard to focus on learning when you are hungry. I had to rely on the generosity of my school friends who at times spared me a piece of a sandwich.
But every single day I got up, my grandmother insisted that I go to school, and I was taught even as we struggled that the key to making a better life is through education.
I listened to her through the years of hardship and held fiercely to the goal of educating myself and ensuring that my children would not have to endure what I did.
After migrating to America, I pledged to myself that I would take advantage of every opportunity that came my way to build a better life for myself and my family.
I got my college start at an institution that, to this day, is very near and dear to my heart, Union County College. Even though I was living in the U.S., funding a college education was expensive.
I worked my way from Union County College to Rutgers University, from Rutgers to Fairleigh Dickinson; but always I kept at the forefront of my mind that education was the answer and I persevered despite the challenges presented by my situation.
But, that’s one of the things that’s great about America, there are resources and options available if you want it badly enough… It was during this time that I came to the knowledge of a yearning within myself to help those around me. Those who may be growing up facing similar circumstances to those in which I was raised. My community, my city and the generation coming after… this was my call to public service.
A person’s zip code, his or her station in life should not dictate the destination to which one embarks.
I shared this story to say that a love of education is deeply rooted in me. I know what it means to struggle, and my story could have had a very different ending, were it not for my belief in the power of education to transform.
And I want to unleash that power here in Plainfield. I want to see our youth hungry to learn and eager to achieve. I want to see education reach out and grab them away from the streets and say:
"this one is mine; you don't get to have him.”
"This one is special; she belongs to me."
I believe that if every single person had the benefit of a good education there would be ninety percent less crime in the world and I want to do my part to make that happen.
Studies have shown that children who are exposed to financial literacy at an early age grow up to practice sound money management later on and are more likely to be solid achievers.
With this in mind, Plainfield Promise has as one of its goals to establish a bank account with an amount of money (up to five hundred dollars), for every single child starting school in the City of Plainfield.
You have to sow the seeds today if you want to reap the rewards tomorrow, and this is about changing outcomes for generations.
The other component of Plainfield Promise throws out a challenge to every high school student in Plainfield. If you complete high school and qualify to go to college but cannot afford to do so, we will pay for you to attend Union County College.
And if there’s a child who’s more interested in learning a trade than going to a traditional college, we’ll also provide assistance for them to pursue their dreams.
Plainfield Promise will provide funding to assist our young people who have worked hard and deserve the opportunity to explore their full potential; this is the future of Plainfield; this is how we begin to transform the landscape of opportunity and re-create our city.
Education expands the mind; education fights hatred, education provides opportunities, education opens doors. It elevates and paves the way for change that affects generation after generation.
Plainfield Promise will be funded from several sources, the details of which we will share as soon as the logistics are worked out and the program is ready to launch.
Earlier tonight I spoke about my love for this city. This community is my passion. I care deeply for every resident that is jobless; for every veteran that is homeless, for every immigrant that feels powerless.
I care for the person whose biggest concern might be the pothole in front of their house and for the one worrying about the hole in the family budget.
For that child who feels they have no answers but the one on the street, From Terrill Road to Jefferson Avenue and everywhere in between… I care deeply.
Working alongside those of you who love this city, as I do, I want to change Plainfield for the better, not just today, not just tomorrow but for generations to come.
It continues to be an honor to serve as your Mayor. Though there remain challenges, we have worked hard this past year and the two years preceding it, and we know that there is further to go and much yet to do.
We have made dramatic changes that will benefit Plainfield in the years ahead. And we can be proud of this. We are leaving a legacy for which our children will be thankful.
It has been a pleasure to see plans come to fruition, development taking root, and life coming back into the previously abandoned spaces.
I could not be more excited about Plainfield's future, and I am thrilled to be here to take this journey with you.
So we’re going to continue down the path of transformation because we’re not done yet.
We’re going to keep pushing because we have further to go
We’re going to dig deeper, and we’re going to fly higher
we’ll raise the quality of life for every Plainfield resident
We’re going to blaze the brand of Plainfield across the State of New Jersey,
we are a city to watch, and we will not be denied our Renaissance
Uniting as we Build… One Plainfield, One Future…
May God bless every person here tonight, Bless the City of Plainfield and Bless the United States of America. Thank you and good night!