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By Walter Elliott
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You'll always find people who are helping.' " Television host Fred Rogers (1928-2003).
NEWARK - The shootings that took five lives in Hudson County Dec. 7 and Dec. 10, before law enforcers took the two killers down in Jersey City, and its effects have reverberated through the "Local Talk" area and beyond in ways the perpetrators will never know.
All but maybe one of the victims' funerals have been completed as of Noon Dec. 18. They may or may not include that of Newark church member Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49, whose body was returned to his native Ecuador after his memorial in Paterson Dec. 14.
Investigators, including those who scoured a utility van in Orange Dec. 14, are still trying to assemble a timeline, and perhaps find a solid motive, for the killers' deeds.
Healers and consolers, include those from "Local Talk" towns, started coming to others' aid even before the gunfire at Jersey City's 223 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. had ended.
What stories of horror and heroism Dec 7 and 10, like in many other natural and man-made tragedies, are just beginning to be told. They were, depending on one's point of view, were either in the right or wrong place and time.
Williams MacHazek, Pastor of Iglesia Nueva Vida Assembly of God in the Ironbound, for example, found himself presiding over congregant and friend Rodriguez's memorial service at South Paterson's Michigan Memorial Saturday night.
MacHazek and Rodriguez's family had decided to hold Rodriguez's U.S. farewell at 17 Michigan Ave. to better accommodate mourners, dignitaries and media members. The funeral parlor, however, was easily filled beyond the room's 60-seat capacity by the memorial's 5 p.m. start.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan, U.S. Senator Bill Pascrell and Paterson / Jersey City mayors André Sayegh and Steve Fulop and Ecuador's Counsel General to the U.S. were among those lining one wall's aisle. Broadcast and print reporters lined the other aisle and spilled out onto Michigan Avenue.
They came to measure the quality of their loss in Rodriguez - as had those who had gone to the funerals of JC Kosher Grocery store co-owner Mindel “Mindy” Ferencz, 33, and Moshe Deutsch, 24 in Brooklyn Nov. 11, would JCPD Det. Joseph Seals, 39, in North Arlington and Jersey City Dec. 15-17 and for Michael Rumberger, 34, in Jersey City Dec. 15.
All five were made victims by David N. Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, whose last address was an Elizabeth condominium unit before their late 2018 eviction. The couple were last seen in that city trying to re-enter their former dwelling, entering and leaving in a white Ford Econoline utility van they were living in.
Authorities, as of press time, were still trying to pinpoint when they left the van beside a Firestone tire dealership at 185 Central Ave. and when they rented a U-Haul truck. That van would later be reported as stolen when Anderson failed to return it.
Anderson, Graham drove their rented truck to Jersey City's Hudson Mall Dec. 7 and called Grove Taxi & Airport Limo for a ride to a moving warehouse in Bayonne's West First Street. Rumberger picked them up in the company's black Lincoln livery car.
Rumberger, who had been working for Grove the last 10 years, was splitting Dec. 7's shift with a colleague. The Bayonne native was getting into dispatching of late.
The livery car got only as far as Bayonne's JFK Boulevard and 17th Street. Detectives have said that there was an apparent struggle before Rumberger was shot in the head and stuffed into the trunk.
That was where Bayonne police and the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office found Rumberger 9:55 p.m. Dec. 7. Grewal announced on Dec. 11 that Anderson and Graham were tied to Rumberger's murder. His 17-year-old daughter ran a GoFundMe.com drive to help pay for her father's funeral.
Anderson and Graham drove the rented truck to Bay View Cemetery early Dec. 11 - where Det. Seals also happened to be. Authorities would only currently say that the 15-year officer was in the southwest Greenville section burial ground to meet with an informant on an unrelated case.
Seals, while waiting, noticed the rental truck. What happened next has not been immediately disclosed except that the North Arlington resident was shot dead.
Law enforcement officers, including those from the local precincts, attended Seals' wakes at North Arlington and Jersey City Dec. 15-17 and his funeral at Jersey City's St. Aedan’s Roman Catholic Church Dec. 17. It is not immediately known whether “Local Talk” area officers joined others in covering shifts for their Jersey City colleagues those days.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, officiated Seals' Tuesday funeral. A wife and five children, including a son attending Newark's St. Benedict's Prep High School, were among those who are bereft of Seals.
Anderson and Graham had left the cemetery when another visitor found Seals' body and called police. "Officer down" calls were being broadcasted when their van parked curbside by Sacred Heart Elementary School at about 12:25 p.m.
Rodriguez and Ferencz were into their first operating hour of the day at JC Kosher Grocery. Ferencz and her husband had opened the store to serve the growing Orthodox Jewish community there. Around 100 Satmar Hasidim started moving into the otherwise mostly African American Greenville section when Williamsburg, Brooklyn rents became too steep.
Rodriguez, a commercial engineer by trade, was pulling another 10-hour shift at the store He, wife/social worker Marta Freire and daughter Amy had moved to Harrison in 2017 when the company he worked for went out of business and they could not find new jobs in Ecuador.
Rodriguez and Freire soon found "New Life Church AG" at 250 McWhorter St. Miguel began volunteering at the church, teaching children, until he was hired by Ferencz.
"Miguel was referred to the grocery store by someone who knew his hard work," said Freire at his Dec. 14 funeral. "He worked 60 hours a week, Sundays through Fridays. He loved the Jews and they loved him - he never understood why others hated them."
Rodriguez's store clerk job mean that he was working Sundays. Pastor MacHazek told "Local Talk" Dec. 15 that Miguel found a way to volunteer.
"Miguel was a member of the men's group," explained MacHazek before Nueva Vida's 1:30 p.m. service start. "He was part of the prayer circle."
Rodriguez, said MacHazek, was helping with a find drive to get a church van. Relatives said that he and his family were planning to return to Ecuador in two or three years.
Deutsch, a rabbinical school student, was ordering a sandwich at JC when Anderson and Graham got out of the truck, drew out automatic rifles and began firing into the store.
Rodriguez, hearing gunfire, grabbed another patron who was already shot in a shoulder. He pushed him out the back door before, seconds later he was himself shot.
A two-hour standoff between Anderson and Graham, in the store, and arriving police outside, ensued. Witnesses and offices noticed that the attackers were firing at them and not other nearby civilians.
Some 100 shots riddled the store and pockmarked the Sacred Heart School; students and staff hit the floors and entered lockdown mode - as all other Jersey City schools. NJTransit's Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line service was also halted.
The impasse ended when JCPD's tactical unit ran an armored car into the storefront; officers also broke down 221's front door as well. That was when they found Rodriguez, Deutsch, Ferencz and their murderers dead.
"They put the door back up - the police didn't know what was going on," said a young Satmar man to "Local Talk" at the scene Dec. 14. "It was a good thing that the door lock was there. There were some 50 yeshiva students upstairs."
The man pointed to a push-button door lock which was the only access to the synagogue and yeshiva. The two plywood panels boarding up JC's storefront became a backdrop for a makeshift shrine. A man asked the Satmar "Local Talk" was talking with about leaving some homemade five-point prayer stars there; they would appear in subsequent broadcasts.
"They were shooting in an area," said Cong. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-Newark) Dec. 15 there, "shooting where there was a school up above and another across the street."
Payne stood there with Cong. Albio Sires (D-Union City) Josh Gottheimer (D-North Caldwell) and Mayor Fulop. Two of the three condolence cards which "Local Talk" had signed, had been taken down; the one remaining up was Rodriguez's.
"Local Talk" was signing Rodriguez's card and about to sign the two others when a passerby remarked: "I ain't no Jew - I'm not signing that."
Law enforcement's search for evidence and a motive led them to the Ford van Anderson and Graham left behind in Orange Saturday afternoon. They searched the vehicle for two hours before contracting a flatbed tow truck. The vehicle was presumably taken to the FBI field office in Newark.
Both Grewal and Callahan told mourners Saturday night that they were impressed with Freire's faith and courage from the start.
"The first thing you said to me in English and in Spanish," said Grewal to Freire and the audience, "was that you forgave the killers."
"I there when you said that," added Gallagher. "I must admit, I had to regain my composure."
An aide from U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez's office presented Freire a U.S. flag that had been flown from the Capitol's flagpole. A tearful Freire unfolded the flag and held it next to the Ecuadoran flag standing at the foot of Rodriguez's casket.
A Michigan Memorial manager helped Freire drape the U.S. flag on the casket. His body would be presumably sent to Guayaquil, where he was born Feb. 8, 1970, for a later, private burial.
"We must love each other," said Friere. "Hate has no place where love is."
JERSEY CITY - A veteran Jersey City police officer and two civilians lost their lives after two shooters took to the streets and wreaked havoc.
On Dec. 10 around 12:30 pm, two people dressed in black were camped around Bayview Cemetery and began a shootout with officers. Three officers were struck by gunfire, with two having since been released from the hospital. Sadly, 40-year-old Detective Joseph Seals succumbed to his injuries. Seals is said to have been looking at the two as possible suspects in a Bayonne shooting. He is survived by his wife and five children.
After the cemetery shooting, the two shooters, later identified as David Anderson and Francine Graham, arrived at the JC Kosher Supermarket and opened fire with long guns, killing 33-year-old Mindel “Mindy” Ferencz, who owned the store with her husband, 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, the son of a local New York civic figure, and 49-year-old Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, an employee at the store.
Officers in the area responded immediately, and after an hours-long standoff that saw hundreds of rounds of ammunition fired, both shooters were fatally taken down by officials that included Jersey City, state and federal law enforcement.
Local schools were put on lockdown, and traffic was backed up for miles on highways. Also, the Hudson Light Rail were suspended as various agencies were concerned about a stolen U-Haul van the gunners had in the area. Members of the New York City bomb squad were brought in to investigate.
As for a reason for the melee, Anderson was a one-time follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, whose members believe they are descendants of ancient Israelites and own Christian and Judaic beliefs. Graham was a former home health aide in Manhattan, who reportedly was coerced into accepting Anderson’s beliefs.
Authorities have confirmed that this particular supermarket was targeted. There were rumors that the shooters could have been targeting a yeshiva, where dozens of children would have been in danger. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and several New York officials are all in agreement that it was a crime of hate towards those of the Jewish faith.
“We stand with Jersey City as we mourn today’s (Dec. 10) terrible tragedy,” said Grewal in a statement. “The Attorney General’s Office is leading the criminal investigation and any public statements about the matter will be issued by our office. We continue to work closely with our federal, county, and local partners and we remain grateful for the outpouring of support from law enforcement across the region and the nation.
“We recognize the fear that communities rightfully feel after traumatic incidents such as these, and we are committed to providing all resources necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our fellow residents.”
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - Nov. 18's Newark Municipal Council meeting's hearing of citizens regarding the present state of Newark's water took on a Biblical air.
Debra Salters, one of Monday night's 17 speakers, started out with invoking "Woe to you Pharisees and scribes, you hypocrites," as found in the Gospels' Matthew 23, to the seven council members present.
It was remarks and questions by Newark Water Coalition Co-founder Anthony Diaz and Ironbound resident Leonard Thomas, later on in the hearing - and responses among particular council members and Mayor Ras Baraka's administrators - that took the discussion into a more Torah-like turn.
Questions, statements, charges and counter-charges among Diaz, Thomas, Council President Mildred Crump, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador and City Business Administrator Eric Pennington, Esq., particularly when the term "misinformation" was tossed around, may have reminded some of the estimated council chamber audience of Numbers 13:25-33.
That chapter of Numbers was where the spies whom Moses sent out to check out the promised land reported back to him and the ancient Israelites. Two of the spies said, "We should by all means go up and take possession," but the rest of the spies said, "the cities are fortified, the people are too strong and we're like grasshoppers to them."
The ancient Israelites, by Numbers 13:33, were asking themselves, "Whose report do we believe?"
Diaz opened his remarks by stating that this was his and NWC members' first formal appearance before the council chamber podium. The nearly-year-old group's leader explained that his group has been freely giving out bottles of water and filters, "especially to those who have been turned away at the city's distribution centers."
The City of Newark is two months into its free bottle and filter reduction policy. The items are being given out to pregnant and/or nursing mothers and/or parents who have children six years old and younger.
Baraka and Acting Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem have been reducing water and filter access to those served by the Newark Water Supply's Pequannock System so that the orthophosphate, added to the system since May 6, can coat the insides of the water mains and Lead Service Lines. Orthophosphate has replaced sodium silicate, which NWS-Pequannock used for 20 years until the U.S. EPA informed Newark in 2017 that the earlier additive has lost its effectiveness - contributing to the lead buildup.
Diaz, Salters and Thomas said, however, that they've had individuals who were in the NWS Pequannock system but were denied bottles and/or filters at city distribution centers.
The NWC leader added that some individuals who came to them were from NWS-Wanaque System who were either worried on its water quality or were denied by city officials.
NWS-Wanaque mainly serves Newark's East Ward, including the Ironbound. City officials, when launching an LSL Replacement program along with bottle and filter distribution, cited EPA test results where the bulk of the 15 parts per billion-plus of lead in water were found in NWS-Pequannock.
Baraka, Adeem, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson) and Acting NJ DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe announced the reduction based on the latest EPA test results showing an initial drop of lead content below 15 ppb. Dias, Monday, reminded the council that the public is still waiting for the full report to be released.
Diaz, declaring, "We can't do this alone," then put out an olive branch. He asked for the city's help in NWC's bottle and water distribution.
The NWC leader followed with a demand to fund aftercare and treatment of children affected by lead poisoning for several years into to the future. He cited a Flint study where demand for special education in its public school system increased 56 percent in the wake of that Michigan city's water fiasco.
“I'm glad my children have not grown up with this water situation,” said Thomas. "Who will help children with behavioral problems caused by lead with courses and jobs so they don't wind up in prison?"
"The Mayor, on a public stage two months ago, promised a public meeting with us - but that hasn't happened," said Diaz. "The only Council Member who met with us was Councilman Amador last week; he understands the extent of the problem."
At that point, both Council President Mildred Crump and Amador put up their hands.
"I want a show of hands of my colleagues who were contacted by the coalition," asked Crump, followed by a pause. The other six council members (Councilman Luis Quintana and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr. were absent throughout) did not raise their hands; Amador's hand turned into a skyward finger point.
"I'll ask you to give out your business cards with your contact numbers through the clerk (Kenneth Louis)," said Crump to Diaz.
"Let me make some clarification," said Amador to Crump and the public. "The group came to my office aide, asking for me and I met them in my office because I was there. They had made no appointment."
Turning to the state of Newark's water, Amador said that he had his residence tested for water six weeks ago - but is still waiting for the results. He questioned city policy on excluding the East Ward and other NWS-Wanaque-served residences - which prompted Pennington to clarify "misinformation" from the public speakers podium.
It is to "Local Talk" understanding that the city's LSL Replacement Program has spread the last 60 days to all five wards, removing said lines regardless of ppb readings or location.
The East Ward Councilman countered while holding a DEP document.
"This is the latest test results," said Amador. "It shows that there are 2,000 LSLs within the East Ward."
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - The city's fight to eliminate lead in its drinking water, given separate developments in the East Ward and in several Newark Public Schools Oct. 8, may have some likening the combat to fighting wildfires.
Mayor Ras Baraka's administration - with county, state and federal assistance - have been striving to contain and eradicate the lead problem for a year.
Free filters and pitchers have been distributed to those having Lead Service Lines connected to Newark Water Supply's Pequannock System since Oct. 15, 2018. An LSL Replacement Program has been underway since the spring but has been accelerated since accepting Essex County's $120 million loan. The free water bottle distribution program - launched Aug. 13 while the city, EPA and DEP test filters for lead containment - has begun to wind down.
Those who snuff out forest and wildfires, however, can tell the layperson about how conditions can make a seemingly contained blaze "jump" to a new area or reignite in a presumably extinguished area.
Chalkbeat.org, for example, received the August 2018-June 2019 results of water fixtures tested at 29 Newark Public Schools and posted it Oct. 8, similar to a WNYC/Gothamist posting.
Seven of those schools sampled and tested by NPS's contracted laboratory across the city's five wards were found to have exceeded the EPA's "actionable" lead threshold of 15 ppb.
In the North Ward, one of the four Park Avenue Elementary School drinking fountains, faucets or shower heads tested 2018-19 registered 16.1 ppb.
In the Central Ward, one of the three fixtures tested at the Newark Leadership Academy's part of 301 W. Kinney St. building scored 16.1 ppb. Two of 20 Fourteenth Avenue School fixtures tested 19.8 and 77.4.
In the West Ward, one of Ivy Hill Elementary School's 20 fixture samplings read 15.5. One of Mt. Vernon Elementary School's 15 water outlets read 210.
Three of 32 Thirteenth Avenue School's 32 outlets registered 19.7, 36.3 and 144 ppb. One of West Side High School's former Newark Evening High School building section's 19 fixtures tested scored 313.
NPS officials had promptly shut off the water source to those fixtures that have scored 15ppb-plus; they have been removed and its replacements flushed.
The news of the seven schools crossing the EPA's threshold brought memories of March-June 2016, when 30 of 66 NPS buildings exceeded the federal limit.
State District Superintendent Christopher Cerf promptly ordered closing off the offending fixtures for eventual replacement. That replacement included whatever lead piping found within those affected Newark schools.
Students and staff, in a harbinger of what the city itself has been going through since Aug. 13, received bottled or boxed water for the rest of the school year.
Six of those seven schools that exceeded 15ppb 2018-19 were among those 30 affected in 2016.
The Newark Leadership Academy had three excessive fixtures in 2016: 18, 26.4, 29.4. Fourteenth Avenue, back then, had a single 16.1 reading.
Ivy Hill had a 131 and a 149 ppb reading. Mt. Vernon had 16.5. WSHS-NEHS scored 40.8, 55.2 and 65.
Park Elementary, built in 2012, either passed or was not tested in 2016. That the more modern building made the exceeding list makes it an exception to the convention that many of the high readings came from buildings constructed well before the 1986 federal lead line and fixture ban.
Chalkbeat also received data from 2018 and 2017. Another six schools that passed 2018-19 latest tests were found to have excessive levels in 2017-18 and who were also among 2016's 30 buildings.
Those 2017-18 buildings, without immediately available ppb readings, were: the North Ward's Luis Munoz Marin Elementary and the Old First/Elliott Street School Annex/Salome Urena Elementary School; the Central Ward's Quitman Community School, the West Ward's JFK School, the South Ward's Hawthorne Avenue Elementary, Malcolm X Shabazz High and University high schools; and East Side High School in the Ironbound.
Comparing the 2018-19, 2017-18 and 2016 readings underscores both the persistence of eradicating lead in LSLs and fixtures - and the need for frequent water sampling and testing. NPS and the City of Newark have been conducting water tests independently of each other.
If the above is news to you - there may be a reason for that.
New Jersey's public schools are required to test and report results every six years. Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson), on Oct. 10, has halved that interval to three years.
A high NPS official, in a late September interview on WNYC-820 A.M., said that, because the state largest school district was testing more frequently than required by state law, that they did not have to notify parents and students or post on its website those frequent results.
"The next piece is, now when you have those exceedances," said district SBA Valerie Wilson, “how do you report them responsibly, so you don't create panic for people?”
ESHS, in 2017, had eight 15ppb-plus readings from among 22 fixtures tested. Hawkins Street, the old Oliver Street, South Street and Wilson Avenue schools were also tested in the East Ward 2017-19; Lafayette Street and the New Oliver Street School were not tested those three years.
"Local Talk" has not immediately received the readings or in-building sampling locations for 2017-18 readings in the East Ward nor citywide. Where the samples were taken in the school buildings may indicate whether the lead buildup lies in the fixtures or the LSLs.
It has been the Baraka Administration's policy to prioritize free water filter and bottle distribution on those served by NWS-Pequannock system. That system's territory - the West Central and South Wards plus the North Ward's western half - was where sodium silicate added to line LSLs had lost its effectiveness since 2017.
Those served by NWS-Wanaque - the East Ward and the North Ward's eastern half - have water with the still-effective orthophosphate added. Filters and bottles were therefore emphasized for NWS-Pequannock while its new orthophosphate plant in Montclair came online.
NWS-Pequannock also got priority in Newark's LSLRP - until Mayor Baraka himself recently directed that all such lines throughout all wards be replaced.
The foregoing became the background for an exchange between Acting Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem and East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador that cut short the Municipal Council's Oct. 8 Special Meeting.
Adeem was updating the council that Tuesday morning on the LSLRP progress when he mentioned that his employees and contractors were replacing the lead lines citywide even "if you were affected or not."
Amador then interrupted Adeem, restating that his ward had been treated differently from the others during this crisis. The East Ward Councilman said that a private company's test results showed that his residents were impacted by elevated lead levels.
"We don't know what's the percentage of contamination that exists in the East Ward," said Amador. "There's a problem in the East that should've been recognized from the very beginning - and it was not."
The Amador-Adeem dialogue became so heated that Council President first asked the latter to stop answering the former's questions - and moved the meeting into executive session. Corporation Counsel Kenyatta Stewart purportedly used the closed segment to explain what the LSLRP is doing in the East Ward.
That clarification was expressed by city spokesman Mark Di Ionno to "Local Talk" in City Hall the next morning.
"There seems to be a miscommunication between those residents who sign up for LSL replacement and those who actually do have lead lines," said Di Ionno, who was "on loan" from the Newark Fire Department to assist the Mayor's Public Information Office.
"Not everyone who signs up for the replacement program actually have lead lines," said the retired news reporter. "It's our obligation to go to each homeowner who signed up to test-bore for lead lines - and that can be outside the affected area. We then explain to the homeowner whether he or she has a lead service line or not."
Amador, when asked in his office about the private company test Oct. 9, said, "No comment. If you want to ask about the water, I refer you to the Administration."
By Lev D. Zilbermints
NEWARK - On Oct. 2, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka delivered a much-anticipated address to the community regarding the Newark Water Crisis. Baraka delivered his speech at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, a venue normally used for concerts, political meetings, and musical performances. Baraka’s speech did not start until 6:30 p.m.
Outside NJPAC, mounted police and foot police had a heavy presence. Inside, bags were checked, and visitors were scanned with metal-detecting rods. Apart from ensuring safety, a key reason for the tight security was that many dignitaries and political leaders were in attendance. These included members of the Newark City Council, members of the New Jersey Legislature, policemen and firemen in their dress uniforms, their aides, wives, etc.
Dressed in a navy blue suit, white shirt and light purple tie, Baraka entered to applause. The mayor acknowledged Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and other dignitaries, then started talking about the Newark Water Crisis.
In his speech, Baraka sounded both confident and combative.
“I will never concede that we allowed people to drink lead coming from the water without telling them,” Baraka told an audience that was most packed with his supporters.
“Stop telling people our water is poisonous! Stop advocating for other cities to stop buying Newark’s water! Stop creating panic in our town! Stop putting out news articles saying lead is spreading in Newark’s downtown! Stop talking about Newark!” Baraka shouted at the top of his voice, as hundreds of people applauded and cheered.
“Leave my damn city alone!” Baraka yelled to applause and cheers from the audience.
Previously, the mayor announced that Newark is getting $155 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The money, which is part of a new lease agreement, will be of great financial help to pay for replacing every lead line in Newark.
Baraka said that it will take between 24-30 months to replace all the lead pipes in Newark. The pipes are from 1880s - 1930s. Previous administrations have not done anything to replace the pipes. This led to the situation Newark is in right now. That being said, the city will replace the pipes at no cost to the taxpayers or homeowners thanks to a $120,000,000 loan from Essex County.
Trying to counter criticism, Baraka held up a stack of press releases and water bills dating back to 2016. The mayor told the audience that the city had been informing Newarkers about the water crisis since 2017. This allegation was countered by activists such as Munirah Bomani, Anthony Diaz and Shakima Thomas. According to the press releases, interviews and social media posts by the activists, the Baraka Administration has not been transparent.
In a Facebook post, Newark Water Coalition activists and their allies stated that in 2017 the Baraka Administration was too focused on the 2018 mayoral election.
Baraka admitted that his administration could have a better job in getting the word out about the Newark Water Crisis.
“I’ll also concede that maybe we should have spent less time fighting with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), who was trying to abuse us, and had a clearer message. But what I will never concede is that the mayor purposely and deliberately lied,” Baraka said.
Kareem Adeem, Newark’s acting director of water and sewer, warned residents that the distribution of bottled water will come to an end on Oct. 8. This will be done to get Newarkers to use tap water again. According to Adeem, water usage is down 25%. Meanwhile, 123,000 cases of bottled water have been distributed.
Adeem also showed the different types of pipes, including lead pipes, being used in Newark. At one point, Adeem took a pipe and bent it.
So far, 38,000 filters and 31,000 replacement cartridges have been distributed, Baraka said. At least 50 lead lines have been replaced every day. Seven days a week, 15-20 hours per day is spent replacing pipes, Baraka said. At least 1,000 pipes have been replaced.
Catherine McCabe, the state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, said that it will take time to solve the water crisis.
“These are complex problems that are not solved overnight,” McCabe said. McCabe said that dozens of water systems in the state had the same problem Newark did, high lead levels in the water. McCabe put the number of water system at more than 60.
Recent testing has shown that 97-99% of the filters worked after the water was flushed. These results came from a batch of 300 homes that were tested. The results were announced by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Mayor Baraka and a host of other officials at a Newark press conference in late September.
As Baraka was basking in adulation from a sympathetic audience, a group of protestors interrupted him. At least two people stood between the aisles of seats and shouted questions at Mayor Baraka and the panel of experts.
The first protester, a young father, demanded to know if the water was safe to drink and use. Dressed in the blue and black T-shirt of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, the man shouted questions.
“Can we give it to our children? Can we bathe in it? What are we doing with our children?” the man asked. Police and security officials escorted the protestor out of the room.
Anthony Diaz, one of the co-founders of the Newark Water Coalition, also shouted questions at the mayor and the panel of experts. Unlike the first protestor, Diaz actually received a round of applause from attendees sympathetic to his questions.
Diaz accused the mayor of providing “the same old information.” According to Diaz, “The problem is that the program that the mayor (put together) is not being distributed on a high level. There were issues with filter distribution, there were issues with water distribution. Education is not being done enough.”
Speaking after the event, members of the United Panther Movement said, (for Baraka this was) “just a performance. Why don’t everyone know? Why was not info posted?”
Responding to the protesters, Baraka said, “you cannot get lead poisoning from taking a bath or shower or washing your dishes. You should not listen to mythology. You should listen to science. We already have a president who listens to mythology.”
The United Panther Movement submitted a rebuttal of Baraka’s argument in an email interview.
“The science has proven it is possible to get lead poisoning through the pores of your skin at very high levels. And there needs to be more independent studies as our levels are higher than Flint, MI. Because the human body is composed of many organs and systems. The integumentary is the largest system. Skin is porous and the largest organ in the body. It stands to reason that residents would be concerned about washing in water filled by heavy metals like lead, phthalates, haloacetic acids, and other carcinogens and toxins, especially with vulnerable populations like babies and children.”
Munirah Bomani, an activist who was recently barred from speaking at the Municipal Council meeting, said the mayor was not being truthful. In an Oct. 8 Facebook video, Bomani claimed that close to half of Newark homes have lead in their water.
In an interview after the event, Diaz criticized the mayor for not doing enough.
According to Diaz, the mayor did not address the question of how widespread the water crisis is in Newark. Nor was the data from the mayor’s claims publicly available. Diaz said that much transparency and definite oversight is necessary. A committee of water experts, educational institutions community members and activist groups need to monitor the entire water project in Newark.
In an interview sent to “Local Talk” on Oct. 8, the United Panther Movement blasted the mayor as a liar. The UPM representative wrote in the email, “My opinion on what the mayor said is that it seemed deceptive an insincere. I don’t know what went through his mind when he just went on a rampage like he was in a play. But at the beginning there was a recording that stated it was a performance. This makes me raise an eyebrow and watch his body language. I have to say he had many of the signs of a bad liar. Not only that but he had ‘Yes people’ in the audience.”
The United Panther Movement echoed concerns raised by the Newark Water Coalition and other concerned residents.
“If he (the Mayor) knows so much about Newark Water Coalition, why has not he accepted any of their offers for a meeting? If he knows so much about them being special interest, why isn’t there any documentation of the mayor meeting up or working with them? He just says what sounds good to the public on national TV,” the United Panther Movement said in its interview.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - New Jersey's largest city will be getting some $155 million more from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that may help Newark's Lead Service Line Replacement Program - after a fashion.
Mayor Ras Baraka, in a 1-1:20 p.m. Oct. 1 City Hall news conference here, announced a lease amendment with the PANYNJ whereby the bistate agency will pay $155 million more over the next 30 years.
Baraka, before a "Local Talk" estimated Smith Press Conference Room of 60 media members and city officials, had come fresh from the Newark Municipal Council's special meeting that morning.
The council approved the $155 million lease bump-up by authorizing the "21st Supplemental Lease Agreement to excess of $160 million of the Newark Marine and Air Terminals" by 11 a.m. The lease has now been extended 10 years to 2075.
Newark has been leasing its municipal airport - now Newark Liberty International Airport - and Port Newark to the PA since 1948. The 98-year-old agency, before the bump-up, had been paying Newark $110 million annually for operating the airport and seaport.
South Ward Councilman John S. James and West Ward Councilman Joseph A. McCallum were seen among the conference's audience.
The lease amendment, as spelled out by the mayor, comes out to a $5 million up-front payment plus $5 million a year into 2050.
"This is money that's ours once we receive it," said Baraka. "We can add this money to our budget to support our city services, make some capital improvement and apply to some debt service. This' another example of this city using its own resources to solve our own problems."
That debt service would include the Essex County's loan of $120 million to expedite the city's LSLRP. That loan, which is being generated by an Essex County Improvement Authority bond issue, is to be paid back in $6 million annual installments 2020-50.
When asked if the PA's $10 million first payments by Jan. 15 will further speed up the replacement program, including the hiring of more contractors, Baraka shook his head.
"Our replacement timetable remains the same," said the mayor, "24 to 30 months."
While calling the lease amendment agreement "fortuitous," Baraka took time to explain that the amendment was not prompted by Newark's water crisis which led to the LSLRP.
Baraka and his administrators had been seeking additional U.S. and New Jersey funds through its Congressional and state legislative delegations. The mayor had said he is hoping that President Donald Trump will soon sign a bill, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-Newark) and Robert Menendez (D-Paramus), that will transfer some $100 million in clean water funding to water infrastructure repair.
Newark, said the mayor, was not tapping on the PA's shoulder because of the water crisis.
"This agreement has been years in the making and it clears up some long-standing issues," said Baraka. "We weren't seeing eye-to-eye on who owns Port Street; now the PA will be making curb-to-curb improvements on the road to the seaport. We'll also have a seaport administrator overseeing things down there."
The mayor raised his eyebrows when a reporter asked if the PA had to raise the initial $10 million payment.
"I don't know," said Baraka. "You'll have to go to one of their (board of directors) meetings."
Baraka looked around the room when asked if there was a PA representative present for comment.
"I don't see one here," said the mayor. "They may issue a statement on their own."
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - City of Newark, Essex County and State of New Jersey officials, by announcing preliminary results of the latest round of water filter tests here at City Hall Sept. 23, are eager to show that the city's water crisis is turning the corner.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson), Mayor Ras Baraka and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo (D-Roseland) led a host of municipal through state officials into a crowded City Hall Room B-21 after 1 p.m. to announce the latest state and federal water filter test results.
Murphy told the James E. "Smitty" Smith Press Meeting Room audience that he had "a welcome jolt of positive news" for those who use water from Newark's Pequannock system. That audience of 160 were majority media with some other city, county and state officials or employees.
The joint Newark/Department of Environmental Protection/Environmental Protection Agency test of 1,700 samples taken from 300 free PUR water faucet filters found that 97 percent of them were doing their job.
The filters' samples were reading less than the U.S. EPA "actionable" lead content limit of 15 parts per billion 97 percent of the time. Those readings registered 10ppb or below.
Murphy and other officials added that the sampled filters effectiveness rose to 99 percent when Newark Water Supply-Pequannock customers first run or flush the faucets for at least five minutes before using.
The city, state DEP and federal EPA ran this round of tests in the wake of an Aug. 9 report where two of three faucet filter units registered 15-plus ppb. This was after Newark had distributed some 38,000 free PUR water filters or pitchers to Lead Service Line-affected Pequannock system users in the city since last October.
"We needed more than two or three data points to get a handle on the problem," said Murphy. "We don't know why those filters failed; there will be a more comprehensive report released in the next few weeks. The scientists who are conducting these tests were comfortable with our providing you this preliminary information."
The Aug. 9 report prompted the Baraka Administration to distribute free bottled water to some 29,000 residents mostly in the affected area while setting up a testing protocol with the DEP and EPA.
"We came out early to tell you the results because we think it's so important that you hear it now," said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe. "We know there's been a high level of anxiety among the people. We know it's a big burden carrying bottled water."
"We thank God that the filters work but we are not in any way having a victory lap," said Baraka. "This is good news in a long and arduous task to make sure we have clean drinking water."
The preliminary findings prompted Baraka to declare that the bottled water distribution will be phased out over time.
"We're not going to shut off distributing bottled water," said Baraka. "We won't begin the phase out until we have our community advisement program in place."
The mayor was referring to a $1 million DEP-funded program where trained volunteers will go door-to-door, answering questions about lead and checking on the filters' installation. Those volunteers are to hit the streets in November.
Baraka cordially accepted Clean Water Action-New Jersey official Dr. Kim Gaddy's on-the-spot offer to volunteer in the program.
The mayor also announced a public "State of Water" Town Hall Meeting Oct. 2 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Although the Wednesday night meeting is free, the public will either have to get an admission ticket or RSVP in advance.
Baraka added that using more tap water would actually help accelerate orthophosphate's coating NWS-Pequannock system's inner water mains and lines. A new treatment plant in Montclair, which has been adding orthophosphate, has been in operation since May 6. Its anticipated effectiveness is to show up in water sample test results in six to 12 months.
"Use of Newark's water is down 10 percent," said Baraka.
Newark had been adding sodium silicate at the Pequannock treatment plant 1997-2017. The DEP, after noticing elevated lead level readings in that last year's tests, told the city that the additive had lost its effectiveness.
Murphy, indeed, called the bottled water and filter distribution Newark's "short" step, adding orthophosphate the medium" step and the Lead Service Line Replacement Program the "long-term" step in resolving what he called "Newark's water challenge."
Monday's conference came five days after the Newark Municipal Council unanimously approved two more measures to help with the long-term step.
City elders, after holding public hearings Sept. 18, approved Baraka's resolution to allow city workers and their contractors to replace LSLs on private property without having to notify, locate or seek permission from those property owners.
"The only long term solution is to replace every lead line in this city," said Baraka Monday. "I hope what we're doing will be a model for the nation - this is a national infrastructure problem."
The council also consented to accept Essex County and its improvement authority's Aug. 24 offer to loan Newark $120 million towards expediting the LSLRP. Both measures will help in shrinking the replacement timeline from eight to 10 years to 24 to 30 months.
DiVincenzo and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) both added that The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has approved the Essex County Improvement Authority's bonding for the loan and that Newark should see the first of the $120 million in November. (Oliver doubles as DCA Commissioner.)
They, McCabe and Acting Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem stood with Murphy and Baraka to underscore the cooperation of the so-far three levels of government in this saga.
Baraka, mid-conference, announced that the LSLRP is being extended to Belleville and Hillside since some of their residences are being served by NWS-Pequannock. (See related story.)
Council President Mildred Crump and State Assembly members Eliana Pintor-Marin (D-Newark) and Ralph Caputo (D- Belleville) were also seen among the room's audience.
McCabe and Adeem - with an aside from Baraka - found themselves Monday repeating perhaps the familiar refrain of water use precautions:
* Run the tap or faucet at least five minutes before turning on the filter unit. "Those who have at least 75 feet of lawn should run their water at least eight minutes," added Baraka. "I'm looking for confirmation from our experts."
* Start running or flushing the tap at least six hours after last use. Both Adeem and McCabe recommended doing that first thing in the morning or after coming home from work.
* Avoid running hot water though the faucet filter. "It won't ruin the filter," said McCabe, "but it will make it less effective."
* Replace filter cartridges at the recommended times. Free cartridges are available at the same filter/bottled water distribution sites.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - The public will have an opportunity to have a say on one part of the city's plan to eradicate Lead Service Lines here Sept. 18 now that the Municipal Council approved taking Essex County's $120 million bond-funded loan in their special Sept 10 session.
The council unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance amendment Sept. 5 which would give city officials and its contractors the go-ahead to replace the water service lines between the city's water mains and the homeowner's property. It was a late-starting, or walk-on bill submitted by Mayor Ras Baraka's Administration.
That LSL replacement, should the Municipal Council approve the amendment after its 5:30 p.m. Wednesday public hearing, would be made without notifying the homeowner and without getting the owner's permission.
Mayor Baraka has said several times in the last month that the bill, barring any similar legislation coming from the State House in Trenton, would further expedite the LSL Replacement Program currently underway.
Baraka has said that 78 percent of Newark's roughly 290,000 residents are apartment renters. Going ahead with the LSRP on private property would eliminate any delays from city officials and contractors having to locate and notify property owners.
The mayor is speaking from his directors and employees' experiences in trying to locate often absent landlords, property owners and/or limited liability corporations in matters ranging from quality of life enforcement to taxation.
Newark - like Orange, East Orange and some other municipalities - have resulted in employing a "clean and lien" program regarding property maintenance. Absentee owners would receive liens against their property from these cities to pay for their department of public works employees' cleaning up those holdings.
The proportion of absentee owners especially came under the spotlight in the wake of subprime mortgage collapse, which fueled the Great Recession of 2008. The owners include banks who are holding deeds to foreclosed homes in the recession's wake.
City administrators have not said how fast the amendment, Wednesday night council approval pending, would further speed up the city's LSLRP.
The plan's timeline, originally set on finishing in 10 years, have been expedited to 24-to-30 months since Aug. 26. The acceleration is to be fueled by the Essex County Improvement Authority's issuing of $120 million in bonds as announced that Monday morning by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
Newark, as of Sept. 5, said it has replaced 800 of those LSLs in homes served by the Newark Water Supply Pequannock System. The Baraka Administration has increasingly focused on replacing the now-18,000 LSLs in Pequannock-fed homes in the South, West, Central and western part of the North Wards.
A majority of homes sampled in that area have registered more than 15 parts per billion of lead going back to 2017. The later readings came while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Newark DEP's Water and Sewer Utilities that the silicate additive to coat LSLs have lost its effectiveness.
Baraka has pointed at the LSLRP as the city taking an unprecedented step in eradicating lead in its post-main water distribution system. LSLs, until the last year, had been the traditional responsibility of the property owner. The anticipated $120 million loan, as of last month. means that homeowners are no longer facing a $1,000 "contribution" bill in joining the LSLRP as originally planned.
The council, as part of accepting the $120 million loan, held a public hearing and final approving vote here in a 10 a.m. Sept. 10 special meeting.
The council is accepting a $120 million loan that it will have to pay back to the ECIA over the next 30 year. Essex County is using its AAA bond rating to act as a guarantor to the Fairfield-based authority.
Newark, which is spending $75 million (including a $12.5 million state grant) on their original 10-year plan, can award more contractors and hire more workers to expedite the LSRP for the $120 million.
The County Freeholders were anticipated to hold a public hearing on their "ECIA Municipal Infrastructure Bond Guaranty," and likely final approval here at the Hall of Records Sept. 11 past press time.
Only a public hearing from The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' Local Finance Board stands in the way of the ECIA issuing bonds and lending Newark the $120 million later this autumn. The ECIA, Essex County and Newark may have made their presentation to the Trenton-based board Sept. 11 or are scheduled to do so Oct. 9.
It is not known, as of Noon Wednesday, if the LFB had granted Newark and the county an emergency waiver on their Aug. 22 filing deadline. They do have until Sept. 18 to file for the DCA board's Oct. 9 hearing.
There has been at least one "Local Talk" area resident who expressed his being wary of his township dealing with the ECIA at a Sept. 10 meeting.
Belleville Mayor Michael Melham and the Township Council was holding a public hearing Tuesday night on becoming the guarantor of $4.5 million in Belleville Public Schools construction bonds from the authority. The standard operating process paused to hear from laundromat owner and longtime public speaker Vincent J. Frantantoni.
"I wouldn't want anything to do with the ECIA," declared Frantantoni. "They're a mismanaged organization. They could have had another building at the Essex County Airport - but they failed to appear at the building's foreclosure auction."
Frantantoni then turned to the $30 million Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium in Newark, which was financed by a 1998-2028 ECIA bond issue.
"We were told in 1998 that the taxpayers would be paid back, that (modern Bears founder) Rick Cerrone will pay it back with ticket sales," said Frantantoni. "Now it's being torn down."
The Newark Bears, under Cerrone and two later owners, had been paying ECIA $60,000 in annual rent before the minor league baseball club liquidated itself in 2014. The stadium sat largely unused until the city approved Lotus Equity Group's Riverfront Square commercial/residential complex in 2017.
The stadium is being demolished as of deadline. County taxpayers are repaying the ECIA bonds at a $1 million annual rate.
Judge to East Ward: No Bottled Water For You
Lead Fears Spread to Luxury Building
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - A prestigious downtown address became the newest front in the City of Newark's fight to remediate its water problems here Aug. 30 - the same day that a court ruling had ruled on the water source which happens to feed that building.
Residents of Eleven80 - 1180 Raymond Blvd. - told outsiders Friday afternoon that its management company had circulated an e-mail telling them not to use incoming tap water.
"We elected to perform independent water testing with a qualified consultant," read the management message. "Last evening, on Aug. 29, we learned that this initial testing revealed an elevated level of lead in the water entering this building. We'll be providing alternative drinking water to all of our residents at distribution points within the building."
The e-mail added "further testing is needed" and "results may vary" caveats before asking that residents should not ingest the incoming water. Users should avoid ingestion while washing or bathing, let alone drinking, cooking, preparing baby formula or teeth brushing.
1180 Raymond Blvd., which opened in 1930 as the Lefcourt Newark office building, was converted into a luxury apartment building by the Cogswell Group in 2006.
Eleven80's 36 floors of former offices, after a $120 million renovation, holds 317 studio and one- and two- bedroom apartments, a health club, a bowling alley, a lounge, a laundry room, a media room, a basketball court plus concierge and local shuttle service. Monthly rent, as listed by apartments.com, range from $1,750 to $3,323.
It is not clear whether that Eleven80's renovation included replacing any lead service lines that may connect the building to a Newark Water Supply main. Replacing LSLs in Newark had been the property owner's responsibility - until recently.
The city started a discounted LSL program since October, when a majority of water samples found readings well over the federal Environmental Protection Agency "actionable" lead level content of 15 ppb. Property owners were to pay $1,000 as their contribution.
Essex County, as of Aug. 26, has offered to loan Newark a $120 million bond issue to accelerate the LSL replacement, which the city had pegged at $75 million and 10 years, down to 30 months. No current or applying property owners in the affected area will owe that $1,000 "contribution."
"Affected area" refers to the 15,000 LSLs served by NWS's Pequannock system which feeds basically the city's western half. It does not cover NWS's Wanaque system customers - mainly in the city's East Ward and the North Ward's eastern half.
City officials confirmed, Aug. 31, that Eleven80 is part of Downtown Newark that is fed by the Wanaque system. Neither Newark nor Cogswell have said what caused the Aug. 29 elevated lead readings.
Efforts by the Natural Resources Defense Council and New Education Workers Caucus to expand at least free bottles of water to Wanaque system's children under six years old plus infant, pregnant and/or nursing customers were setback by federal Judge Esther Salas' ruling earlier that Friday.
U.S. District Judge Salas, in her written ruling, found that NRDC and NEWCaucus had failed to show how those being denied free bottled water in the Wanaque service area are facing "imminent, irreparable harm."
Judge Salas added that the plaintiffs had failed to show systematic failure by the Wanaque system compared to the Pequannock system. The Baraka Administration's focus has been on the Pequannock system, particularly since the EPA showed the city that its 20-year-old lead-inhibiting silica additive lost its effectiveness in 2017.
Newark also had a majority of its sampled sites reading 15ppb-plus in five of the last six semiannual testing cycles. The Newark-authorized testing is done by an independent contracted laboratory every six months; its results are reported to federal, state and city officials plus the public every half-year.
Newark's Water and Sewer Utility had opened a $7 million treatment plant, which adds orthophosphate to the Pequannock water, in Montclair May 6. The city had also been supplying 40,000 free faucet or pitcher filters to Pequannock-served residents since October.
The city began its water bottle distribution Aug. 13 - four days after a sampling of three Pequannock served residences using filters found two with 15 ppb-plus readings.
"It's evident that we have been, are and will continue to move in the right direction," declared Mayor Ras Baraka that Friday night on the ruling. "The only permanent solution to eliminate the risks of lead is to replace every remaining LSL in our city. We're going to do so quickly and at no cost to residents through an unprecedented and aggressive LSL replacement program."
It should be noted that city officials have quietly allowed women who are pregnant, nursing or with children under six years old to receive bottled water regardless of city address the last two weeks. Acting Newark Water and Sewer Utilities Director Kareem Adeem said the discretion does not signal a policy change.
NRDC and NEWCaucus, who started their suit against the city and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 16 months ago, attempted to show the 25 15ppb-plus readings in Wanaque-served residences, sampled in June 2019, as evidence of needing citywide distribution.
The plaintiffs also tried to show that open interconnections between Wanaque and Pequannock mains had diluted one system's readings over the other. City officials testified that these interconnections have been closed since January.
"It's unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for the city to stop denying its drinking water was contaminated with lead," said NRDC's Erik Olsen. "Lead in drinking water is a citywide problem that requires a citywide solution."
"Newark and the state should care enough about our communities to provide bottled water to vulnerable residents in all neighborhoods harmed by lead in their water," said NEWCaucus' Yvette Jordan.
It is not known, as of 5 p.m. Sept. 3, whether NEWCaucus and/or the NRDC are considering moving their case against the city and the DEP to federal appellate court.
Baraka, on Sept. 1, announced the results of the latest water fixture tests at 1180 Raymond Blvd. made Aug. 31 and processed by an independent lab overnight.
The Aug. 31-Sept. 1 test results, said the mayor, showed that the building has "undetectable" lead content readings. By "undetectable," the readings are five ppb or less. The overnight results, furthermore, are "consistent with a test performed Jan. 10, 2019."
Cogswell, in a Saturday e-mail, confirmed to residents that city officials drew the samples in the presence of building staff before being sent to the laboratory. While the management said that "there's a testing protocol that has to be followed, as mandated by federal regulations," neither they nor Newark has said whether the lab is the same one contracted for previous city samplings or if it is DEP certified or not.
"Large buildings require larger pipes than LSLs," said Baraka Sunday.