A chilly wind blows down JFK Boulevard on a recent late November morning, stirring up leaves and small branches left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy’s visit a week earlier.
Joe Moller, a disabled union man, sat on a red-painted wooden chair near the curb at the bus stop. He was not waiting for a bus. He is often out here with friends from the building, chatting about life, politics, and the past.
This is a ritual they had taken part in for years, residents of the same building near where JFK Boulevard turns east.
They were chatting about the bus stop bench that had once sat in the place where Moller’s chair is now.
“We used to have a bench here but the city took it away,” Moller said.When contacted, Public Safety Director Jason O’Donnell said JFK Boulevard is a county road, and the city would not have been responsible for removing the bench.
County officials when contacted said they were unaware of the removal as well.
Considering the bench had a concrete base, all agree even the high winds of Sandy were not potent enough to blow it away.
“We’re not making a lot of noise. We just come out here to get air and talk.” – Joe Moller
Moller says the bench had sat near that bus stop for a long as he can remember, and its removal might have come as a result of neighbors who complained about the men gathering on the street corner during the day.
“Someone said we’re making too much noise late at night,” Joe Montelione, one of Moller’s friends, “But we’re not out here at 2 a.m. like they say we are. We’re out here during the day.”
Montelione, a disabled Vietnam veteran, says he uses the bus for the first leg of his long trip to the veteran’s hospital in East Orange, and sits on the bench while he waits for the bus.
“We have a number of permanently disabled people in our building,” he says.
Moller says some of the men socialize on the corner, inspiring some of the neighbors to complain to the police.
“They say we’re selling drugs,” Montelione says. “But we’re out here in broad daylight, not in the middle of the night. Everybody can see us. Nobody is selling drugs.”
Moller and his friends aren’t the only people complaining. Many of the commuters who use the bus to get to Journal Square are more than willing to sign the petition Moller has put together urging the city or the county to put the bench back.
“We have more than 300 signatures so far,” Moller said. “People want the bench back as much as we do.”
Montelione says he knows Mayor Mark Smith and hopes to reach out to him at one of the Mayor’s late nights in City Hall.
Moller, meanwhile, said he will likely submit the petition to the city council at its December meeting.
“We’re not hurting anything,” he says. “We’re not making a lot of noise. We just come out here to get air and talk,” he said.
Some residents, who reside in the former Y.M.C.A. on Avenue E and who frequently walk up and down the Broadway corridor and rest on bus stop benches, claim they been discouraged from using those benches as well, something officials say is not a policy being promoted by the city.