The controversy surrounding the stalled appointment of Rev. Ralph Brower to the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency erupted at Wednesday's meeting of the Jersey City Council. A number of speakers, including representatives of the Jersey City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), objected to the council's tabling of a resolution that would have named Brower to the agency. Some went as far as to charge them with racism.
Lisa Harris, a member of the Jersey City NAACP, chided the council for tabling the appointment of Brower to the Redevelopment Agency at its Sept. 12 meeting.
"He is an honest man and has the experience to do the job," said Harris of Brower, a Methodist minister who served as the Redevelopment Agency's first vice president in 1979. "Why did you slap the black community in the face by tabling the appointment of Rev. Brower?"
Jersey City resident Lutie Ford went further, stating that the actions of the council "amounted to racism."
Mayor Glenn Cunningham and a group of protestors had interrupted the Sept. 12 council meeting as the council addressed the appointment of Brower. Stressing that the city was in the critical moment in the development of its business district, Cunningham asked the council to approve the Brower appointment, stating his belief that Brower was well suited to serve of the redevelopment agency's board.
The council, with the exception of councilperson Viola Richardson, voted to table the appointment. The move was met with displeasure from both the mayor and the crowd that had assembled in the back of the council chambers.
Also brought up during the public portion of this past week's meeting was the continuing split between the mayor and the council over supporting a candidate for Hudson County executive. In the election held in June, Cunningham backed incumbent Bernard Hartnett, while the council supported Tom DeGise. Relations between the council and Mayor Cunningham have been troubled ever since.
"Put the June 4 election behind you and reconsider the resolution to appoint such a fine man," said Bertha Ford in reference to the split between the council and the mayor.
"I am upset by the lack of support from the council," said Jersey City resident Pamela Gardner, who asked how long the resolution appointing Brower would sit on the table.
Councilman Steve Lipski replied, "Until we [the council] bring it up again."
Council President L. Harvey Smith answered a question from Gardner about health requirements for serving on an agency board by stating a candidate would have to be healthy enough to attend meetings. When tabling the resolution appointing Brower, the council had cited eye problems Brower was alleged to have. Brower said at the Sept. 12 meeting that he had had an operation on his eyes 20 years ago.
With the conclusion of the public portion of the meeting, each member of the council replied to charges of racism and not cooperating with the mayor.
Put on the defense
"We are not racists," said Councilman Peter Brennan, noting the mayor should make fence- mending efforts. This sentiment was repeated by a number of the council members.
"The mayor should talk to each council member to see what his or her ward needs," said Brennan. "We would like to move forward with the mayor."
Councilman E. Junior Maldonado strenuously objected to the allegations of racism.
"Don't call me a racist when my nieces and nephews are half African-American," Maldonado stated. "Do not call me a racist when I supported Jesse Jackson's bid for the presidency and was one of his delegates."
Maldonado went on to add, "The mayor has to come here and extend his hand to us."
Richardson called for the rest of the council and the mayor to settle their differences, citing male pride as one of the hurdles that needs to be left.
"All this is bullheaded," said Richardson. "How willing are you to work together? That is a question I can ask the council. It is a question I can ask the mayor and it is a question I will ask the mayor."
At the conclusion of her speech, Richardson moved for the untabling of the resolution appointing Brower to the JCRA, but the motion received no second.
Speaking earlier in the meeting, Smith replied to the criticism of the council.
"I didn't know this was a racial issue because I'm not a Martian," said Smith, alluding to the fact that both he and Cunningham are African-American. Smith also questioned the importance of the Brower appointment, stating that Brower had been the fourth choice by the mayor for the JCRA.
Stan Eason, the mayor's director of communication, said later, "The mayor continues to try and work with the council. For major initiatives, such as the Journal Square clean-up, the mayor has always invited the ward representative involved."
Eason said that the council turned its back on the mayor after the dispute of county executive election.
"The mayor wants to continue to work with the council," said Eason. "But they have to show that they want to work with the mayor."
Other council matters
In other matters before the council, they passed an ordinance approving a 20-year tax abatement to Liberty Point Renewal for market-rate condominium units at 187 Warren St. in Jersey City. According to developer Dean Geibel, the building will have 34 condos, each having two bedrooms and two baths. Approximately 42 parking spaces will be provided for the complex, Geibel added.
"Construction on the condominiums will likely begin in October," said Geibel. Geibel added no price had been established for the units.
Jersey City resident Yvonne Balcer told the council that the construction of apartment complexes with a large need for parking would take away parking from homeowners in the area. Smith said the council would look into ways of alleviating resident parking on Warren Street.