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Sleeping Giant West of the Tracks Finds Its Voice

AP Council Meeting Nov. 13, 2006

For years now, whenever the subject of public apathy arose in Asbury Park, the question of poor voter turnout on the West Side would arise. I'm not the only one who has wondered aloud why the black poor aren't more concerned about their future in Asbury Park. Well, tonight the people West of Main did arise -- like a giant stirring from a long slumber.

They expanded the normally scant audience, sitting through a merchant's methodical march through his issues: street lighting, impatience over the delayed plans for a "Streetscape", marketing needs, more "positive" press for the downtown and Main St., residents using trash cans intended for pedestrians. They applauded Pop Warner, Midget and Pee Wee football scores -- the fruits of Asbury's revamped recreation efforts. Then one by one they seemed to explode.

Rev. Nunn led off with his familiar rhetoric in defense of the youth and the homeless, though this time his ire about the homeless shelter was punched up by what he described as obstacles thrown in Dave Scott's path. Scott, of the Market Street Mission, Nunn said, keeps jumping through hoops, but not getting anywhere. "You're not going to let this go anywhere," Nunn accused the council, excluding only council member James Keady from his remarks.

Mayor Kevin Sanders was not at the meeting. We learned later that he is in Atlantic City attending an early mayors' meeting, prior to the official start of the League of Municipalities meeting. Nunn said Keady attended the funeral of the murdered Tylik Pugh and has been the "only constant presence on the West Side."

Nunn and others asked that the city help them with the West Side Community Center, which they said has no heat or lighting.

Then Rev. John Mohammed of the Nation of Islam, a young man with the looks and presence of Barak Obama and the fire of Louis Farrakhan, who shuns photos, gave words to the fear never far from anyone's thoughts. "You're creating an environment for a racist city -- the poor and black on one side..." Referring to the issues uttered so far in the meeting, he said, "This is quality of life vs loss of life --people are dying in your city!"

Mohammed singled out City Manager Terence Reidy, calling him the executive director, who "hasn't reached out to us" and challenging the council to speak up. "Councilman Keady is probably the most courageous councilmember we have." Then Mohammed said something bound to resonate throughout the affluent, largely white East Side. Unless the government resolves the issues of the West Side, he told the council, the City will not come back, a prospect , which he inferred was beyond the concerns of the disenfranchised. "Think about it. If it don't get built, we don't lose a dime."

Larry Fishman, COO of Asbury Partners, which owns the redevelopment rights to most of the waterfront property-- the proposed engine of the city's revival --according to observers, sat through Mohammed's words looking worried.

Mohammed, as did other speakers, brought up the UEZ letter excoriating Keady for acknowledging violence and gang activity in Asbury Park, and actually estimating the presence of 200 members of the Bloods. "Remove them (the letter's promoters) from the UEZ Board and replace them with some who give a damn about this city. If you supported it or didn't do anything about it (the letter), then remove yourself, because you're not worth the dais you're sitting on."

Reidy defended the council, saying, "We did reach out to Rev. Nunn..."

Council member Ed Johnson acknowledged Nunn had a point, but "to say none of us care is not fair." Johnson said he's reached out time and again and asked, "isn't that true?" But the audience roared, "No." Johnson pushed on noting the coming community meeting on Nov. 30th, and the council's intent to "make this one Asbury Park. Just as that (UEZ) letter was wrong, this is equally wrong." (Johnson issued a statement saying that he asked for changes and would not have knowingly endorsed a letter ordering Keady to leave town and containing such vitriol. However, he insisted that Keady comments to the press "were harmful to our efforts.")

Dwayne Small, who said he lives behind the Bangs Ave. school, also praised Keady and threatened that there would be no 324 votes coming from the West Side in the next election. He criticized the council for not preventing the unions from "taking our jobs."

Council member John Loffredo said he'd given Nunn and Mohammed his card and asked if they could get together. To deny his efforts he said was an "extreme fallacy."

Referring to the crowd's request for help with the center, Deputy Mayor Jimmy Bruno said, "We don't own the West Side Community Center."

Mamie Moore called upon the city to recognize the needs of the community and the council to stop its divisiveness. "Come together to address these issues."

Pastor John D. Bradley, Sr., of Truvine K.P. Full Gospel, in Neptune, urged immediate action to bring "justice, peace and harmony to the community." He asked that the council "contact me! We are tired. If we unite, we can make things happen. Election day is coming," he said. "We will unite. We will march and we will make things happen."

A resident and social worker told the audience she had witnessed that the council and police did take part in anti-violence meetings on the West Side. She said she also objected to the homeless shelter because of her concern that in habitants would have the option to reject the Mission's rules; and feared that the Mission would attract homeless from all over New Jersey. "If you think you have a problem now -- just wait. Let's think of other ways to address the problem of homelessness," she said.

Resident, former council candidate Stu Koperweis said Keady's public remarks weren't the issue. "It's the city's inability to correct them," he said. "Why haven't we addressed the decision to close the schools for two days," noting that the problem was the gang members, not the kids in school.

Keady proposed an immediate solution; to ask the trade unions, eager to gain jobs in the city, to show their good faith by rebuilding the West Side Community Center. He also proposed earmarking $100,000 from the community development fund for programs and physical upgrades to the Center.

But Loffredo countered that a recreation committee was meeting to discuss disposition of the West Side Community Center, and so they should defer the idea until after that meeting.

Keady said they wouldn't need to expend the money tonight, just approve the purpose for the money.

Johnson also objected on the basis that he wanted to go slowly and develop long term, lasting policies.

Keady pressed ahead with the motion to earmark the $100,000 to the center for infrastructure upgrades, etc.

Bruno said, no, there would be no second to move the motion. The crowd jeered in response and Bruno wheeled himself off the dais.

Mohammed told Asbury Radio, "It's just clear that the majority of the council do not truly care about the loss of life among the youth of Asbury Park."

The council approved a resolution granting $600 to pay for last summer's youth program at Trinity Church. Loffredo noted the amount as another indication that the council is trying to meet the community's needs.
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