Ricardo Roig: Local Color

On the Mall in the middle of Central Park, art is everywhere. Most of it is similar: pastel prints and paintings of New York City landmarks, world-famous skyscrapers, falling leaves on Fifth Avenue, moons over Manhattan, generalized Gotham romance. If you’ve wandered through the Park, you’ve seen these pieces, and maybe you’ve even admired their brutal effectiveness. These painters and printmakers mean to sweep the viewer up in the New York story, and this they do crudely and expediently. It’s fine art (of a sort), but it’s also propaganda: univocal, meant to instill in the viewer a sense of excitement about the tourist experience. There may be many layers of paint, but there are few layers of meaning. No matter how cheesy the pictures seem, they do provide a glimpse of the city’s mercantile soul.

Two decades ago, no artist would have depicted Jersey City like this. Hudson County was resistant to glamorization. Instead, artists who engaged with the town— photographers Ed Fausty and Shandor Hassan, for instance—favored a stark realist approach so keenly and meticulously observed that it attained the alien quality of dystopic science fiction. Other artists working in the post-industrial style were determined to show Jersey City as it was—and it wasn’t always pretty. Beautiful sometimes, but never quiescent; if you came to Hudson County, you were going to encounter a landscape that would charge out to meet you, roar in your face, and leave some marks. Their Jersey City had teeth. 

This is not the Jersey City that Ricardo Roig presents in “Local Color.” The show, which will be on view at the Hamilton Square Condominiums (232 Pavonia Ave. at Hamilton Square Park) through April 24, features colorful screen-printed images of a Jersey City that feels becalmed, tamed, and ready to be sold to outsiders. The exhibition lacks the explosiveness and emotional intensity of curator Kristin DeAngelis’s last show in the Hamilton Square atrium. But it does have many compensatory charms, including its user-friendliness and genuine eagerness to please. It’s hard to imagine anything more accessible than a show of beautiful prints of places and sights that residents see every day. “Local Color” presents Roig as both a balladeer and a booster, a genial Downtowner with a pleasant vision of Jersey City that dovetails neatly with the city’s recent commitment to destination marketing.

“Choc-O-Pain” by Ricardo Roig

Ricardo Roig’s singular technique—his sharp-cut angles, his striking sense of color, his balance, and his knack for visual storytelling—places him miles beyond the picture hawkers in Central Park. Yet in tone, mood, and subject matter, he’s up to a similar thing. The artist army on the Mall anchors its myth-making in the city’s immediately observable landscape—its buildings and street scenes, its businesses and its marks of enterprise—and the upbeat rhythms of its architecture. We’ve got nothing as recognizable as the Empire State Building, but we have our visual symbols, too, and Roig rounds them up and makes them sing: the Colgate Clock, the gazebo at Hamilton Park, the blocky blue G of the Grove Street PATH Station, the Newark Avenue pedestrian mall. He’s drawn to bars and restaurants, and he gives us idyllic looks at Choc-o-Pain, the interior of the White Star, the umbrella-covered plaza outside Rumba Cubana, the yellow insignia of the strangely uncrushable Golden Cicada. Jersey City, this show tells us, is a place of constant commerce, too—maybe not as inexhaustible as our neighbor across the Hudson but bustling along nevertheless, committed to enterprise, on the rise with its shoes shined. 

These prints give Roig an opportunity to demonstrate one of his talents: He’s an ace at representing electric light. The glow behind the windows of the Choc-o-Pain is croissant-warm; even better is the unearthly shimmer of the reflections of the tall buildings on the Hudson. The strongest print in a show with many good ones isn’t local color at all, it’s a nighttime still of the venerable and unglamorous Long Island Bar on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The dive’s hot-pink neon signs dust the sidewalk with rouge. 

How does Roig achieve these high-contrast effects? Most likely, it’s residue of the unusual printmaking process he’s developed, one in which he applies paint to the canvases through stencils that are cut, poked, and pared into shape with a knife. Since each color requires its own screen, a Roig print is made up of a lattice of interlocking pigments: stenciled patterns that come together to form a familiar image. The tonal blurring that this technique produces can generate some hallucinatory effects. Human figures under the strings of lights on the Newark Avenue pedestrian plaza, for instance, really do seem to be slipping into the shadows. Other images, like an impossibly gentle rendering of the front of a commuter train pulling into Grove Street Station, possess the hushed, muted mystique of Nishiki-e woodblock prints. 

Unusually for a modern landscape artist, Ricardo Roig is also very good at capturing human bodies in action. The patrons he places at the White Star are all discernible individuals, some content, others a little impudent; they might even be people you recognize. In one striking print, a couple rides the Grove Street Path escalator to street level. The man stares straight ahead, but the woman looks backward, and ambivalence at her arrival is inscribed in her body language. This is a rare equivocal moment in Roig’s work, a passing minor chord in an otherwise concordant symphony, and it hints that his embrace of Jersey City might not be as total as it seems. 

Other pieces are so relentlessly positive that they could have been commissioned by a tourism council. The most awkward of these are ironically the two biggest and busiest in the show: a pair of works that combine Roig’s usual screen-printing techniques with elements of paper collage. These aren’t as assured or balanced as the smaller canvases; more problematically, they’re overstuffed with separate images meant to suggest an appealing whirlwind of urban activity. Despite Roig’s enthusiasm, they’re as impersonal as the murals that have turned areas of Jersey City into a garish open-air cartoon. Ironically, some of the most immersive pieces in the show are the tiniest: fragments and “fresh cuts” that are tight, focused, non-representational, and full of lively personality. They neither lionize nor criticize. They simply allow Roig’s considerable skills to speak for themselves. 

From George Inness to William Carlos Williams to the Boss, local pride has always been a powerful motivator for New Jersey artists. The Garden State isn’t always an easy place to love, but it does elicit protective feelings. Ricardo Roig clearly adores Hudson County, and his eagerness to share what he’s discovered here is apparent in every stencil he slices. He’s covered the obvious stuff—the landmarks everybody knows, the visitor attractions, and the well-trafficked streets that everybody treads. This talented and ambitious artist can afford to cut a little deeper. 

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Upgrades to Jersey City Parks to Begin This Spring

The Jersey City Municipal Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Property Preservation Fund will disburse $3 million to 15 projects throughout Jersey City, the first such allocation since the city’s voters authorized setting up the fund in a 2016 referendum. Work is expected to start in spring 2020.

The city provided a list of the projects by ward: 

  • Greenville: Ferris Triangle ($500,000) for a new play structure, splash pad, fitness loop, electricity, and water; Martyniak-Enright Park, $200,000 for landscaping, benches, and other passive upgrades; Audubon Park, $100,000 for improved lighting.
  • West Side: LaPointe Park (no amount listed) for an updated splash pad, monument repair, and solar-powered park benches to provide free Wi-Fi and charging stations; Boyd McGuiness Park (no amount listed) for sunshade, bulletin board, and solar-powered park benches.
  • Journal Square/The Heights: Pavonia-Marion Park ($500,000) to build fencing for easier access, expand the playground, repave the basketball courts, replace the bleachers, fix the cement pavement elevation, and add landscaping, trees, benches, picnic tables, chess tables, a water fountain, and a dog park; Canco Park ($100,000) to install benches, a charging station, fencing, a water fountain, and soft playscape modules for toddlers; Reservoir 3 ($400,000) for general renovations; and Pershing Field ($50,000) to restore the historic Bell flagpole.
  • Downtown: Hamilton Park ($300,000) for benches, picnic tables, and an overhaul of the dog parks; Van Vorst Park ($200,000) to improve the playground equipment and surface, provide shade for the sandbox, and install a synthetic lawn; Mary Benson Park ($200,000) to clean and repaint the memorial, refurbish the original water fountain, and plant trees and painting the grounds surrounding both monuments; Brunswick Community Garden ($3,000) to prune an unhealthy mulberry tree to meet safety standards.
  • Bergen-Lafayette: Bergen Hill Park ($200,000) to install fencing where none exists, restore a stone wall, install night lighting and security cameras, and create walking paths; Arlington Park ($100,000) for landscaping improvements, fencing, murals, and cosmetic work on the gazebo.

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Community Rallies in Support of Liberty State Park and Caven Point

A rally against the expansion of Liberty National Golf Club drew hundreds to Liberty State Park on an unseasonably warm January morning. Led by the Friends of Liberty State Park and the NY/NJ Baykeepers, protesters called attention to the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which is currently stalled in the state legislature. The Liberty State Park Protection Act would limit development in the state park and protect Caven Point, a 22-acre salt marsh and migratory bird habitat.

Liberty State Park is frequently the target of privatization, most recently in 2018 when developers sought to build a second marina at the southern end of the park; the state Department of Environmental Protection rejected the plan. In the latest land grab, Liberty National owner, Reebok founder Paul Fireman, seeks to relocate three of the golf course’s holes and expand into Caven Point, seeing the expansion as a potential economic boon for region and the state.

Mayor Steven Fulop and Freeholder Bill O’Dea were among the elected officials who spoke in support of the bill at Saturday’s rally. FOLSP president Sam Pesin, Liberty State Park’s longtime advocate, reiterated, “The essence of our history is that people put democracy into action as you’re doing today and have fought for this people’s park behind Lady Liberty. We have the same message today from 43 years of battles, that the people own this land.”

Header: Photo by Joanna Arcieri

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Charges of Political Opportunism and Racism Dominate As City Council Approves Board of Education Referendum

Last night, over five raucous hours punctuated by cheers, boos, and admonitions from City Council President Joyce Watterman, residents of Jersey City trudged up to the podium in the Council chambers to vent over the mayor’s proposal to turn the board of education into an appointed body. And vent they did. The proposal brought out teachers, union reps, activists, and parents, united in near-unanimous  opposition to the plan for a referendum that would put the question to voters.

Phil Rivo was notable as the evening’s sole dissenter.

“Right now, every year there is a board of education election. Every year, the teachers’ union is spending upwards of half a million dollars, and developers are spending half a million dollars for a job that pays nothing,” he said. Rivo then cited the five recent Board resignations before adding, “It doesn’t make sense. I would like to see professional people run it.”

If Rivo’s position was the exception, Josephine Paige’s was closer to the rule and highlighted a deep distrust of the mayor and his motives.

“A mayor who wants to change the democratic process is saying his judgment is better than the voters. I don’t want to see the board of education used to advance his political career.”

Lmani Viney standing and pointing at council, School Board president Lorenzo Richardson in foreground. Photo by Jersey City Times

History teacher Lmani Viney likened the mayor’s proposal to the democratic rights that were ceded to Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon. Maria Scariati, who recalled fundraising for the mayor, ascribed the proposal to the mayor’s “insatiable appetite for primacy.”  McNair High School athletic director Kristen Zadroga-Hart described the referendum as “nothing more than an opportunistic power grab.”  “It feels sneaky” quipped fellow teacher Colleen Kelleher. “This is straight out of George Orwell,” opined Natalie Ioffe, a parent and Soviet émigré.  Referring to past and present African-American school superintendents and board members, Jersey City Education Association President Ronald Greco accused the mayor of having “a problem with black men.”  Tracey Luz ascribed the plan as an effort to promote white supremacy. And so it went for the mayor.

The city council came in for criticism as well.

“What’s the rush?” Chris Gadsen asked. “When were you going to discuss it with the people who actually elected you?”  “Don’t let anyone on this council take your schools away from you,” intoned Daryn Martin. Jeanne Daly demanded to know which council members had “been bought.” Echoing several other speakers, Daly promised to exact revenge on councilmembers. “This is going to be a big problem if you move forward,” he warned. “This is a promise.”

Numerous speakers brought up the case of board of education member Joan Terrell- Paige, whose comments on Facebook following the kosher market attack were deemed by many to have been anti-Semitic and which brought calls for her resignation.

Daryn Martin promised to remember at election time that councilmembers Jermaine Robinson and James Solomon had done exactly that.   “No one is going to get a slab of Joan Terrell Paige. She is not raw beef. Four Hasidic rabbis were indicted for organ trafficking,” said Kabili Tayari. “Ms. Terrell didn’t say anything wrong,” added Kathrine Burno. Steve Goldberg, on the other hand, asked the audience to call out anti-Semitism. “You can hate me, you can hate a Jew, but you can’t hate Jews.”  On a night where speakers were cheered liberally throughout the evening, the room responded with silence.

Also in attendance and apparently on a p.r. offensive was a group of Hasidic men, armed with banners, proclaiming their biblical duty to be good neighbors.

“We condemn buying houses and throwing people out,” said Yoel Loeb. “It isn’t right to call people with concerns anti-Semitic.”

Fellow Hasid, Joel Eidlits explained that they had come to Jersey City because they “couldn’t pay the rent in Brooklyn.”  Eidlits and Loeb both distanced themselves from the Anti-Defamation League, the Chabad Lubovitch movement, and the “evil Jews who created the state of Israel.”

In the end, the council voted 7 to 1 with one abstention to move ahead with the referendum. James Solomon noted that in seven years, not a single board member had been elected without the help of a “super-pac.”

“The issues before the board are huge; the status quo is unacceptable,” Solomon noted.

Council president Watterman explained that she “has to answer to parents.”

Summing up the views of several other councilmembers, she noted that “the vote will give the city a chance to reach a consensus. Let the people say.”

As the sole “no” vote, Councilman Rich Boggiano said he had conferred with the board and was “confident” that it could do the job.

The audience did not take the vote sitting down.

When taunted by an audience member, Councilman Jermaine Robinson offered to settle their differences “outside.” Then when the audience was reminded that the JCEA had promoted the candidacy of twice-indicted board president Sudhan Thomas, a screaming JCEA President Ronald Greco rushed the podium under the watchful eyes of two Jersey City cops. Before being led out of the chambers, Greco accused the council en mass of racism.

The referendum will take place on November 3, 2020. If approved by voters, a new, appointed board of education would be seated on July 1, 2021.

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Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Reservoir Park Upgrade Coming

Jersey City Reservoir No. 3, as the onetime water reserve in the Heights is known, is due for a lot of sprucing up thanks to the recently announced award of more than $2.5 million in city, county, and state grants for improvements.

“We’re ready to move forward with plans to make the area more secure for everyone to enjoy, while also preserving the historical aspects that have great significance to the city,” said Mayor Steve Fulop. “With this funding now in place, we’ll soon have complete access to encourage even more use of the historic landmark.”

Built in the late nineteenth century, the once-active reservoir was decommissioned in the 1980s, when it was replaced with a larger facility in Boonton, New Jersey. Ironically, its evolution into an “urban wildlife preserve” (if Wikipedia be believed) could not have taken place without the site’s very demise. With more and more open space in Jersey City disappearing as the result of development, and in a nod to the work of local preservationists, elected officials now see the value in keeping at least this one parcel of nature pristine.

Photo courtesy City of Jersey City

From the beginning, Reservoir 3 had good bones (if an unpoetic name). It’s enclosed by 20-foot-tall Egyptian Revival stone walls and features Romanesque Revival style pump stations. The historic setting has attracted birds ranging from swans to great blue herons to peregrine falcons who now call the six-acre manmade lake inside the property home. It was the space’s very beauty and potential that, in 2005, led a group of local residents to form the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance to protect it.

The mission of the Alliance is to “preserve the historic structures and natural resources of Jersey City Reservoir 3, establish the site as a public park and wildlife sanctuary, and promote educational and recreational opportunities at the Reservoir” (according to its website). The group maintains the site as a public park on Saturdays during the summer and fall seasons, hosting a variety of arts and play activities. They also conduct tours, run school programs, hold boating and nature events, take care of the park’s wildlife, and clean the site as needed.

The reservoir is listed on state and federal registers of historic places. For their work preserving the property, the Alliance was recognized with the Ted Conrad Preservationist of the Year Award in 2005.

Plans to further improve Reservoir 3 include building perimeter fencing (with a $500,000 contribution from the Hudson County Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Trust); restoring the crumbling screen house, known as the sluice tower (courtesy of a $750,000 gift from the NJ Historic Trust); installing lighting and developing walking trails (with over $884,000 in funding from the state’s Green Acres Program and making $400,000 in general upgrades with a donation by the Jersey City Open Space Advisory Trust.

All this comes as welcome news to Alliance president Cynthia Hadjiyannis.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate-this past year the Reservoir received three separate grants and funds were allocated from the City’s Open Space Trust for historic preservation and site improvement projects. It’s such a unique place that these projects will present unique architectural and engineering challenges. Now that we have money, the Reservoir Alliance will want to make sure the City has a great team working on this in a focused way. I’d personally like to see the City hire an outside historic preservation professional and landscape architect to get the most sensitive, creative design and highest quality workmanship ” she said.

Work will start once the state Historic Preservation Office has signed off on all details and all approvals are in place, projected to be by Spring 2020, according to Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. No estimate was given for how long the job would take to complete.

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New Government and Commercial Activity Percolates on MLK Drive

Nearly two years ago the Fulop Administration proposed phase two of its creation of a city hall annex on Martin Luther King Drive in Bergen-Lafayette, a phase that would add two buildings to the annex’s site and move additional housing-related agencies to the neighborhood. With both of those projects now completed, the mayor’s office recently heralded plans to locate the newly created Division of Affordable Housing to the complex. Add to that the retail space for entrepreneurs that has literally popped up in shipping containers across the street, and Jackson Square, as the area adjacent to the MLK Drive Station of the Light Rail is now known, is percolating.

In detail, here is what’s new.

Photo by Ron Leir

In November, the city held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the latest addition to the Jackson Square campus: a new four-story building that will front MLK Drive and Kearney Avenue and will accommodate the newly created Division of Affordable Housing, other municipal offices not yet specified, a public meeting space, and a parking deck that will be opened to residents during non-business hours.

This new building, already under construction, is expected to open within 18 months or so.

Next to that structure will be developed the fourth and final component of the Jackson Square campus – a new 11-story building that will house the city’s Public Safety headquarters and other municipal offices.

These facilities will complement the previously opened three-story City Hall Annex at 1 Jackson Square (360 MLK Drive) where the Divisions of Building, Zoning, Planning and Community Development, office of the director of Housing and Economic Development (HEDC) and Department of Health operate.

The new Division of Affordable Housing is designed to serve as a clearinghouse for monitoring rents, keeping an affordable housing stock inventory, maintaining waiting lists of residents who have requested affordable housing units, and developing a resource guide.

Mayor Steve Fulop said city personnel assigned to the new facility “will be focused on housing initiatives,” covering issues like Section 8, senior citizens and landlord-tenant disputes.

Not surprisingly, the added jobs, foot traffic, and overall vibrancy from the redevelopment of Jackson Square is spilling over into other sectors of Bergen-Lafayette’s economy and streetscape.

Photo by Jennifer Brown/City of Jersey City

Just across the street from 342 MLK, the city, in partnership with the Jackson Hill Special Improvement District led by Melissa Massey, has converted an empty lot into “Container Village.” Four empty shipping containers have been transformed into temporary homes for pop-up shops in which retail entrepreneurs can showcase their businesses at no cost for anywhere from two weeks to two months.

Recent occupants have included a sauna studio run by Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez, an NJCU alumna and a U.S. Naval Reservist; an Afro-centric clothing, accessories and oils shop created by Tafari Tribe, a transplanted Brooklynite now looking to expand to the Garden State; a “globally-inspired home accents skin care and accessories” store headed by entrepreneur Tara Ocansey; and an apparel and pregnancy-related services boutique for women in their fourth trimester that also provides advice for women “on the continued journey of motherhood,” according to retailer Nia Reid-Allen, an ex-Brooklynite who has taught at the Jersey City Bethune Center for the past two years.

Massey, who credited the city’s Economic Development Corp. with “filling in a couple of budget gaps” to help supply the containers with lighting, power, heating and ventilating, said she’s “excited about the potential for growth” of local small businesses with the boost from the pop-up venture.

“I’ve got people sending me applications from Brooklyn,” she said, “but these spaces are reserved for Jersey City businesses.”

Massey, aided by the city’s Office of Diversity Inclusion and  Economic Development Corporation and by the Hudson County Office of Minority and Women-Owned Enterprises, helps advise the budding retailers on making their businesses permanent.

Header: Photo by Jennifer Brown/City of Jersey City

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We Must Save Caven Point

On January 11 at 11 a.m. the Friends of Liberty State Park together with NY/NJ Baykeeper will lead a rally to protect a magical piece of land at the southwestern corner of Liberty State Park called Caven Point.  At issue is a billionaire’s proposal to turn one of the last remaining salt marshes in the New York metro area into three holes of a nearby luxury golf course. If this sounds like a bad joke, it isn’t.  This proposal is deadly serious and it must be rejected.  We wholeheartedly support this grassroots effort to stop the wanton destruction of this precious natural habitat.

It was thought that this issue was settled in 2018 when the DEP rejected this privatization plan.  The Liberty State Park Protection Act, which has been under consideration by the legislature since January of 2019, would protect the park, and specifically Caven Point, from privatization and commercial development.   The Act is now finally coming up for a vote, but lobbyists for the golf course have asked that it exempt Caven Point.  Such an exemption would make it possible to destroy this one-of-a-kind habitat in order to provide multi-millionaire golfers with a better view of lower Manhattan.

In her stunning photos, local photographer and blogger Shayna Marchese (shaynamarchese.com) has documented the cornucopia of wildlife that calls Caven Point home.   According to Marchese, approximately one hundred species of birds make their nests at Caven Point; close to two hundred bird species have been observed there.  The profusion of wildlife includes falcons, egrets, herons, kingfishers, wrens, swallows, owls and seals, to name just a few.  As you stand on the boardwalk and take in the upland meadow, saltwater marsh, maritime forest, tidal pools, tidal mudflats, and the longest natural beach in Upper New York Harbor and the Hudson River, a visitor to Caven Point can only think, “This is what New York harbor must have looked like before it was settled.”  That it exists at all in 2020 is truly remarkable.  Yearly, Caven point serves as a living classroom for hundreds of local kids who learn about wildlife and the environment.

Alas, Caven Point has the misfortune of lying next to the most expensive golf course in history, Liberty National Golf Club.  Built in 2006 by billionaire Paul Fireman, the club boasts an on-site helicopter pad, yacht services, a spa, and a restaurant.  Should you have the $300,000 required to join, you may rub elbows with members Rudy Giuliani, Eli Manning and Mark Wahlberg.   It is a club by, for, and of the uber rich. It could be worse however. Fireman previously sought to build a gargantuan ninety-five-story Las Vegas style hotel and casino next to Caven Point.   A company called Suntex tried to build a massive marina a stone’s throw from Caven Point.   Fortunately, those potentially calamitous efforts were resisted and came to naught.

Now, in a cynical attempt to peel away opposition to his current proposal, Fireman has told State Senator Sandra Cunningham, “first prime sponsor” of the Act, that he will fund a golf school for disadvantaged kids if he is given the right to destroy paradise.  Senator Cunningham has said there should be room for “compromise.”   But there is no “compromise” short of allowing Fireman to bulldoze this priceless, unspoiled spit of land.   Simply put, his three-hole golf course and Caven Point cannot co-exist.   If Fireman is sincere in his concern for urban children, he can use the golf course as it exists for his school or build a facility somewhere else in Jersey City with his billions.   If he wants to move three holes of his golf course, he can ask Jersey City and the state to make other land available for his golf course expansion.    An unused twenty seven-acre parcel of land, owned by the federal government, sits idly next to the golf course.   There are options that don’t involve the devastation of this pristine habitat.

Caven Point is a small, ecologically sensitive twenty one-acre piece of land.  It is unique, precious and fragile.  There isn’t room on it for herons, falcons, seals and golfers.    It’s time for Governor Murphy and Senator Cunningham to stand up and affirm that Liberty State Park will not be sacrificed at the altar of the ultra wealthy.  They need to tell Mr. Fireman that if he and his fabulously rich buddies want good views on their golf outings, they can get them from their helicopters.

Details on the rally and how you can reach our elected officials can be found at: https://www.folsp.org/preservation/support_rally_governor.html

Header: Photo courtesy of Shayna Marchese

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The Stakes are High as Jersey City Organizes to take 2020 Census

From the perspective of Mayor Steve Fulop, Jersey City is on a roll.

With the local boom in housing, the city’s population is growing steadily and, to hear Fulop and past city chief executives tell it, it’s on pace to surpass that of its western neighbor, Newark, when the U.S. census clicks in next year.

Fulop said Jersey City “has been running neck and neck with Newark,” listed by the U.S. Census as tops in the state with a population of 277,107 as of April 2010, with Jersey City in second place, logging 247,639 residents.

But Jersey City looks to have the inside edge. Based on U.S. census projections for July 1, 2018, Newark registered a 1.8% gain in population, climbing to 282,090, whereas Jersey City climbed to 265,549, a 7.2% growth rate.  So Newark’s eclipse is imminent.

Former Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann (1981-1985 and 1989-1992),  one of six ex-chief executives invited by Fulop to help promote the importance of getting an accurate count, told a city hall crowd in November that in the 1980 census, the city recorded its “largest decline” ever — a drop of about 45,000 — and that it wasn’t until a decade later with the onset of waterfront development that the population “slowly started to incline.”

What’s at stake is more than bragging rights: Census data helps determine how much money Uncle Sam provides for more than 100 federal programs including Medicaid, WIC, Head Start, unemployment insurance and school breakfast and lunch.

“It is estimated that for every resident not counted, Jersey City will lose $15,000 in federal funding over 10 years,” a city census pamphlet says.

Additionally, the count impacts the ability of nonprofits to apply for federal funds to expand neighborhood services through community development block grants and entitlement grants.

According to the city, because only three out of every five residents filled out a census form in 2010, officials are pushing for everyone to be counted this time around. A 2018 survey by the Jersey City Planning Department found about 14,000 new home addresses.

“With this expansion,” a city statement said, “we estimate that there are about 36,486 new people to be counted in Jersey City in the 2020 Census.”

How seriously is the city committed to pursuing an accurate count? City spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione told Jersey City Times that the city has budgeted $100,000 “for census 2020 efforts.”

Exactly how the money will be spent Wallace-Scalcione didn’t explain, except to say that Deja Anderson, a senior community relations specialist assigned to the mayor’s office, is leading the city’s efforts, highlighted by creating a “complete count committee” of community leaders to get the word out to residents. A census team comprised of “a broad spectrum of stakeholders from city government to community leaders and the many other trusted voices” is being formed “to efficiently mobilize resources,” Wallace-Scalcione added.

Fulop, who has declared Jersey City to be a “sanctuary city” for immigrants, said the census team will be pressing to count those residents as well. Also he estimated that the city was home to as many as 50,000 “naturalized citizens” and there are likely close to 100 different immigrant groups represented in the city’s schools, according to Wallace-Scalcione.

But, given the unwelcoming attitude of the Trump administration toward old and new arrivals, former interim Mayor L. Harvey Smith (May 2004-Nov. 2004) is worried that “a lot of people new to the country have a fear of filling out census papers.” Asked about that, Wallace-Scalcione said, “There is zero possibility for anyone to be penalized for filling out the census as all personal information is protected by federal law.” She cited the city’s “various media and social media outreach campaigns” to promote the census and last year’s creation of the city Division of Immigrant Affairs to reach out to those new residents on various issues.

Header:  Photo courtesy jerseycitynj.gov website.

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Broadway Review: “Slave Play” at the Golden Theatre

Broadway Review: “Slave Play” at the Golden Theatre (Through Sunday January 19, 2020)

Written by Jeremy O. Harris

Directed by Robert O’Hara

Reviewed by David Roberts

Theatre Reviews Limited

“Slave Play,” currently running on Broadway at the Golden Theatre, reiterates the events on the fourth day of the Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy being held at MacGregor Plantation, a few miles south of Richmond, Virginia. Three couples have signed up for the workshop to engage in the “radical therapy designed to help black partners re-engage intimately with white partners from whom they no longer receive sexual pleasure.” The therapy workshop is designed and organized by Teá (an intrusive and passionate Chalia La Tour), “a mulatto who is studied in her black and her white” and Patricia (a pensive and circumscribed Irene Sofia Lucio), “a light brown woman who knows many lives” – both graduates of Smith College and Yale University and steeped in studies of anhedonia and alexithymia.

In order to fully discover why the three couples are unable to feel pleasure (anhedonia) and why they are unable to describe their own feelings (alexithymia), symptoms of what Teá and Patricia label “Racialized Inhibiting Disorder (RID),” they are required to participate in a carefully structured fantasy play that includes sexual trauma role-playing. This role-playing is designed to work through any trauma a partner “hasn’t completely worked out.”

Kaneisha (Joaquina Kalukango), “a dark black woman unafraid of what she knows she wants” and Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan), “a white man and inheritor of more than he knows how to handle” engage in a role-playing between one of Master MacGregor’s overseers and a female slave under his supervision to explore issues of control. Phillip (a contemplative and sensual Sullivan Jones), “a mulatto who still has to learn his color,” and Alana (an intense and self-absorbed Alana McNamara), “a white woman who wants more than the world sees fit to give her,” engage in role-playing between Madame MacGregor and her servant to explore the causes of Phillip’s apparent erectile dysfunction. And Gary (a damaged and introspective Ato Blankson-Wood), “a dark black man whose life has been lived with the full trauma of his color,” and Dustin (an entitled and shameless James Cusati-Moyer), “a white man but the lowest type of white — dingy, an off-white,” engage in role-playing to explore Paul’s inability to reach orgasm.

This role-playing comprises the action in Act I (entitled “Work”). Initially it seems the action is taking place in antebellum Virginia; then it appears the couples are in the present and in a realm of fantasy. This gets confirmed in Act II (called “Process”), when the couples meet with Teá and Patricia (who have been observing the role-playing) to “process the emotional numbing that’s brought us all here together in this room.” It is in this somewhat overly long act that deep-seated white supremacy, shades, colors, race, and “the world’s collective imagination of life in the American South during slavery” are parsed and elucidated.

It is in Act III (“Exorcise”) that all that playwright Jeremy O. Harris has been exploring reaches its explosive and cathartic climax. Things did not go well for Kaneisha and Jim during processing: Jim stopped the role-playing sequence by failing to follow through to the end, and Kaneisha rightly feels betrayed by Jim and identifies his “shutting down” as evidence of his inability to understand “what she needs from him, and how she needs it.” She returns to their room, packs, and plans to leave early. Jim walks in on Kaneisha, and in an electrifying and disquieting scene, resumes the role-playing, continuing this time until she “calls it off” with their “safe word,” “Starbucks,” and shares with Jim, “Thank you, baby. Thank you for listening.” As she did in middle school when facing her OCD and dodging suggestions by her teacher and parents to go into therapy, Kaneisha “made sense of it herself.” Ms. Kalukango and Mr. Nolan deliver deeply emotional and exhaustingly physical performances that shatter the boundaries of conventional theatre. Their intense work in this scene makes resolution possible.

Under Robert O’Hara’s exquisite and deeply sensitive direction, the entire cast gives believable and authentic performances that challenge all the norms defining eroticism, particularly in the discussion of sexuality in “mixed” couples. Persons of color and their white (or “off-white”) partners will and must make sense of these dynamics themselves without the constraints of the “constant psychological warfare of the white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist system” (as Tea or as Patricia describes it). Clint Ramos’ mirrored scenic design, enhanced by Jiyoun Chang’s subtle lighting design, draws each audience member into the action, which also subtly makes each one complicit.

“‘Slave Play’ is a radical study in American memory, the psychologies of the prized and the oppressed; the grateful and the entitled; who’s top, who’s bottom; who speaks, who can’t, and who betta listen,” wrote American poet Morgan Parker. And I would have to agree. “Slave Play” is not for the hard of heart, the hard of “hearing” or the weak in spirit. However, Mr. Harris’ play must be seen as part of the overall process of awakening, healing, and making sense of it all before it is too late.


“Slave Play” stars Ato Blankson-Wood, James Cusati-Moyer, Sullivan Jones, Joaquina Kalukango, Chalia La Tour, Irene Sofia Lucio, Annie McNamara, and Paul Alexander Nolan. The cast is being understudied by Eboni Flowers, Thomas Keegan, Jakeem Dante Powell, and Elizabeth Stahlmann.

The production team includes Clint Ramos (scenic design), Dede Ayite (costume design), Jiyoun Chang (lighting design), Lindsay Jones (sound design and original music), Amauta Marston-Firmino (dramaturg), Byron Easley (movement), Claire Warden (intimacy and fight director), Doug Nevin (production counsel), and Taylor Williams (casting director).

“Slave Play” runs at the Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street) through Sunday, January 19, 2020. For more information about the production, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://slaveplaybroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes; there is no intermission.

Header: James Cusati-Moyer and Ato Blankson-Wood in “Slave Pay.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Posted courtesy of Theatre Reviews Limited www.theatrereviews.com

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