MontClairVoyant: Meditating on MLK and Montclair

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Was Martin Luther King Day celebrated this past weekend with various events in and near Montclair?

Sincerely,

Local Locus

Absolutely! Not sure if all area towns had events honoring MLK, but the closest communities to us include North Montclair (Clifton), West Montclair (Verona), and East Montclair (Glen Ridge).


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Those fake town names of yours are Montclair-centric nonsense. Anyway, does Montclair have a connection to the great MLK?

Sincerely,

Think of a Link

It certainly does. MLK spoke at Montclair High in 1966, and there’s a memorial marker for him and the also-laudable Coretta Scott King in Nishuane Park — not far from South Montclair (West Orange).


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Enough with the rebrandings! If MLK were alive today, what would be among the things he’d notice about Montclair?

Sincerely,

Ann Derson-Park

He’d notice that our mayor, Board of Education president, schools superintendent, high school principal, and Planning Board chair are Black. Can’t say that about Northwest Montclair (Little Falls).

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Some of Montclair’s leaders are more popular than others. Speaking of the BOE, and the start of its welcome switch from appointed to elected, nine candidates have submitted petitions to run for two seats on March 8. Is that reminiscent of MLK in any way?

Sincerely,

Ballot Battle

He was of course a strong believer in voting rights, and, if alive today, would undoubtedly want our town’s residents to vote at Hillside School in Montclair rather than at Montclair School in Hillside.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

There is no Montclair School in Hillside. Would MLK be happy with the many humane aspects of Montclair?

Sincerely,

It’s Not Bad to Do Good

Of course, with one example being residents’ many helping efforts during COVID — getting meals to people who need them, etc. And it’s always nice for a town to have a college campus; in our case, Little Falls State University.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

That’s MONTCLAIR State University, which is partly in Little Falls. Anyway, don’t forget our town’s impressive LGBTQ community. MLK would appreciate that, wouldn’t he?

Sincerely,

Rainbow Flag Doesn’t Flag

MLK didn’t have much to say about gay rights one way or another, but Coretta Scott King, to her credit, became a strong LGBTQ supporter. She lived many years in Very South Montclair (Atlanta).

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Didn’t you once interview her?

Sincerely,

Questions Queried

Yes, by phone in the mid-1980s about a syndicated newspaper column she was writing at the time. She sounded exhausted (as activists often are) but had great things to say. That was when I was living in Rather Far East Montclair (New York City).

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

NYC reminds me of gentrification, which has also hit Montclair in recent years. What would MLK think of that?

Sincerely,

Many Pale at Upscale

He’d be dismayed that our town is losing economic diversity, losing many African-American residents, and getting loads of new downtown apartments with rents of over $3,000 or $4,000. That’s pricey like Very Very West Montclair (San Francisco), minus the dental marvel of the Golden Gate Bridge.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Would MLK dislike the actions of Montclair’s profit-focused developers? I imagine so.

Sincerely,

Mr. Greed Goes to Town

You got that right. He’d wish they took their “luxury” projects to Way Way North Montclair (the Arctic), where penguins balk at paying ridiculous rents.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Um…penguins live to the south — in Antarctica.

Sincerely,

Rocky the Red Hawk

I’ll take your word for it given that you’re Little Falls State University’s mascot. MLK earned his doctorate at a campus in Quite Northeast Montclair; some call it Boston University.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Getting back to COVID one more time, the Township Council smartly extended Montclair’s indoor mask mandate due to the ongoing Omicron variant. Could MLK have imagined such a pandemic?

Sincerely,

January 18th Judgment

He was acutely aware of another major “pandemic” — racism — that never seems to leave North South East West Montclair (the United States).

 

 

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

 

 

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder what MLK would think of Mayor Spiller’s new “anti-hate task force” which he gloats about in his State of the Township address. It made me laugh. Is this task force’s mission to combat bias in our community or in the Townhall? From my looking at it, our community is not exactly a hotbed of racial tensions needing swift intervention and a special task force. However, from recent media reports, it seems there is ONE entity in this town that has a serious problem with racial bias: Montclair government. Perhaps the new task force will help Mayor Spiller figure out why a high-ranking township official who reports directly to the Council felt fee to refer to a black resident as “three-fifths of a human”. I also hope the new task force will bring in transparency into Spiller’s handling of the aftermath from this incident. He drowns us in words on every other subject, yet on this he keeps mum.

    After NAACP asked for immediate investigation of town attorney’s conduct, the Council took weeks before it hired an investigator for this purpose. Ira Karasick was never put on administrative leave while the investigation went on. Instead, he was given opportunity to position himself to retire rather than be terminated and collect over $80K from the taxpayers, including the very people he insulted. Can Mayor and his new task force clarify this for us? Or will they be busy peeling stickers off our lampposts? Real people are getting hurt under Mayor’s own watch but he prefers to chase ghosts somewhere else and talk a lot about THAT.

    Spiller should also send his new task force to Montclair Fire Department. It’s been months since two black firefighters made allegations of discrimination in fire promotion exams. Will the Council once again give the opportunity to the Town Manager, HR Manager and Fire Chief to position themselves to retire and stay on town payroll before the investigation concludes?

    Do the Mayor, Council, and Manager not know that it’s a normal practice to put an employees on administrative leave while their conduct is investigated by a third-party? Why is this not happening here? Is it because in both instances people who got hurt/shortchanged are minorities?

  2. Thank you for the comment, Wilhelm Keith. Many good points.

    I agree with your criticism of the handling of the situation with the now-former-but-still-being-paid-lots-of-money ( 🙁 ) township attorney, and wrote about that in a couple of columns here. The Township Council was indeed secretive and slow with the investigation. The township attorney should have resigned or been ousted soon after his September remark — which might have been said without racist intent but was racist nonetheless. Or, as you wisely note, he should at least have been quickly put on administrative leave.

    Yes, there are often pretty words said decrying racial bias but fast concrete action is more welcome than pretty words in specific instances such as the above.

  3. I can tell what Montclair values by what it televises on TV34 or streams on YouTube.

    The Environmental Commission and the Civil Rights Commission don’t merit visibility. As a matter of fact, both Commissions actively seek to bury their meetings in obscurity by not timely (or not at all) publishing of agendas or engage in the most basic public outreach. They are like private club activities.

    Their job is to advise the Council, not the illuminate issues for the public. They are using COVID as a blanket of invisibility. Good for them!

    PS: you should have brought your complaints to last Thursday’s CRC meeting. They are, FYI, the 3rd Thursday of the month at noon.

  4. Sorry, The meeting are at either 9am or 9pm. No, that doesn’t sound right either.
    Just go to the calendar on the Township home page.

    PS: I purposely left out the Housing Commission.

  5. Amen, Dave. Talk is cheap. Why isn’t the Fire Chief (and whoever else was involved) on administrative leave? They are looking the other way hoping this will go away. I don’t think it will. From what I see, they are digging their own grave by this bizarre inaction.

  6. Frank, it almost goes without saying, but any commission or other governmental or quasi-governmental entity should be as transparent as possible. It’s of course not surprising when some of them aren’t. 🙁

  7. Dave,

    Transparency? The commissions I mention above are unpaid advisors to our Councilors. They are not suppose to work in front of the lights. Their job is behind the lights. By law. Their only unpublicized public-facing role is to run interference for our Councilors and collect complaints. In return, they get access and a role to round out their resume. It’s not a role for everyone.
    Curmudgeons need not apply.

    However, to maintain superficial legitimacy, they each must, from time to time, make a show of independence, e.g. the CRC Chair making demands, not requests of the Council. (Kinda like parental patience as their child experiments with boundaries.) In return, the Commissioners get things like the rent control ordinance slipped past a COVID-shocked public. (Do you think there are more than 2 dz people who understand our rent freeze resolution vs rent control ordinance? Nah, even the renters don’t). Or the MEC’s pushing an Opt-Out clause from pre-Y2K for electric aggregation?

    Transparency? Nope. Transactional self-interests? Yup.

  8. Thank you for the comment, AKnightly!

    I totally agree that, during the investigation, there should be administrative leave for any person or persons who may have been responsible for the promotions test’s scoring system that was allegedly stacked against Black firefighters. The charge certainly has some credibility given how racism is everywhere, even in less-racist-than-most-suburbs Montclair.

    And, yes, some of Montclair’s leaders don’t react to things as strongly and as transparently as they should. 🙁

  9. Frank, unpaid volunteer commissions are supposed to work behind the scenes by law? If that’s the case, that’s news to me. And I realize some people are on commissions for résumé and/or transactional reasons, but I think (and hope) some others are there for more altruistic, community-minded reasons.

  10. Seems like yesterday that another major Montclair organization (their Foundation and all their silly Friends) leveled unfounded accusations at Township employees…and the MPL gang have yet to apologize. And they won’t, because that is who they are. Of course, that was about money so a totally different set of rules. We should first establish which set of rules apply to each of the numerous converging agendas here.

    Anyone who thinks this is just about the Fire Dept is a wee bit naive. We have a dysfunctional start to this council that brought some old tattered baggage and new members bringing new tacky baggage. The special interest groups on each side of each issue are feeling energized. This was expected, and sought out, after the prior administration’s 8 years.

    Lastly, “The charge certainly has some credibility given how racism is everywhere” deserves special recognition. It’s so reflects Montclair.

  11. Frank: I’m curious why you “purposely left out the Housing Commission” in one of your earlier comments. Is this because HC is more transparent and/or more productive than the other ones? (If so, kudos to HC.)

  12. Wilhelm Keith,

    The HC is not transparent. No. Nope. Nada.

    I like their leadership – committed, engaging personalities, knowledgable, solid pubic communicators. They have been driving the fair housing bandwagon way before its current rise in popularity.

    Their productivity? Hard to say. All the Redevelopment Areas were underachievements unless they were planned concessions in exchange for the rent control ordinance. What efficiency they realized working in the shadows is now a net loss by that very opaqueness. Ironically, in the end, Montclair may realize a better housing policy from their missteps and the missteps of their master, the Council. And, after all, the end is our measure that counts in these parts.

    COVID showed us that our municipal and school transparency wasn’t good. It forced NJ to revisit the arbitrary and capricious rules limiting civic engagement. For instance, NJ mandated the only proper public comment, much less engagement must be in person. NJ was like a Red State in that we treated greater civic engagement as disruptive to the status quo. The NJ DOE, and its mainly Type I districts, will revert. I hope the municipalities will do better.

  13. Frank, we’ve of course had different views about the town vs. library situation. I think the library has been mostly run well (before and during COVID) and that some town officials went overboard with the library audit and their overreaction to the looks-like-at-least-partly-wrong audit results.

    As for the citing of my “The charge certainly has some credibility given how racism is everywhere” quote, you left out the last part. The whole thing read: “The charge certainly has some credibility given how racism is everywhere, even in less-racist-than-most-suburbs Montclair.” While far from perfect, our town is indeed a less racist place than the typical suburb. At least it deals with racial issues (much of the time though not all the time). Heck, some suburbs are such white bubbles they avoid/ignore racial issues completely — not a good thing.

  14. Re: the MPL

    1.) Yes, we disagree. Schlager, Russo, Yacobellis, and Price-Abrams stamped their feet & blustered they wanted details of what happened when…including the events that precipitated the audit. Then they lost their voices and sent out traffic cops to say “move along now, nothing to see here.” And the dutiful little sheep complied and got back behind their white picket fences.

    2.) You are not appreciating the wording of your statement, which I highlighted the key part, is some of the same reasoning underlying Michael Bloomberg’s justification of the Stop & Frisk Policy. I seem to recall you were not a fan of that policy. Ask a lawyer to read it.

  15. Frank, I see no connection at all between my quote and Bloomberg’s awful “Stop and Frisk” policy when he was NYC mayor. My quote lamented racism, while “Stop and Frisk” was racist — over-focusing on “suspects” of color (most completely innocent). Meanwhile, Bloomberg barely said a word about the crimes and corruption of rich white men. Gee…big surprise there. 🙄

  16. You said the charges against Township employees had some credibility because racism is prevalent in Montclair.

    Since we are now using that standard it would seem best that we suspend the employees without pay as it is likely they did what is alleged. If we are wrong, we can just unring the bell.

  17. Frank, I’m re-pasting my full January 25 comment: “I totally agree that, during the investigation, there should be administrative leave for any person or persons who may have been responsible for the promotions test’s scoring system that was allegedly stacked against Black firefighters. The charge certainly has some credibility given how racism is everywhere, even in less-racist-than-most-suburbs Montclair.”

    I used the word “allegedly,” and said Montclair is less racist than most suburbs. That’s very different than “racism is prevalent in Montclair” (your words). Yet there is of course SOME racism in Montclair, as there is almost everywhere. And there have been so many cases around the country where people of color (and white women, for that matter) have been discriminated against in hiring and promotion that any accusation to that effect will feel believable more often than not.

    Finally, I mentioned administrative leave, not suspension. To my knowledge, administrative leave allows the accused person or persons to keep their pay and benefits as an investigation is taking place.

Comments are closed.