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All votes must be counted

Thank you for the coverage you provided for the local elections for mayor and town council. You have kept us informed as voters and residents in the great tradition of local journalism. Articles following the election,  and the  June 25th letter from Dr. Renee Baskerville (full disclosure — I supported and voted for her), highlighted very disturbing information regarding the counting of mail-in ballots. Since future elections this year will doubtless rely on mail-in ballots due to the ongoing pandemic, problems need to be corrected at the state and county level as soon as possible.

It is shocking to learn that about 10 percent  of votes were not counted in the Montclair municipal elections. More than 400 were not counted due to signature issues (identifying signatures is a fuzzy endeavor, at best), and no opportunity for the voter to clarify the issue. Hundreds of other votes were denied because of problems in the post office during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic effects. As an older voter, I know that my signature changes with age — some of us have tremors from various causes, others may have been confused by the instructions on the ballot — not the most user-friendly instructions. Did the post office fail to date-stamp my ballot? Was delivery delayed — we know that there were mail delays during that time, for sure, as dedicated postal workers fell ill. Was my vote discarded? I will never know.

A fair and accurate vote count is our basic right as citizens! Please support the League of Women Voters and NAACP as they work with state and county officials to assure this does not happen again. 

Bella August

Montclair

Talking to kids about racism

The June 18th issue of the Montclair Local had a very interesting article about the Montclair Education Association and the district’s restorative justice team on “Talking to kids about racism.” I then read an article in the June 21st issue of The Washington Post titled “How Trump rally-goers explain Black Lives Matter protests to their children” by Robert Klemko. This reporter interviewed folks as they left the Tulsa rally. To say the least, I was shocked and appalled at what I read. I felt as though, to borrow from the famed writer, James Baldwin, that I was living in “another country.” Just who are these people, I wondered? Do they read broadly? Where do they come from? Do they have discussions with anyone outside of their own small enclaves? If there are national TV reporters living in town, and I understand there are a few, I think it would be a worthwhile journalistic story to investigate and seek out these “Americans” and have a lengthy conversation with them on a show like “60 Minutes” where their ideas and opinions can be more thoroughly explored and challenged with hardcore facts and examples. I am so thankful to have grown up in Montclair, where I have been exposed to diversity of race, religion, class and identities.

Brenda S. Williams

Montclair

How to improve the lives of Black and brown children of Montclair

As I have witnessed historic anti-racism protests and energy unfold over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting about how to improve the lives of our Black and brown children in Montclair.

Although no one wants to acknowledge it, we are a town of haves and have-nots. Just this month, the Montclair Local reported that, in the state of New Jersey, white families have a median net worth of $309,900, while Latino and Black families have a median net worth of $7,020 and $5,900 respectively.  The numbers may be different in Montclair, but racism has insured that people of color make up a disproportionate percentage of the have-nots in our town. 

The Montclair Scholarship Fund is a nonprofit organization that has been awarding scholarships to college-bound seniors at Montclair High School with financial need for more than 60 years. The price of college is astronomical for everyone, but when you look at the wealth gap in New Jersey, the economic devastation on Black and Brown families trying to send students to college is even more crushing. The Montclair Scholarship Fund makes awards based on financial need, not race, but our applicant group makes the racial dimension of our income inequality apparent.

This year when you think about how you can impact the lives of Black and brown Montclair children, I hope that you consider donating to the Montclair Scholarship Fund at montclairscholarshipfund.org . No amount is too small.  So many of us are saying, in person and on social media, that we care about the future of Black lives. Let’s show that we do and lift up our own students in need. 

For so long, American society has not only allowed the killing of Black people, but has also allowed the killing of Black hope. I am daring to hope that action, and the true desire for change, are on the rise in our town. I know that Montclair can do better.

LEETA JORDAN

Montclair

Solving racism in schools no easy task

My husband and I have shared the recent expression of racial bias in the Montclair Public Schools ever since our white children, now in their fifties, came home repeatedly reporting incidents about how their African American classmates had been treated so much less fairly by teachers than their white classmates.

We do not share the recently expressed opinion that hiring more African American administrators will remedy the problem.  When our African American foster grandson wanted to take French, an African American administrator insisted he take remedial English instead.  We insistently pointed out that he had already read Barack Obama’s first two books when he was in sixth grade, a sign that his reading skills were not too bad.  The aforementioned administrator was adamant and had more power than we had.  Our grandson ended up in a remedial English class, where he observed that all the students were African American boys.

We need to address the racial bias in Montclair more aggressively. Might a biracial appeal panel help?

Pat Kenschaft

Montclair

Town council and restaurants

I have waited to write for weeks in the hope of seeing some significant effort and change coming from the town council to help our shopping/restaurant businesses — but apart from no permit fees there is nothing much visible. How is it possible that a town like Montclair has not spent weeks — or months — cohesively planning for this? 

Street closures are the clear need here. Our sidewalks are mostly too small to help restaurants make up for the extraordinary loss of income over three months. It’s a disgraceful lack of leadership! And it does not befit our fabulous town. 

I am German, and Europeans in general know a thing or two about pedestrian zones. We have them everywhere. So here are my suggestions: 

Close Church Street (that’s really a no-brainer) after 11 a.m., with delivery times until 11 a.m. 

Close Park Street between Portland and Bloomfield, where there are a lot of smaller-sized restaurants that desperately need help, between noon and 8 or 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. 

In the Walnut Street area, if the owners of the Trumpets driveway would allow it, open that space for Corso and Le Salbuen, or allow a market space seating arrangement in that park by the train station for several nearby restaurants to share. 

In Upper Montclair allow the use of half of the back parking lot by the train and the full one on the back of the east side shops/restaurants between Bellevue and Lorraine. Look for other parks/parking lots that could be converted to outdoor dining. Egan’s is super lucky because they own a huge parking lot and they’ve converted it to dining. But hardly any other restaurants have that luxury. 

So, dear town council, please move fast on this. We all know what empty storefronts look like. We’ve had them for many years. It is in the council’s hands. It’s their responsibility. 

Other towns have done it. Why can’t we?

CORINNA SAGER

Montclair

7 reasons why freeholder elections matter

With 2020 primary elections fast approaching in New Jersey (July 7!), you may be wondering not only who should get your vote for Essex County’s Chosen Board of Freeholders, but also what, exactly, a freeholder is.

You’re not alone. In fact, if you’re not a native New Jerseyan, you may have never even heard of a freeholder before. As NJ Spotlight points out, the Garden State is the only state in the U.S. that still uses the term instead of the more common “county commissioner.”

That’s why SOMA Action put together this brief overview of what freeholders are and why their role is so important. 

A quick history lesson: “Freeholder” dates back to N.J.’s first state constitution, which stipulated that only certain property owners (who “freely held” land) could be elected to office, or even vote.

Now that you know the antiquated back story of “freeholder” — and with all four of Essex County’s at-large freeholders facing Democratic and Republican primary challengers on July 7 — here are seven reasons why all New Jerseyans should carefully consider their votes in freeholder elections.

  1. They’re your county government’s “customer service.” Whether it’s unplowed snow on county roads or un-picked-up trash in county parks, freeholders are your go-to point persons. In fact, freeholders often campaign on their responsiveness to their constituents and their ability to get things done for you.
  2. It’s always “Infrastructure Week.” As NJ.com reported in 2014, “Take a look at most freeholder agendas and… you’ll find a big chunk of their action items have to do with seemingly boring but crucial topics — paving roads, repairing dams and building bridges.” That last one is especially key. As New Jersey Association of Counties Executive Director John Donnadio told the outlet, the vast majority of bridges statewide, aside from those that cross state lines, fall under freeholders’ purviews.
  3. When it comes to social justice, they can move the needle on big, structural changes statewide. For example, Essex County freeholders have passed resolutions supporting the legalization of marijuana statewide, calling on ICE to release civil detainees and calling for changes in policing to help protect Black lives.
  4. They’ve got veto power. The Board of Freeholders can overrule vetos by Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.
  5. They’re like the human embodiment of SunshineLaws. Other than things like contract negotiations and employment matters, the Board of Freeholders operates in public and is transparent by design. That’s unlike the county executive, who can have closed-door meetings and even create policy in private. Likewise, freeholders’ votes to pass or reject legislation, select vendors and award contracts, etc., must be conducted via public meetings.
  6. In Essex County especially, their individual platforms matter. Says West Orange resident Matt Dragon, who frequently interacts with county executives and freeholders in his advocacy work for correctional facility civilian oversight, “In a county where there’s a single party in control, you want freeholders that are going to think for themselves and represent their constituents, not just stamp whatever the administration submits. Essex fits both those criteria.”
  7. The buck stops with them — literally. Essex County’s government website notes that the Board of Freeholders approves the county’s annual operating and capital budgets and designates staff to process and approve funding. Or, as SOMA Action Political Action Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Scheer succinctly puts it, “They decide where the money gets spent — which is huge.”

Ready to cast that July 7 primary ballot? Remember that this election is being conducted primarily via vote-by-mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re an active, party-registered voter in Essex County, you should have already received a vote-by-mail ballot, even if you’ve never voted by mail  before. It must be postmarked by July 7 in order to be counted. You can also drop your sealed ballot in one of the county’s official ballot drop boxes. For additional information about voting in Essex County, contact www.essexclerk.com. 

SOMA Action is a grassroots organization with more than 1,900 members in South Orange and

Maplewood (“SOMA”) whose mission is to drive progressive change. Formed in the wake of the 2016 election, SOMA Action mobilizes residents of our two towns and neighboring communities to advocate for a broad range of progressive policies at the local, state and national level. We pursue results through education, activism, and exerting policy and electoral influence.

Rose Maura Lorre

Montclair

The author is a member of SOMA Action.

Make your vote count

The League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area was created 100 years ago after a long-fought battle to give women the right to vote, and we continue to fight for fair elections and ensure all votes are counted.  Some 9.1 percent of the votes received were not counted for the May elections due to a variety of reasons, signatures not matching (20 percent), ballot received late or not postmarked (62 percent), certificate missing (10 percent) and other reasons.  The governor of New Jersey signed an executive order for the July primary that gives voters the ability to correct signatures and extends the time for receipt of ballots from two days (in the May election) to seven days for the primary in July.  If these new rules were applied to the May election, there would still be over 800 votes or nearly 7 percent not counted.  The League of the Montclair Area is advocating for further changes to ensure that more votes be counted in future elections.  In the meantime, in order to assure your vote is counted, the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area suggests the following:

  1. Be sure to use a black or blue pen and fully fill in the oval; 
  2. Be sure to sign the certification on the first envelope to which the ballot is inserted, and
  3. Drop off your ballots into a ballot box (Montclair’s is located at the Municipal Building (205 Claremont) on or before July 7  at 8 p.m., this will guarantee that your ballots are received in time.  Note, per the recently signed executive order, vote by mail ballots will not be accepted at polling locations. 

If you have any questions as to how to fill out the ballot or any other issues with the election, please reach out to me at susanmack@verizon.net.

Susan Mack

Montclair

The author is voter registration chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area.