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Mayor's State of the City Address 2024





Click here to Download the 2024 State of the City Booklet

Thank you to my wife, the beautiful First Lady, for that heartfelt introduction. I could not do what I do each day without your love and support, and I love you.

Good evening to you, our Plainfield family, distinguished guests, and our friends near and far. Tonight, as I stand before you in my 11th year as your mayor, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, pride, and a profound responsibility for the future we are collectively shaping. Over the past decade, we have embarked on a remarkable journey together, transforming challenges into opportunities and dreams into realities. Tonight, under the theme "The City of Tomorrow, Today," we not only celebrate the milestones we have collectively achieved but also reaffirm our commitment to a vision that extends far beyond the present into a future ripe with possibilities.

As always – I must give thanks and acknowledgments to my partners on this journey of transformation. Beginning with my family who get to see the good days and the bad days, feel the frustrations, and share the triumphs; without them, my wife, Amelia, whom you saw earlier, my daughters, Shermona and Ayisha, my son Dennis and my grandbabies, Mawuli and Yayra, I would be nothing. I love you all

I’d like to acknowledge and thank our county and state officials who are here this evening and who continue to show unwavering support for our city. Fellow mayors or representatives of mayors, thank you for your presence, collaboration, and insight when needed. 

Members of our governing body, led by Council President Steve Hockaday, please stand and be acknowledged. It’s not an easy thing to make decisions that will affect thousands of lives, but that is what our council members do each month when they convene. Thanks to their commitment and partnership, we are here today, building a city that was unimaginable just ten short years ago. 

And I must acknowledge the members of my cabinet. The men and women who get up every day and lead the team at city hall to ensure you get the services and resources you deserve. They continue to deliver innovation and dedication to the City of Plainfield, and I am grateful for their commitment and hard work. 

I’d like to recognize the partners who continue to invest in our city and contribute to our progress; we appreciate your continued faith in the success of Plainfield.

This evening, we have some very special guests who have traveled all the way from SLIDE: Ghana to cement what we hope will be a long and mutually beneficial sister-city relationship with Plainfield. 

I’d like to acknowledge the HONORABLE. AK-WAN-NU-ASA GEE-EYE-MAH, Municipal Chief Executive Officer (Mayor)of the Asokwa Municipal Assembly of the Ashanti Region in Ghana.

And The HONORABLE. ELLIOT BANNOR, Presiding Member (Speaker) of the Asokwa Municipal Assembly in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. 

Please stand to be recognized.

We are honored by your presence here at our annual State of the City Address. Thank you.

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Our theme tonight serves as a beacon, guiding our collective efforts toward innovation, sustainability, and inclusivity. It's a bold declaration of our resolve to not just dream of a brighter future but to take decisive actions today that pave the way for these dreams to flourish. Plainfield is a shining example of what is possible when a community works together, united by a shared purpose and an unyielding vision for progress.

However, as we look toward the horizon, it's clear that our journey is far from over. Tonight, I am excited to unveil our next chapter of visionary plans that will further elevate our city's status as a beacon of the future. We will explore new avenues of investment, aiming to attract even more extraordinary talent and innovation to our city. Our plans include expanding our technological infrastructure, integrating SMART city technologies, implementing green initiatives to enhance our residents' daily lives, and further improving our urban landscape to provide more options for every lifestyle and budget.

In this next phase, we envision a Plainfield from which every resident not only benefits but also contributes to our collective progress. A city where our children grow up inspired by the possibilities of what they can achieve, surrounded by cutting-edge technology, clean air, environmentally conscious spaces, world-class infrastructure, and vibrant recreational spaces that reflect our city's dynamic spirit.

As we embark on this ambitious journey together, let’s be guided by the principle that the city of tomorrow we aspire to is the one we are building today with each decision we make, each challenge we navigate, and each success we celebrate. 

The vision I'll share with you today isn't focused primarily on building infrastructure or making technological advancements; it's about nurturing the spirit of our community, fostering deep and meaningful connections, and creating an environment where every resident can thrive.

Reflecting on the past decade, the transformation of Plainfield is nothing short of remarkable. As I mentioned in last year's State of the City Address, the Plainfield we live in today would be almost unrecognizable a decade ago. 

Now, I'm proud to say that the state of OUR city isn't just strong — it's the strongest it has been in over five decades!

The metamorphosis of our city has been astounding. Once seen merely as a place of potential, Plainfield is now recognized as a beacon that epitomizes strength and progress and underscores our collective journey. We have evolved into a place where people come to thrive, where businesses aim to flourish, and where community ties get deeper with each passing day.

Tonight is about celebrating our city's journey, acknowledging the strides we have made, and envisioning the path forward. As we chart our course toward a future where innovation, community, and sustainability intersect, we reaffirm our commitment to building a Plainfield that's not just ready for tomorrow but is actively living that future today.

 “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” And that is precisely what we have done in Plainfield.

With investment irrefutably on its way to the two-billion-dollar mark, we are not just witnessing change; we are living it, breathing it, and shaping it into reality, a Plainfield reality. 

Such incredible progress is all thanks to you — the people of Plainfield. In 2023, Plainfield demonstrated commendable fiscal responsibility, achieving a tax collection rate of roughly 97%, underscoring your trust and investment in the city's future. 

The wave of interest that has swept over Plainfield is a testament to our city's prosperity, drawing families and businesses alike who are eager to call Plainfield home. Last year, our Planning and Zoning boards were flooded with 40 new applications—a clear sign that the world recognizes the potential that we have long seen in ourselves.

Key development projects like 1000 North Avenue, 803 South Avenue, 1369 South Avenue, Netherwood Flats, and CitiVillage have been instrumental in this growth, adding over 600 residential units and more than 300,000 square feet of commercial space to our urban landscape. These developments are not just structures; they are the bedrock of our future economic dynamism, providing homes and clean, modern spaces for innovation and interaction.

But, even as we applaud these beautiful, new living spaces and what they represent for our city of tomorrow, we must confront head-on some of the challenges we have faced, address the elephant in the room, and chart our future course. 

One of the most difficult decisions we made this past year was the one to condemn unsafe buildings in our city. This action was not taken lightly, and it was not a popular decision with some, but as your Mayor, my first obligation is to ensure the safety and well-being of all Plainfield residents, and that sometimes entails taking difficult and unpopular action.

The decision to condemn these buildings stemmed from our deep commitment to enhancing the quality of life in Plainfield. We could not overlook the hazardous living conditions—such as severe rodent infestations and unsanitary environments that could breed and spread disease—without taking decisive action to compel landlords to rectify these deplorable conditions and meet their legal and moral obligations to their tenants.

Unfortunately, several families were displaced as a result of the condemnations. However, to date, 77 percent of the affected families have successfully relocated to safe, dignified housing. For the remaining families who are unreachable or have refused assistance, our support and access to resources remain readily available.

We cannot aspire to build the city of tomorrow while ignoring the plight of those living in life-threatening conditions today.

Recently, another issue came to light involving a vacant property on Arlington Avenue. This situation was completely different, involving individuals who were neither tenants affected by the building condemnations nor residents of Plainfield but rather squatters brought here from outside our community. Our response was measured but necessary, always prioritizing the safety and well-being of our community, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to making thoughtful, informed decisions rather than reactionary ones influenced by external political pressures.

As we move forward, let me reaffirm my commitment to housing justice and the availability of affordable housing. It is my promise to you that over the next year, we will see the completion of more than 400 new affordable housing SLIDE:  units. Providing more than just shelter but a foundation for a better life. This initiative is pivotal in our mission to build a city that offers promise and prosperity to all its residents and how we lift as we rise. This is how we build the city of tomorrow today.

Furthermore, we will intensify our efforts to tackle the homelessness issue that continues to plague not only our city but every single city across our nation. It is a conversation that I have in almost every room I occupy with fellow mayors, legislators, and elected officials at every level of government; it dominates agendas at every conference and summit I attend. The problem persists not because we are ignoring it but because it is an insidious issue that is not easily fixed. I want to make a public appeal; if you have ideas and suggestions, please bring them to us. We are open to hearing them all.

Together, we can address these challenges and build a city that not only anticipates the future but actively shapes it.

..…

In the rapidly growing cannabis retail sector, Queen City Remedies on South Avenue leads the way as one of the first in the state to secure an annual license from the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. And on Saturday, two days from today, we’ll cut the ribbon for The QCC Group, a large cultivation facility that will serve cannabis retailers across New Jersey. This year, we look forward to welcoming six more cannabis-related businesses, marking a significant milestone in our city's economic diversification.

The horizon for 2024 is bright with the anticipated completion of pivotal projects like the First Children’s School. And we are proud to announce that we have completed the design phase for the Plainfield Center of Excellence Project and will be breaking ground on the 55,000-square-foot space this year. 

The Center of Excellence is poised to be a transformative space for our community, a place where aspirations are nurtured and realized. Imagine walking an indoor track during the winter or taking a few laps in the heated swimming pool. For those who enjoy golf, a simulator is available, alongside a state-of-the-art gym for fitness enthusiasts. Beyond physical activities, the center will offer co-working spaces and educational classes, supporting both professional and personal growth.

This facility and other new developments are set to usher in a new era of education and innovation, further solidifying our status as a forward-thinking city. Plus, we are ensuring that our current residents can stay in the city they love and call home; that’s why part of the residential component of the Center of Excellence will be allocated for affordable housing.

These new developments are not mere structures; they are the dreams and aspirations of our community, manifesting into tangible realities. We are building a future, brick by brick, on the foundation of our collective ambition and determination. Moreover, we understand that community is not merely about the influx and departure of its inhabitants but about the roots that they put down, the bonds they form, and the spaces that provide the backdrop for these stories to unfold.

We are growing and thriving in every sector, and more and more businesses want to be a part of this future city. But don’t take it from me; let's hear from a few businesses that have made their home here in Plainfield and are thriving because we have shown that Plainfield loves small businesses.

(VIDEO OF PLAINFIELD NJ - BUSINESSES)

As we step into the realm of the "City of Tomorrow, Today," we are committed to creating.

In 2023, our parks and recreation division led numerous seasonal and cultural events, from Easter Egg Hunts to Kwanzaa celebrations. These activities not only brought residents together but also enriched our city’s cultural landscape.

We proudly provided 200 free swim lessons, and speaking of swimming, the Rushmore Recreational Complex will soon include a competition-sized swimming pool, a spray park, basketball courts, and a playground, in addition to the enormous turf field already in place. It is the recreational complex of the future, and we have it here, today, in Plainfield. The work is not entirely done, but I promise you that residents will be able to enjoy it very soon.

The inaugural season of the Plainfield Parks and Recreation Tennis and Pickleball Club saw 175 members participate, and we revived youth baseball with tee ball and minor league teams. Additionally, the Queen City Spring Football celebrated its second year, broadening our sports programs.

Our Community Garden program, in partnership with Groundwork Elizabeth, has fully reserved both sites, showing strong community interest in conservation.

Our adult programs, including Seniors on the Move, Walk with Ease, and Chair Yoga, were filled to capacity, reflecting our city's dedication to promoting health at every age and supporting our seniors aging gracefully in place. Additionally, our partnership with Plainfield Public Schools to offer the Summer Camp Freedom School and various sports and wellness programs underscores our commitment to nurturing the well-being of our young residents.

Speaking of sports, I’m sure you heard how well our girls' and boys' Basketball high school teams did this year! Let’s give them a round of applause! 

I had a bet with my friend Mayor Chris Bollwage from Elizabeth that our boys would win when they went to the finals; well, we know what happened… I had to send pizza for their team following the nail-biting win over our team. However, the athleticism and spirit I saw displayed by our team remain with me, and I could not be more proud of them. I am equally proud of our girls’ team, who took it all the way to the semi-finals. 

Tonight, I want to acknowledge them and present them with the 2024 State of the City Community Awards! I’m going to ask those of them who are here to stand so we can give them a rousing round of applause the Plainfield way – let’s show them how proud we are of them

….

The coaches will distribute these tokens of our appreciation, and I can’t wait for next year, as I’m sure we’ll bring the trophy back to Plainfield.

Last year, Plainfield was alive with vibrant community gatherings. The Queen City Street Fair was a highlight, attracting 2,000 attendees who enjoyed carnival games, delicious food, and fantastic entertainment. Our Block Party also made a significant impact, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop and turning our downtown into a lively center of iconic music. Additionally, the House Music Festival drew over 10,000 enthusiasts and emphasized health issues prevalent in black and brown communities, aligning with our commitment to meaningful causes.

Building on this momentum, we're set to make this year even more exciting. We're not only bringing back beloved events but are also enhancing our Arts Festival. This year, it will broaden its appeal throughout the tri-state area, showcasing a variety of artistic talents. The festivities will kick off with the unveiling of a mural by Plainfield’s son and renowned artist Alonzo Adams, symbolizing our community's spirit and creativity. This initiative celebrates artistic expression and strengthens our community ties, setting the stage for creating lasting memories and experiences.

Speaking of arts, I would be remiss not to share the remarkable strides made by the Plainfield Performing Arts Center, or P-PAC as we call it. Under the dedicated leadership of Sharon McGuire, it stood out as a vibrant hub of artistic and cultural expression. This key community gathering place promoted connectivity, diversity, and inclusivity throughout the year.

P-PAC attracted approximately 12,000 attendees to 392 diverse events, significantly increasing its reach with programs that drew people from at least five New Jersey counties. This growth underscores P-PAC's expanding influence and its role as a pivotal force in community arts and activism.

The center's diverse programming included the expanded Jazz on Park series, various theatrical performances, open mic nights, and meaningful discussions on social and racial justice. Featuring contributions from professional artists like Grammy-nominated Junior Mack and nationally recognized Queen Nur, P-PAC has enhanced our cultural landscape. These offerings provide just a glimpse into the rich experiences available at P-PAC, showcasing the center's commitment to excellence in cultural engagement.

Here’s just a taste of what you missed if you’ve never been to one of the performances at the PPAC.

(VIDEO OF ARTS AND CULTURE AT THE P-PAC)

These spaces and events are not just locations on a map or ordinary get-togethers; they are the stages where life's most precious moments unfold, where laughter echoes, and where the bonds of community are strengthened. 

We want to turn Plainfield into a living, dynamic entity where each interaction, each smile exchanged, adds to the fabric of inclusion and unity that defines our city — our vision pushes us to create spaces where familiar faces gather, where laughter and camaraderie fill the air, where each visit is an encounter with friends and loved ones. In Plainfield, building a City of Tomorrow Today means recognizing that our collective strength is magnified by our unity, our shared commitment to excellence, and our relentless pursuit of becoming the best version of our city and ourselves.

But our vision goes even deeper than that; it’s a holistic plan that includes every facet of Plainfield life, and that’s why we realize that our ability to truly become a City of Tomorrow hinges on the safety and security we provide today. That's why I am proud to report that Plainfield is experiencing an era of unparalleled safety — a testament to our collective efforts in enhancing law enforcement and modernizing our emergency services.

There has been a 12% reduction in the overall crime rate since 2017, marking the lowest homicide rate in three decades. Moreover, between 2015 and 2023, Plainfield experienced a significant reduction in violence, with an incredible decrease of 17% in violent crimes; as a matter of fact, in 2023, we had only one homicide, and while no loss is an acceptable loss, it shows that our efforts are paying off. Reflecting our commitment to enhancing safety and security for all residents.

In 2024, we aim further to enrich the quality of life in our downtown area, building upon the notable strides made by our Community Policing Unit.  Our commitment extends to the roadways of Plainfield, where traffic calming measures and enforcement initiatives have been instrumental in safeguarding our pedestrians and motorists. 

The Police Department, under the leadership of Director James Abney, is steadfast in its mission to continuously seek innovative ways to enhance city safety.

Significant advancements include a new Evidence Processing unit and upgraded camera systems, reflecting our ongoing mission to modernize and improve. The introduction of the Unmanned Aerial System program leveraged technology to enhance our effectiveness and responsiveness, and once again, we received an accreditation designation signaling that our Police Force can stand with the best of them. 

We have also made major strides in modernizing our Fire Department. The expansion of our team with new firefighters will solidify our promise to serve and protect every corner of our city. 

The upcoming year promises exciting advancements, like drone training and autism awareness programs, ensuring our services are comprehensive and inclusive. We are also working to enhance our emergency medical response training and mental health resources. We are not just preparing for emergencies; we are fostering a department that is as compassionate as it is competent. 

Before I move on, I’d like to take a moment to remember someone who paid the ultimate price in service to his city. Earlier this year, we shared a heavy collective grief as we laid one of our Bravest to rest. Lieutenant Marques Hudson from the Fire Department

They say, “A hero remembered, never dies,” and I know Plainfield will never forget this hero. Let’s hear from someone who saw him at his best. Someone who worked side by side with him every day.

(VIDEO - Lt. Hudson) 
Moment of silence

We are currently working on erecting a memorial to Fire Lt. Hudson and to all of the fallen firefighters who were once members of the Plainfield Fire Department. Stay tuned for more on that.

In our relentless pursuit to build "The City of Tomorrow, Today," Our vision is clear: to create a community where health is not just a state of being but a foundation for thriving, where every individual has the opportunity to live their fullest life, today and in all the tomorrows to come.

This past year, we have doubled down on our efforts, channeling significant investments and energy into health initiatives that are not just responses to immediate needs but blueprints for long-term healthcare excellence. 

In 2023, our Health Department led three significant health initiatives, resulting in a 20% reduction in morbidity and disability, setting new benchmarks for community health that other cities can emulate.

We actively involved 500 community members in policy development, focusing on historically marginalized groups, thereby enhancing our policies and their relevance to Plainfield's diverse community. These efforts have yielded significant results, with over 1,000 residents now having better access to preventive health services and a 30% decrease in illness rates. We have also pursued equitable health reforms to ensure all residents have equal opportunities for a healthy life.

Moreover, we enhanced emergency medical services by collaborating with JFK and Union County Emergency squads, providing our residents with prompt and efficient care in emergencies. Our EMS services have never been better.

For the sixth year running, Plainfield was honored as a Healthy Town by the Quality Care Institute, reinforcing our status as a forward-thinking city where health outcomes are improving, and residents have the support to live healthier, longer lives.

With these achievements, we are setting the stage for a future where health is the bedrock upon which all our aspirations are built.

And we are not just setting the stage to become a healthier city, but a more sustainable city, too. 

In a world increasingly impacted by climate change, building the City of Tomorrow necessitates a profound dedication to sustainability and environmental stewardship. 

This year, our Information Technology department set a sterling example by remediating and recycling nearly 500 devices, a move that sets a precedent for responsible technological consumption. 

The Solid Waste and Public Works departments have been instrumental in advancing our green agenda. By optimizing collection routes and introducing efficient waste management practices, we enhance operational efficiency and significantly mitigate our environmental impact. The deployment of wheel loaders and dump trucks, alongside the transition to in-house fleet maintenance, underscores our dedication to reducing emissions and exemplifies our holistic approach to sustainability.

Moreover, our city is embracing the transition to renewable energy with open arms. The introduction of twenty-one hybrid vehicles and the establishment of EV charging stations are significant milestones in our journey toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

In Plainfield, we understand that to truly build a city of tomorrow, we must ensure that our environmental practices today are designed to protect and preserve our planet for future generations. 

As we move forward, we will continue to champion these sustainable practices, ensuring that Plainfield remains a beacon of environmental responsibility, a city where the well-being of its residents is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment. Together, we are not just building the City of Tomorrow but ensuring that tomorrow is a brighter, greener, and more sustainable future for all.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.”
We stood still for many decades, and now we are moving forward decisively; the days of standing still are over; they are behind us, and they have no place in this city of tomorrow that we have built today.

As we pursue our vision of a safer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly Plainfield, we are also committed to becoming a smarter city. Our SMART city initiative is revolutionizing urban living to meet the dynamic demands of our era.

Central to this transformation is the development of a robust fiber optic infrastructure that will support hyper-fast internet, setting the foundation for our city’s connectivity for the next 30 to 50 years.

Our approach extends beyond connectivity; it integrates technology with humanity. This includes providing free WiFi in city parks, downtown gathering spots, and municipal buildings, enhancing access to information and enabling everyone to engage with the digital world effortlessly.

In enhancing public safety, we're increasing camera coverage, introducing sophisticated license plate readers, and implementing a centralized system to anticipate potential threats, balancing safety with privacy rights.

Moreover, we're proud to be the first in New Jersey to offer AI-powered translation services at Council meetings, promoting inclusivity and transparency. This technology is on display tonight, demonstrating our commitment to a city that is as diverse as it is forward-thinking.                   

As we embark on this exciting journey, we are not just preparing for the future but actively creating a vibrant, connected, and innovative Plainfield—a city of tomorrow, today. We embrace this transformative journey, shaping our future together.

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Friends and neighbors, Brothers and sisters, as we embrace the promise of tomorrow, let us gaze not with fear but with fierce courage to tackle the job before us. The city of tomorrow beckons us with streets not paved in gold, but lined with the resolute action and unwavering commitment of those dedicated to the upliftment of our city.


As sure as the day follows the night, we will surely reap what we sow, and we have planted the seeds of economic prosperity. We have sown fields of technological advancement. We have watered our land with infrastructure improvements, and we have tilled the soil with our dedication to improving our quality of life.


Today, we seize the mantle of tomorrow. Today, we take up the tools of transformation, not just in bricks and mortar but in the hearts of all who dwell within our city’s boundaries. Today, we walk into the future that has beckoned for over five decades. Today, we reject the rhetoric that says we can’t and seize the power that says “Yes, we can, “ Our city of tomorrow shines today; it is a beacon of hope, a fortress of unity, and a testament to the power of collective vision. 

Today, we are building more than buildings; we are constructing a community, forging a future where every child, every man, and every woman has a stake in the prosperity we are creating together. 


Today, we are not just imagining luxurious, modern structures that reach toward the skies; we can look around and see them. Today, we are not just hoping for bustling streets brimming with innovation and energy; we can walk those streets and feel the energy and see the innovation. Today, we are not just talking about a place where each citizen, no matter their background or their station in life, has a role to play in the fabric of Plainfield life; we have created that city and curated those spaces because we are a city that does not just adapt to the future—we shape it.


As we draw to a close this evening, let us remember that the city of tomorrow did not arrive on the winds of inevitability but on the backs of our actions. Each step we took etched us in the annals of history; each decision carved a deeper path of progress, and each day pushed us closer to a Queen City that is no longer a distant dream of prosperity but our present reality.


But there is still work to be done, and the challenge of the future still beckons like a gleam at the end of the tunnel. So join me today, Plainfield, and rise up to the challenge! If you are a daughter or son of the Queen City! Stand up Today with the joy of your hope, the strength of your faith, and the invincible determination of your will. Step up today and march out into our communities. Lift your eyes to the now visible horizon, see the possibilities, and hear the echoes of our ancestors telling us to push farther and dig deeper. Today, come and taste the sweet possibilities of the future. 


Tonight, we leave this hall not with 'goodbye' but with the phrase 'until we meet again as we surely will on the Plainfield streets of progress. I ask you to stand with me, dream with me, build with me, and cheer with me! as the path before us shines brightly with the promise of our united ambitions. Let our feet reverberate in unison through the streets of Plainfield, a powerful sound heralding our shared journey toward greatness. Together, let us ascend to new heights today, for in unity, there is might; in diversity, there is beauty; and in Plainfield, there is limitless potential. Together, we rise, for we are Plainfield—proud, steadfast, and tireless, pushing onward and upward together, marching into "The City of Tomorrow, Today." 

I thank you, my Plainfield family, for your trust, your partnership, and your steadfast dedication to our collective vision.

May God Bless you, Bless Plainfield, and bless the United States of America.

THANK YOU!