The News Tribune (N.J.)
December 8, 1991

Chrome residents say their needs are ignored


    Some politically involved Chrome residents say that the area has trouble getting results from the political system.

    The neighborhood is strongly Democratic, but several Hispanic leaders say government has produced little improvement in Chrome under either party's leadership.

    Local Republicans ran closer than usual this year in Districts 3 and 4 — getting 45 percent of the vote, compared with 36 last year. Voter turnouts in those districts were the lowest in town.

    Eliud "Pancho" Hernandez, president of the Hispanic Democratic Club of Carteret, said some Chrome residents defected or abstained because of dissatisfaction with the Democrats.

    "It's true, because the Democratic Party, they promise a lot of stuff ... for the community," Hernandez said. "And they haven't done a damned thing."

    For example, he said, there has been no action on requests for increased police presence. He said problems such as crime, drugs and urban decay are unaddressed in this once-vibrant part of town.

Decline is visible throughout the area.

    On lower Roosevelt Avenue, which used to be a central shopping and business street, large buildings and numerous storefronts now stand vacant.

    Borough inspectors have complained about conditions in some houses in the area. Fire Superintendent Richard Greenberg last year said he had even ordered people out of some houses for safety reasons, only to find that squatters quickly broke in and reinhabited them. Mayor Peter J. Sica last week was given authority to order some of those buildings demolished.

    Politicians and community leaders, in recent years, have led one-day cleanup efforts aimed at picking up trash from Chrome Park or covering up graffiti on Roosevelt Avenue buildings. And several council candidates in this year's election called for further cleanup efforts. But rarely in the past few years has far-reaching economic renewal been proposed.

    A proposal that came close was Republican candidate Charles Serson's plan to seek historical status and restoration of some notable Roosevelt Avenue buildings. But the more dramatic strategy is that proposed by Sica last year to tear the buildings down.

    "This community here is going down the drain, if nobody helps us," Hernandez said.

    Hernandez said it might increase the neighborhood's clout if it had its own council member.

    "A councilman from Chrome will help us more, I think — will try to get more for us. So that will be a big difference," he said.

A District 3 Democratic committee member, Jorge Roman, said he shared the dissatisfaction with the Democrats.

    Roman said the Democrats had suggested that he run for council, but then failed to put him up in the last election. Several others have said that Democratic leaders said they wanted minority candidates for office, but did not follow through.

    "Right now, the Democratic Party didn't do anything for me. I love them, and I voted for them in this election" but will consider working with Republicans in the future, he said.

    He said drugs and crime are problems in Chrome that haven't gotten adequate attention from the borough.

    "I'm afraid to let my wife walk down there because there's trouble," he said.

    He said that police drive through periodically and take care of any visible problems, but don't get very involved at street level. More undercover work, he said, "is the only way they can clean this area."

    He also said that Hispanic residents encounter prejudice regularly in Carteret, including rough treatment from many police officers. Only a few officers get personally involved with Chrome residents and treat law-abiding Hispanics with the appropriate respect, he said.

    "The other day, one police officer stopped me, and didn't treat me like a gentleman," Roman said. "The officer yelled and swore at him when he was double parked, waiting to pick up his wife, he said.

    "We need respect for the Spanish people," Roman said. "We don't do anything against the law. We need to be treated like we are people."

    Roman also said Chrome lacks needed youth programs. Some community and recreation facilities in the area are run-down or simply unusable.

Another Democratic committee member, Norvell Pendleton, who represents the 4th district, said he would need to research the area's needs further before commenting, but he identified the plan to build a sewage sludge incinerator near Chrome as an issue of importance to the neighborhood.

    The council and Sica two years ago gave a Pennsylvania company a green light to seek state permits for the facility. Sica has said it can't hurt to let the permit process proceed, and refused to stop the plan when citizens questioned him about it during council meetings the last two weeks.

    "Somebody's trying to push it," Pendleton said.

    "This affects the whole borough of Carteret. Most of the people don't want it," but some elected officials seem to back the plan, he said.

    Other issues raised by the minority community in the last two years, with mixed results, have included:

    • Layoffs in the borough sewer department that mostly affected black employees. Some of the employees have since been rehired for other job openings under their rights in the state civil-service system.

    • The rejection of a black applicant for director of the borough Welfare Department, apparently in violation of an advertisement that said the applicant must be a Carteret resident. The woman, Hadiyah Muhammad, was appointed to the position after Chrome residents protested and the Florida man who had been given the job resigned.

    • Rejection of a Hispanic candidate to be a police officer. The man was passed over, and the hiring list was allowed to expire. Police Chief Joseph Sica has said race played no part in the decision, and that he tried to recruit minorities to take the required tests but no minorities are on the current list.