Lesniak wants to be governor–but can he even fix the Union County parks?

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) scored a major–if local–political victory this week by wiping out the last remains of the machine once run by his nemesis, the late Thomas G. Dunn, a long-time mayor of the city. The Dunn machine had held on to the school board until Tuesday when Lesniak’s three candidates won all three open slots and gave his slate a clear majority. If Lesniak had lost, so would have his gubernatorial ambitions.

Lesniak is great on support for public employee unions–despite the feckless efforts of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) to dump him, he refused to accepted the “pension reform” promoted by Gov. Chris Christie, state Senate President Steve Sweeney,  and co-governor George Norcross, the Boss Tweed of Camden County.

Lesniak also was great on gay marriage and opposition to the death penalty. He’s not so good on his support for voucher schools and his loyalty to, of all people, Kean University President Dawood Farahi, one of the truly bizarre public figures of our time whose fiscal guardianship of the college is matched only by his resume as an examples of integrity–or lack thereof.

But I am curious about Lesniak’s response to a micro-issue and,  I have to confess to having an interest in the outcome. Not a financial interest. Not a political interest. An interest in maintaining the integrity of my physical self: I want to know whether Lesniak can use his vaunted control over Union County politics to make the Union County park system safe for those who want to use it.

Here’s my interest. I run almost every day at the track at Warinanco Park, a gorgeous public asset  that lies in Roselle, Elizabeth, and Linden. In the last few months, running on the track at Warinanco has become dangerous to my health and that of anyone else who tries to use it. The county, however, doesn’t seem to care.

I know, I know: This is personal. But not completely. The track at Warinanco has been the training ground for dozens of serious runners, including several New York City marathon finishers (I’ve done two).  Whoever is running the park system now has let it become a danger to runners–and to walkers, many of them elderly, who like to use the level ground for walks around the track.

Earlier this year, Union County unveiled its new $4.5 million track and field facility at Warinanco–ok, so it was five months late and over budget.  It included a new track, long overdue, and an artificial football field that has, instead, become a Mecca for soccer players who have taken over the whole complex, day and night, and made it virtually impossible for runners and walkers to use the track.

Running–or walking–around the track requires the runner or walker to play dodge ball with the soccer players who are constantly kicking the ball dangerously into the track. I have been hit several times. I have had to jump over careening balls kicked cross the track. The players often use the track itself as a sort of adjunct to the football–oh, no, soccer–field.

It should be noted there are many soccer fields at Warinanco–but only one track. It also should be noted that, in its wisdom, the Union County parks department has threatened to have its police give summonses to runners who, afraid of playing involuntary dodge ball at the track,  run instead on the park road. Believe me, it is safer to dodge cars than World Cup wannabes.

Today was a typical day for me, although it started out well. Wednesday is my day off from caring for the grandkids, so I promised myself a long run on the track at a time when I figured the football–oh, no, soccer–field would be empty. I was going to do a half-marathon.

Right from the get-go, I  had to play dodge-ball. I sent a note to Ronald Zuber, the head of the county parks, who had someone call the county police. An officer arrived and stayed for a few minutes, then left. By the time I hit mile 11 of the 13.1 half-marathon, I had to dodge three errant soccer balls in a matter of seconds. I was disappointed because it was perfect weather for a run–but I could have been killed.

Stupidly, I tried to reason with the players. They mocked my age, saying I was obviously too old to duck the balls hit at walkers and runners. (I’ve run three marathons in the last few years and, somehow, I doubt any of them could match that). They said I should run in the road. They were completely blind and deaf to the realities of running in the park. They frankly didn’t care whether they injured anyone or not–they just wanted to kick the soccer balls wherever they wanted to.

Zuber knows what is going on. By now he probably thinks I’m an old crank. He ignores my many messages, photographs, and videos. He treats it like a police problem but, unle3ss he’s prepared to post someone there all day, it won’t work. Indeed, I have pictures of a policeman chatting with friends while soccer balls get kicked all over the park. Either the very expensive but poorly-planned facility has to be redone or soccer has to be banned on the football field–or running and walking has to be banned on the running track.

The  new track and field facility was an expensive mistake. It rendered the track useless and created an unplanned soccer center that has no regulation. Maybe the whole thing should be covered over with grass and given up as a bad idea.

Ok, I’ve vented. I hate to give up the park I’ve been using since I was a child, but I really don’t want to end up in the hospital because of the stupidity and carelessness of soccer players and Union County bureaucrats.

Lesniak’s critics have called him a political boss. Generally, I don’t like political bosses–but I do have great respect for political leaders who can solve problems. Frankly, I don’t care whether he does it as a boss or a leader, I would like Lesniak–or someone–to let me have my park back.

Or, at least, end the threats to the safety of runners.







1 comment
  1. I have to say whilst I appreciate your comment and as a writer of the politics in Newark education system it would’ve been nice to see your focus shift to the many issues within special education partcularly in the city of elizabeth. I’m not certain if you are aware of the daily challenges that parents with special needs face. We already have it hard but to have to chase those that should be doing their jobs, stay on top of therapists for providing related services, fight with special services because they don’t want to classify or attempt to declassify your child with an obvious disability, not be fully informed of your rights in your native language, have to complain and submit mediations and hire attorneys would drive anyone to a heart attack (I know one such parent). This is hazardous Mr. Braun I would rather be pelted with 1000 soccer balls if it spared parents the grief of having to fight a system whose sole job is to educate and provide FAPE and meet a state target (which it hasn’t in 10 years) but instead rather throw parents into desperation. Just making an observation.

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