A handful of people showed up in Van Vorst Park on Wednesday to begin the two-block march to City Hall to protest the city’s firing of Ryan Strother, the popular director of the city’s Recreation Department.
While the protest march was attended by more reporters than protestors, the event was also attended by one of Mayor Steven Fulop’s aides, who stood partly hidden by trees and appeared to be recording or listening to comments being made by the organizers.
Speaking to the protestors in the park, Carolyn Oliver-Fair, founder and executive director of the North Jersey Chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, raised questions about why Strother was fired.
Mayor Fulop has asked Strother to step down, and has asked the City Council to vote to approve the move. The vote was not on the agenda of the Sept. 9 council meeting. Nevertheless, more than 40 people showed up to protest and demand that Strother be reinstated.
Strother has been accused of failing to fire a Recreation Department worker when a background check revealed the person was a registered sex offender. Strother has remained silent, based on advice from his attorney, but Oliver-Fair and other people who appeared at the council meeting were extremely vocal.
Strother supporters filled the front row of City Council chambers with a variety of signs in support of Strother’s reinstatement.
“You have to stop this. This is America.” – Kabili Tayari
“It reeks of bigotry to me,” she said. “I see a systematic chopping off of heads of people of color.”
She cited the removal of Oren Dabney as executive director of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority and the allegedly forced resignation of Muhammed Akil as chief of staff to Mayor Fulop as two examples.
Ryan Jacobs, spokesperson for Mayor Fulop, disputed Oliver-Fair’s claims.
“Racism certainly exists in the world,” Jacobs said. “But this isn’t an example of it.”
Craig Howard, 50, a Strother supporter as well as a supporter of Mayor Fulop, said he was disappointed at the turnout for the march. A website petition in support of Strother had more than 400 signatures at the time of the march.
What really happened?
Members of the city council remained silent about Strother as members of the community spoke at the public portion of the meeting on his behalf.
Several council members did not respond to questions when approached privately, raising the question as to whether they had been instructed to remain silent on the matter.
“[We were] absolutely not given any instructions about the recreation director’s termination. Most if not all of like him personally,” said Councilman Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal. “He just made a huge error in a leadership position. You know that I know personally that we pay for our mistakes.”
Former Deputy Mayor Kabili Tayari, during the public portion of the City Council meeting, echoed Oliver-Fair’s charge, saying that the city seems to be removing people of color from high profile positions in city government.
He said false accusations were made against Strother last year, and that the current firing of Strother seems to be without the benefit of due process.
“You have another employee in the mayor’s office that cursed and made racial slurs to people on the street, and she kept her job,” Tayari said, adding that there appears to be a lot of character assassination in regards to Strother, but no clear investigation as to what happened.
“You have to stop this,” he told the council. “This is America. If [Strother] did something wrong, then he should have been suspended while an inquiry was made, not dismissed.”
Tayari and others questioned how the employee would have been allowed to start work without first clearing the BCI (Background Crime Investigation).
Oliver-Fair, who said she has spoken to Strother about the matter, said Strother was on vacation when the results of the background check came back, and that Strother notified two next in the chain of command to consult the city’s Law Department about the issue.
“I’ve seen the communications with these directions,” she said. “There lies the fault.”
Ashennia Johnson, who also spoke before the City Council, said the problem is with the city’s Human Resource department that allowed the man to start work. She also said the HR Department would have been aware of the results of the background check.
“The mayor said he found out after the fact,” Johnson said. “Why didn’t Human Resources notify him right away?”
She said if Strother is to be fired, then several other people should also be fired.
Praised Strother’s work
James Burgess said Strother is all about the recreation and the kids, sponsoring teams out of his own pocket before he became director.
“I’ve seen him do things for the program that have never been done before,” he said. “He’s a good young man and he doesn’t deserve to be fired.”
Tanika Jackson asked the council to override Fulop’s decision to remove Strother as recreation director.
“He’s good for recreation and he’s good for our children,” she said
Evanna Scott said she has six children and she knows the kind of job Strother has done.
“He started 281 programs in Jersey City and helped a lot of kids off the street, giving them something to do,” she said.
Chris Gadsden said Strother had revamped recreation.
“Maybe I don’t understand the politics of it all,” he said. “But that man sacrificed a lot and put in a lot of work. Ryan Strother is Jersey City. We’re not making a proper and right decision. He’s good for me, and good for my children. I think (the council) needs to take that into account.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.