Every pew of Jersey City’s Sacred Heart Church, a parish that has been closed since 2006, was full of Ward F residents whose prayers were answered when former Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) announced he would not use the priory as a center for the prisoner re-entry program.
“Tonight was to involve the community,” said McGreevey, the executive director of Jersey City Employment and Training Program (JCETP), “the goal was to talk about how we can enhance the services here in F Ward, in Jersey City.”
The planned services of the proposed Sacred Heart Workforce Center included financial literary, healthcare, job training and other assistive programs which would have helped parolees with reintegration.
The planned services were explained by JCETP members Allen Simmons, Iris Cooney and Keith Davis, but the frustrated crowd felt compelled to interrupt since their questions were not welcomed until the end of entire presentation.
“What’s a presentation for if you can’t ask questions?” yelled one Ward F resident in the crowd.
McGreevey briefly halted the presentation after an overwhelming number interruptions by the public.
Although the community was supportive of the program, they spoke out against the location of the center.
Officials/community leaders in opposition to the project included state Senator Sandra Cunningham (LD-31), Ward F Councilwoman Diane Coleman, Board of Education Trustee Lorenzo Richardson and District 31 Republican nominee for state Assembly Matthew Kopko.
“I think the question of reentry is a difficult topic and I think what the community wanted to share was that it has a strong support for re-entry, for which I’m deeply appreciative, but that there was opposition to the location of the site and I think it’s important for me to hear that, and respect that, and to move on” McGreevey told Hudson County View.
It was just after former controversial Deputy Mayor Kabili Tayari spoke that McGreevey had a change of heart and announced that Sacred Heart Church will not be the new site for the re-entry program.
“It’s quite clear, and I have great respect for the people in this room, and for your time and for your commitment, I am not going to use Sacred Heart,” McGreevey told the packed church, where at least 200 people congregated.
Cunningham, also a supporter of the program but not it’s location, said that Ward F residents were “disrespected” by the program since they were never informed a prisoner re-entry program was coming to their neighborhood.
“[The] people of Ward F feel disrespected, that they were not even told about the program. They were not asked if they wanted the program, and it’s just another program that was done on the backs of people who work hard, love Jersey City, live in Jersey City but they don’t have the right to feel comfortable where they live.”
Cunningham also told Hudson County View that as a result of this controversy, she will be working on legislation that will not allow re-entry programs to be located near schools.
McGreevey’s decision to find another location was not only influenced by the disapproving members of the community, but also by one of the JCETP clients.
“My purpose is not to polarize the community,” he also stated.
Furthermore, Coleman addressed the public and asked the residents to attend the Jersey City Council meeting on August 19th, where the location of the prisoner re-entry program will be discussed.
McGreevey resigned as governor in disgrace in August 2004, announcing he was “a gay American” and was resigning after having an affair with another man, who was later revealed to be on his staff. He has been waging a comeback of sorts through the JCETP.