Newark's neighborhood services is more than pushing snow

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on January 28, 2015

Ronald Snead, left, a city of Newark worker, writes on chart in the "snow room," in the sanitation department while Amos Crudup, left, looks on. Crudup is the assistant director of the city's department of neighborhood services.

 

 

It didn’t matter to Ali Muslim that this latest snowstorm fell short of its promise to make life miserable for Newark residents.

He loves his job as superintendent of sanitation in the city’s department of neighborhood services, the agency responsible for garbage pickup, street cleaning and, yes, clearing away snow.

“This is what we do,” he says. “This is what we signed up for.’’

For Muslim, it’s all about service to the people, a philosophy he has bought into for the past 17 years. The city employee held several positions in the department, becoming superintendent five years ago.

He doesn’t care about the title, though. Muslim was supposed to clock in at 6 a.m. Monday, but he walked into the sanitation garage 90 minutes earlier, ready to execute the city’s plan to deal with Mother Nature’s impending blizzard.

“I learned from the old-timers,’’ he says, while driving through the city Monday evening. “They came in early to get the job done.’’

Old-timers with nicknames such as “Neckbone,” “Snow Shoes” and “Jitterbug” -- veterans who have either retired or passed away.

“You go above and beyond the call of duty,” Muslim says. “That’s what they did.”

We’re riding high in a city SUV, canvassing several wards as the snow falls and commuters leave downtown. Drivers contracted by the city to push the snow move slowly down Broad Street in tandem, three staggered one right behind the other, clearing a path on the major artery.

Muslim gets excited seeing the snow brigade, especially their formation and how the blades of the trucks are dropped close to the ground.

“Yeah, that’s right,” he says. “Push that snow. Push. That’s how you’re supposed to do it.”

We make our way over to the North Ward, back to the Central Ward and over to the South. The Rev. Roger Harris is dusting off his car on Hansbury Avenue when Muslim pulls up to see if everything is okay.

They know one another and chat briefly about the weather and their love for the city.

“This is our community,” Harris says. “We have to look out for each other.”

We pass by Custer Avenue, where a car can’t make it up the hill because the street needs to be cleared. Another motorist at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Clinton Avenue is having trouble, too. Muslim reports both to the “snow room,” the brains of the operation, which is dispatching trucks from the sanitation garage on Frelinghuysen Avenue.

Ronald Snead and Hakim Durant are part of the team calling the shots, looking on the GPS board so they know where the trucks have been and where to send them.

“We love giving service to the people,” says Snead, whose father and grandfather worked for the city. “The gratitude of 'Thank you’ is all we need.”

That’s why Toni Gregory was handling calls from the snow phone line well into the night and early yesterday morning. And leading the charge was Patrick Council, director of neighborhood services, and Amos Crudup, his assistant.

They had crews spread brine, a fluid used to reduce freezing temperatures on roads, throughout the city on Sunday in preparation for the storm. About 58 pieces of equipment, including city salt trucks and contractors with plows, were out in force. They told workers the job was a team effort that would be handled aggressively on the street and from the snow room.

“This is big boy league, right here,” Muslim says. “Nobody’s going home.”

And he didn’t, camping out on a cot for two hours. He crashed at midnight on Monday and was back up at 2 a.m. yesterday. I was riding with him again by 4 a.m. as he traveled quiet, desolate city streets.

Bergen Street was clean. Clinton Place, too. Renner Avenue was on point. Even the secondary streets were presentable.

“You see the blades have been through here,” he says.

Everything was looking good until about 5 a.m., when we got to Elizabeth Avenue. Though the street was passable, the cops were at Jersey Fried Chicken, where the front window and entrance were caved in. It looked like a smash-and-grab robbery of an ATM machine.

Muslim pulls over and shows you the other side of the neighborhood services department. He met the owner of the eatery on the job one day. They became friends and Muslim kept his number. Now, he needs to make a call.

“You have an ATM machine,’’ Muslim says.

“Yeah,’’ says the owner.

Muslim tells him the bad news. The upside? The owner is grateful Muslim reached out to him.

“It’s about helping each other,” Muslim says. “This is what we do.”

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