East Orange Councilwoman Andrea McPhatter’s Baptism by Fire

Euphemisms are the tools of the trade in politics. Saying what one means, without actually defining what one means to say, is standard fare in political discourse.  I’m a fighter. I’m the people’s champion. I will empower your dreams. We’re in this together. I’ll stand by you…and so on.

Truth is a cauldron of veracity from which few politicians are required to eat. They say stuff and it lingers, open to the interpretations of supporters or detractors. East Orange Councilwoman, Adrea McPhatter is not among those public servants. She has been put to the test and during the most devastating time in her life, has proved her mettle and dedication to the residents of Essex County’s second most populous city.

In 2012, shortly after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey, McPhatter’s 111-year-old 3-story colonial home was set ablaze. What wasn’t engulfed by the flames was destroyed by smoke and water. The fire Chief, said the conflagration was “the combination of the coldness and old wiring in the walls,” [which,] ignited and exploded.”

McPhatter lost everything…well, almost everything. The single mother had her life, her health and her three children. But all of her worldly possessions had gone up in smoke and flames or was deluged by the efforts to save them.  The good thing, if one may view it so optimistically, is that the house was salvageable. 

After securing safe harbor for her family with friends and relatives in neighboring West Orange, McPhatter did what she always does. She went back to work.

Despite her own tenuous situation, McPhatter was living proof that fate loves irony as she continued her work for programs she introduced such as Assisted Living Programs that allow East Orange seniors to “Age in Place.” 

She also helped facilitate the operation of local food pantries and made sure that youth and recreation programs weren’t lost among Sandy’s detritus.

Those circumstances were no fodder for euphemisms. Councilwoman McPhatter’s will was challenged by a literal baptism by fire and she came through stronger and more resilient than ever. 

The next thing that happened was just, well…pitiful. In a public statement, council Chairwoman Quilla Talmadge said the council is “currently engaged in the process of conducting due diligence in order to verify that our colleague, First Ward Council Member Andrea McPhatter, is in compliance with the provisions of the New Jersey Vacancy Law.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Some of her colleagues were trying to push her out because of her temporary lodging in a neighboring township. McPhatter proved her mettle while some of her colleagues showed their stripes.

 According to a February 13, 2013 article in the Star Ledger:

Councilman Jamal Barnes, who also represents the First Ward, said some residents have raised concerns that McPhatter may not return to her home in East Orange for several months or longer.

“I would say that yes, she did suffer a loss, but I would imagine that people would like to see an answer of when she plans to come back,” Barnes said, adding, “It’s not my intention to ever kick anybody while they’re down.”

Barnes, who is not seeking re-election after his term expires in December, said he does not believe political motives are behind the council’s move. He acknowledged McPhatter has not slacked off in her duties on the council and has kept up attendance. But for him, that’s not enough.

Just reading that excerpt makes me want to take a shower. A single mother of three, who lost everything but her health, her family and her will to work on behalf of her constituents was not a fast-enough rising phoenix for the vultures in her own party.

While they did not initiate formal proceedings to remove McPhatter from office, the very public whisperings of some of her colleagues, and a letter sent by President Talmadge in which she stated that the council is “conducting due diligence to verify” her residency status and assure “compliance,” was enough to compel the First Ward councilwoman to retain the services of an attorney. 

McPhatter and her supporters believe the dubious action by the council is retribution for her not supporting then-candidate, and now current mayor Lester Taylor, in the mayoral election.

In a world of doubletalk, euphemisms and old tropes that are often the soundest advice, here’s one for Andrea McPhatter: Keep your friends close, your enemies closer and always carry a fire extinguisher and a mop to clear a path through the sleaze.

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commented 2015-05-25 14:21:45 -0700
Well stated. Some of these Coucilpersons especially Qulla Talmadege need to step aside and let some of the younger people have an opportunity to lead our city to greatness, Sister Talmadge has served nineteen years, enough I say enough.