Newark, N.J. Teachers Union Won't Take Down `Stop the killings' Billboards

Monday, March 26th 2007, 3:16 pm
By: News On 6

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The head of the city's teachers union said it won't take down ``Stop the killings'' billboards despite complaints from business owners and the new mayor that they're driving away business.

Mayor Cory Booker, who campaigned last year on a promise of reducing crime, says the signs fuel a negative image of the city, where 106 people were killed last year _ the highest number in more than a decade.

``I know if I had tens of thousands of dollars, I wouldn't use them on billboards,'' Booker said. ``I would use them for after-school programs. I would use them to help teachers get supplies.''

The six billboards in the downtown area were put up about two months ago. They scream, ``HELP WANTED: Stop the Killings in Newark Now!'' Joe Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, wouldn't say how much the signs cost.

``I think we have a serious problem,'' said Del Grosso, whose union endorsed Booker's opponent and is at odds with Booker over school vouchers. ``It's about people dying.''

There have been 22 slayings in Newark so far this year, the same number in the comparable period last year, police Det. Todd McClendon said Monday.

Artie Wassif, catering manager at the Newark Club, said some brides have shied away from holding their wedding receptions at the restaurant because of the message the signs convey. A real estate developer, Arthur Stern, said he had complaints from some tenants.

Rutgers University in Newark and Prudential Financial Inc. said they have not seen a downturn in recruiting because of the signs.

Del Grasso said no one from the city has ever asked him or the union to take down the billboards. He renewed the lease on them Monday for several months, he said.

Lupe Todd, a spokeswoman for Booker, confirmed the mayor had not asked the union to take down the billboards.

``If their executive committee feels as though this is the best use of their money and the best way to engage residents in a thoughtful conversation about reducing crime in the city, then so be it,'' she said. ``Mayor Booker prefers to speak face to face with Newark residents, which he does every day, on this important issue.''