Mayoral Debate on
Economic Development

Neighbors, as promised, I got to ask my questions to Tony Mack and Frank Weeden at last night's TCCA meeting. I'll continue to ask this question to all Mayoral candidate with the hope that this question helps voters chose between coherent economic development plans. I'm sure the answers will get better over time.

Here's the question:

Assume you will have the opportunity to pursue one economic development initiative in each of the following three areas:

1) city budget change
2) management or organizational change
3) policy position

Explain what your goals for economic development success are and how you will measure them. How will these initiatives achieve those economic goals?

Here's my summary of how the candidates did.

Tony Mack
His management change was to instill consistent discipline throughout city hall.
His policy position was to improve schools

Mr. Mack didn't offer a budget suggestion nor any goals.

My reaction
Consistent discipline is good, for raising children. However, for running a large organization it's not nearly as important as communicating clear strategic direction. However Mr. Mack does get points for offering a management initiative, though I can't stop picturing city employees getting spanked.

The answer about schools was pandering to the crowd. I guess Mr. Mack thinks he can wave a magic wand and have Trenton schools immediately churn out high achieving students that will form businesses in Trenton. Anyone who has studied school issues knows that immediate and dramatic improvements are unlikely and that even if Trenton schools had a 100% improvement the effects would not be felt for years. Bad answer Tony.

To Tony's credit, in response to another question, he did speak out against Trenton accepting more Mt. Laurel money from rich NJ communities that don't want affordable housing in their towns.

The rest of the story
Mr. Mack's assistant, Ruth, approached me afterwards to complain that my question was better spoken to Frank Weeden (who went second).

She also told me that measuring success wasn't important. I argued that point and she told that she was a PhD and therefore I should trust her that measuring success wasn't always good. I won't attempt to "out qualify" Ruth but rather leave it to educated voters to decided whether or not Trenton should have measureable economic goals.

Ruth went on to tell me that I wouldn't be happy with Mr. Macks economic development policies though she claimed not to know who I was. All she knew was that I am white, male, 40 something and wear a suit. However, something tells me she's right about this.

Frank Weeden
His management change was to fire Dennis Gonzalez
His policy position was to stop pursing "pie in the sky" developments like Manex and Performa.

Mr. Weeden alluded to the possibility that measuring economic success might be usefull but suggested that happiness was a better indicator. He didn't have a budget suggestion.

My reaction
I think we've all been frustrated with Dennis at times however I know that Frank has in particular. Nonetheless it would be a significant management change that would directly affect Economic Development. I guess more important is who replaces Dennis.

Tightening the leash on big developments is an intriguing policy position. Frank astutely points out that big projects have a negative side effect in that they put all other surrounding development on hold. He enumerated instances where this has happened. I think the slightly more refined policy might be to "be more skeptical of big projects that sound too good to be true". It takes a special kind of gullibility to have bought into the Manex deal.

Frank didn't have a budget suggestion. Also he could have easily given a good economic goal and measurement criteria but didn't. I guess he's just not thought it out but I hope he does.

The rest of the story
I saw Frank later at Mill Hill and he said he was happy with his performance. We talked a lot about Frank's campaign style. My hope is that he will strike a balance between being casual and honest and being "political". He didn't have to tell everybody that he had been a bad businessman, saying "his venture didn't work out" would have been enough. For serious political supporters to back Frank they'll have to be convinced he's a serious candidate before investing their money.

Apparently Frank has copies of the last 5 city budget. I hope he takes the time (presumeably with someones help) to dissect those budgets with an eye towards streamling our spending to have long term economic development impact.

Thanks to TCCA for pulling this together. I hope they continue to provide this kind of forum throughout the election.

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Copyright 2005, Dan Dodson