Archive for the ‘Trenton Elections’ Category

Politics IS the Answer: The Majority for a Better Trenton

Whenever I hear someone say, “I don’t pay attention to politics, politicians disgust me”, I feel sorry for our society and how that person’s parents and teachers have let us all down.

Politics (from Greek politikos ”of, for, or relating to citizens”) as a term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the corporateacademic, and religious segments of society. It consists of “social relations involving authority or power” and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.

Politics isn’t a “bad” word.  When people complain about politics, what they’re really complaining about is that some people are simply better at it then they are.  And, by definition, if you don’t participate in the political process at all then you’re pretty much at the bottom of the heap.

Nothing is a given in politics.  People perceived as powerful don’t have to stay that way.  We don’t even have to keep our form of government.  Any one person or group of people can wield political power.   Case in point are Trenton’s bloggers, just by writing about our political situation we have at least some (albeit modest) political power.  In the past two years it’s been individual citizens who have researched and discovered many of the abuses of power in Trenton’s City Hall.

As the Citizen’s Campaign people are fond of pointing out there are many ways to be involved in the political process more than just voting and less than running for elected office.

  • You can be a party representative
  • You can be a citizen journalist (like me)
  • You can be on public board (like I used to be)
  • You can be a citizen legislator
  • Or, you can call people to action (like I’m doing in this article)

In Trenton we have non-partisan elections. This has good and bad effects on our city.  A partisan election with Republicans and Democrats has the potential to weed out bad candidates (which would have been helpful in 2010) but it also has the high likelihood of introducing issues into a local race that have no business being there (i.e. Defense spending or public healthcare ).

The absence of political parties reduces the opportunity for public involvement in the process and weakens the strength of platforms on which the candidates might run.  Rather than have candidates embrace ideals embodied by a party (as miss-guided as they might be) we have candidates in Trenton running mainly on personality.  We’ve all seen how that’s worked out.  I’m not arguing for a two party system in Trenton, rather I’m suggesting that stakeholders organize themselves in order to have a louder and more intelligent voice.

Elections should be about “ideas”, not about “what neighborhood a politician is from” or whether she was “born and bred” in Trenton.  Being an ideologue isn’t a bad thing.  We need well thought out goals, strategies and plans that are bigger than a single candidate.   They should be bigger.  The thinking required to revitalize Trenton is beyond any one person.

We need a mechanism to allow the best and brightest to set policy for our city and then to communicate those policies to an engaged public.  Such an organization will have a large membership of stakeholders, will communicate with officials and citizens, will serve as watchdogs over our government and importantly will select candidates that espouse the group’s ideals.  Its goal should be to make government beholden to the people and not the other way around.

I suggest that The Majority for a Better Trenton is that organization.  It is a political group with a mission to build a strong base of support for the strategies and plans that will revitalize our city.  If that means we need to change our form of government, then those options are on the table.  If it means wielding power to force elected officials to do the right thing, then that’s OK.  However, for the first time in Trenton, this group will decide what the “right things” are and why.

The group will create an opportunity for political expression beyond just voting on Election Day.

Being a member

MFABT will require lots of volunteer effort to develop policy, ensure good government and build the organization.  However we also want members!  Membership is for people who want to have a better opportunity to influence Trenton by better understanding the issues and then by voting on the group’s platform policies and support for candidates.  Basic membership is $15 and will go to support the costs required to grow the group (501c4 filing, PO Box, mailings etc.).    Members may be called upon to show support for an issue at City Council and be asked to vote on the group’s platform and support for candidates and other big issues at our annual meeting (planned for early 2013).  We’ll also call on members to participate in educational sessions and city budget prioritization sessions.  Trenton residents, business owners and property owners can be voting members.  Basically a member is a Trenton stakeholder who wants to raise their political voice louder than just voting every 4 years.

Being a volunteer

MFABT is creating standing committees to:

  • Serve as government Watch-Dogs,
  • Improve our political process,
  • Develop platform policies,
  • Identify future leaders,
  • Grow the membership and
  • Communicate to the public.

We hope that by virtue of this group being formed out of last year’s recall effort there is harmony among the activists and those that want to be more active to work with us to build a strong political force in Trenton.   Volunteering can mean doing mailings on the membership committee, doing OPRA requests for good government or researching an issue for the policy committee.  Volunteers will shape this group and help better run our city.

Being a leader

People shy away from leadership.  It’s hard and sometimes it takes time.  Really though, it only takes time when others don’t do their part.  The founding members of this group have already led and invite other leaders in Trenton to join us.  MFABT is a unique experiment in political activism and we all hope to look back on our roles with pride years from now.

Our Ask

  • We have a facebook group that you can join (look up Majority for a Better Trenton) please do.  We post events there and I’m sure discussions will happen.
  • Get involved by emailing me @  dan@livingonthenet.com or Keith Hamilton at keithvha@verizon.net to let us know how you want to be involved.
  • For now our Treasurer will send invoices for membership dues until we have a web site with e-payments up and running.
  • Forward this to others that should be involved.

Voting is the basic level of involvement but it’s not enough.  I’d really rather that people who’ve not taken the time to understand the issues and the people running for office, just stay home.  You’re abusing your right to vote by not taking it seriously.  Votes make a difference and we’re all paying the price here in Trenton.  We’ve made bad political choices for a long time in Trenton and now we’re in bad fiscal shape and have a poor quality of life.  It’s not the politician’s fault, it’s the voters.

As we form Majority for a Better Trenton it’s inevitable that we’ll have to have meetings.  Please feel free to get involved with any of them.  We have three meetings coming up:

4/21 – Membership Committee Meeting

1pm @ Trenton Social.

We’ll start the organization process for building an 8500 person membership

4/21 – Policy Committee Meeting

2:20pm @ Trenton Social.

We’ll start sketch out the areas in which we want to have positions.

4/28  – General Meeting

1pm  @ Turning Point Methodist Church (15 S. Broad).

We’ll bring everyone up to speed, take membership dues  and break back into committee work

Trenton’s Mayor hates bloggers

As we speak, Trenton Mayor, Tony Mack, is criticizing bloggers at a special City Council meeting. He thinks that people like me criticize him too much.

He probably thinks it unfair, that there are literate people living in Trenton who are wise to his inability to manage a city. He says that “He doesn’t want to be part of anything negative”. Our Mayor has a blind eye when it comes to criticism. He’s under the impression that everything he does is right and that everyone who disagrees is trying to “take down” Trenton.

The foolishness of our Mayor really comes through when he says things like this.

Why would tax-paying residents of Trenton, like myself, spend so much time writing, researching and otherwise recommending ways to improve our city, if all we wanted to do was “take down” the city. No, of course that’s crazy. We and the 8500 voters who signed the recall petition have simply had enough. We know there’s a better way to run our city and that our city can be much better than it is today.

Our Mayor, in another display of foolish management tonight, just claimed in public that he was saving money by using Acting Directors instead of real “qualified and approved” Directors. Given that our charter requires us to employee real Directors in order to manage the affairs of the city in a professionsal manner, the Mayor is essentially saying, “I’m saving money by not managing the city well”. Being somewhat of a student of management, I can assure Reinvent Trenton readers that the “Run it into the Ground” school of management has never really caught on.

Recall Petition is Rational

I’ve heard otherwise sensible Trentonians give various reasons for not signing the petition to recall Tony Mack. These range from:

    1) I do a lot of work with the city and the Mayor’s vindictive,
    2) I don’t believe in recalls,
    3) The recall committee didn’t print their reasons on the ballot,
    4) I don’t know whose running,
    5) It will cost the city money,
    6) I work for the Mayor.

The first thing to remember is that the recall petition isn’t even a vote to recall. It’s simply a request to formally put the question forward. It’s quite possible that if the recall petition drive is successful, we’ll have a special election and Tony Mack will win the special election. The recall committee and the 8000 or so people that have already signed think there’s enough doubt though to warrant a vote on the subject.

Therefore I’d like to address the reasons not to sign, one by one:

First “The Mayor is vindictive and he’ll hurt my business”. Well, that should tell you something. Aren’t we done with bullies in this society? If you’re not the one to stand up to a bully, then who is? And who’s to say the Mayor’s not bullying someone else that is less able to stand up to it than you. This is exactly the reason to put the Mayor’s status up for a vote.

Second, “I don’t believe in recalls”. What’s not to believe in? The NJ legislature has provided this very democratic method for correcting terrible mistakes. The fact is that a Mayor can do significant damage to a city through mismanagement without doing anything illegal. In four years that damage can become irreparable. That’s where Trenton is heading. If you think our Mayor has behaved ethically, is managing the city well and has a plan for its recovery, that’s one thing. If you don’t then not believing in recalls is like believing your city is doomed.

Third, “The recall committee didn’t print their reasons on the ballot”. I actually heard this. Hopefully, the committee has hand-outs. But if not, their web site is trentonrecall2011.wordpress.com. Let me also suggest kevin-moriarty.com.

Fourth, “I don’t know whose running”. You should venture out from under your rock. Jim Golden has announced. Eric Jackson may be in the race. I didn’t support Jackson in the first campaign because he was a re-hash of Doug Palmer. However, he was worlds more suitable than Mack and did run the public works department. Golden is interesting. He comes across as thoughtful and it doesn’t hurt that he’s run the police department. I’ve not met with Jim to discuss all of his policy thoughts but from I know so far, we’re on the same page.

Fifth, “It will cost the city money”. A recall election will cost about $100,000. That’s small change compared to the $2M in transitional aid we already didn’t get this year because the Mayor has consistently thumbed his nose at DCA. It’s small compared to the ground we’ve lost in our efforts to revitalize because we don’t have a plan, or the misspending of our budget that’s happened either because of fraud or, more importantly, because we don’t have a high quality set of department Directors in place. Trenton’s budget is $185,000,000 next year. $100,000 is a small price to pay to get a Mayor qualified to spend that amount to our mutual benefit.

Sixth, “I work for the Mayor”. If you do, I apologize on behalf of all voters. You probably shouldn’t sign unless you’re looking forward to getting to know “wrongful termination” lawyer George Doherty a lot better.

There’s hardly a reason not to sign the recall petition. It’s only a petition to request a vote. If during the special election Tony still winds up being the best choice, then so be it. But, if you think Trenton is on a terribly wrong course, then recall is the only rational answer.

How did Trenton get to this point?

As Trenton’s low point approaches, let’s not forget that it was 20 years of previous administration that led us here. The current group has just put the final nails in the coffin.

We’re laying off 105 police officers because our municipal budget is over $200M and Trentonians already pay the highest tax rate in NJ just to contribute $70M of that amount. Contrary to popular belief, the State of NJ would pay almost that same total, plus almost ALL of our $300M school budget.

Trenton’s taxpayers are nowhere close to being able to pay for their own government. The state currently owns roughly 25% of property value in Trenton and pays over 40% of the cost of municipal and school budgets.

We could keep the police officers but our property taxes would have to go up an additional 12% or so, thereby bankrupting many of us.

How did we get here?

  • For 20 years we’ve added more affordable housing than any other city in NJ *. This kept our average income and housing price low relative to the rest of the state and continued to push up our police and school costs. We are overindexed on families with low disposable income. This makes Trenton unattractive for retailers.
  • Through inattention we’ve driven away almost every large private employer. We’ve agressively, beat down developers with arrogant demands. We’ve failed to reinvent our tax code so that it now punishes new development.
  • We’ve elected officials who failed to understand the linkage between budget, policy and our city’s health. Voters had only to spend 60 secconds during the election and they could have discovered that most of our current leadership was not up to the task of saving the city from its current plight.
  • Its been ignorance and pride that have brought us to this point. At some point Trentonians will have to do the hard work of taking responsibility for their city. The State can be a partner but Trentonians must cooperate in good faith. We must show a plan for recovery. We need to lead.

    * BTW – According to COAH’s Guide to Affordable Housing Trenton has 7799 affordable housing units (even before including Trenton Housing Authority or section 8). Readers should be aware that there are only 22,000 or so households in Trenton. This means that over 1 out of every 3 homes in Trenton is affordable housing.

    Trenton can’t rebuild on a bad racial attitude

    For the past year I’ve been working pretty hard as a volunteer to support the administration by providing what I hope are responsible processes for engaging the public in designing a fiscal way forward for the city. As part of the Fix Trenton’s Budget Committee, I’ve helped elicit public priorities about the budget, I’ve helped propose a budget process that would lead to more deliberative choices and I’ve helped to put forward new ideas on revenue especially the Land Value Tax. In addition, I’ve respectfully suggested that we take a more pragmatic approach to our support for subsidized housing. These efforts have met with mixed success.

    The Fix Trenton’s Budget Committee’s efforts have been mainly targeted at helping the city to be more responsive. However, over the years, I’ve also dedicated this blog to many of the fundamental economic principles that could lead Trenton to revitalization. Many of these ideas are difficult for citizens to get excited about. Most people’s eyes simply glaze over when they read about money.

    Certainly my ideas have fallen on deaf ears in both the previous and current administrations and for the most part on both the previous and current city council. Math and fiscal discipline aren’t fun. I get that.

    However, allow me to point out another economic truism that should get everybody’s attention.

    Civil unrest is bad for business.

    The racial intolerance and threatening language that the Recall Mack campaign workers experienced this week from the Mayor’s supporters including his brother, is a sign of a civil unrest in Trenton. It belies an undercurrent of hate that’s been stoked by the Mayor’s supporters that could easily lead to violence.

    Rarely do vibrant economies flourish in this kind of atmosphere. Can you imagine a white family wanting to move to Trenton when city workers and the Mayor’s political supporters shout racial epitaphs at their white neighbors? Would black families of good nature come here? Hispanics or Asian? If I had seen this 11 years ago when I was deciding to invest in Trenton I know I would have reconsidered.

    With this kind of attitude in City Hall, how will ideas meant to attract investment (some of it from white developers) ever win public support. Anything a white person suggests will be met with suspicion by a populace emboldened by their leadership to think “black first”. We just can’t have that.

    It’s difficult for me to feel good about suggesting economic ideas to help the city when I think that my neighbors and perhaps even our city leaders will discount them because I’m white.

    Trenton is a difficult situation and it’s going to take the best ideas in this country to fix it. We don’t have the luxury of wallowing in a pit of racial hatred.

    In fact, I’ll go further and suggest that one of the key ingredients to reinventing Trenton is for this city to be seen as a bastion of racial harmony. New residents and investors like racial harmony and avoid the kind of hate speech that’s happening in Trenton today.

    Trenton’s Rebirth

    “Trenton is in rebirth.”

    That’s the claim Mayor Mack’s aid, Lauren Ira, made in her op-ed piece in the Trenton Times.  Along with that she criticized people like me for questioning the Mayor’s ELEC habits, the city’s poor contracting, it’s improper and misguided attempt to sell city homes.  We are chastised for complaining about the Mayor’s failure to discipline his brother, delays in appointing a cabinet and lack of a city budget along with other public missteps.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Trenton’s Ethical Dilemma

    We have a difficult choice to make in Trenton’s mayoral race on Tuesday, and not in a good way.

    Neither of our candidates, Manny Segura or Tony Mack have a real plan for Trenton.  They both talk revitalization gibberish so it’s really a bit of a ugly toss-up from a policy perspective.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Dan’s Candidate picks

    I’ve been voting candidates off the island on FaceBook.  This is my advice on the remaining six (including me).

    Eric Jackson, Frank Weeden, John Harmon, Keith Hamilton and Annette Lartigue are left on the Island along with me. Read the rest of this entry »

    Is Dan serious about being Mayor?

    Here’s the thing.  I don’t want to have to be involved in local politics at all.

    However, I live in Trenton and own enough property so that high taxes and declining value could be a substantial economic blow.  I am not alone in this precarious situation.  Every home and building owner in Trenton is at risk as our city’s budget comes closer to falling into the financial abyss. Read the rest of this entry »

    Candidate Budget Scorecard Results

    The Fix Trenton’s Budget committee created a multiple choice survey to assess the aptitude and policy perspective of Trenton’s municipal candidates.  This was the committee’s major pre-election project.  We hope it gives some perspective on the kinds of things that are necessary to fix the problem and the candidates who are most in tune with the correct solutions. Read the rest of this entry »