Giving up on Reinventing Trenton

For over five years now and really much before that I’ve studied the issues and policies surrounding urban revitalization especially as they pertain to small post-industrial cities.  In that time I’ve written numerous articles published on this site, commented extensively on Facebook and elsewhere and started up two volunteer groups meant to education the public and potential leaders about the policies that would make a difference in Trenton.

The effort has taken quite a bit of time

And the results have been miserable.  As Trenton has failed and our leaders steadfastly refused to pursue any of the policies recommended on these pages, I must come to the conclusion that I have failed.

I have a lot of critics.  They say I don’t make things simple enough or that I’m arrogant.  They complain that math and analysis aren’t everything. I have theories about what’s really going on and perhaps that’s why I need to step away.

I’m sure we will continue our downward spiral.  My taxes will go up.  My property will continue to lose value and my family will be less safe.  We will continue to shop outside of Trenton.  It’s very depressing.

We own a home that we can’t easily sell and our son is buried here.  We have good friends that have supported us over the years and we sponsor a 5K to raise money for scholarships for Trenton kids.  We’re tied to the community, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep banging my head against City Hall.

Meanwhile, I’ll focus on making more money to pay for the taxes and to fortify our home against the increasingly bold thugs and bums who wander like zombies up and down our streets.

I do thank those that have gone along with me on this journey with me especially Bob Lowe, Jim Carlucci and Kevin Moriarty.  Carlos Avilla and Michael Goldstein also have unique voices in the city.   But it’s tough.  These guys are ignored by the un-thinking and shouted down by the pompous.

We’re a city of people who feel entitled to be wrong year after year.  What really pushed me over the edge was the recent debate over Thomas Edison State College’s proposal to develop a parcel of city owned land.  The same empty suits that pushed the hotel, the ballpark and the arena on us as revitalization measures (that clearly didn’t work) were at it again.  In a city that says we have too many state buildings, we rushed to build another one. And our City Council who posits themselves as new thinkers just went along with the old thinking like sheep to a slaughter.

We can forgive ourselves the mistake that is Tony Mack, but when the rest of Trenton’s leadership rushes to follow his lead and that of the cast of characters that has provided poor advice to this city since I’ve lived here, well I guess there’s no hope.

Our budget is a mess.  Our tax system is anti-development.  Our police force is understaffed and demoralized.   Our Mayor is a crook.   And we own a hotel that is bleeding us dry.   Our schools are failing and corrupt (by many accounts).   A single shopping center in Hamilton dwarfs Trenton’s total retail sales. There is no corporate base. A third of our housing is subsidized. Our tax base is shrinking.  In every way we are moving backwards.

As for my role, I can’t point to one suggestion that I’ve made over the years that has been enacted.  No Land Value Tax. No targeted development strategy. No Priority Based Budgeting. No transparency.   We’ve elected the politicians who did the worst on the Fix Trenton’s Budget economic scorecard.  We’ve not sold the hotel.   We’ve not even made our government transparent as evidenced by Jim Carlucci’s cottage industry in OPRA requests.   Our inspections department stands in the way of development.   We have NO strategic plan.  We’ve not lifted a finger to sensibly address State funding (the Mayor doesn’t even understand it).   We’ve not taken bold steps to encourage new development.   We’ve not created a methodology to evaluate the break-even on development projects.

If this were a business, our lack of insightful management would have bankrupted us years ago.  But we’re not, we’re a government with the power to tax in order to cover up our mistakes.  So that’s what we do.  We tax and then increase the tax some more.

It doesn’t make sense for me to continue being an activist.  I’m a volunteer but there are professionals lined up to hatch dumb ideas like the TESC deal, one right after another, and they get paid by taxpayers to do it.  I can’t compete with that.  The cards are stacked against me and the other activists hoping to make Trenton a better place for no other reason than to have a better place in which to live.

That’s what the non-activists don’t get.  The volunteers that complain about City Hall don’t have a political purpose other than to have a better life in Trenton.   It’s the city official or Mayor that has something to hide, a status quo to protect and, as it turns out prison to avoid.

Maybe sometime in the future I’ll find a role that will let me apply what gifts I do have (tact is not one of them) to the important work of revitalizing the city.  It certainly won’t be in an elected role, I’m not cut out for that.  However, the people of Trenton are going to have to “wise up”.  Electing the likes of Tony Mack because “we know him from the hood” just can’t happen again.  We’re a national laughing-stock because of our gullibility as an electorate.  We let Doug Palmer drive Trenton’s economy into the ground, but we invited Mack to put a stake into our heart.

Listen to the activists I mentioned.   They can help.  They know the issues and they understand what leadership qualities are needed to turn the city around.


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9 Responses to “Giving up on Reinventing Trenton”

  • Carlos Avila:

    Dan, I read your post with a heavy heart. I recall the day Jim Coston posted his exit from Trenton and the sense of loss I felt on behalf of this city–a similar sentiment is felt today.

    You should know that the rich library of articles you have created and your tenacious resistance to the status quo has indeed made a difference. You have galvanized thinkers behind causes like priority based budgeting; and inspired compassion behind causes like SUDC and our Trenton youth. Because of you, politicians speak about economic development, because of you a Trenton youngster is enjoying an academic opportunity.

    With all do respect to your wishes to step aside, I don’t think you are done with Trenton yet.

    I am reminded of scripture: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9. Don’t give in yet. Don’t slow your pace of doing good. The time is coming quickly when you will see the fruit of your labor.

    So take a break, enjoy the family, recharge and we hope to see you back in the battlefield soon.


    One more I find fitting:
    “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

  • Geoff Hobbs:


    Each time you have put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, I have learned something.

    Thank you.


  • Dan – I am sorry to read your words, and to hear of your withdrawal from the public life of the city. You will be missed. You bring a unique voice and perspective to the discussion, and the kind of training and knowledge base that’s all too rare around this town.

    Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them. Man, do I well understand the kind of frustrations you express. I know it’s hard enough to try to keep one’s professional commitments, and one’s personal obligations going, without adding this kind of extra-curricular burden on top of things. And doing all this work, without any sense that you are making an impact, it can be maddening.

    But I think what you, Bob, Jim, Carlos, Michael and others have been doing is not in vain. I think we have brought a lot of things to light that otherwise would have stayed hidden. We have been proved right more often than we have been proved wrong. More and more people are paying attention, and discovering their own voices. That’s something. And this kind of thing can only grow.

    You say you are retiring from the Trenton public arena, more like a boxing ring. But like a lot of retirees, be prepared for people – in your neighborhood, around town, and even in City Hall, reach out to you to ask your opinion on things, to lend your ear to their plans and proposals, to act as a sounding board. I hope you will respond to those requests; they will come.

    And if, as a result of this you find yourself being drawn back in to the discussion, you will be always welcome.


  • Sorry to see you step back, but I completely understand why. Thanks for everything!

  • Bill Kearney:

    Sorry to hear your decision, but how much can any person take. I, too, have given up all hope of being heard at the present time. If the “powers” won’t heed the words of people like you, Jim, Rob, Kevin and many others – they sure won’t listen to me! Your insights and recommendations were always appreciated here. I’ve been constantly befuddled as to why some politicians would not tap you or the others as a “pocket” resource. Enjoy your well deserved break and hopefully we’ll hear from you again soon. Thanks for all your efforts.

  • Glenn C.:

    I’m not sure what I am more pleased about, that your half-baked, poorly researched theories will no longer distract the simple minded among us or that you are pledging to not run for elected office (again). You singled-handedly ensured Mack’s victory in the last election when you proclaimed yourself a write-in candidate a week before the election. The ~22 votes you got were most definitely votes that would have put Eric Jackson ahead of Manny Segura for a runoff with Mack.

  • Glenn, I’m sorry that you’re simple minded and can’t do research.

  • James E.:

    Excellent approach Glenn ~ when the concepts are too much for you to comprehend & beyond your grasp, spend your time insulting them to absolve yourself of your own ignorance. Don’t spend your time making them more robust, instead, mock them and then mock Dan who owes this city absolutely nothing but is trying to help. Because you’ve been a wonderful asset, unlike Dan.

    And you blame him for Mack?! Ha Ha Ha – that’s rich! Because you think all those people would’ve gone with Eric and thus landslide the runoff? HA HA HA! I personally blame the 200 votes Shahid Watson got, you know, before he stole that house. But, apparently I was wrong because you knew first hand that everyone that voted for Dan would’ve gone for Eric instead. And of course that means Eric would’ve beat Mack.

    In case you’re still not picking it up, you’re an asshole. If you don’t like what he is saying, stop reading. It’s not like we’ve even had a decent discussion with those in power on Dan’s concepts. You’ve also added nothing to the dialog.

    Dan, your tenacity has been greatly appreciated. I’m often, in my cynical view of this city, left lamenting as to “why” you guys fight so hard. I, most regrettably, agree with everything you said here – and it’s sad because there are towns/cities that would greatly appreciate your talents and passions (along with Jim’s and Kevin’s and the others). A mass exodus – a new Oregon trail (without the dysentery) to a better location needs to take place. Let the city fester in it’s own filth, until the State has little choice but to send in cleaners. My commitment was never as strong as yours, I had less ties here, so in scale I’d tossed my hands up in frustration and shock a long time ago. Trenton has been Mercer county’s designed landfill for decades, and those around here are too preoccupied with becoming the king they fail to realize their castle is a trash heap. The small minority that actually care could and should just take themselves out of the dump and move to a place that offers the quality of life they deserve and have earned.

    Alas, that is easier said than done – as it seems we’re all stuck in the sinking quagmire that is this city. Only the truly poor and good people of this city get my sympathies. But in the same breath, I scold them for being apathetic and letting the trash rats take over the place.

    Dan, thank you for the education. I’ve learned a LOT from your blogs and look forward towards applying that knowledge to a place in need someday, but this time, it has to be a place that actually wants help. I wish you and your family the best, and I wish you the strength in making that next major decision in your lives and where you continue to call “home” in the future.

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