My choice for Trenton’s next Mayor

After 24 years of mayoral leadership that has gone from bad to worse, we once again have the chance to change direction in Trenton.  Like we did in 2010, we’ll have a crowded field of candidates.  Unlike 2010, in 2014 we have several viable options.

In this very difficult time in Trenton’s history, we as citizens need to be equipped to make a smart choice.   We’ve all seen how poor choices at the voting booth can materially damage our city.  This time around:

  • Voters need to consider all aspects of what will make a good Mayor, and
  • The campaigns need to communicate clearly to voters.

The question I have for myself is, what can I do to help this process?  What can I do differently in 2014 to help elect a leader that will chart a more productive direction for Trenton?

I’ve tried quite a few approaches to improving Trenton.

  • I’ve blogged for years trying to bring new ideas for revitalization to the city.  The evidence will show that my blogging hasn’t helped.
  • I formed Fix Trenton’s Budget to provide an economic point of view in the 2010 election and later assist Mayor Mack in setting budget and economic policy.  The evidence shows that didn’t help.
  • I helped form The Majority for a Better Trenton in order to create an unaligned political force in the city.  It turns out the group had organizational challenges, so that didn’t help.
  • All along I’ve been an outspoken critic on Facebook, in the press, at City Council and on my blog.  Sometimes that makes me feel better, but it hasn’t helped.

As I’ve often said, doing the same things over and over again in Trenton and expecting better results is the definition of insanity.  So this election cycle I’ll do something I’ve not done before.

This election cycle I’m going to choose one candidate to not only support but also to volunteer for during the campaign.   This implies quite a bit.

It implies that I will have to make my own informed decision about the candidates well ahead of walking into the voting booth.   I’ve done some homework in preparation for my decisions.  I have:

  • Talked to each of the candidates I would consider,
  • Read their websites, and
  • Reviewed their track record in Trenton.

To put all of these conversations, impressions and histories into perspective I created an objective scorecard to help.  The scoring approach rates the candidates along several dimensions and weights the scores based on how important that dimension is for a good Mayor.  It’s like coming up with GPA for the candidate but allowing the flexibility to weight one course as more important than another.

Being numbers driven seems appropriate for me as I’m constantly encouraging city leaders to be objective, unemotional and fact driven in their approaches to our problems.   It’s sometimes hard to do but often provides clarity where a muddle of data and opinion cloud the issues.

For each dimension I scored the candidate 1-10.  The dimensions and weighting are as follows:

Table ‑1 Candidate Selection Criteria

Dimension Weight Description
Approach to Strategy 9% Thinks critically about cause and effect.  Is data and fact driven.  Results focused.
Planning 15% Organized, clear and thoughtful about actions and timing.  Considers risks.
Campaign 12% Well run campaign with people who share a focus on revitalization and diversity.
Motivations 9% Setting an example for urban revitalization in small post-industrial cities.
Management Style 12% Disciplined.  Has an air of gravitas.  Reads people well.  Transparent.
Track Record 12% Has participated in thoughtful activism in Trenton.
Budget awareness 15% Understands the budget and what drives it.  Appreciates its role as the central policy tool.
General Capability 9% Smart.  Hard working.   Well written and well spoken.  Well educated.
Sacred Cows 9% Has revitalization minded positions on regionalization, residency, reassessment, etc.

To be fair I didn’t talk to all of the candidates.  Walker Worthy’s strict partisanship and lack of presence in Trenton politics ruled him out as an option.   Kathy McBride’s frequent missteps, support for Tony Mack and lack of interest in policy rule her out.   Bucky Leggett was so uninspiring the last time he ran that I voted for Doug Palmer.  Each of the other four candidates:  Patrick Hall, Eric Jackson, Jim Golden and Paul Perez are fine people by all accounts, including my own.   They deserved serious consideration.

Of course, whoever I support may very well not win the election.  That’s not the end of the world and we have good options.   I certainly hope that even if I wind up on a losing campaign team, the winning Mayor will take me up on my offer to do whatever I can to help his administration succeed.  I made that offer to Tony Mack, he just didn’t follow through.

Also, I’m not going to say anything negative about any of the other candidates except maybe to critique a policy idea here and there.

After several months of talking and thinking about the next Mayor of Trenton I’ve decided I’d like to support Jim Golden to be our Mayor.

Jim is seeking to bring the best thinking in the country to bear on Trenton’s revitalization problems.  He has good initial insights especially on our crime issues. He has good experience in running large organizations.   He’s been openly committed to setting measurable goals and setting up feedback mechanisms to track our progress.

Jim was an early and vocal critic of Tony Mack and actively supported the recall effort.  He’s conscious of the budget and its limitation, especially the biggest component, police.

In every conversation I’ve had with Jim, he’s sought to think through pragmatic steps towards making Trenton more livable while eventually lowering our tax burden.  Finally, his motivations are simple and clear, he’s a retired resident of Trenton who wants a better town in which to live, so do I.

I’ll enjoy working with him both on the campaign and the transition into office.   I know his heart is in the right place and that he has the right skills and temperament.  Most importantly for me, he did the best in my candidate qualification scorecard, earning 7.7 out of 10 points.

I look forward to working with Jim and his campaign but wish all the candidates well.

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9 Responses to “My choice for Trenton’s next Mayor”

  • Barry:

    This is the best tool yet, for selecting/choosing a mayor. I too, am data driven. Love the fact that you created a scale and rated each candidate on each “dimension” as you call them. One, it helps bring clarity to goals or in this case “dimensions” that one considers important and it helps one make choices based on those goals/dimensions. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dan, I cannot help but see that you failed assign weight to the following attributes:

    1. Hometown cred: I was born here, I was raised here, I was “educated” here, blah blah blah. Bonus points for being good at sports in high school

    2. Enunciates the second “T” in Trenton. We all know that makes you sound smarter than you really are.

    3. Post-baccalaureate degree in Affirmative Action Studies and/ or Public Administration, preferably from Fairleigh Dickinson University. That seemed to be a unifying feature of all the clowns who ran in 2010

    Please correct these omissions, post-haste.

    Kind regards,
    Tucker F. Renton
    The Capital Punisher

  • Bill Phold:

    You forgot to add 12% for the candidate that gives you the time of day. The best thing you could do for this election is to not get involved. Your “approaches” to improving Trenton have all been utter failures, including your last-minute candidacy that bled off just enough votes to prevent Eric Jackson from facing Mack in the run-off. Who do you think would be our Mayor today if you kept your ego in check last time around?

  • Which approaches are those. So far as I know, nothing I’ve suggested has ever been tried. As for a last minute candidacy, you obviously don’t know what happened. The paper printed an offhand comment I made on Facebook without my permission. I never campaigned.

    There are quite a few new approaches needed to turn Trenton around. If we had hundreds of people begging to help I might not feel like I need to get involved. We don’t so I do.

    I don’t know you Bill, but what have you done?

  • Rashawn Allen:

    I am reminded of your constant reminder of individuals who endorsed Tony Mack. Take a look at the following and the picture of Mr. Jackson hand clasped with Mr. Mack. I wonder if Jackson now regrets that endorsement.

  • I did consider it. However, supporters for Mr. Golden (notably John Harmon) also supported Tony Mack. To be blunt it was a chickenshit thing to do.

    However, the big difference in my my was that Golden was active in the recall and has been an outspoken critic of Mr. Mack for several years. Jackson and Perez were nowhere to be found.

  • Andria Foreman:

    No matter how well conceived a plan is, if the execution is poor, it won’t matter. 9% approach to strategy is not what will turn this city around. There must be strong execution or it just don’t matter.

  • Michael Smith:

    First I would like to thank you for your column,It is a breath of fresh air in a smog of political commentary.
    Second any politicians promise of economic revitalization or any plan to revive and create jobs is a blatant falsehood.
    Politicians have nothing, everything they have was first produced by the citizen. Politicians redistribute other people property.
    Which brings me to my third point…..If voting changed anything it would be illegal.

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