Posts Tagged ‘2018’

Trenton’s 2018 Report Card

We’ve got a new Mayor and a new City Council.   They obviously haven’t had a chance to do much but then again none of them have expressed any desire to meet any goal around the 5 measures listed annually in this report card.

The 2018 Report Card will tell us whether or not the Jackson administration actually did move the needle as Mayor Gusciora’s campaign team has claimed.

All five of the following are “lagging” indicators, meaning they represent the past, but they are objective and widely used measurements collected in a consistent way across the state and nation.   There’s no hand-waving with these numbers.

  • Crime levels as measured by the Uniform Crime Report
  • Population growth as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau (in the case of Trenton, every year)
  • Graduation rate as measured by the NJ Department of Education
  • Median Household Income as measured by the U.S. Census, and
  • Economic success as measured by our Tax Base

Crime is down a bit but we had more murders

The 2017 Uniform Crime Report represents last year’s crime

  • Uniform Crime Reports for 2017 are 3276
  • This is a decrease from 2016 of 1.1%
  • Murders were up from 21 in 2016 to 23 in 2017

Trenton held basically holding the rate steady, though Trentonians have become more murderous over the years.  TPD cleared 15% of its cases in 2017 which compares favourably to Newark (9%) but unfavourably to Hamilton (31%).   Our crime is still much than the state average but for not getting too much worse I give Trenton a C in 2017.

Source: NJ State Police

Trenton gained a little population

Trenton’s 2017 census estimate is 84,964 residents.  This is a 1.1% increase from 2016’s population of 84,056 and flat since 2010.

This number is up, a little.  So that’s good.   New Jersey as a whole gained 2.4% in population since 2010 meaning that Trenton is not keeping pace.

For turning this thing around for the first time (since I’ve been tracking), Trenton gets an C.

Source: US Census Bureau

Graduation rates have go up!

The Trenton school district’s 2017 graduation rate was 70.14%. This is a good uptick from 2016’s rate of 66.55% and 2015’s rate of 68.63% and a huge improvement over 2014’s 52%

70% isn’t great BUT it’s a big improvement and indicates that something is happening.   Perhaps not having the old Trenton Central High building has stirred things up.

Hamilton and Ewing School Districts hover around 90% graduation rate so maybe it’s possible to get there.  Who knows, maybe the new school will make a difference.

Because the trend is up over several years, Trenton gets an C.

Source:  NJ Dept. of Education

Incomes in Trenton stayed flat

Median Household Incomes in Trenton grew slightly to $34.415 (2016 numbers) from $34,257 (2015).  These are very low numbers and show why it is that housing prices aren’t growing.    Furthermore, 27.6% of people in Trenton live in poverty.

New Jersey’s median household income is more than double Trenton’s at $73,702 over double Trenton’s income.

For having stagnant and very low incomes in one of the wealthiest states in the country, Trenton gets an F.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Tax Base is up a lot

Trenton doesn’t maintain a current publicly available tax list,  so I’ve to use the Dept. of Community Affairs web site.  It gives our tax base as $2,395,945,829  for year end 2017.  This is up almost $400,000,000 from 2016 and represents an 18% increase.  Quite frankly this is a big number and must be the result of the revaluation.

As a comparison, Hamilton’s tax base is over $8.5B and tiny Princeton’s is over $7B.

$2.4B in tax base isn’t enough to support Trenton by a long shot but it’s a big improvement even if it just reflects getting our tax rates somewhat straightened out.  For at least showing a bigger number, I give Trenton an C.

Source: Department of Community Affairs

Did the Jackson administration move the needle?  … Almost!

  • The Education numbers are promising, the crime rate is down and our tax base has been overhauled
  • Going strictly by the numbers, I’d say the needle moved.  However, its likely we didn’t see real investment of $400M in Trenton, just real revalution.

If a Mayor and City Council really were interested in progress they would highlight these 5 numbers in every meeting, every State of the City and with the State.    Every dollar spent would be to improve the numbers year over year.   Instead, for the 18th year in a row (since I’ve lived in Trenton) all I get from our government is hand waving.

Link to the 2017 Report Card

Link to the 2016 Report Card

Link to the 2015 Report Card

Link to the 2014 Report Card

Low Voter Turnout: A good thing, or a bad thing?

I like small voter turn-outs!

8,297 people voted in our May local election this year out of 39,731.  That’s about 21% but if you factor in how messed up our voter rolls are (thanks Mercer County Clerk’s office) and assume 10% of the people on the rolls no longer live in Trenton, then it’s more like 23%.   Compared to an election day featuring the first ever black Presidential candidate, that’s a low turnout.   But then, every turnout is low compared to that.

Odds are that only the more engaged and knowledgeable voters voted.   That said, 560 people who must spend most of their time as extras on Walking Dead, did manage to wander into a voting booth and press an Alex Bethea button.  Also somehow, a former City Councilwoman with an undistinguished career that included presiding over the Mack era, got more votes (for At Large Council) than anybody.  Go Figure.

But enough of that, why is this good for me?

If one reads the research “Local Elections and Small Scale Democracy” by J. Eric Oliver, you can get perspective on Trenton’s voter turnout.

Here are some of the conclusions that the research informs:

Average turnout for “local only” elections like ours is 18% nationally.

We were above average at 21%. If higher turnout were important we’d move our election to November. Our current crop of council members, including Marge, Zac and George: declined the opportunity to do that.

High turnout might not matter in a place like Trenton.

Our turnout numbers were statistically significant. Statistically speaking if 1000 voters had been picked at random they would have generally reflected the will of the entire city.  This is especially true when a population is not diverse. My previous research has shown than Trenton not at all economically diverse.   Of course voters were not picked at random but still 8,000 votes may well have been statically significant enough in a population like Trenton’s.

Depends on who you ask.

Older, educated homeowners (like me) are statistically more likely to vote and were likely over-represented in the turnout on Tuesday. To the extent that Trenton does have diversity, the low turnout favored the interests of people like me.   It’s not a bad thing and is to be expected that long tenured residents that own homes will be more committed to voting.  They have a lot invested in the city.   I’m OK with a turnout that’s homeowner heavy.

Low Turnout favors the organized.

It takes effort and organization to get out the vote. Simply being organized enough to ask voters to vote increases turnout dramatically. In my book, being organized is a virtue that we want in a candidate.

So according to Mr. Oliver, Trenton’s low turnout, was higher than average and worked in my favor.

Sure we’d all like to see everyone have a voice.  But you know what, if you can’t take the time to be an informed voter, I’m not so sure I want you to cast a ballot that affects my family’s well-being.

In the past, we’ve seen voters brought to the polls to vote for the promise of a gift card or a turkey sandwich.   We’ve seen large amounts of money out of proportion with our city’s size being used to influence the vote. We’ve seen un-substantive campaigns that were nothing more than beauty contests.

I’d rather have a small number of informed and committed voters determine the fate of our city.

Reinvent Trenton’s 2018 Election Picks

It’s like a kiss of death when I support a candidate.   The plain fact is that the vast majority of Trentonians aren’t in favor of actually doing the hard work to reinvent the city.   If they were we would have never elected Tony Mack or Eric Jackson or Doug Palmer 5 times.  It was obvious to anyone who really looked at those campaigns that they would never do what it takes to really improve the city.

I haven’t gotten involved in any of the campaigns this cycle for a number of personal reasons, but I still live here and I have written about economics in Trenton for many years. Therefore, it behooves me to say something about this campaign and in particular the relative likelihood that each of the candidates will move the economic needle.

I’d encourage readers to review the platforms of each candidate and consider that if a candidate can’t publish a plan then they probably don’t have one.

My Criteria

In years past, I’ve developed complicated issue by issue spreadsheets to evaluate candidate positions.  I read all the web sites, read candidate questionnaires, went to candidate forums, etc.   It occurs to me though that while all that is useful the decision can be a lot simpler.

Instead this cycle I’ve boiled it down of a few basic questions with associated positive or negative points.

Are they an Incumbent (-5 points): The last 18 years have been riddled with monumental government failures from using government money to build a bankrupt hotel, to corruption and now stolen payrolls and dirty water.   Council members were charged with oversight through all of that.  They have failed time and again to either notice when things were going wrong or know what to do to fix a problem.   This includes people who’ve been on council before.

Support from Status Quo (-5 points): There are king-makers who have been shaping Trenton politics for many years.  They’ve clearly not been shaping a good city.  If a candidate is a product of these people, then they can’t be trusted to do the right things.

Are they supporting an incumbent (-3 points): A candidate who has the bad judgement to support an incumbent, can’t be trusted.  We’ve simply had enough failure.

No Web Site (-3 points): My gosh if you can’t put up at least a basic page to say hello, what are you doing.  This means you’re not really living in the 21st century.

Focus on Homeowners (5 points): Homeownership in Trenton has declined 35% over the last 28 years.  That’s what happens in a failed city.   If a candidate doesn’t have their head around this then they shouldn’t be running for office.

New Governance Ideas (3 points): We clearly have a problem with how our city is run as evidenced by the poor annual report cards this site has given the city over the years.  Does the candidate have any suggestion on how to improve governance?

Fleshed Out Platform online (3 points): Does they candidate thoughtfully address the important issues, especially the list of issues identified by the Fans of Trenton’s Irresponsible Blogger election group.

Follows Reinvent Trenton (2 points): I’m partial, but Reinvent Trenton has been discussing economic policy for  a long time.  Even if you don’t like the policy, to not be engaged enough in the discussion to keep up with the page means you’re not a serious policy candidate.

Tiebreak – I like them (1 point): I know most of the candidates so if there’s a tie, I’ll do what everyone does. Vote for who I like.

And now the races.

Mayor – Paul Perez

Think long and hard about what your expectation of a Mayoral candidate is.  I have.  I expect a thoughtful platform that explains how they will get good governance and improve the economy, especially how they will improve the attractiveness of Trenton to homeowners.   I expect that the candidate assumes all voters are serious minded about policy and the important decision in from of them.

For the most part my review of this year’s candidates demonstrates a disregard for the intelligence of the voter.
Most web sites have very scant platitudes about the economy with limited policy ideas:

Reed Gusciora, Walker Worthy and Darren Green fall into this category with Reed at least saying something about downtown and promoting a resident incident line (which is sorely missing).

Some candidates have absolutely nothing to say:  Annette Lartique and Alex Bethea are in this category.  At least one has a website that doesn’t appear to work (can this be true?): Duncan Harrison’s site loads so slowly that its unusable.

And then there’s Paul Perez.
Paul and his team have written a book on economic development, linking issues with home ownership and rentals to the fundamental attractiveness of Trenton as an investment choice.  They’ve created a treatise on good governance and took the time to research model governance that would be helpful

His web site deals with economic policy on how to fix abatements, some specific issues about downtown, our abandoned property policies and citizen engagement among other policy ideas. I was wrong when I said a couple of weeks ago that none of the candidates are addressing our decline in home ownership directly. Paul is.

Some of the other candidates mention good government and economics but compared to the detail and thoughtfulness Paul has put into his policy, the others look silly and trite.

Two of the candidates are incumbents and as such have presided over our failed government. Duncan Harrison is backed by the same person who backed Doug Palmer and gave us the failed city hotel.  Walker Worthy is back by the Democratic establishment, including Doug Palmer, who have stood by and watched Trenton fail.

Paul, Darren and Reed have no obvious loyalties to Trenton’s political establishment.

It’s not close, Paul Perez is my strong recommendation for Mayor of Trenton.

Points Total
Paul Perez 13
Darren Green 2
Reed Gusciora 0
Annette Horton-Lartigue -3
Alex Bethea -5
Walker Worthy Jr -5
Duncan Harrison Jr -8

At Large Council – Blakeley, Rodriguez, Montero,

You’ve got to pick three candidates and admittedly that was tough to do.

Over the years I’ve not seen eye to eye with Jerell Blakeley.   Quite frankly he comes across as interested in something other than economic revitalization.  He’s more of a “lift up the people” guy.  My problem with that is, that without economic revitalization, who’s left to do the lifting.

That said, he checked a few boxes in my candidate criteria.  He’s included a fair bit on policy, some of it good, some of it not so much (for instance, you have to be a Tier 1 city to collect a commuter tax).  He does go in to good government issues which is great but he doesn’t address home ownership.   He’s not an incumbent and as far as I know, no one’s pulling his strings.

After Jerrel it drops off dramatically and we immediately get in to bad candidates.   Santiago Rodriguez doesn’t have a web site so that means he doesn’t have a platform.  His one saving grace is that he actually follows Reinvent Trenton which has lots of policy ideas.

The next batch include two candidates that have used terrible judgement in supporting and co-campaigning with failed City Council President Zac Chester.  Between Elvin Montero, Rachel Cogsville-Lattimer and Nathaniel McCray I had to pick one, so the tie went to Montero.  He at least mentioned a few issues on his web site though it was in the most shallow of terms.

Points Total
Jerell Blakeley 6
Santiago Rodriguez -1
Elvin Montero -2
Rachel Cogsville-Lattimer -3
Nathaniel McCray -3
Kathy McBride -8

North Ward – Algernon Ward

I’ll vote in the North Ward and am very familiar with two of the candidates.

Marge is the incumbent and though she’s frequently been useful in constituent services, that’s just not the real role of a City Councilperson.  Rather, it’s to oversee the administration.  In that capacity she’s overseen failure after failure.  She can blame it on others but she was there and the failures happened on her watch.   Also, bizarrely, she doesn’t have a working web site so we don’t even know what kind of platform she’s pitching.

Algernon Ward is a geek.  That’s a good thing.  He’s a scientist and a history buff which you’ve got to love.   He’s got positions listed on his web site but unhappily they’re also of the “lift up the people” variety and not “fix the city”.   In fact, Algie once told me that he thinks corporations are evil and that he hopes that big business never relocates to Trenton.  On the other-hand he worked with me on the “Fix Trenton’s Budget” group, so that’s good.

My criteria favors having written opinions and not being an incumbent.  Algie’s an independent guy and also fairly experienced in Trenton politics.

Points Total
Algernon Ward Jr 5
Eboni Love -3
Marge Caldwell-Wilson* -8

South Ward – Damian Malave

Although, I can’t imagine anyone outdoing George Muschal in constituent services, that’s not the real job.  His Council (and he was Council President during the Mack years) was a failure in government oversight.

Neither Damian or Jenna say much useful on their web sites but at least they have them.   Jenna, unhappily has joined up with the current President of the failed City Council, Zac Chester.   This is a big knock against her and therefore pushed my vote to Damian Malave (if I lived in the South Ward).

Points Total
Damian Malave 0
Jenna Kettenburg -3
George Muschal* -8

East Ward – Joe Harrison

None of the East Ward candidate web sites say much at all.   That’s obviously a disappointment.   However, two of the candidates do follow Reinvent Trenton which is like saying they at least get exposed to policy thinking.   However, Taiwanda lied to me about her support for failed Council President Zac Chester.   I was disappointed that she’s supporting him but really disappointed by the lie.

Trenton East Ward candidate called out for ‘lying’ about support of Chester

Joe Harrison has been participating in Trenton politics for a while and quite frankly would be a breath of fresh air on City Council.

Points Total
Joseph Harrison 2
Perry Shaw III 0
Taiwanda Terry-Wilson -1
Elmer Sandoval -3

West Ward – Robin Vaughn

Obviously, the incumbent is out of the running.  Two of the candidates don’t even trouble themselves to have a web site that might explain their platforms.   Robin Vaughn and Atalaya Armstrong have web site but they fail to discuss issues at all.

That forced a tie.  I give the nod to Robin because she’s at least dared to stick her toe in the hotbed of Trenton’s political policy discussion, the Facebook Group, Fans of Trenton’s Irresponsible Blogger.  In that forum she’s gotten beaten up a bit for not being specific, but she’s still there and that’s a good sign.

Points Total
Robin Vaughn 1
Atalaya Armstrong 0
Dr. Shirley Gaines -3
Zachary Chester* -6

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The full article with point allocation for each candidate can be found in the pdf linked below.

Full Election Selection Criteria Article

Candidate Evaluation Spreadsheet with Web Site Links

Trenton’s Irresponsible 2018 Campaign Issues

Notes from the first gathering of Fans of Trenton’s Irresponsible Blogger

Members the “Fans of Trenton’s Irresponsible Blogger (FOTIB)” Facebook group met in person on November 8, 2017 at Trenton Social to the upcoming municipal election in May 2018.   We created a prioritized list of issues that our candidates should be prepared to have positions on and plans for.   Also, given that the position of city councilperson is so poorly understood, we created a list of virtues the candidates should have.

The group of over 20 activists gathered at Trenton Social included some of the city’s best thinkers and doers, including 3 bloggers.

FOTIB 2018 Election Issue List

Some issues are grouped for with similar or closely related items.  (n) indicates repeated issues, therefore high priority.

New blood/thinking in the governing process (6)

  • Structure of the administration – departments (2)
  • Setting measurable goals
  • Budget before fiscal year starts

Cleanliness and Appearance of City (4)

  • Presentation and upkeep of parks
  • Litter / Dumping
  • Road conditions / lights

Specific plans to attract commercial ratables (4)

  • Processes for assistance to new business
  • Property tax rates for commercial

Change to the governance structure. Currently strong Mayor (2)

  • Staggered Council terms
  • Changing form of government
  • Term Limits

Other Top Issues

  • Accountability to ethical standards
  • How to make Trenton Schools appealing to citizens who send kids out of district
  • Position on current police/law enforcement contracts
  • Police residency options
  • Vacant property plans
  • Position on the State plan for office buildings downtown
  • Workforce preparedness and vocational training.

City Council Candidate Virtues

  • Moral compass (2)
  • Honesty/transparency
  • Knowledge of Trenton
  • Open minded
  • Tenure
  • Understands the job
  • Ability to negotiate / diplomacy
  • Understanding budgets as policy instruments
  • Understanding policy and how government works
  • Ability to creatively solve problems
  • Being available
  • Ability to use technology
  • Follow up
  • Courage to do the right thing