Posts Tagged ‘Dan Dodson’

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.

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.


Who is Dan Dodson and what’s he done in Trenton anyway?

My Trenton Resume

Apparently, one needs Trenton “cred” to be part of the political discourse in Trenton.  It’s obvious that “clear thought” isn’t a pre-requisite.  So to try and establish a bit more “right to talk”,  here’s my Trenton story.

Unlike a lot of people involved in Trenton politics and revitalization I wasn’t born and bred here.  I was born in Alexandria, VA and was raised mostly in North Carolina.  My wife, Michelle Emerson, and I moved to NJ from Dallas in 1998 and to Trenton in 2000.  That’s 11 years in Trenton, not exactly born and bred, but pretty long. 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 »

The South Ward Council election is no time for politics of the past

Jim Coston was a transformational councilperson for Trenton and the South Ward but with his leaving, the race to fill his spot is wide open. Read the rest of this entry »