Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

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.

We DON’T need a “qualified” Mayor

“We need a qualified Mayor!”  ”We need qualified Directors!”

These are terribly misleading statements.  But we hear them all the time in the city.  ”Qualified” is possibly the most overused and abused term in Trenton politics.

The only qualifications for being a Mayor are to be a citizen, a resident , be 18 or over and have a pulse.

You don’t vote for qualifications, it’s not that easy.  Qualifications come from a job description, they are one person’s opinion.  Rest assured that my “qualifications” are different than yours.  My list of qualifications for Public Works or Recreation Director would be different than yours.  We all have different notions of qualifications for our government leaders to the point where its meaningless to use the term.

We vote for ideas, creativity, hard work and values.  What motivates a candidate?  Are their interests aligned with ours? Have they laid out a plan that makes sense?  Do they instill confidence?

Qualifications are easy and no one background is the right one for a job anyhow.  For instance, I might prefer to have some bright, aggressive young kid, anxious to make a name for themselves, lead a Trenton department over a “qualified” guy who’s been marking time on the job.  In Trenton, we need to stir things up.

Invention won’t come from inside, it’s likely going to come from outside (another reason to do away with residency restrictions as if the past 2 years haven’t been convincing enough).  Creativity and new thinking can also come from identifying talent in the organization and letting it rise faster than normal.  It can come from transferring leadership around.  A great creative team that has been hand-selected will not just to know how to fill out the right forms, but rather to consider whether the forms are needed at all.

Let’s stop worrying about resumes and worry more about what’s behind a person’s eyes.  Depending on “qualifications” is what scared, unthinking people do.

DCA’s vetting skills won’t save us.  DCA isn’t building a leadership team.  Teams are built by carefully selecting people who have different strengths and counter-balance each other.   These kinds of teams allow out-of-the box thinking to mix with pragmatism.  DCA isn’t doing that kind of team building.  They’re just trying to keep the lights on.

Trenton needs a leader that can assemble a team to re-invent our city, not just keep the lights on.    Harping on hiring “qualified” people is proof that a candidate doesn’t have the leadership juice to run our city.

What in Tony Mack’s qualifications told any of us that he could do that?

A good first step for a candidate in 2014 will be to explain that they understand these and other principles of leadership.

I don’t know what to say

Like many Trentonians, I approached the 2010  mayoral run-off with trepidation and knew I had two less than perfect options.  But there’s always hope. 

Since then, I’ve largely taken the summer off from Trenton politics because I was too depressed about the election including the city council contest in which most of my choices lost.  But still there’s hope. Read the rest of this entry »