The Backlash against “Born and Bred”

Trenton is a boosterish town.  It’s the kind of place where if a visitor said, “My, those buildings look grungy”, his host would say, “Oh no, that’s its patina”.

Ask any Trenton native and they’ll tell you how proud they are of the city, “I’m Trenton Proud”.


We’ve done such a great job running the place that our industry has left town, our education level is among the lowest in the state and we’re on the verge of bankruptcy.  Yea for us!

And now here come the candidates.

You’d think running on Trenton’s record of achievement and their role in it would be a dubious strategy.  But you’d be wrong.

The very first words on candidate Eric Jackson’s web site are, “Born and raised in Trenton ….”.  He’s as much as saying yep I’ve been part of this mess all along.

Keith Hamilton takes a curious nostalgic view.  The first words on his site are, “Keith grew up in Trenton, making him a part of its past.”  Candidate Hamilton is directly linking himself to our past failures.

Alex Brown holds out to the end of his Mayoral pitch to provide his Trenton bonafides, “As a life long resident of Trenton and a graduate of Trenton Central High School”.  Of course Brown may have bigger issues if he’s running on his record as a school board member of the under-performing Trenton School System.

In a refreshing respite from the Trentonitis that infects our municipal elections, candidates Pintella, Lartigue and Mack have chosen to refrain from playing the “born and bred” card.  Instead their web sites deal mostly with their positions on issues.  Whether or not you agree with them you’ve got to respect a candidate who doesn’t resort to nativism in a potentially divisive campaign season.

Candidates Segura (not born and bred), Weeden (also not born and bred), Watson (not born and bred), Harmon (born and bred) and Fuller (nobody is certain of his origin) unfortunately don’t have web sites preferring to remain mysterious.

So what’s really wrong with “born and bred” as a campaign platform?  What harm can there be in making this accident of biology and geography central parts of the stump speech?

In a campaign, candidate’s messages have meaning.

  • When they make a virtue out of one thing, they imply its opposite is a vice.
  • When they brag about a quality they possess, they are saying those without said quality are lesser in stature.

It came up in the 2006 election cycle when Councilman Coston was attacked for his relatively short eight years of Trenton residency.

It’s as if the candidate is saying, “The other guy is no good because he wasn’t born here”.  By extension, they’re also saying that every newcomer to Trenton is inferior due to the unfortunate circumstances of his/her birth city.

As one young native Trentonian pointed out on a recent FB discussion on the subject:

“Hell, we have had homegrown folks (the Mayor and most of City Council were born and raised in Trenton) running this city into the ground for the last 20 years and look where it has gotten us”

It seems a bit counter-intuitive to run on “Born & Bred” as a strength unless you had another message in mind.

“Born and bred” divides Trentonians into us and them.  It’s code to other Trenton natives that newcomers can’t be trusted.  “All those sneaky “carpetbaggers”, they’ve moved here to take advantage of you.  Stick with me and we’ll show them”

So who is the code language aimed at?  Me, for one.  I’ve been here only nine years.  Similarly it refers to all of the other new Trentonians that have invested in neighborhoods like Mill Hill, Hiltonia, Glen Afton, Cadwalader Heights and Trenton Ferry.  Trenton’s new middle class are easy targets.

But who else?  Well, a big majority of Trenton’s various Hispanic communities weren’t born here.  They’re foreigners for gosh sake!  Just like in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”, nativist candidates are creating a sense of us versus them. It’s an ugly political tactic we see playing out in national politics as well.

Most importantly the “born and bred” crowd is suggesting that non-native candidates like Segura and Weeden are simply unqualified because they didn’t spend their formative years watching Trenton decline.

Some might think this doesn’t matter much.  After all don’t we have bigger issues?  We do, but let’s not continue to brand newcomers as outsiders.  It’s important to Trenton’s revitalization that it be perceived as a place where you can quickly put down roots and be part of the community.  Creating an extra qualification for inclusion in the inner circle of city life is counter to the objective of growing the city.

I’m sure the apologists and campaign workers for the candidates will say, “they’re just being proud of their heritage”.  I say, words have meaning.

Show your pride with campaign platforms that will make a difference.  Don’t beat us poor unfortunate non-native voters over the head with the superiority of your birth pedigree.

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7 Responses to “The Backlash against “Born and Bred””

  • Dan, I found myself nodding throughout this. I wouldn’t *NOT* vote for someone just because they are born & bred, but it’s not a selling point for me. When I graduated college, I moved to Chambersburg, and lived across the street from a nice family, who had never left the city. I found that remarkable, and a bit sad: they hadn’t even been to Hamilton, or the mall, or Morrisville, PA: not that those places are fantastic destinations; I mention them because they’re close. It definitely says something about the greatness Trenton of yesteryear; it was THAT sustainable, that a family never had to leave the city, as it had great shopping, work options, decent schools, Little League, etc. etc. etc. But, sad in the sense that we live in a pretty wonderful world, with so many great things to see, and ideas to take in, etc.

    Those sustainable days are gone, though. Doesn’t mean there’s no hope. I saw a thread on TrentonSpeaks where a former Trentonian attacked a current (not born and bred) one for a lack of “Trenton-ness.” I find this personally offensive because I grew up elsewhere, too, but I live here now. I pay taxes and vote; I participate on a civic level, and considering how many people live here, there aren’t THAT many people doing the same, including, I’m guessing, the born and bred. It boggles my mind that FORMER city residents think they’re “more Trenton” than I am; and it is irritating that current residents have a prejudice against me as well, though it seems my neighborhood offers a bit of “street cred,” compared to, say, Hiltonia or Mill Hill. So ridiculous. If they were the target of this sort of prejudice, I’m guessing they’d flip out, right?? This newcomer-phobia does happen elsewhere, but usually in functional, if old-fashioned rural communities. There’s no place for that here.
    Thanks for a great read.

  • Kevin Hogan:

    You helped me trim the mayoral list down with this one graph:

    Other candidates appear to have a presence but haven’t actively engaged the strong community current online.

  • Kevin Hogan:

    uh, I was referring to the graph about candidates with no web site.

  • Oh! I meant to add that Manny has a website:

    John Harmon and ESAbW both have Facebook pages, but that’s not the same as a real website. The only decent think about their FB pages, though, is that you don’t have to be friends with them to see their pages.

  • ::stands and applauds::

  • patricia stewart:

    Hi, Dan. Very good piece. When I was running, I was tempted to point out that Trenton has been governed by those born & bred here for the last ffity years. Art Holland was a native son. An interesting crowd here; it was pointed out that I was born in NY and (I really love this one) I am an Episcopalian in a Baptist city. While I am happy here, I do find Trenton to be a strange, “urban city.” I hate that phrase!!! See ya. PHS

  • Oh, and I clicked on the link to Manny Safe’s site, and I got the following. Not so “safe” if you ask me…

    “Verizon Internet Security Warning:
    Suspected Fraudulent Web Site Detected

    You are attempting to connect to a reported fraudulent web site


    Do not submit personal information to this web site. We recommend that you delete any emails associated with this URL.”

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