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.

The Hispanic vote, if there is such a block, could be split three ways. Carlos Avilla is likely the front runner in this group having received Coston’s endorsement and picking up some organization support. Carlos is a nice guy but seems to want to please everybody and will therefore please nobody at all.

In the Jersey St. debate he quoted President Kennedy’s speech about not asking what your country can do for you, and thirty minutes later proceeded to pander to a single mother by telling her what he and the city could do for her. Which is it Carlos?

His economic policy is no different than Trenton’s failed approach for the last 20 years. He has shown bad economic judgment in several choices of videos to feature on his web site. None of his guest speakers have prescribed sensible approaches to urban revitalization. My fear about Carlos is that while he says he’ll seek out good ideas, he won’t recognize them when they’re right in front of him.

Evelyn Deleon, as I’ve written before, seems a nice and earnest person but simply has a difficult time expressing herself and staying on point. This was evident both in the first candidate debate on Jersey St., then on LA Parker’s radio debate and in her posting on Deliberations in City Council must be held with both clear thinking and clear speech. Evelyn doesn’t meet this qualification.

Juan Martinez was on the wrong side of the failed Leewood Development project that would have destroyed the character of South Trenton long after the incumbent politicians withdrew their support. Juan’s ideas about economic development are rooted in the 70s making him the dangerous choice for the South Ward.

George Muschal just doesn’t seem to have his head in the game. He doesn’t come across as the kind of innovative thinker we need on Council. His low point was when he expressed his displeasure over my questioning him about the city budget. He didn’t appear to have any awareness about the budget and questioned the veracity of my assertions about it. I can’t abide this kind of ignorance about the most important issue in our city.

Now for the tough part.

Pat Stewart is well known to me and is a person whom I respect. I’ve discussed the city and its revitalization many times with Pat and find that her views are basically sound. Pat would be a safe choice for the South Ward Council seat. She understands the workings of city government and would be a vote of reason.

However Stewart has failed to do two things critical for a councilperson in 2010. She has not posted a web site. A simple web presence is an important way to communicate a candidate’s views and to maintain transparency. Furthermore she’s failed to communicate a vibrant vision for Trenton.  We need vision from the South Ward as it’s quite possible we won’t get it from the other wards or city hall. I won’t be disappointed with having Pat on Council but I can’t endorse her.

This brings me to my endorsement of Paul Harris. I know more people who’ve been rubbed the wrong way by Paul than support him so I definitely feel like I’m out on a limb with my support. However, I have talked with Paul about his views and have come to believe that we share a basic philosophy.

  • Trentonians are responsible for fixing their own fiscal mess.
  • We can be a great city and can be Mercer County’s downtown.
  • Residential development is the path to revitalization and the city has no business holding on to vacant property.
  • Crime fighting should be part of a broader economic development strategy.

Paul is bright, earnest and energetic. He’s ambitious and quite frankly I think that’s what bothers folks. Paul will need to temper this but I am sure the ambition to make Trenton great again is what’s needed in government. His vision is for us to be a “shining city on the hill” not a last resort for the people with no choices. He will welcome new residents with disposable income rather than reject them out of jealousy.

The politicians who ramble on about how much they will do for you aren’t the kind of councilpersons we need now. We need someone who understands Council, the budget and the big picture on revitalization. We don’t need another social worker on Council rather we need to understand that Trenton must compete in a competitive world. We need thoughtful people who can think for themselves. We need a person who is using the web effectively to communicate with his constituents. We need energy directed at the right things, not candidates that are wedded to the social programs that have dominated urban politics throughout Trenton’s decline.

Paul Harris has the endorsement and support of

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7 Responses to “The South Ward Council election is no time for politics of the past”

  • Anne:

    So Dan – do you read the Trentonian much?

  • Dan,

    Your endorsement is well-received and thoughtful, although I would probably go with Pat Stewart myself, with Paul and George Muschal tied for second.

    I assume the comment from Anne is regarding the revelation that either Paul or someone from Paul’s campaign was posting things as Carlos Avila.

    While this was a mistake and distasteful, so is trying to prevent the South Ward residents from choosing the successor to Jim Coston, an effort to which Mr. Avila was directly linked. Further, posting under someone else’s name is a small transgression compared to those being perpetrated against the people of Trenton by those in office each and every day, which are activities that I am confident Paul – as well as Pat and George – would not be involved in.

    That whole thing was a distraction and not a real campaign issue and the fact that L.A. Parker was involved in it should make that clear to anyone, since all he really does is use a sort of populist appeal to dupe city residents into accepting a faulty and terrible status quo that has brought nothing but decline and ruin to Trenton and its residents for 20 years and more.

    The next South Ward councilperson needs to be independent and apt to think outside the box, like Mr. Coston was for most of his term. The candidates besides Mr. Harris, Ms. Stewart, and Mr. Muschal have not proven themselves to be up to such a task.

  • Anne:

    I am amazed that Paul Harris’ on-line antics can be characterized “a small transgression.”

    Lots of folks post anonymously, but Paul impersonated another candidate, used that post to pretend that the other candidate was attacking him, Paul, and choosing for his fraudulent posts a topic that does not illuminate a campaign issue but rather seeks to exploit and exacerbate racial and ethnic divisions in this city. This is pretty ugly stuff. When exposed because of his own ineptitude, he lied. When the lies became untenable, he took “full responsibility,” while hiding behind the fairy tale of fired campaign worker.

    Yes, I am proudly supporting Carlos Avila who was the victim of these campaign tactics, and so you can dismiss my posts as partial. But really, we all know that aspiring young politicians have been known to start off as idealists and then sink into the morass that politics can often become. It seems pretty clear to me that Paul Harris is starting in the morass. His tactics are an indication of what he will do to get what and where he wants. How this gets somehow forgiven because LA Parker reported it adds to the absurd characterization of this as a “small transgression.” I do note that LA Parker does seem to agree with you that we shouldn’t be too tough on Paul for his tactics. Go figure…

  • Alex:

    Unlike Anne, I’m not going to endorse anyone, but I would like to add to this discussion. I

    Although illegal immigrants and those with residency cards have no voting rights in this race, their children who are of age will definitely vote. I remember being at a pageant this past August, where several of the different Latino based civic organizations where present (i.e. Guatemalan, Costa Rican, Ecuadorian, Puerto Rican). Carlos was there as well making his pitch. Everyone there, that was within voting age, knew him due to how active Carlos (and his sister as well) was while he was attending the Trenton Schools. Parents remember this guy participating in things like student government in middle school and being a link between the student body and the school administration. Especially now that Paul has been caught lying to voters with his comments on the Trentonian, you can be sure that parents without voting rights will get their kids registered and ready to vote for Carlos.

    Here are some questions and thoughts for you Dan:

    What is it that you specifically aren’t agreeing on with Carlos in regards to Economic Development?

    I only saw one video on his site with legitimate opinions about creating economic development by developing communities and quality of life. This one video only had general thoughts, but what I have seen from Carlos’ campaign is a pledge to use non-profits and outside resources to develop the city’s education system, resident’s work skills, and developing abandoned properties as a way to fight crime and spur economic development.

    I have a basic view of economics so bare with me: you have a basic belief in a trickle-down effect: having money come into the city from outsiders who do have the resources and have these resources (meaning money) work their way down to help those who lack them. Carlos approach tends to be trickle up: starting with the community and the people already here and have them develop the community so outsiders are welcomed to join. These basic ideologies are nothing new but it is important for Trenton voters (since most are uneducated) to understand this because they have different effects. Trickle up and you might be waiting a long time to see some payoff because you aren’t sure people will make use of their opportunities and it isn’t directly leading the creation of more opportunities. Trickle down and you will see more immediate pay off with money coming in and the creation of more opportunities, but this usually coincides with the displacement of poorer people since they can’t afford living in area with now increased value. Carlos still knows it is important to bring outside business into the City, but he seems reluctant to do anything that will harm residents, especially considering the effects of eminent domain.

    I’m not agreeing with any economic development plan/ideas posted by you or Carlos, but I think that if you are going to go out of your way to “endorse” a candidate, I’d like to see some more background information for voters since us Trenton folk aren’t very educated and would actually benefit from someone with your expertise relaying this information to us.

    -What involvement did Carlos have in this whole Coston fiasco?

    The only reason why anyone knew about Carlos being endorsed as an appointee was because he said it himself. He supported the election as well. It seems as if he wasn’t even thinking about running for office until Coston approached him. In my mind if you aren’t going to make an issue of Paul and his campaign using dirty tactics and lying to voters, this issue with Coston’s attempt to avoid the election should be mute. If you know more, please share, because from what I have seen from his campaign site and in the papers, he has been upfront about everything.

    That being said, I think Paul isn’t what the city needs right now: a continuation of the politics of the past. We have someone who is knowledge able on the ins and outs of the city but he has been a very polarizing figure. In a ward as diverse as the South, you really need to be able to communicate with everyone and represent them in an ethical manner. We all look to someone’s character and ideals and Paul hasn’t shown me that his values and character would benefit the ward or the city. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, but Paul has continuously given people the opportunity to doubt him. There is no way I can support someone who is using racial tensions to pursue his own agenda.

  • Hmmm

    Not sure I get your trickle down / trickle up analysis.

    The trickle I’m talking about is a bit more direct if you read my various papers on the subject.

    Trenton is broke. We need to collect more taxes. To the degree we attract more people to live her with disposable income they pay more in taxes and consume less in services.

    Carlos doesn’t mention stimulating residential development at all.

    I really don’t know much about the Coston endorsement other than he did endorse him. Nothing wrong with being endorsed by Jim. I considered it a plus.

    Maybe I’m just stupid but I don’t know that the lying acusation is all about. I know about the “dirty trick” and I’d prefer Paul expose the campaign worker. I hold that against Paul.

    On balance, Carlos’s focus on immigration seems a distraction from the real work in revitalization.

    Paul has a pretty clear vision of what Trenton should be and can express it. He also talks in terms of residential and downtown development as specific focuses that are more important than other investments the city can make. This a more correct way of thinking than simply saying, like Carlos does, “listen to good ideas”.

    I literally marked up Carlos’ economic plan for him before he published it. He promptly ignored my advice. I don’t know who he’s listening to but its not me. So, I can’t endorse him since he’s ignored the body of work published on

  • You don’t consider it completely offensive if someone were to logon to a public site pretending to be you using racist language to embarrass you?

    If someone thought that they could win an election if they posted on the Trentonian’s website using the name “Dan Dobson” and talked about your like of child pornography or some of your racist views, you would consider it “ambition”?

  • Dan I am grateful for your endorsement.

    I am in this race to the end and while a few of objections to the action of a former campaign worker, the vast majority of people I interact with it say I did what I should have done by dismissing the worker and apologizing. We have moved forward and have talked about what matters, which is the issues.

    I never had the vote of Anne and other posters, let’s be honest about that.

    What so many keep brushing aside is the lack of substance in so many of the candidates in this race. Candidates who have had months and support to prepare themselves to provide substantive responses to good questions have not been able to do that. The last debate made that clear!

    This City has very real complex problems and needs candidates who can think through and around them.

    I am in this race to the end. If folks want to dwell on one incident, then they can do that. I will be talking about the issues.

    Paul Harris Jr.
    Sunday, October 11, 2009, 7:40am

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