Trenton’s South Ward needs stronger candidates

Political representation of Trenton’s South Ward was snatched from the hands of Trenton’s political machine three years ago by a smart and energetic Baptist minister.  Reverend Coston was well educated, well read and well …. basically a decent guy.

Coston did much to initiate the Ward’s political renaissance through his efforts in organizing opposition to two ill-considered government funded housing projects in 2004.  HUD’s Hope VI would have replaced the old Kearny homes project with another one and Leewood Village would have bulldozed 8 blocks of the South Ward in order to make room for subsidized fake colonial townhouses.  Coston became president of the Lamberton Historic District Committee (LHDC) which hosted meetings that regularly drew 300 residents to the protests.

I bring up this bit of South Ward history to point to both what’s needed and what’s lacking in the crop of candidates hoping to fill Coston’s now vacated council spot.

First, organizing the LHDC was like herding cats.  You couldn’t just count on a group of like minded friends.  We need a candidate who can at least talk to different constituencies.  I’m not convinced any of the current candidates can do that.

Second, we need a candidate with the mental wherewithal to think through complex issues.  They need to know how to force the administration to use the budget, not just for survival, but for revitalization. So far, none of the candidates have demonstrated an ability to do that.  None of them having written platform pieces that show depth in thinking.

Third, we need a candidate that moves the level of community communication forward.  Coston’s web site was widely read across the city and made Coston the leading voice amongst all 7 council people.  However useful Coston’s site was though, it was reflective of a bare minimum when compared to council people in other cities.  As a group, this year’s South Ward candidates are ahead of web efforts from the last election cycle.  Yet, none of this year’s sites approach Coston’s for depth and breadth of content.

The citizens of the South Ward have set the bar high for themselves and the rest of us hope they can repeat their wisdom from three years ago.

The first South Ward debate (sponsored by the Jersey St. Civic Association) is over now and we’ve had our first chance to compare the candidates across a good set of questions from the public.  Here are my initial thoughts though I’m not quite prepared to endorse any one candidate.  I’m waiting (not too much longer) for them to publish position papers.

Paul Harris

Web Site:

Paul appears to have a good command of many of the details involved in running the city.  He’s earnest sounding and was the best spoken of the 5 candidates at last night’s debate.

However, while Paul laments the looming structural deficit and suggests several approaches for spreading the suffering around, he doesn’t get close to suggesting a permanent way out of this mess.  The other knock on Paul is that many of his tactical thoughts appear to be wishful thinking.  My specific complaint is that he hasn’t so far laid out a high level vision and measurable goals.  Paul also seems a bit caught up in the race.  He’s young and maybe I can’t blame him.

Carlos Avila

Web Site:

Carlos is a polished young man and did a good job of expressing a high level set of ideals. He also has Rev. Coston’s backing which does mean something to me. He recognizes the need to attract middle and high income residents to Trenton, which is something that the other candidates didn’t grasp at all (Ms. Stewart grasps it she just didn’t say it clearly).

My knock on Carlos is that he is a bit duplicitous. In one moment he “Asks not what Trenton can for you” and in the next he’s spelling out his agenda to support a single mother in the audience who felt that government owed her something. You can only have it one way. Carlos seems more social worker than pragmatic Trenton turnaround man. He didn’t have any thoughts on righting Trenton’s ship, but then neither did the others.

Pat Stewart

Web Site: (not yet functioning)

I know Pat best of any of the candidates and first knew from her participation in LHDC and opposing Leewood. Since then she’s the only one of the South Ward candidates that I see in a broad range of civic activities.  Pat was a regular at our Urban Studies group which really should have been required for all council members and candidates.

Pat didn’t come across very strongly in the debate though.  And though she most closely aligned with my thinking on revitalization, she didn’t express it in an appealing way.

George Muschal

Web Site: (minimal content)

Mr. Muschal is a retired police officer who believes there is rampant corruption in the department. If this is the case then the best public service he could provide is in an oversight role reporting to the Mayor and police director.

However, for city council we should prefer to have a candidate that is more aware of the functions of our city. When I asked him about the budget and set up the question by referencing current budget numbers, he seemed offended that I would suggest he have an opinion and an approach to dealing with the budget issue. What a terrible attitude. He apparently is not aware of the approximate size of the city’s budget (he questioned the veracity of my figures) even though the city’s high level budget is widely distributed. It also proves that he’s never read this blog. I shouldn’t be too hurt, he’s probably not read any of the other numerous and thoughtful Trenton blogs either.

Evelyn Deleon

Web Site: ????

Evelyn relishes her role in sticking up for people in the neighborhood. I remember her taking that attitude in the fight against Leewood. She correctly believed that Latino and older residents were being taken advantage of by Leewood, with the implicit support of the administration. She seems a nice woman.

The problem is I just can’t understand her. It’s not just a language thing as her thoughts seem a bit jumbled as well. Furthermore, out of the 8-10 questions asked last night she might have directly answered 3 of them. Ms. Deleon seemed to wander around in her comments always coming back to “being a committee person” and “going to city council to complain”. It’s great having this kind of advocate but perhaps not in city council

Juan Martinez

Web Site: ????

Juan didn’t show up at the debate. One thing I do know about him though was that back during the Leewood controversy he was a paid hack for the developer. But before I go on I should remember that if you can’t anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.

South Ward election observers gathered for post debate beers were underwhelmed with the candidates. Their attitudes would have been lifted if their real concerns about the candidates’ viability had been addressed:

  • How our candidates think about the big issues of the day (Leewood, the Water Works sale, RCAs and the budget crisis) is important.
  • Were their comments angry rhetoric? Re-tread platitudes?
  • Do they have a command of the data?
  • Do they have an end goal for the city in mind?
  • Was there a notion of strategy in their approach towards revitalization?
  • Were they consistent in their approach to governing?

None of the five candidates knocked it out of the park at the Sept. 8 debate. However, Mr. Avilla and Mr. Harris seemed to best demonstrate an even keeled approach towards discussing the questions asked.

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6 Responses to “Trenton’s South Ward needs stronger candidates”

  • Thanks for this reflection Dan. Well articulated and informative for one who was unable to attend.

  • Far away Observer:

    I think the candidates all mean well, but there are so many gaps in their ability to continue what Coston started. I’m glad that Harris and Avila are in this race, but at the same time I just wish they had some more years or better developed experience under their belts. They have a good view of Trenton and the relationship it has with the outside world, but there are just too many times when I think their youth and inexperience shows. Trenton is all about retail politics and saying the right things, so I imagine one these two will get elected.

  • Thanks for posting this- wish I had more time to attend the debate- and the papers have minimal coverage.

  • Alba:

    Well I have personally meet Mr. Avila and Mr. Martinez recently, as they are going door to door in the community. It seems as though, Avila is looking out for the best interest of the community. While Mr. Martinez seems uninterested in educating the community about what the issues are. Lets hope that all the candidates really do something once elected into they’re positions.

  • Well played. It’s nice to read a review from someone who actually saw the same debate as I. I found only two of the candidates to be (potentially) worth the energy I would expend getting off my chair and driving five blocks to the polling place. It’s pretty sad that this gaggle of hopefuls is the best the South Ward could round up.

  • I, Mrs. De Leon have experience in businesses for many years. Work with people for so long. I always image, one day to return to South Ward, with a new attitude and a new view. I have started taken care, first thing first.
    What none of other Candidates can they had not accomplish!
    Yes! I, De Leon busted Landlords, renting without permits, in the surrounding of South Ward. Let the people make a difference.
    Over 100 Neighborhoods Watch had supported ( I )De Leon with detail.
    20 houses were inspected without permits.
    De Leon had a rally of 500 people Say no to Drug Prostitutions Accomplishment!
    De Leon, had another rally of 500 to 600 home owner that was threaten by Lee Wood Development employee (Accomplishment! )
    About 10 organization came out to the Councilor Meeting city hall, for all councilors agree with a Resolution to give License to the immigration.
    De Leon, stood alone and spoken, to the Councilor, It not appositely to give them Licenses. What would you tell those student who are citizen and trying to pass the written with all proof documents? I nah motion to that event! (Accomplishment! )
    M&M bar- due to loud music, drunk driving and hitting residential cars, prostitution etc. first closed 7 months.

    Today, I discover how PSE&G, stealing from Businesses and residents of the South Ward.

    who have the heart for the South Ward and the city of Trenton NJ. I, who were born and raise in the South Ward city of Trenton.

    I, okay you can brag about me. Let me tell you something. Why after the first debates, I were touch to other stating. There is a new Voice!

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