While it may be winter, spring is already in the Trenton air — a date in May to be specific.
That’s when the City of Trenton has its general elections. And while current Mayor Eric Jackson has been quiet about his intent to seek another four years, three candidates have already announced their attention, and groups of Trenton citizens have been gathering to look at the future.
The first candidate is current Trenton City Council member Alex Bethea. In his late October announcement, Bethea focused on five points to “turn this city around”: safety, education, housing and economic development, property tax stabilization, and employment for city residents.
With 40 years as a Trenton school teacher, supervisor, and principal, the self-proclaimed “education candidate” promises to work with school leaders to improve reading standards by focusing on a program that follows students from kindergarten to grade 3.
Bethea’s agenda includes insisting the police director assign foot patrols in high crime areas; launch programs to encourage city residents to buy or win vacant properties and help long-term renters become home owners; reintroduce a city residency requirement for department directors (removed with Jackson took office in 2014); and create and enforce deadlines and penalties to address property code violations.
According to the Times of Trenton, Bethea says he is qualified to be mayor for several reasons. “He’s fully connected to the city as a longtime resident who raised nine children with his wife, still coaches youth sports, and founded a youth wrestling program. And since 2010, he’s participated in the city governance from the council dais.”
He also declined to make the current mayor a direct issue. “My platform is not about the mayor — it’s about me,” he said.
The second candidate, Paul Perez, was clear that he saw the current administration as part of a problem.
“Most of you are here because you have a certain plea to see change for this city,” Perez told supporters in November. “You are here because you are tired of having representation that operates under the auspices of cronyism, nepotism, and favoritism. You want a government that is functional, provides quality services to the public, formulates a partnership with the local public schools to ensure a road map of success for our youth, cleans our city streets, and keeps you safe, day and night.
“You are here because you are tired of the empty promises and the popularity contests that election after election bear nothing that resembles your hopes and dreams. The contrast between what you yearn for and what we have are obvious. The time has come for change.”
Perez, who lost to Jackson in the 2014 runoff election, is a Trenton native. He attended Trenton Central High, leaving prior to graduation to join the U.S. Army, where he served 20 years and worked as an agent with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and a division director of the National Science Foundation. He currently runs a home-based consulting business.
During his announcement the self-described “proud Afro-Latino male” — who would become Trenton’s first Latino mayor — listed several grievances with the Jackson administration. They ranged from the city’s handling of general operations to public education.
“This administration has been consistent in its failure to keep the public informed on major issues affecting taxes, health and water quality issues, leadership at the board of education and has failed at developing a proper snow and trash removal plan for our city,” said Perez.
Perez, who serves as a board member for Special Parent Advocacy Group, continued on education. “When the board of education gave out pink slips to eliminate dozens of teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, and an entire child study team in favor of a private agency, that decision was made without providing a clear or definitive reason behind it and still has an adverse effect, a cascading effect upon the instructional capabilities of the board of education and will continue for some time. Every once in a while, you’ve got to be on the right side of the issues.”
The third contender for mayor is political newcomer Michael Silvestri. His current public statement, found on his GoFundMe website, is as follows: “I am running to better our poorly maintained schools, poor education, combat high crime, violence, and drug dealing due to a low police force which I will increase, end corruption, bring a city minimum wage increase, bring businesses back to Trenton which will bring jobs, and be mayor for the people.”
Then there is the Trenton City Council. In mid-December there were 10 active candidates who had filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission or announced their intention to run.
That includes current West Ward Councilman and current Trenton City Council President Zachary Chester and Trenton Police Chaplin Shirley Gaines. North Ward incumbent Marge Caldwell-Wilson is on file. In the East Ward incumbent Verlina Reynolds-Jackson has filed; so has city realtor Gino Hernandez. South Ward incumbent George Muschal and challenger Damien Malave, a member of the Puerto Rican Civic Association, have filed. Filing to run for the three at-large council seats are incumbent Phyllis Holly-War and two challengers: minister and community activist Lee Ingram and Trenton attorney God-Is Ike.
Meanwhile, citizens are also on the move. And in November, members of the “Fans of Trenton’s Irresponsible Blogger (FOTIB)” Facebook group come together at Trenton Social Restaurant and strategize.
According to the organizer, Trenton resident Dan Dodson, “We created a prioritized list of issues that our candidates should be prepared to have positions on and plans for. Also, given that the position of city councilperson is so poorly understood, we created a list of virtues the candidates should have.”
The group of more than 20 activists “included some of the city’s best thinkers and doers, including three bloggers,” according to Dodson.
The three blogs noted are Reinvent Trenton, maintained by Dodson, a Trenton property owner with an MBA from Harvard Business School; And Another Thing by Kevin Moriarty, Trenton resident, New York City broadcast professional, and past city council candidate; and From the Stoop by Jim Carlucci, a community based activist and past member of the City of Trenton Ethics Board.
The three have provided ongoing analysis of city budgets, policies, and activities.
The term “Irresponsible Blogger” was by coined by former Trenton mayor and current convicted felon Tony Mack in response to Carlucci’s willingness to communicate problems with the Mack administration. The group has continued since then to share in-depth analysis and share comments.
At the recent meeting Dodson introduced a dialogue to help community activities to focus on issues important to the 2018 elections for mayor and city council members.
In a report, Dodson listed the issues some with high priority:
Governance Process: New blood and thinking, setting measurable goals, reviewing structure administration and departments; and creating a budget prior to the fiscal year.
Cleanliness and Appearance of City: Address city park presentation and upkeep, address litter and dumping, and maintain road conditions and lights.
Plans to attract commercial ratables: Improve process to assist new business and review property tax rates for commercial business.
Governance: Stagger council terms, examine term limits, and change from current “strong mayor” to city administrator or council rotation form of leadership.
School system: How to make the schools appealing to citizens who send their children to out-of-district schools.
Other topics of interest were: ethic standards for elected officials and employees, current police and law enforcement contracts, police residency options, vacant property plans, workforce preparedness and vocational training, and the city’s position on the state’s plans to demolish exiting buildings and build new structures away from Trenton’s downtown district.
The group also discussed “City Council Candidate Virtues” including, in order of priority, having a “moral compass,” being honest and transparent, being open minded and diplomatic, possessing knowledge of city government and the duties of a council member, recognizing the city budgets as a policy instruments, and possessing the “courage to do the right thing.”
The group plans to continue the discussion online via “Friends of the Irresponsible Blogger” and in another public session.
No matter, recent actions in Trenton give credence to the famous line of poetry, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind.”