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Trenton Mayor Tony Mack needs to be read the riot act

New Jersey Newsroom
By Irwin Stoolmacher

Trenton municipal government is in crisis and on a collision course with disaster. Before the situation degenerates even further, the political and business leadership of Mercer County need to sit down with Mayor Tony Mack and read him the riot act. They need to make it clear that he needs to change his ways or they will have, no recourse, but to urge the Christie administration to temporarily take over the city.

At my table at a recent event for a retiring business leader, a former Mercer County elected official indicated that there would be another story about Mayor Mack in the newspaper the next day. A number of us at the table simultaneously said, "So what's new." We had no idea that the lead in both of the City's newspapers the next day would contain allegations that the mayor's half-brother had performed private jobs on city time, with city equipment.

Clearly, you can't hold the mayor responsible for the actions of his relatives. However, his supposed comment, when told about what was going on months ago by Council President George Muschal, was that "if he gets caught it's on him". If he said this, it is beyond appalling. It shows a level of indifference that is not worthy of public office. Again, if the Mayor said what the Council President alleged, I'm sure former Mayor Arthur Holland, who had an impeccable reputation for honesty, is rolling his eyes in heaven.

There is still not direct evidence that Mayor Mack is corrupt. Cronyism is not necessarily corruption. In fact, if times were better, giving preference to one's friend for certain jobs wouldn't necessarily be bad. In fact, if your crony happens to be competent it is probably pretty good politics. This would be all well and good, in the good old days when municipal coffers were flush. The electorate would tolerate some political patronage as the "grease that is necessary" to keep the system going. Those days are over. I don't buy for one minute the notion that those who voted for Mayor Mack are okay with his providing political patronage jobs to those who are not qualified and providing raises to political allies while laying-off qualified long-time municipal workers. I don't believe his supporters by-and-large are pleased with what is going on and further I don't think it is a black vs. white issue.

I'm confident that if you conduct a secret ballot among government officials, at all levels in Mercer County, and asked them if they favored Mayor Mack stepping down from office, the percentage favoring retention would be very low among politicians of both parties and of both races. Elected officials know that Mayor Mack is not performing at a minimal acceptable level.

The following are specifics areas in which Mayor Mack is not meeting the basic requirements:

  • The quality of his new appointments, with rare exceptions, has not demonstrated that he is capable of judging the talent necessary to run the city. Five different business administrators in six months are ridiculous.
  • He has reduced staff based on politics not competency.
  • He has granted inordinately high salary increases to some while terminating others who performed well.
  • He does not appear to have a handle on the myriad of problems at the Trenton Water Works.
  • He has not demonstrated a realistic grasps of the financial realities of Trenton's current plight. Budget gaps will not be made up by discretionary federal grants, there is more to program costs than just staffing, and the state is not going to bail out the City of Trenton.

It is time for elected officials of both parties to say in public what they are saying in private - that Mack is not up to the task and something needs to be done. Elected officials like former Mayor Palmer, Senator Turner and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, who have a strong following among Trenton electorate, should have been more pro-active in the mayoralty election and less concerned about alienating elements of their constituency. Now is the time for them and other political leaders like Brian Hughes, Chris Smith and Rush Holt to join with leaders of the business community and sit down with Mayor Mack and urge him to bring some proven municipal expertise into his administration and to rely on the judgment of these folks. To facilitate the process, the City Council should agree to temporarily waive the city's residence requirements for pivotal positions. Time is of the essence here.

Trenton has a lot going for it - Hutchinson Industries, two newspapers, many historical sites, the state museum/planetarium, state government, competent non-profit agencies, vibrant neighborhood civic associations, and many beautiful neighborhoods with a strong sense of community. It also has some really major problems that require strong competent leadership - a school system that is not doing its job, pockets of severe urban blight, very high unemployment and gangs that operate with impunity.

These problems demand competent government. The Mack administration is not providing the government that Trenton citizens need. Those who care about the City should, with one voice, call on Mayor Mack to stop playing politics or be prepared to accept a temporary state takeover of the City of Trenton. If Mayor Mack cares about Trenton and its people, as I think he does, now is the time to show that he cares by doing the right thing.