How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

The next mayor of Trenton

There are seven certified candidates to be Trenton's next Mayor - Alex Bethea, Reed Gusciora, Darren "Freedom" Green, Duncan Harrison, Annette Lartigue, Paul Perez, and Walker Worthy. With that many candidates and given the ethnic make-up of Trenton, it is unlikely that any candidate will garner more than the 50% percent of the votes needed to win the election on May 8th.

I've come to this conclusion, because five of the seven candidates are African-American. They will, in all likelihood, split the 51% of Trenton's total population that is black. I'm not suggesting that the black candidates will not get any of population that is Hispanic (32.1%) or White (14.5%), but it will probably not be enough, to avoid a run-off between the two top contenders on June 12th.

In this column, I will not attempt to handicap the field, but rather to provide my two cents as to the criteria I feel Trenton's voters should consider using in deciding who to vote for. Before doing that let me try and make a case for why a seventy-one year old white resident from West Windsor for the past 40 years is qualified to render an opinion regarding the criteria that Trenton voters should use to select their next mayor.

I began my professional career as an Urban Analyst in the Council for Urban Affairs, in the Governor's Office during the administration of Governor Hughes, in this role I spent a considerable portion of time working with the Trenton Model Cities Agency, I worked as the Urban Coordinator of an inner-city college, I served as the Business Manager of New Jersey's second largest urban school district and have worked for the past thirty-six years for many of the leading non-profit organizations in Trenton in fundraising and strategic planning. For the past 36 years I have been in Trenton 2-3 times per week. I am familiar with all neighborhoods in the City and many government officials who work in programs serving those who desperately need effective government services.

The single most significant factor, in my mind, that separates successful local government administrations, from unsuccessful ones, is the quality of the high-level appointments that the Mayor makes, i.e., Business Administrator, Department heads, Chief of Staff etc. You want the best and brightest people without regard to politics. In this regard, the candidates for Mayor should take a look at the appointees that Doug Palmer made during his first term in office, e.g. Gwendolyn Harris, Allan Mallach, William Watson, Jr. and John Thurber. They were all widely acknowledged as outstanding appointments that transcended politics.

The way to attract good people is to make it clear from the outset that they will be allowed to do their job without regard to the exigencies of day-to-day politics and they will be judged solely on their performance and not whether they contribute to the Mayor politically.

In this regard, one should look at the people around the candidate's campaign especially those who might be interested in serving in a new administration. Are they the kind of people you'd like to see in key positions? Has the candidacy attracted "good government and good charity types" and people who understand the ramifications of "ghetto wounds"? Or is the campaign replete with political hangers on simply looking for a high-paid position in local government? It is fair game to ask candidates to give you specific examples of people they would consider for their administration.

How relevant is the candidate's experience? What is their level of education achievement? Do they really know Trenton? Are they passionate about addressing urban issues? How would they describe their management style? How much does the candidate know about municipal finance and potential sources of funding for the city, e.g., state, federal and foundation funds?

Take a good hard look at the position papers issued by the campaign, e.g., where should the new state office building be built, where does the candidate stand on payment in lieu of taxes as a development vehicle, does the candidate have a plan for correcting the constantly occurring problems with the Trenton Water Department and what specific steps would the candidate take to reduce crime and deal with drugs. Watch the debates.

What is the Mayor's position with regard to the Board of Education? While the Board is an autonomous entity the Mayor has a lot to say by virtue of selecting board members. Would he meet with his board appointees and/or the Superintendent on a regular basis? Would he monitor school performance and be prepared to get involved if positive trends did not continue or problems were brought to his attention? What performance measures would he/she look at? And what is their position on charter schools?

Last but not least, the media should ask each of the candidates to prepare a 100 word elevator speech outlining the three specific areas that they would focus their energy on and be prepared to be judged on after their 4-year term of office. These statements should be scrutinized. Are they achievable, but challenging? Trenton desperately needs a visionary competent leader.