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Status of the State of the City PDF Print E-mail
Written by William Trent   
Saturday, 27 October 2007

Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer gave his 18th annual State of the City address this past Thursday (October 25, 2007).

 

In the address he reported on what he considered the priority issues in the “common agenda … to improve policing, revive economic development, increase jobs, create better schools, rebuild neighborhoods and provide our residents the opportunity to achieve the American Dream of homeownership.”  Mayor Palmer also reported on some “important emerging issues that will be the new frontier for economic development.”  And in closing, he preached a sermonette decrying those who might offer up differing opinions or criticisms on the perceived state of the capital city.

 

Following is our appraisal of the Mayor's remarks.

Palmer began with a reminder of his recently announced “Trenton Green Initiative” public-private partnership to promote sustainable energy use and provide future careers.  He compared the potential of this plan with the foresight of John A. Roebling in locating industry based on emerging technology here.

 

One could argue that Roebling was an innovator in that existing, but rapidly developing technology looking to locate a manufacturing facility someplace that offered easy transportation connections for raw materials and finished products.  Palmer is “positioning” the city to take advantage of an as yet un-defined new energy economy. 

 

Hopeful and far-sighted at best, the Mayor is at least thinking long-term for a change.

 

Next, capitalizing on yet another “buzz,” Palmer announced that the city has taken steps to provide city-wide wireless broadband access.  Calling it “cutting edge” and “the norm in progressive cities all over the world,” it was a notable leap for a man who unto a few years ago shied away from using a computer but now carries a blackberry. 

 

Unfortunately for Trentonians, most experts agree such a plan is unwise.  Writing in an April 2006 White Paper titled “The Problems with Citywide Wireless,” Eric Griffith specifically addresses the idea of municipally owned and operated wireless systems as never being “in favor by anyone, and the smart cities know it.”  Mr. Griffith goes on to explain that even if installed and operated by a third party operator, users of such systems pay by having to view advertisements and/or giving up personal data.

 

Other technology advances touted by the Mayor included last spring’s roll-out of the ConnectCTY reverse 911 type system that allows residents to be notified by phone or email of “emergency updates or other important City information” and the web-based property tax paying service. 

 

Of course, the Mayor couldn’t resist getting cute with the ConnectCTY system by including a recording of his daughter on a reminder about holiday trash collection schedules.  And there have been grumblings of abuse of the system to push ticket sales for the annual music concert known somewhat misleadingly as the “Trenton Jazz Festival.”

 

The Mayor announced a pilot program known as “Live Where You Work” that will provide New Jersey Housing Mortgage and Financing Agency funding for low interest loans and closing costs for people employed in the city who wish to purchase homes here.  Anyone with an annual income up to $140,000 who works in Trenton and buys a home to live here would qualify for the program.

 

Not a bad idea, but where are the jobs coming from Mayor Palmer?  And the filthy streets, falling down schools and (perceived or real) crime issue are all still deterrents to a returning middle class.

 

A bemusing moment occurred when Mayor Palmer touted the rescue and renovation of the last Roebling mansion as a success. The Mayor rightfully credited Cate Crown for her efforts to preserve the building. 

 

In a clever turn of phrase, Palmer told of how the preservationists stepped in to save the building and the city stepped up.  He conveniently left out the fact that it took a campaign of phone calls, letters, faxes, and emails to his office, many of which he responded to directly, before he committed the city to saving the building. 

 

At least he ultimately did the right thing.  We probably shouldn’t care who takes the credit.

 

Similarly, Mayor Palmer indicated the Broad Street Bank Building was saved due to city intervention.  Truth be told, the city was dragging its feet on doing anything about or with that building when the current developer gained title to it and began the work resulting in its conversion to an apartment building.  Conveniently, the banners touting January 1, 2008 occupancy went up on the building the same week as the Mayor’s State of the City address!

 

Other development projects were listed as well: the Full Spectrum Trenton Town Center and Performa Foundry entertainment complex were touted, as was the Golden Swan project being done by Palmer crony, former Senator Bob Torricelli’s Woodrose Properties.  No shovels in the ground for the first two, and the third is showing progress but has no announced tenants like the sister project on W. State Street that received $89,000 in city Urban Enterprise Zone funding over a year ago because it was “fully leased.”

 

Perhaps the most highly touted point in the presentation came when the Mayor announced that he was going to ask City Council to fund 50 more cops over the next two years.  Now this is something that many have been clamoring for over the past several months.  Even though it was Councilmen Coston and Melone who first brought the idea of increasing the size of the police force to the table, the Mayor is now taking credit for the idea and thanking the entire council for their support.

 

Interesting, too, is the fact that a new class of recruits that will start in a few weeks will fill nearly half the stated new hire quota.  Further, there is speculation about the number of current Trenton cops that may be retiring in the same two years.  Will the new 50 increase the number of cops on the street or just plug some existing and soon to be vacancies?

 

In another “slight of verb,” the Mayor announced proudly how the city was once again requiring on-sale housing inspections in an effort to thwart real estate flippers.  Truth is, the city used to require these inspections but the administration brought forth an amended ordinance that did away with them a few years back.  Even though some members of the public questioned the wisdom of this move, the Council passed the change amid assurances that it would be all right. 

 

Guess the administration was wrong on that one, too.

 

The Mayor ended his remarks with complaints against those who criticize the City.  He neglected to mention that most of the criticism is aimed at him, his appointees and his chosen Council members; criticism of the lack of enforcement of building codes and laws; and criticism of the Mayor’s uneven application of rules, like mandatory residency for certain city employees.

 

Once again, Mayor Palmer showed just how one-sided his “vision” of Trenton is.  He demonstrated an amazing ability to spin other people’s thoughts and ideas to his advantage.  Even if that spin reorients the truth.

 
 
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