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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Downtowner piece

The following appeared in the October issue of the Trenton Downtowner:

The U.S. Conference of Mayors was in town this September, and the arrival of many of the nation's leaders in New Jersey's capital city was greeted by the sight of silent marchers carrying signs that called attention to the ills that they see as a symptom of ineffective leadership in the city during Mayor Douglas H. Palmer's 17-year reign.

What the signs said was nothing new, and neither were the responses they received from the administration or its loyal henchmen in the Trenton media.

The facts of the protest were the following:

The signs called attention to the continued mess that is the Trenton public school system, and the secretive and even threatening nature of a city government that provides little information to City Council members, let alone citizens, and even threatens residents who dare to scrutinize public officials with lawsuits, among other problems.

The people marching came from many economic and ethnic backgrounds, all united by the desire to have their leader in Trenton handling Trenton's problems instead of national afflictions.

Of course, the usual responses and marginalization efforts came out following the event.

Mayor Palmer said that he may be away from the city, but he is still advocating for the needs of Trenton and pushes an agenda meant to benefit Trenton.

"I was missing when I met with President Clinton to get him to make Trenton a home ownership zone, an arrangement that has allowed us to build homes and create hundreds of new homeowners here in Trenton," said Mayor Palmer, responding to the protesters rallying outside the Trenton Marriott.

While Palmer has had some success building homes for low-income residents, it also must be recognized that any politician, especially one who has been in power for so long, can point to some victories and successes as rebuttals to scrutiny from detractors and naysayers.

It is true that the Palmer administration has built many homes in the city of Trenton - just look at the Battle Monument area - but during his tenure in office, Trenton's ratio of rental properties to owner-occupied housing has increased to 55 percent against 45 percent, and the number of vacant properties has steadily increased over the last few years, according to the U.S. Census.

Under Palmer, the city is filled with code violations and illegal living arrangements, and housing inspections only take place in Trenton every five years. There are so few inspectors in the cash-strapped city that single employees are responsible for the inspections of thousands of properties. Palmer unveiled a new housing inspections plan in 2007 that would flood problem areas with inspectors, but the real problem requires more inspectors and Palmer said the current funding situation makes this impossible.

The other response came from a Trenton columnist, who, while independent of the city administration, has become such a common source of Palmer propaganda and damage control that many residents have begun to wonder out loud whether his close relationship with the mayor has begun to erode his journalistic objectivity in his news articles and lead the award-winning columnist to use his subjective columns as a constant pro-Palmer bully pulpit.

In his Saturday piece following the protest, the columnist labeled the protesters a bunch of carpetbaggers who were involved in a short protest before retiring to upper-class coffee shops to drink expensive coffee concoctions. In an e-mail to one of the protesters he said the rally was just a bunch of white people who cared little about the problems faced by many of the city’s residents.

"Most of them were white and disgruntled people who bitched and moaned about city conditions that they really don't care about," said Parker in the e-mail. "Most of them could not care less about black unemployment, urban education, gangs, guns, violence, etc."

"Most of them don't like having a black mayor and a Hispanic police director," he added.

The truth behind the demonstration is that people from many different backgrounds and ethnicities came out to show that they care about the entire city and its current condition under Mayor Palmer, and they showed it by having the guts to stand up in the spotlight for their beliefs about the city they love.

The rally might not have been perfectly proportional to Trenton's demographics, but it was still a powerful sight that was not made up of any one ethnic group.

It’s too bad that some people cannot look beyond skin color and band together with their fellow man without calling motives into question, even in 2007.

But the people who banded together with their fellow Trentonians and came out for the U.S. Conference of Mayors demonstration apparently don't suffer from that problem.

- Greg Forester

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