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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Palmer cries foul

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer says that City Council’s tough stance on Police Director Joseph Santiago’s non-residency exists because of the political aspirations of the individuals who make up that body, according to the Times of Trenton.

This latest, poorly conceived residency outburst seems like more desperate crying from a usually skillful politician who has finally been caught red-handed, and now only seeks to muddy an argument in which he has become aware of the fact that he does not have a legal leg to stand on.

Council is doing the right thing and there are many possible reasons for that, but the mayor’s comments look like a pathetic attempt to distract everyone from the most important fact in this matter: the mayor has violated a very simple and straightforward law.

He is wrong, and all of the political posturing and complaining and crying in the world will do nothing to change that.

Council members have publicly cited the law – which clearly states Mr. Santiago must live in Trenton, in a bona fide domicile – as the reason for council moving to resolve the issue with a measure threatening the mayor with Mr. Santiago's dismissal.

On Wednesday Mayor Palmer continued his reliance on what he sees as an interpretation of waiver-granting language of the ordinance, although that language does not seem to apply to Mr. Santiago’s situation.

He also chided council for not going along with the administration's flawed interpretation of the law and taking part in his law breaking. This is all because of politics, the mayor said.

“I believe some want to run for office. For an odd reason, they think this is a good issue to run on,” said Mayor Palmer to The Times Wednesday. “Trying to get rid of Santiago is not the issue to run on.”

And truthfully, perhaps council members went down this path because they felt their backs were up against a wall.

The resolution only came after the filing of a lawsuit by residents against Mayor Palmer, Mr. Santiago, and the City of Trenton, seeking Mr. Santiago’s removal and a declaration from a judge stating that the mayor has no ability to bend and selectively enforce the law at will.

Also possible is that some council members' actions do indeed stem from politics related to the mayor’s expected departure from his longtime position as the city’s executive, but that is just the nature of politics.

In the end, it is likely no one will remember or care why council members took a stand, especially if a wrong was made right and the law was enforced.

The irony here is that Mayor Palmer cries about political motives - and not the law - as the cause for the residency flap, while he falls victim to what mirrors his own bread-and-butter style of craftily using political games to get things done his way in Trenton.

Mayor Palmer has stacked the political deck in his favor in the past, using campaign money to get a slate of council members onto the body that would be obedient and docile in going along with administration-sponsored initiatives, and the resulting ineptitude of that body has frustrated thousands of residents for years.

The political power that allowed for such prolific government-shaping came from his seat as mayor, and the power that comes from that seat is now waning with Palmer's suspected exit from Trenton politics.

Maybe the officials that were indebted to Mayor Palmer after he previously supported them recognize this, and plan on using their own seats to jockey themselves into position for the next Palmerless political environment.

There is no surprise in this space that Palmer’s political web has already begun unraveling, with his departure from the mayor's office following the May 2010 election only two years away.

It has been a long time coming, but the chickens are coming home to roost.

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