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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Watershed moment for Palmer

I have heard it myself in recent days.

"Only in Trenton could a mayor do this."

Only in Trenton would a mayor take an issue that is such a defining moment in the city's recent history and selfishly turn it into the defining moment in his tenure as the city's executive.

Mayor Palmer did just that in the Times of Trenton Sunday, by claiming that the ultimate fate of Police Director Joseph Santiago - and the controversial battle over his office - would end up being the defining moment of Mayor Palmer's 18-year career as mayor of New Jersey's capital city.

It may have been an attempt to rally supporters or bring attention to the issue, but in reality this label has only raised the stakes in the matter, as the mayor seeks to have the very City Council he faced off with in court turn around and amend the city's residency law, effectively reversing their own court victory.

Only in Trenton could such an audacious plan even gain traction.

The statements probably came because Mayor Palmer has enjoyed unchallenged supremacy over his supposedly co-equal branch of government until this year, when City Council has actually begun showing backbone by looking out for the public interest instead of catering to the political initiatives of a misguided and often self-centered executive.

Despite what may have transpired in the past, the deck is stacked against Mayor Palmer, and that is why this latest gamble might represent the first footsteps of doom in the political career of a politician who long ago stopped looking out for the common folk of his own hometown.

There is a vast array of obstacles that all lie directly in the path of Mayor Palmer's expressed goal of manipulating city law to preserve his own ego and the continued employment of a single city employee of questionable value.

First, there are the residents themselves, who have seemingly awakened from a slumber of complacency to openly challenge the lack of accountability inherent in many of the public officials making up the Palmer administration.

Sure, the same voices from all of the controversies of the past have been involved. But joining them now are people from all corners of the city, with different economic classes, viewpoints, and skin colors.

This newly found civic strength has provided the impetus for numerous policy defeats for the formerly invincible mayor. He has lost a battle over hiring more police, keeping gang consultant and crony Barry Colicelli on the payrolls, and it definitiely seems like he has lost ground on a looming city budget battle.

All of those victories were secured by the second most important obstacle that blocks the way towards salvation for Mr. Santiago through the warping of city law - City Council.

City Council has now authored a string of policy victories that have re-instilled a sense of confidence in the branch of government that used to be the subject of public ridicule. Councilmen Manny Segura, Gino Melone, Jim Coston, and Milford Bethea have emerged as an effective and thoughtful council majority that constantly steps forward to protect the public interest.

Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, is the actual language of Judge Linda Feinberg's recent court decision in denying an appeal and stay in the Santiago case that she saw recently in Mercer County Superior Court.

The specific language in her opinion states that the only way Mr. Santiago could be reappointed is if the law was amended, and the city engaged in a diligent search for viable candidates.

Not only would that search take months, but the amended law would create a hierarchy of candidates who would be weighted according to their proximity to Trenton, meaning that Mr. Santiago's Stirling, New Jersey address would be of great detriment to his chances of attaining office.

Also of negative effect on Mayor Palmer's expressed desire to keep Mr. Santiago on as director of police is that Mr. Santiago has reportedly received numerous job offers.

It is a good bet that many of those would have much less controversy and much more upside than keeping a job where he is neither liked nor wanted.

This is surely a tenuous cause for Mayor Palmer to have attached his entire executive legacy upon.

For what he has done to Trenton and what he is trying to do, it would be best that that legacy goes down in flames.

No other constituents anywhere in the entire world should ever be subjected to the indifferent and untruthful government that has become the hallmark of the Douglas H. Palmer years, here in Trenton.

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