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Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Brunswick fights its own government too

New Brunswick residents are fighting their own city government.

They seek to change the makeup of that government from one made up of a mayor and five at-large council members to one of a mayor, six ward representatives, and three at-large representatives.

The residents pushing for such a change managed to file a petition of 1,116 signatures - more than the 357 necessary - to force the city to put a binding election question on the ballot in November which would start the wheels of change towards a more representative government.

Reading the story and engaging in some deep thinking reveals some similarities between the struggles of New Brunswick's residents and Trenton's residents. Both groups seem to be struggling to unseat political machines that have become increasingly ineffective at governing and providing for residents.

Like New Brunswick, Trenton's City Council has a small group of members that purport themselves to be actual representatives of the people, but they are actually nothing more than career bureacrats beholden to the greater area political machine.

Standing in the way of New Brunswick residents are City Council members trying to deflate the residents' efforts by passing an ordinance that would put a different and conflicting question on the ballot.

They know that such an action could potentially invalidate the valiant efforts of New Brunswick's residents, but they are pursuing it anyway. They probably realize that the move to ward elections will throw many of them out of power.

They're in office in an increasingly diverse city where they can only win as at-large candidates. The current system inherently attracts candidates that can throw more money and garner more widespread support, damaging the ability of unestablished candidates to win an election.

Thankfully, it looks like the residents may have won.

They managed to outrun the plodding City Council and get their petition in earlier than the passage of the City Council measure that would have short-circuited their efforts.

In Trenton, residents also struggle with a political machine, led by longtime Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

In New Brunswick the Doug Palmer-figure was former State Sen. John Lynch, who is now imprisoned and disgraced while his political apparatus continues to work within the confines of the city government.

Perhaps Trenton residents could learn a thing or two from those of New Brunswick, who seemed to have banded together across racial and economic lines, organized, and created an effective civic organization that might actually have the power to attain its goals.

In Trenton, progress has been made in the fight against the Palmer machine, but we still deal with a group of three City Council members that continually support the status quo and a city government full of waste and arrogance, yet completely lacking in public service.

There is opportunity for change, with Trenton's municipal elections less than two years away. Already City Council and mayoral candidates are making themselves known, either publicly or in political circles.

But the big fear is that these men and women might not get together and discuss a common political strategy to ensure that Doug Palmer and Co. are forever cast out of this city's government. Winning back the city will require a coordinated effort, lest candidates of merit be swept under a wave of Palmer power and dollars.

Instead, let the city band together in the New Brunswick style and work towards a common goal of liberating 319 E. State Street, instead of working as individuals supporting single candidates.

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