Okay, I admit it. I've pretty much jumped on the "Cory Booker is Great" train. Cory Booker, Newark's visionary mayor, looks especially appealing to me, a Trenton resident, who is enduring one of lamest mayors in recent history. So, Booker can't help but look good. But I don't want to take away from his awesomeness, either. He would still rock the house, even if he weren't standing next to the steamy, stinky pile of poo that is Trenton's mayor, Doug Palmer.
I'm not really the gushy sort, and because I tend to write about the goings on in Trenton, and some of the dysfunction in my life, I will use the Booker inspiration to illustrate just how thoroughly lame my mayor, Doug Palmer, is.
Booker vs Palmer on salary
First, since both cities, Newark and Trenton, are facing horrible financial woes, let's look at salaries. Booker took office in 2006, after years of mismanagement, and during an economic downturn; he inherited a mess. And he did the right thing: former Newark mayor, Sharpe James, was making about $200,000; Booker reduced his salary TWICE since taking office, and is now making in the ballpark of $130,000. Newark's population is approximately 280,000.
Doug Palmer, who took office in 1990, and had a starring role in the economic gutting of the capital city, presides over 80,000. That's 200,000 people LESS than in Newark. Earlier this year, he railroaded city council to approve raises for himself and other top (and extraneous) administrators. He gave himself a $13,000 raise in the shittiest economic climate in recent memory, from $126,000 to $139,000 a year.
Just to put this in perspective, state law allows the governor of New Jersey to make a maximum of $175,000. Governor Jon Corzine accepts a token salary of $1 a year.
Booker vs Palmer on executive waste
Booker has 16 members in his executive cabinet. None of them have received pay increases since Booker took office in 2006. In fact, Booker implemented a 2% pay cut for managers and directors currently earning more than $100,000 a year. Booker slashed the city budget deficit from $180 million to $73 million.
Because of a lack of transparency, or a lack of vision, or both, it's very difficult for the general public to figure out how many people are in Palmer's executive cabinet, but it is as least as large as Newark's, again, a city with 200,000 more people than Trenton. Palmer saw to it that his top cronies received a 10% pay RAISE earlier this year. Citizens, by the way, have filed suit against Palmer for these pay increases for himself and his staff. If the citizens win, Palmer and friends will be forced to repay more than $460,000 to the city, which can help, if even a wee bit, to plug a $20 million budget shortfall in the city.
Booker vs. Palmer on commitment to their cities
Booker lives in Newark. In fact, for awhile, he lived in a neighborhood that's been described as a drug-and-gang-plagued neighborhood of boarded up houses; that building has since been demolished. I mention it, because Booker could live anywhere in the city, but instead chose a horrible neighborhood, to make a point: neighborhoods like that should not exist; people should not have to live in those conditions; things should never get so bad. Palmer owns a home in the safe Hiltonia neighborhood of Trenton, and is occasionally seen there. But he also owns a home in Hunterdon County where he is rumored to spend much of his time. Palmer does not feel strongly about residency since he involved himself in the losing side of a lawsuit against him and his crony, former Trenton Police Director, Joseph Santiago. Santiago, by the way, also worked for former Newark mayor, Sharpe James; James is now in federal prison in Virginia serving a 2-year-and-then-some sentence on corruption charges.
Booker has regular office hours for citizens to drop in and discuss their concerns. He has round-the-clock meetings and appointments, and attends many of the social functions held in Newark. Has anyone seen Doug, even on East State Street, lately?
Booker vs. Palmer on crime
During Trenton's Santiago years, we heard the mantra "Crime is Down," with little evidence to back that up. And the reality on the streets was very different from the administrative line. Gangs dug their heels in; citizens were beaten and robbed for as little as $5 and a sandwich; violent crime — at least in some areas of the city — has not gone decreased. A girl was murdered this summer at an anti-violence rally, while Doug Palmer was likely at home, in Hunterdon County.
Cory Booker's main goal as mayor was to reduce crime in his city, and in his three years, has made major improvements. As of July 2009, murder is down 42%, and other violent crimes have dropped dramatically as well. Booker shows up at crime scenes; Booker talks to the grieving families; he attends the vigils. Booker has organized late night strolls through his city's toughest streets with bands of citizens to send a clear message to the criminal element that their antisocial behavior is not appreciated. He rides with the police during the overnight shifts.
Booker vs. Palmer on reputation
Recently, some lame-o wrote a letter to the editor to the Trenton's Star Ledger office about how horrible Trenton is, and in response many Trenton residents got pissed off (Miss Karen, of killerlouise.blogspot.com, by the way, wrote so well about the incident). Like Karen said, the truth is always murkier, than what opposing sides say. There are some totally shit things about Trenton; if it were all rainbows and lollipops, I sure as hell would find something better to do with my time than bitch so much. I think. But there are some great things too; some wonderful people. Some of them are well-known, and some of them are not. There is beautiful architecture, and lovely gardens, and despite the persistent rumors, so many delicious places to eat. There are fantastic activities all over the city, all the time, due to the very hard work of just a few people. And, knock wood, despite the prevailing thought that Trenton is just a violent cesspool, I have never experienced bodily injury, and I live in what many folks consider to be the Wilbur section. I haven't even experienced much in the way of property crimes. When things are good over here, it's downright suburban. But sometimes it's not so suburban, and the amount of work to maintain some level of normalcy is just infuriating. If I were slightly less stable than I am, I could possibly justify taking out a few of my neighbors for the betterment of the neighborhood, and sleep well at night. But I'm not THAT crazy. Yet.
My complicated relationship with the city aside, there have been many, many opportunities for development to succeed here. We're in such a great spot, you know? I'm not saying that every business venture in Trenton has been a failure, but one cannot objectively look at this place and call it booming. There has been a lot of dismal failure. A lot of bad planning.
On the flip side, developers are starting to knock on Cory Booker's door. Newark is receiving philanthropy money. That's not to say that the same isn't happening in Trenton, but it's not happening on the same scale; there are so many obstacles to success here.
As far as mayors' reputations go...
Cory Booker has made it clear that his commitment is to Newark. President Barack Obama had expressed interest in Booker joining his team in Washington; Governor Corzine ask Booker to run this year as his Lt. Governor. Booker is staying in Newark, and said he'll run for his seat again in 2010, because his work in Newark isn't done.
Douglas Palmer, a career politician of the self-serving kind, has been trying to get the attention of bigger politicians for a long time, and, by and large, he's been passed over for any of the important jobs.
Booker vs. Palmer on politics
Booker, certainly a "Johnny-Come-Lately" (meaning "not born here") to local politics and Newark at the time, first ran against Sharpe James in 2002. Among other things, Booker was said to be "not black enough" to understand the city.
Here in Trenton, the newcomers are called "Johnny-Come-Lately," and their thoughts and opinions are summarily dismissed by the current administration. Palmer refers to his critics as "haters."
I've only skimmed the surface. But the other bloggers have done a more thorough job detailing the mess that Trenton's in, so be sure to check out some of the links on the right. Between my skimjob and the more thorough reports, suffice it to say, Trenton needs its Johnnies-Come-Latelies and haters. Cory Booker, a JCL and hater in his own town, is just one man. One man who has inspired so many. Maybe we can find some of that energy and hope here.