Friday, May 28, 2010

Annoying white people

I looked out the window this afternoon and saw a bunch of white people walking around with printed materials packaged for doorknobs. Large groups of white people in my neighborhood are rare, and because I received two postcards from TrentonYes this week, I thought it was an army of the bastards who want us to sell off our suburban water pipes. If Trenton residents are stupid enough to vote yes on the upcoming Water Works referendum, the only outcome is that some white people — and maybe one outgoing African-American mayor – are just going to get richer off of our collective stupidity. And maybe, collectively, we're too stupid to notice or care.

Anyway, I was wrong about the nature and intent of this particular group of white people. They were representatives from Mercer County Mosquito Control, and we got a door hanger for our front and side door. The undated letter began thusly:

Dear Resident,

Mercer County Mosquito Control will begin operations for the suppression of Asian tiger mosquitos starting April 27, 2010...


Let me stop you there, Mercer County Mosquito Control. The future tense ("will begin") with date that is long gone (April 27, 2010), has left me with a couple questions:

1) Is this a typo? I'm thinking not, because the writer of the letter, Isik Unlu, Entomologist — if I have the correct Isik Unlu, Entomologist — holds a Ph.D., and folks with Ph.Ds tend to be fussy, particularly about grammar. At least the ones I know.

2) Did the entire county get this notice a month late, or only Trenton residents?

The reason why I ask the second question in particular is because last year, we were woken up at 3 a.m. on a few occasions, in the middle and end of SEPTEMBER, by Mosquito Control's loud sprayers and trucks. My hunch, at the time, was that Trenton was the last municipality in Mercer County to receive any attention from the Official Government Mosquito Killers; and we were SO last that any attempts by the OGMK to kill off mosquitos and/or their larvae were pointless because the mosquitos were already dead from cold. The fact that Trenton residents were given door hangers about a mosquito killing program TODAY, a month after the program started, does not bode well that Trenton is top on the list of priorities for this county agency.

I didn't really expect that Trenton would be at the top of the list of priorities; after all, the mere thought of tending Trenton's waterfront and marshy area, with a population that mostly doesn't give a shit about standing water — meaning, we're teeming with mosquito larvae right about now — must be exhausting to the County Mosquito Killers. But at the same time, waiting until September to hit the Hood with some bad-ass mosquitocide can't be the best idea, since we do have so many idiots who don't care about stuff like wrigglers, and since we have so much waterfront property, and some of our skeeters MIGHT make it into the precious suburbs in July. Right? I really don't know. I like the idea of an agency of designated mosquito killers, because I, like the County Mosquito Control representatives, get immense satisfaction out of killing mosquitos. But at the same time, I wonder about this group's relevancy, especially if this agency thinks it's okay to leave 80,000 people exposed all summer long to the very terrors said agency was created to eradicate: West Nile virus, heartworm, Dengue, and more.

So, if someone from County Mosquito Control could let me know when they plan launch an offensive against Trenton's mosquitos, that would be great. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my eyes open for more white people in my neighborhood. Most likely they're drug buyers, but they could be with TrentonYes. I don't expect to see anyone from Mosquito Control again until September. But I hope they prove me wrong.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spirit of neighborliness

I requested a couple of signs for my street last week, and was told that there's a critical vacancy in the city's sign shop, and without a person in that position, even simple "No Trespassing" signs for the city's abandoned properties, are impossible to acquire.

Sigh.

I get the impression that various city agencies are running scared because of the economy, and the impending change of guard. But instead of stepping it up to prove individual and departmental usefulness, a lot of employees and departments are slacking off (in some cases, more than usual). I can see how such an approach will cause others in the city to wake up. But it's unlikely to make anyone say, "Oh wow, life is so much harder without that service; I'll be sure to respect that person/agency more!" We're going to say, "Screw 'em. Let's get some people in there who will do the job, especially when we need it most." By the way, I'm not totally unsympathetic to working conditions for city employees. I'm just tired of getting hosed.

My aggravation stems from my experience that there is very little neighborliness in Trenton; little spirit of community. Glen and I know we can't count on our neighbors for anything, unless we offer to pay them, and we won't do that, because neighbors don't pay each other to provide a bit of help here and there. An aside: I'd be willing to pay a neighborhood kid to shovel, or mow, but many of our neighborhood kids are selling drugs. The folks who do offer their seasonal services are usually well-intended, but addicted to crack, and I really don't want to support their habit.

Not too long ago, while I was pregnant with Matthew, Glen and I got a new bedroom set. Two people can usually manage well enough, but like I mentioned, I was pregnant; and since we lost Catherine at term, Glen did not want me even looking at the furniture before it was properly installed in the bedroom. Two of our neighbors (our "decent" neighbors!) were smoking cigarettes in front of their cars, which were parked near our truck with the furniture, and they didn't offer to help; they just watched Glen unload the furniture by himself, while I looked on. Yep, two able-bodied dudes just stood around, smoking. By the way, Miss Karen helped Glen bring some of the old stuff out of the house, and she didn't charge a dime. (Thanks again, Karen!)


The lack of good samaritan-ship runs rampant through the city, affecting residents and employees alike. It may be wrong of me, but I wish that city employees in the departments with the power to directly impact our quality of life would pitch in and just work a little bit harder for us right now. It is a lot to ask, I know. If more city employees were city residents, that would be incentive. Still, as I've mentioned, there are so few of us asking for signs, and inspectors, and police, and smoother roads — considering that the remainder of the population is largely disconnected and often criminal. So,  just wish the city would just throw us a bone. Come on.

The bone coming our way will likely be a different kind than I just requested. And because of that, and because I hope to foster a better sense of neighborliness, I offered to volunteer in the city's sign shop a few hours a week to help make the signs needed for my street, and elsewhere. I was told my request was forwarded to James Allen, Assistant Director of Public Works, earlier this week. Maybe I don't have the exact skills for the task, but I bet my background is pretty compatible, and my anger at our living conditions will provide inspirational thirst for learning.

So, I'm waiting to hear back from Mr. Allen, and I'll update my blog with any developments.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Please

I tend to write about Trenton when I'm pissed off, and today is no exception. All of the backyard kittens born earlier this month have died. We don't need anymore feral cats, but still, I did not sign up for this, and it makes me tremendously sad. I've been listening to my brand new neighbors across the street scream — really SCREAM — at each other, "Fuck YOU" (dramatic pause) "BITCH." And, "No. FUCK YOU!" (even more dramatic pause) "BITCH." Maybe there's something wrong with me, because in the off-chance I get into an argument, I am inclined to hiss my venomous, but not terribly expletive, words in relatively quiet tones, because I don't want everyone — oh, wait, anyone — to know my business. I am doing it wrong apparently, since nothing counts in Trenton unless there's an audience.

And, of course, I'm still bummed about about the election, and that the only clear winner is the guy who's been in office for all of 6 months. I've been considering all of the candidates who will be in runoff election, and almost all of the potential outcomes are very unsavory, if not downright unpalatable. But I am, despite my persona here, an optimist, so I'm forcing myself to keep an open mind. Perhaps, despite the dubious financial contributors, and at least one candidate's inability to pay his taxes, and the flip-flopping (in such a short span!!) on whether or not it's a good idea to sell the suburban water pipes (Trenton's only revenue-generating asset!!), and, as small-minded and idiotic this sounds, some really terrible names some of the candidates have*, maybe our newly elected officials will be able to do some good for the city when they take office. Many good citizens, after all, have had a contentious relationship with the outgoing council and administration (can you say "Paul Pintella?" Can you say, "Annette Lartigue?"**), and I hope that will change, since we all ultimately want the same thing: a better, and dare I say it, happenin' Trenton.

So, I have a request for all of the candidates, and any of the city employees who stay on through this transition, namely the police and inspectors. Those of us who want a better Trenton are few, but we're good, reasonable people. I estimate that out of our near 80,000 Trenton residents, there might only be 20,000 (at the most) engaged, decent citizens, which is a small group. We may not always agree on philosophy, and details, but our band of 20,000 wants the same thing. It's a small group, in a municipal sense, and it should be friggin' easy for council and the administration and other employees, to work well with us. So, please, candidates, help us achieve a better Trenton. If we have a complaint about drug dealers, or ATVs, or the shitty roads, or the vacant house next door, or prostitutes, or dogfighting, or poor lighting, or whatever, sheesh, just help us out. 80,000 of us do not attend council meetings, or show up in the mayor's office, or make complaints, or write letters, or pen blogs. It's only a few of us. You really do have it easy. So just help us make things right the first time we call or write or whatever; and chances are we'll bitch less. I think you owe it to us for taking part in democracy in Trenton. Maybe that sounds like favoritism? It's not. It's just treating the decent people decently, instead of fostering a failed state, by allowing the criminals and sociopaths to continue to operate with impunity. Treat the good people right, new council people, and the whole city will improve for those efforts, I'm sure.


_____

* I don't have a problem when people include their middle initials with their names; or in some cases, if they go by their middle name, and include their first initial. My father has that kind of naming convention: C. Michael Ott. His father was also Charles, and his parents decided to call him by his middle name. But it's a pet peeve of mine when people opt to use the formality of including said initial, whether it's for their first or middle name, but the name they go by is a nickname. For example, T. Missy Balmir. I'm sorry, T. Missy, even if it didn't concern me that a lot of your campaign financing came from far-flung places like Newark and Washington, DC (why is that? No one I know outside Trenton gives a shit about what happens here), the formal initial with the informal name has sent me into an OCD fugue. I realize that people who have this sort of unfortunate predicament didn't do it to themselves; their parents did. All I can say is, if this happened to you, drop the initial, and just go by Missy, or Joey, or Petey, or Ronnie, or Betsy, or whatever your name is. Please.


** Whenever I'm stressed about the future of the city, I force myself to think about these two condescending, ineffective, grandstanding PUPPETS who performed so poorly on election day, coming in, essentially, in the last two places, since, in my opinion, Keith Hamilton, Alexander Brown, and Shahid bin Whereishenow never had a chance, and should have never wasted their time or money in this campaign. The future is scary, but it will not include Paulie "PowerPoint" Pintella or Annette "Stand Down" Lartigue in any sort of legislative capacity, and that provides enormous satisfaction and comfort right now. Bye guys!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Revolution and Kitties


We have tried, in our few years in Trenton, to capture the stray cats and find them homes, or at least get them sterilized, if we can't place them anywhere. When I think about the amount of work and money we've invested in cats — cats! — it makes me nuts, and I'm pretty sure in the big picture sense, nothing has changed. It's depressing really, except for the few cats we've helped.

Compounding that depression is that we had two pregnant cats in the yard in the last month or so, and, judging by their new, smaller size, they must have given birth recently. I have mixed feelings about this: we have enough stray cats in our neighborhood, but birth is an exciting event for us mammals, that I can't help but get a bit giddy to catch my first glimpse of the little ones. The two mommy cats are sisters from a litter last summer, and between them, had at least four kittens, in early May. I found my first ever dead kitten on Monday, and by Tuesday was pretty sure that at least one more was doomed, and sure enough, later that day, the second one died. The mother cats carried around these poor little kitty-souls for awhile, and then stopped. When that happened, I buried them, because it's the respectful thing to do for little beings who, just a short time ago, had so much potential.

The two kittens left — a fluffy black one, and a fluffy light orange one — seem to have a lot of gorp in their eyes; more than I've ever seen. Tuesday, the day the second kitty died, I noticed the black kitten's eyes were open, and looking better, if a bit crusty. However, the orange one's entire face was covered with some sort of ooze, but it seemed coordinated and alert. Today, that little creamy orange one was sitting alone in the middle of the yard, but I didn't notice until Steve was dancing around it, and Matty was running behind him, yelling, "BAYBEE!!! BAYBEE!!" I was impressed Matthew not only knew the word "baby," but knew that the creature he was seeing was indeed a baby, but it was stressful all the same, as dog and boy got closer to the blind kitten. Steve spends so much of his time chasing my indoor cats; it never, ever gets old to him. The outside, stray cats seem to look at my dog with curiosity; only some of them run from him. But this helpless little creature just wobbled, and meowed ineffectively; I was able to scoop up child and dog, and put them in the house.

Before meeting the kitten alone in the yard, I had no other plan than to sit outside with my boy and dog. But once the troublemakers were inside, without thinking, I grabbed the kitten, since we have some feline eye ointment on hand.

I quickly cleaned its face — I have never seen so much nastiness in my life — and put the medicine in its eyes, hoping, of course, there were eyes in there. It's tough to say: its eyes looked like small stuffed shells, with ricotta spilling out, and I will never get that image out of my head. But I did what I could, and was pleased to see the mother cat milling about. I placed her baby near her and she quickly grabbed it, and ran off.

We have enough cats around here; I shouldn't have even bothered, I guess. There are people who think I'm stupid for even caring; I get it. But it's just hard to see them suffer: they are domesticated creatures, after all. We made them, and we are failing them. I think I'm a pretty practical person; I can detach emotionally and take care of the shit that needs to get done, like cleaning up kitty ricotta-eye, but it sucks. I hope the little messy eyed critter rallies. I really do, because burying kittens sucks worse than cleaning up gooey eyes.

______________

I've been in a bit of a funk for the last few days. It was Mother's Day that put me there. It was the third one — such a significant chunk of time — without our daughter, Catherine; the second without my mom. I appreciate what I do have, so very much, but what's missing is magnified in the face of the Hallmark commercials and Facebook well-wishes this time of year. And watching two young cat mothers struggle with the randomness of life and death doesn't really help my mood, either. To have to process the results of our municipal election in my current state is almost unfair. I am full of despair, and, surprisingly, so much of it is for Trenton.

Can you call the need for a run-off election for seven of eight open seats "results"? I'm not so sure, and that's just part of my down mood: there are no results, but so much of what's coming is unfuckingsavory, to say the least. So, I decided to bake cookies tonight. While I was mixing the dough, Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" came on, and it slapped me in the face.

I worry that it is improper for a white chick — the crazy cat lady, at that — to discuss race — or at least socioeconomic issues in an urban environment — but my ears are ringing with the irrelevancy of the Beverly Hillbillies and the knowledge that Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day, yet, my crazy neighbor, Julian, has his head in the trunk of his car, adjusting his antisocial and murder-inspiring speakers, while my windows and nicknacks are rattling, thanks to his woofers or tweeters or whatevers; and the 19-year-old, soft-in-the-head jerkwad across the street screams at his babymom while several of our local drug-dealers watch from the other side of the street. Numbers are going through my head, even though I am not very number-oriented. 10,000. That's roughly the number of people who voted in this election. 30,000. Roughly the amount of registered voters in the city of Trenton. 80,000. Probably a very liberal estimate of how many people live here. 70,000. The amount of people with way-too-loud car stereos, or drug dealers, or asshole babydads, or all of the above who did not vote.*

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Ugh, I feel so sick to my stomach. None of the at-large candidates I wanted made it in, and I have no idea how that happened. I hate that I'm so disconnected from the rest of the city and don't understand its heart or its mind, and my little Bose dock just cannot compete with speakers that take up an entire trunk. Maybe there were just too many people running for office and there were bound to be more losers than winners. I don't know, but it still feels icky to me.

I feel an immense amount of pressure behind my eyes because I've been trying to imagine the very real possibility of life under Mayor Mack. The guy who hasn't paid his taxes; who was fired from his last job job for fiscal incompetency; who bounced checks to his campaign workers. This is the guy who might be in charge of our books. I know a lot of what I'm feeling now might be sour grapes. And legitimate fear for the future, when just last week, there was so much hope. We had been waiting for this election for the last few years, and now, I am deflated. I can — and will — try my best to keep an open mind about our new administration, because I have to believe that everyone who ran, and everyone who voted, cares about the city. And, maybe — maybe – the new crew will surprise us, and get fixing this place.

Still, I would feel better right now if some of the people I voted for had been elected, but the reality that tens of thousands of adults in this city aren't even registered to vote, and 20,000 registered voters did not even bother to participate in this election, is daunting. Any hope in me is choking on the sounds of the sirens in the background, the squealing tires, loud music, the late night ice cream truck, and the idiots screaming in the street. We've been in this house for almost 6 years now, and despite making some great friends and meeting nice people all over the city, I often feel that we don't have enough decent people around us. I didn't have any hard proof of their suckitude; it was just a hunch. But watching the election returns come in on the county's site gave me the proof that many of the people around me, do indeed suck. I didn't know it was possible, but I have even less respect for them now, after Tuesday. I'm sure they must have heard stories from their parents and grandparents about having to sit on the back of the bus; the indignity of separate water fountains, and white-only restaurants. When I think about what various groups of humans endured for the right to vote, it is confounding to me that tens of thousands of our neighbors would chose to do something else on election day. Like scream in the street, or play their music at eardrum exploding decibels, or do or deal drugs.

Perhaps that's Doug Palmer's legacy: Trenton's first African-American mayor inspires tens of thousands to squander their precious lives. Perhaps the Revolution skipped right over Trenton?

I wonder why we even bother to care some times, especially since the remaining 10,000 of us can't even wholeheartedly agree on who should be in charge of this place**. We probably won't have a dream team come swearing-in day, but a new era awaits nonetheless, and it is exciting, even though we have some work cut out for us, in the way of compromising with one another, and carrying the load of 70,000 uninvolved individuals.

______

* I know some of that 70,000 group cannot vote because of their age. I hope they do not grow up to be assholes with drugs or loud car stereos or babydaddies.

** I'm glad that most of us agreed that Emmanuel Avraham Shahid bin Watson was unworthy. Hopefully this is the last we hear of him. I'm locking up the back gate of the vacant house next to me, just to Shahid-proof it!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

GUEST BLOGGER: Kesner Dufresne

I was critical of Kesner Dufresne, one of the candidates vying for the East Ward council seat, last week after the Villa Park candidates' forum. Kesner reached out to me, and we had a friendly exchange. The reason why I was so critical after the candidates forum is because Kesner walked around while other candidates spoke. Despite that, I think Kesner's financial background and compassion make him an attractive option for council. I haven't definitively made up my mind about the election yet, but Kesner is a great speaker and full of ideas for the city, and because his abilities might just outweigh any of his weaknesses (which perhaps were just a one time deal at the forum last week, I hope), I wanted to give him a chance to rebut what I wrote about him and/or elaborate on some of his ideas for the city. So, bear with me; I've never done this before. The following is a guest piece from Kesner Dufresne:
_________________

As a homeowner and business owner in Trenton, I share many views with my neighbors as to why the city remains in its current condition. With any organization or entity that unsuccessfully fulfills its obligations, leadership must be held accountable. As a Certified Financial Planner, I help my clients plan for their future. I believe my skill set and experience makes me the best candidate to lead Trenton, specifically the East Ward, into the future.

I currently serve as Commissioner of Trenton Housing Authority and I am a dedicated member of the following organizations: Mercer County Community College Foundation, Trenton Kappa Foundation, Trenton Fortitude Corporation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters Mercer County, Trenton Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. I have a degree in economics from Seton Hall University and certification in financial planning and financial consulting from The American College.

As your candidate for East Ward Council, I offer the following solutions as a start to address the city’s needs:

I support a wage tax of 2% for non-residents. The revenue generated from this tax on roughly 30,000 employees that enter Trenton for work could potentially create a $30-40 million new revenue stream annually. In conjunction, I would support a parking tax which could generate an additional $10-15 million annually. I am in favor of eliminating or putting a stay on overtime which would generate substantial savings in the range of $5-10 million annually.
Specific steps the city council should take to increase revenues and reduce expenditures include an analysis that reduces duplication of services, reduction/elimination of non-core (non-essential) functions, attracting/growing industry, promoting entrepreneurship through incentives, increasing the balance sheet through municipal financing, strengthening business associations and fostering a pro-business environment where appropriate that draws corporate investment and create employment for Trenton residents.

I also believe a need to promote the arts. This will require an assessment of existing partnerships with societies and organizations that promote the arts in our city and discussing their needs and how the city can support their initiatives. I also believe building partnerships with the various ethnic groups and their respective organizations to promote an environment that allows them to celebrate their cultures in a way that enriches the entire city (i.e. festivals, parades and other programs). I am in favor of identifying and strengthening an arts’ district that attracts not just local interest but foreign interest in the form of grants and tourism.

I believe in planning for the long term and short term needs of the city of Trenton with appropriate analysis that produces responsible action and practices that improves the city’s finances. I will also look to other cities for ideas on how to balance the budget. We can ill afford irresponsible and hasty decision making in this area.

In creating more revenues to support the enforcement of city’s housing code, I would support an increase in occupancy fees for absentee landlords.
Without placing blame on any department’s effectiveness and acting within the role of legislator or policy maker, I would advocate, with the cooperation of fellow council members, a fair process of evaluation and accountability that calls all departments to maintain high standards of care in maintaining the welfare of the city.

As a council member, I would work with fellow council members and civic associations (i.e. TCCA, et al) that represent the respective neighborhoods to identify any problems with absentee landlords and neglected buildings; in addition, we would work on increasing budget allocations to support these community organizations that would proactively meet the needs of their respective neighborhoods.

Trenton is one of the largest “landlords” with many abandoned, condemned or vacant properties. I would work with fellow members on council to set and enforce standards for maintaining these properties and bringing them to market so that neighborhoods improve their value and flourish. We must lead by example the standards in which we would apply to absentee landlords

As a council member, I would work with fellow members of council, department of police and mayor’s office to improve partnerships with state troopers and neighboring towns in sharing resources that will help protect our neighborhoods. I would work with council and mayor’s office to improve residency requirements that better align police and firefighters with the interest of neighbors they are called to protect.

I would work with fellow council members and civic associations (i.e. TCCA, et al) that represent the respective neighborhoods in the media to identify solutions to address crime prevention. I support volunteer associations (i.e. Neighborhood Watch Program, volunteer rescue squad, etc.) that would assist in this regard. I would look to foster partnerships with organizations (i.e. non-profit organizations, churches, fraternities, sororities, corporations, etc.) to provide more community centers to keep children engaged and off the streets after school.

In protecting our neighborhoods, all stakeholders must engage in the process that strengthens our communication, builds unity and aggressively deal with those who would seek to threaten the safety of our community.

In summary, upon getting elected, my goals for the East Ward would include creating more community centers for our youth, vocation programs for our students, job creation, and a stronger business community. I believe in Trenton’s potential. As evidenced by my community involvement, I am committed to serve the East Ward as its next councilman.

If you believe as I do that it’s time for change, please vote line #3 for Kesner Dufresne for East Ward council Tuesday May 11, 2010 as your candidate for change!

Thank you and God bless Trenton.

— Kesner Dufresne

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tony Mack Needs to Withdraw

A quick note to Tony

Hi Tony,

I still don't know which mayoral candidate I'll vote for on Tuesday. But, I have a list of candidates I won't vote for*, and this week you were definitively added to that list. The reason I'm writing this, though, is because if half of what I'm reading about you is true, and you love Trenton as much as you say you do, you need to withdraw from the race.

I think you should withdraw because of your apparent lack of ability to handle money, and right now, Trenton is looking at a fiscal disaster. We probably won't know the whole story until the new council and administration settles in. The citizens of Trenton were hit with a crippling tax bill last weekend because the outgoing administration and council failed its obligation to balance the budget, and spent money we didn't have, and we taxpayers were left holding the bag. I say "we" taxpayers, but I'm not so sure that includes you, based on the tax records dug up by fellow blogger, Change Agent, and posted on New Trenton Mayor 2010. Do you really owe over $6,000 in delinquent taxes?

Also, in the last 10 days, it's come to light that you couldn't manage a $10 million K-8 school budget in Barrington, Camden County, and were let go for financial incompetence. This comes on top of speculation that you and your campaign manager parted ways over money issues; and then there's the common knowledge that the checks you wrote to the campaign workers who supported your run in 2006, bounced.

Trenton has so much to figure out, but we sit at the edge of a great opportunity — this election — and we could turn our city around in a few years with new leadership. But, come on, man! You know in your heart that you'll be in over your head if you win this election, and you could win this election. However, your inability to deal with money will take us from our current very dark days to the friggin' abyss. You've managed to get away from your other monetary faux pas unscathed, but if you drive this city into hell, we won't let you get away with it.

So, Tony, please. Save yourself, and like I said, if you love this city, save us, too. Withdraw.

Yours in a better Trenton,
Christine Ott


______________________________

* Paul "The Idiot Prince" Pintella does not get my vote either, definitively. He should withdraw, too, but he does not love Trenton enough to do so. He should be ashamed for the missing Urban League money, the forgery, as well as an utter lack of accomplishments while serving on Council. He has no business running for mayor.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reppin' the East Side, Yo!

On Sunday, the doorbell rang; I was trying to get Matty down for a nap, so Glen answered the door. It was Dion Clark, hoping to talk to me about the upcoming municipal election and his desire to be my East Ward representative. Matthew needed me at that time, so Glen, who happened to be in his underwear*, spoke with Dion for a few minutes. Dion started off by handing Glen a letter of endorsement from outgoing East Ward councilman, Gino Melone**, and Glen said, "That's worthless, even as toilet paper." And it promptly wound up in our compost pile with the banana skins and coffee grinds, so that the tree that produced the paper did not die in vain.

I'm not entirely sure, since I was upstairs with the baby, but I think this put off Dion, and he did not come back, even after I sent him a message asking him if we could arrange to talk. I'm sorry for that.
_________________

All was not lost, though. The Villa Park Civic Association held a candidates' forum tonight, and Dion was there, so I could hear his answers to the most important questions facing the East Ward. I will give him this: he had one of the best lines of the evening. When asked what the city could do for Trenton's youth, he said, "The city HAS served the youth. The parents need to start serving the youth." He said when he was a kid, he played ball and cards when he was bored. Today, he said, when kids are bored, they go out and rob people.

I was impressed with this answer partially because I was a nerdy, uncoordinated kid who came from a somewhat dysfunctional home. I didn't need a community center. I had books and writing/drawing implements, and cards and TV like every kid has, and I never once assaulted anyone. So, I hate the idea of more clubs and centers for kids, because it's a really superficial answer to a very complex problem. If anything, we need to do more for the parents. Often, teenaged parents. And the "doing" part of this might simply be communicating more effectively. There are programs in place already. For instance, I take Matthew to a (free) music class at St. Francis, where they also offer a boatload of other (free) classes, including a (free) parenting class. So, it's probably a matter of finding out what's already out there, and finding a way to communicate it better, and, more importantly, encouraging people to participate. I have thoughts on that, but I'll save it for some other time.

The other four candidates, Joe Harrison, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Kesner DuFresne, and Errick Wiggins all mentioned building more centers for the kids as a solution to the problems in the city, and in that way, I think they fell down. But hang in there. They made up for it in other areas. Sort of. And, Dion's position on family was really the only thing he said that resonated with me.

I know Dion's passionate about the city, and I really appreciate that. He's smart and committed. But he also refused to answer whether or not he supported the sale of the Trenton Water Works, and he was confrontational with the audience on a couple of occasions, accusing us of not being dedicated because we don't go to city council meetings, and because many people in the room may have voted for the previous regime. Hello, Dion, are you trying to win us over? Many of us can't go to council meetings because we work, or because we're raising small children, or maybe it's just not our bag, and that's okay. Yep, I believe in individual responsibility. And, sure, it is good to be involved. But we elect representatives to represent us at those meetings because we all can't be there. And, by the way, most municipalities have local cable coverage of their meetings, which Trenton has refused; and they also have real reporters covering the meetings so citizens can stay informed. That's how it works in the real world. Maybe someday Trenton will get to that point.

I'm going to continue to focus on the negative. Errick Wiggins. I know it takes an enormous amount of heart and energy to run a campaign. I think he's dedicated, and would really work for the residents in the East Ward. He'd be willing to get his hands dirty, and I really, really like that in a public servant. He's a good person. But his opening sentence contained a double negative, and then several large words that were strung together in a way that didn't make much sense. I want my representative to be able to speak and write well, since there's a lot of speaking and writing involved with an elected position. Sure, everyone slips up here and there, especially when nervous, or under pressure, or on a deadline; and I'm not so uptight to be blind to the power of a double negative or slang like "ain't" when used to emphasize a point or to rally people. But that wasn't the case. I'm pretty sure his language skills are below average. Also, on several occasions, he didn't answer the question, but basically said, "What Verlina said." Or, "What Kesner said." I'm summarizing, but that was the gist. I hate myself for saying that. I'm such a snob. I'm sorry. On the plus side, he's against the sale of any part of the Trenton Water Works. He said, "Water is life," and then something about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and then something about hip hop music. I tried really hard to follow that line of thinking, but couldn't. Again, my apologies, especially if he's reading this.

On to Kesner Dufesne. By far, he's got one of the coolest names around. I like the way it sounds. And he's good at math, since he's a financial planner. I have no idea why he didn't answer the FixTrenton budget questionnaire (a strike against him, in my estimation, but one I forgave quickly as he began speaking), because I think he might be good with the city's wallet. He had a couple logical ideas to help get the finances in order; he's against the sale of the Water Works, too.

Kesner's comfort in front of the audience, his empathetic style of communication, and his desire to help the city's kids, put him back in the running for me, even though he said stuff about building more community centers for the kids. Ugh. There ARE opportunities here in Trenton for kids, (including cards and ball with family and friends, like Dion said) but those resources are getting squandered. The kids are way too flickity-fly to hang out at the centers, but that's probably just a defense mechanism they've devised to protect themselves from years of hurt, because their parents don't know about the centers, or don't care enough to find out more. The existing centers that have closed have done so perhaps in part due to lack of funding, but more likely because they were underutilized. Plus, everyone needs to remember, our finances are disastrous. Prattling on about building new youth centers is a waste of time because it's not going to happen anytime soon. Sheesh.

Just as quickly as Kesner put himself in my top 3 candidates, he dropped out. Once, while another candidate was speaking, he began milling about in the kitchen area (in plain view), behind the table of candidates. Maybe he was thirsty, or wanted a cupcake (they did look yummy), or wanted to shoot the breeze with some of the people who were back there. I don't know. The forum was well-structured, and a grown, healthy man — especially a candidate for office — should be able to sit still and listen for less than two hours. Furthermore, at-large write-in hopeful, Jim Carlucci, stopped by. The officers of the VPCA allowed Jim to speak, as they had allowed other at-large candidates who attended their functions. In the format of the forum, Jim was given three minutes to introduce himself and his platform. Period. At that moment, nothing was more important than Kesner's need to get his coffee cup into the trash can behind Jim, so he got up, and walked across the room while Jim was speaking. Another minute into Jim's statement, Kesner interrupted Jim. I'll be honest: I didn't hear what Kesner said. But it doesn't matter. No one else was interrupted. Can Kesner sit through long, regular, and far more boring, council meetings? Can he listen to his colleagues, or god forbid, some random citizen, during the public portion of a meeting who is bitching about something inane? I'm not so sure.

Both Verlina and Joe, to me, were the strongest candidates. They both had some good ideas, and have experience and strengths and a lot of ideas that can succeed, if implemented. I think they'd both work well with their colleagues on council, and will be accessible to their constituents. They'll strive to undo much of the damage that's been done by the Palmer administration, and their efforts will foster a more hopeful city. Since I seem to focus on the negative, I don't have much more to say about either of them. I'd be pleased if either of them wins.

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* Joe Harrison stopped by on Saturday night and Glen answered the door in his underwear then, as well. Generally, this is a good thing in our neighborhood: it has deterred the Jehovah people, and landscape entrepreneurs, and to a small degree, the alarm salesmen, who plague our neighborhood. There are about as many candidates for office this year, as there are roving salvation/yardwork/alarm salespeople, but unlike the salespeople, I appreciate the intentions of the political hopefuls, and feel badly about the underwear treatment. It just comes with the territory. Sorry.

** The problem with Gino is that at one point he cared, but then he didn't. I saw a lot of Gino in 2006, and he even called on Glen to help him hand out flyers, which Glen did (fully clothed; a big deal for Glen). Gino was reelected, and said, "Thanks. And, oh yeah, buh-bye." I reached out to him a few times in the last few years about some serious quality of life issues, and I never heard back. I think Gino checked out awhile ago, even giving up on his relatively decent Trenton neighborhood, Villa Park. On the other hand, Dion Clark will continue to fight for his blighted neighborhood in Wilbur. Walnut Avenue has improved in the few years, at least on the end where Dion lives (and, many ruined homes on the lower blocks were finally razed, which is also an improvement of a different kind), and I believe Dion can take the credit for that. Compare and contrast that to Melrose Avenue, which may not be as nice as it was a few years ago, and perhaps that's because Gino has given up. I admire Dion for his strength and character, especially since his body requires dialysis a few times a week; but why he'd take an endorsement from a guy who, in contrast, is weak, is beyond me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Take the blame, Doug

Hey Doug, be a man and take the blame.



Trenton mayor Doug Palmer should be ashamed of himself for attempting to convince senior citizens yesterday that the massive tax hike was the fault of the small group of residents who fought to prevent the sale of one of the last city assets, the Trenton Water Works' outlying suburban infrastructure. Not only should he be ashamed for attempting to mislead one of society's most vulnerable populations, but he should also be ashamed for not taking the blame for something for which he is clearly responsible. The tax hike is not the fault of those who fought the sale, and I hope logic will prevail, and people will see that it was years and years of wanton spending that brought us to this terrible place. Doug Palmer has the nerve to blame his very own citizens, when he has hired guards and drivers; he wears very expensive suits; has been sued several times (and lost) by his own constituents; has had incredibly wasteful policies over the last 20 years; and has a superfluous, gratuitous, and ego-stroking staff. He has a bigger administration than Newark Mayor Cory Booker has, and Booker runs a city almost 4 times larger than Trenton. Palmer makes a bigger salary than Booker, and does far less, though I suppose it must be very stressful spinning bullshit in his last months in office.

Oh, and he should also be ashamed for not making it clear that the tax increase is just for this tax period, and will go back down.

Plus, how screwed are we if the $80 million we might have made from the sale of the Water Works was our only hope? Totally. That's how screwed we are. Sure, maybe it would have kept our taxes down this year, but then what? We lost our source of revenue; AND with an outside company in charge of our water, our rates would have certainly gone up; AND it will probably take years to dig out of the financial mess that Doug Palmer got us into in the first place. He ran so many good people and businesses out of town, and in their place came drug dealers and losers who don't vote or pay taxes (or often, even their rent!), and yet, are a tremendous burden on our resources.

So when you pay your taxes this quarter, you can thank Doug.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Priorities?

I tossed a relatively gentle razz at my East Ward council hopefuls last week because none of them had been by, at least not while I was here. Since then, we've heard from three of them in some form or another: Joe Harrison, Dion Clark, and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson. I appreciate that they're reading this, and want to touch base with me, especially since I'm the sole vote in the household — my husband is Canadian, and our son isn't even 2 yet.

Let me say up front, I'm not 100% decided yet. I'm sorry about that. But, I've been giving these three candidates a bit of my consideration, and I've been leaning toward Joe. It has nothing to do with skin color, though I know how it looks — the white chick supporting the white guy — but it's because he's really angry, and ready to shake things up, and city hall needs a good shaking. Also, he seems to me to be the most independent thinker of the group. If he's elected, my guess is that there will be far fewer "ayes" on every single resolution, and, if we're unlucky to encounter it again, the mayor's lame-brained late budgets and lawsuits against the citizens, and so forth. I'm tired of the same-old same old. It hasn't worked for the last 20 years.

But, there's still a few days to go, and maybe there's time to convince me otherwise. After all, I admire Dion's devotion to the city, and in particular, his neighborhood. Verlina is an excellent communicator, and her professional experience can help the city move forward. Who knows what other skills the other candidates have? It's friggin' late to hear their thoughts one-on-one, but it's only too late if the election has passed. I want to make the most informed decision I can possibly make, so I'm planning to go to Villa Park's candidate forum on Wednesday night, just in case the other three candidates can't make the rounds before the election.

Another reason why I'm not 100% committed to one candidate is today's news that 5 of the 6 East Ward candidates didn't even take the time to participate in FixTrenton's budget survey.* I hear it took less time to fill it out than one visit with a voter. This is really distressing to me because council hopefuls should want to build trust with their possible constituents, and their neighbors. I'm not a political expert, but it just seems to me that questionnaires like this make the whole process of campaigning easier. After all, a group of thoughtful, educated Trenton residents spent many hours developing the survey for the candidates. It seems insulting and condescending to not respect the work that went into developing the questionnaire, to not bother to take a few minutes to answer these questions. Simply taking the time to share in the process would have fostered some trust and dialogue between citizens and candidate. Isn't that what this whole season is about?

To play devil's advocate briefly, in the East, we have several neighborhoods that are so far gone, and the good neighborhoods are nowhere near as stable (or upscale) as ones in other wards. By and large, we're rougher and tougher, more down and out; some areas (like Walnut Avenue) will probably not improve any time soon just because we elect a councilperson with a solid grasp of finances. We have more quality of life issues, like break-ins and thefts and assaults and drug dealing** and those problems can take our focus away from the big picture. It's hard to see the effects of the governor's budget cuts when all the kids in your vicinity have dropped out of school anyway, and all the windows near you are boarded up. When there are scary knuckleheads just outside the window willing to kill you and your children if you even look like you might be talking to the police, does the thought of the unbalanced budget even enter your mind?

But those blighted areas will never improve if our elected officials don't start thinking about the whole picture, which includes a realistic approach to the allocation of money in this city. Everything is connected.

So, I'm wondering, if the FixTrenton budget committee has the time to process late-received questionnaires, will the 5 East Ward candidates fill it out before the election? My vote isn't 100% dependent on how well they score, as long as it's apparent they have strengths in other areas and are willing to work as a team on the fiscal mess in Trenton. But if these people can't make the time to participate in a grass-roots, citizen-led initiative, maybe they won't be too responsive if elected? We've had enough of that.

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* Verlina Reynolds-Jackson is the only candidate in the East who took the time to fill out the questionnaire.
** Based on stats from TPD handed out at East Ward CPAC meetings.