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.


* 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.


Mr. Clean said...

You apologize too much. Nice job, though.

Kesner said...

Thank you for writing this article. I appreciate your perspective. Regarding centers, I believe the needs of the various wards differ from one another and creating more safe places (community centers)for our youth (and the community) may not suit your section but other sections may benefit. As council man, I will address the needs of all my neighbors in each section of the East Ward. With regards to fixtrenton budget questionaire, surveys and the like, the voter guide this weekend will provide my answers in detail. Yet, if interested, Beautiful Trenton posted my answers to similar questions on their site. The only candidate (one of your two picks for the post) that did answer FixTrenton Budget received a failing grade of 43%. If anyone wants to talk to me directly about anything that matters to them regarding how to improve the neighborhood, feel free to call Kesner Dufresne 609-575-8530 or email: Regarding getting up to get a drink of water and asking Jim Carlucci a question, well you're entitled to your opinion. I respect your right to choose your favorite candidate(s) and that's what make this country great. The fact of the matter, I am a commissioner for the Trenton Housing Authority, Mercer County College Foundation member and I sit on various other boards that allow me to perform my duties at meetings of various lengths. As a certified financial planner and chartered financial consultant, I am more than qualified to address the city's budget needs. As a homeowner and business owner in Trenton I understand and share similar concerns of my neighbors of what needs to change. I don't work for the state nor depend on the state so I am able to serve my community without any conflicts of interest. I'm the best candidate for the East Ward Council and for voters who want to elect me as their candidate for change in the East Ward vote line #3 Tuesday May 11th 2010. Thank you again for sharing your opinion(s) with the community and for allowing me to the same. God bless you and God bless Trenton.

Chrissy said...

Hi Kesner, thanks for reading, and commenting politely after what I wrote! I was sitting next to you at a CPAC meeting not long ago, and I was very impressed with you--you seem very decent and thoughtful. Your financial background is so appealing right now, that even if you had major ants in your pants and cut everyone off while they spoke, I've been thinking over the last couple of days, maybe I was too harsh! I'm sensitive to the inability to sit still and the interruptions, because current council members are always walking around, and Paul Pintella interrupts people, and it's just bad form.

I received a note today from one of Dion's supporters, in addition to this comment for you, and I love the dialogue, and hearing more about you both. I think this election is a tough one; there are a lot of candidates -- you included -- who have many strengths. The East Ward will be well-served if you win, and I'll be happy to work with you to improve things here.

About the community centers, and your financial background...I'm wondering if you can explain how we can build/create more centers when we may very well be bankrupt? I was just hoping to hear your thinking...maybe there's grant money available? But the bigger question for me is, can we get kids to use them? I think there's not enough face-to-face outreach...flyers/notices in the paper or school bulletin aren't enough to encourage kids to go. I think the city faces some very tough months ahead, and we need to inspire kids, really engage with them, and we're going to have to think of creative and cheap ways to build centers don't seem feasible economically or, hmmm, attitudinally, since centers are not hip. What are your ideas to help the kids if new centers are just not possible?

Kesner said...

Hi Chrissy. Thank you for your question about finding new sources of funding. I appreciate your concerns about the city's handling of finances (our tax dollars). The city will continue to receive money from varios levels of government. It comes down to doing the best with what we have and implementing controls and transparency to keep government fiscally sound (honest). For example, the EPA (federal level funding) awarded over a half a million dollars to address the brown fields on E State St and around Train Station; the city receives under five million for community development (which includes neighborhood centers) through CDBG; there is twenty billion dollars (federal level again) on the table for infrastructure improvements around the nation; the Trenton Housing Authority is pursuing multi million dollar funding to revitalize Miller Homes area through private/public partnership. In addition to raising financial management standards, I would enforce disclosing our balance sheet and expenditures at least quarterly. We get a receipt, when we pay for goods and services at the store, so why can't taxpayers get a receipt from the city of what we pay for quarterly when we pay our taxes (especially with the recent increase in our tax bill). My neighbors want to know what are we paying for? Am I getting my money's worth? Another approach involves appealing to outside private concerns. I am impressed with Mill Hill and their appeal to corporate investment to build and maintain their section. I would follow this example. Many corporations set aside a great deal of money to invest in community development and education. For example, Bristol Myers just awarded Mercer County Community College a grant for their biology program at the Kearney Campus. I would embrace and challenge other universities and colleges within 5-10 miles to invest in our community more aggressively since our children represent their future students. In terms of getting these students to take advantage of the existing resource available to them, it requires a deliberate and coordinated effort of everyone in the community. I believe in the African proverb that "It takes a village to raise a child." I began speaking to businesses about committing to a few students a year to help them understand basic business, presentation and communication skills. We must teach our children and connect with them direct. I go to the highschools through Trenton Rotary's "Bridging the Gap" to help them understand how to start a business. In this year's program we show them how to start a deli... It's amazing how much they need to learn but when I speak to them their eyes widen and they begin to grasp. I was shocked to find out that some of them haven't taken statistics esp. when their peers in neighboring towns take honors calculus. There is a disconnect in the current system. That's why I'm in favor of changing our residency requirement for teachers, firefighters and police officers to live in the neighborhood in which they serve and protect; this aligns their interest with the community. I would challenge the state to step up their investment and fulfill their obligation to the capital of NJ either at the negotiating table or in supreme court. I believe these ideas contribute to the pool of solutions that we need to examine and implement to take the city to the next level. I believe in the potential of Trenton. I believe that we can change its current course. It's time for a change. Together we can make our neighborhoods safer, revitalize our community and restore hope for our future. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and answers to your questions. I want neighbors who believe as I do to vote line #3 Kesner Dufresne for East Ward Council on Tuesday May 11th 2010. God bless you and your readers. God bless Trenton.