This week one of the greatest political events in national politics occurred. Now our country will anxiously wait for the next great Tuesday – Inauguration Day, on January 20th. As the Obama office in Camden closes, people proudly parade down the street with the President elect drawn on their shirts. There is a beautiful sense of euphoria all around this community. The impossible and improbable has become a pleasant reality.
On Tuesday, historically political foes gathered in the cramped act ion filled headquarters on Third Street. Everyone put their local disagreements aside to work to do their part to make sure people had a ride or knew where to vote. The usual suspects found a way to come together for a cause greater than their differences. Zawdie and Angel found themselves sharing a room and an agenda for hope and change.
A member of the establishment Democrats, Willie Hunter, asked the question that will define our city’s future. How do we get this [large voter turnout] to continue? I responded “have dynamic people run for office”.
President-elect Obama has set a new standard in American politics. Many commentators noted how woman, minorities, and others, who have a vision to run, but stand because they always assumed that they would not be able to win elective office, now have hope. Obama did what only a special type of political leader can do.
As of now, people such as Councilman Angel Fuentes, Councilman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, and others are planning to run for mayor. There will likely be a combative Democratic primary in June 2009. Are any of these potential candidates dynamic or inspirational? Do any of the potential candidates inspire or excite the people of our city? By the basic definition of political experience, they qualify, meeting the lowest of standards. I hope that in 2009, we get beyond voting for the best of the worst. There is so much great work to be done in Camden. I know that some will think that this is harsh or even rude. Some may cringe as they believe that my words are shovels that dig my political grave. If I have nothing to die for, then my life is worthless. I refuse to allow one more year of disinvestment and apathy in this city. The issues we have are too serious for me to pretend to respect a political culture that anyone honest can agree is disgusting.
We need schools where our students graduate prepared for the global economy. We must have a local government that sees bringing industry and jobs to Camden as its top priority. We must assure that our streets are safe and that they are not crumbling. People should not have to worry about getting shot or their tire busting on the dangerous streets in some of the neighborhoods. Too many people flee our city once they make over $26,000. Call it brain drain or bright flight. The current leaders make it very difficult for young people to get involved. The weak and loyal are promoted as the strong and smart are sent to take out the trash.
Our elected leaders must be effective, visible and accessible. Many people of Parkside, Centerville and Whitman Park (aka Polock – sorry) have never heard of Bill Spearman, their 2nd Ward councilman. On Election Day, one of his constituents told him that she had been trying to reach him for months. He gave her Ana’s number, his “right hand” (Ana is an assistant in City Council – I look forward to working with her one day). As I well know, we do not need right hands, we need leaders who are willing to devote their time and energy to those who only request that city government do its job.
For the upcoming election, the voters of Camden have a few simple questions that they can ask anyone who is interested in running for office.
• If you have already been elected to office, what have you done, through your position to deal with Camden’s most pressing issues? Those issues: job creation, economic development, environmental pollution, decreasing the dropout rate, decreasing violence, mentoring and encouraging young people
• How have you shown your independence or ability to build coalitions to make sustainable change in the city?
• Are you a part of the political machine that cares more about retaining power than implementing meaningful leadership?
• What legislation or policy have you implemented that has improved the lives of Camden resident?
The answers to these questions will show who is ready to lead our city in the next decade and who is ready to continue the 30 year leadership deficit.
What does a mayor do anyway?
There are no term limits on the position of mayor in Camden. I assume that Mayor Faison is not running because she has repeatedly said that she has been stripped of her power. This begs the question - what does the mayor do? According to our form of mayor/council government:
a. Enforce the Charter and ordinances of the city.
b. Supervise all of the departments of the city government. (This is shared with the COO, who relies on Christine Tucker Jones, the business administrator, and the mayor)
c. Appoint all officers and employees for whose election or appointment no other provision is made by Charter or ordinance.
d. Appoint Judges of the Municipal Court, with the advice and consent of the Council, as provided in N.J.S.A. 2A: 8-5, and appoint such additional clerical assistants as may be necessary to the Municipal Court and to supervise and perform such administrative duties as may be necessary for the proper functioning of such Court.
e. Supervise and direct all necessary publicity and public relations functions of the city.
f. Exercise any act empowered under law to preserve and protect the public health, safety and welfare.
g. Appoint with the advice and consent of City Council, the members of the various boards, commissions and authorities created by law or ordinance.
h. Create advisory bodies which the Mayor deems necessary and convenient and to appoint the members of those advisory bodies.
i. Organize ad hoc working groups of city employees to perform special projects and supervise tasks not specially assigned to the various departments.
I bolded what the mayor can still do, despite the powers given to the COO in the MRERA legislation. Some of those in bold are partially shared powers. The COO cannot veto a decision of the mayor, but can technically override a decision. If a mayor in Camden does not have power, that is because it's been abdicated, not because its been eliminated.
As always...Power to the People
I can't wait until January.