These are my thoughts and some information on the election this year. Most of my comments are limited to the candidates for Camden City Council, but I also mention things for the state election. This year, we are voting for city council wards, freeholders, state assembly, and state senate.
Disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts. This blog does not reflect the opinion of my job or any organization that I am a part of. I have not discussed the contents of this with anyone before publishing.
Here are some videos from the debate. The quality isn’t great, but you’ll get the point. There are some interesting exchanges. Thank you Pastor Levi Combs for hosting it at First Refuge Baptist Church in Parkside.
Reflections, thoughts, and other things...
- What does progress look like? What is development?
The elected officials and their supporters and the opposition candidates have a huge difference of opinion of what progress is. This came out clearly during the debate. There are certainly newly built homes, but there are also many abandoned houses that still crumble their neighborhoods. There are home buyer programs, but Camden also has a steadily decreasing population, as people move to Pennsauken, Palmyra, Sicklerville, and other suburban towns.
In these discussions, Councilman Brian Coleman of the 2nd ward discussed grant programs and other city initiatives. He stressed that the unions and contractors are doing all they can to hire Camden residents. His opponents, Cornell Garnett and Namibia Burke strongly disagree. Garnett did a good job during the debate of showing that his in not with “the machine” or with the new opposition coalition that includes Amir Khan and Roy Jones. He took the audience through the history of false promises. Namibia Burke did a good job of showing that she is literally a fighter (with UCC), former educator, and highly educated. Although in a different ward, Moneke Ragsdale came across as calm and informed. I admit that I am confused why eminent domain was made an issue in this campaign. The city made a mistake in sending out one letter to residents. They then said nevermind. There will not be any homes bought through eminent domain in Whitman Park and the city doesn’t have a developer or grant to pay for it even if they wanted to. This is one of many examples of how truth, facts, and basic communication are replaced with silence, myths, or exaggerations on every side of the ballot.
[I could not find campaign materials for Burley, Moran, or Lopez]
- The current people elected don’t come out to the voters
As many of the candidates for City Council discussed gentrification, taxes, housing, and metro police on Thursday, the mayor and three of the four city council candidates played bingo with senior citizens at Riverview towers. This may be honorable and fun for the seniors, but it is not appropriate in a democracy. I like some of the things that Dana Redd has done as mayor, but I think that she and the City Council members that are proud to announce their accomplishments at press conferences and at events to developers, lawyers, and CEOs, should also be willing to defend those accomplishments to the voters.
The crowd was hostile to the establishment. But as you’ll see in #4, there are many myths that float around and unreasonable ideas that deserve scrutiny or explanation.
- The current registered voters don’t come out
I don’t want to seem cynical, but maybe the Democratic establishment doesn’t come out to debates or events that they themselves have not organized because low turnout benefits the incumbent. In June 2015, Brian Coleman got 400 votes to qualify to run as a Democrat in the upcoming election - and he had more votes than the other three counterparts. Less than 1,500 people have basically picked who will run the city. Over 70,000 people live in Camden.
City Council Candidate
Votes in June 2015 Primary
Dana Burley, Ward 1
Brian Coleman, Ward 2
Francisco “Frank” Moran, Ward 3
Luis Lopez. Ward 4
The picture below is from the election report from 2014, the same year Cory Bokker ran for and won his full term in the US Sentate. Even years usually have a higher turnout than odd years in New Jersey. The numbers on the far right are percentage of turnout. That is to say how many people voted compared to how many are registered to vote.
In Camden, a city where city hall has taken responsibility for hiring people, changing the police department, partnering with school choice, bringing in companies with over $1B of tax breaks only 1 out of 5 people actually vote. Even so, this is the American system - this is democracy, this is a republic.
I have talked to over 30 people in the last week, conducting an unofficial survey. Are you voting next week? Almost no one said yes. One person knew that Arthur Barclay is running for something. I told him he's running for state assembly. He'll be a lawmaker if he wins. Barclay was the highest vote getter in 2013 for Camden. He pulls in more voters than anyone. The county needs Barclay to not only win, but to get more voters to show up on election day so that the Democrat freeholders too are able to win election. This year, there are four running instead of the usual three. That means that if the republicans won all four freeholder seats, they would take the majority for the first time since the early 1990s. To his credit, Arthur "OG" Barclay came to the debate on Thursday for the entire event and stayed afterwards taking questions.
- Facts don’t come out
During the debate and throughout this and other political campaigns, taxes, crime, the influence of Community Development Corporations (like PBCIP or Heart of Camden) public education, were discussed. As a student of these issues for ten years, I was disturbed by how often myths were stated as facts or candidates seemed to not have a basic understanding of the fundamentals of local government in New Jersey. This does not mean that they are not qualified to be in city government, however, it is disappointing that people seem to not know or care about the facts.
For example, a question was asked about tax revenue for Camden schools. No one mentioned a simple and easy to find fact - the district collects very little for Camden schools from property taxes. Out of a budget that is over $350M, only $7.5M is collected from Camden property taxes. Most of the revenue for Camden schools - district, renaissance, and charter - comes from taxes collected throughout the state. With a 2% limit, if the city actually did raise taxes it would increase the budget by only $150,000.
This is one big reason why the state has influence on what happens in the school district. Yes, this is a complicated issue. After three years of studying the school budget as a board member, I admit that I still don’t fully understand the complicated figures and calculations. But I know that the answers all the candidates gave were inadequate.
Source: click here
I also know that not enough money gets to the classroom. The evidence of this is not enough technology, books, microscopes, calculators, or many other things that students need to truly get a thorough and efficient education.
- We have gangs!
In the debate on Thursday night, there was no mention of gang violence. What? We dishonor our youth and disrespect the dead and their families if we deny that many of the murdered victims were targets. Government programs are not the answer either. Government is not the cure for Camden crime. At least not how it's been done so far. But I digress...
- Metro and Paymon aren’t leaving
For the second city election, I heard candidates that are otherwise seemingly intelligent people claim that they would rid the city of Metro police. They will not and cannot so should not say they will. Either they are ignorant of the basic nature of local politics and government or are making sleazy pleas to residents angry with the over zealousness of some police officers.
On what path does the Metro county police department leave and get replaced with a city force? Christie is governor, the mayor has two years left to her term.
The better fight is for a police oversight board, like what Newark has. We already have the DCCBs. The structure is in place, but the DCCBs power would grow enormously if they were a civilian review board. This could have been a huge campaign idea for the opposition. But for some reason, it wasn't. See the story here.
I have sat in many meetings where people call on the superintendent to resign. I didn't actually hear this arguement at the debate, but I am discussing it anyway. We don’t have an elected school board (yet). Christie, who ultimately picked Paymon Rouhanifard, is governor and will remain so. The democrats will likely stay in control of the state senate and assembly. Paymon’s contract was renewed recently. KIPP and other schools have new buildings. They are not going anywhere. They are here to stay. Even if Paymon quit or was fired today, which is extremely unlikely, he would be replaced with someone by the same team that hired him. Calling for his resignation may be a great rally cry for some events, but it does not lead to actually improving the enormous and untouched issues that remain in schools.
I urge all of the candidates to think about the practicality of their ideas.