A few more thoughts about the commemorative bust of President Barack Obama to be unveiled in the atrium of Trenton’s City Hall on Thursday. I still have some doubts and questions about the process that led to its creation. The artwork was commissioned in secret, and intended to be put in place in City Hall without any apparent consultation or involvement of Trenton’s Council or of its Landmarks Commission, as I believe our City Code required. We are told by Anthony Roberts, the “Chair” of the “Committee” that oversaw the project that no taxpayer funds were used in its acquisition. At least one Councilman, George Muschal, is on record as having his doubts about that, stating he is pretty sure that at least $1,000 of city money was spent. And, considering the great variety and depth of the local arts community in our City, I am very surprised that this commission went not to a Trenton artist and atelier, but one in St. Louis.
If – and that’s a big If – these questions can be answered in a satisfactory way, then I have no problem with the bust. As I mentioned yesterday, I think it is very appropriate to honor Mr. Obama in this way at this time. Whatever one thinks of his accomplishments – and I personally think they are several, significant and positive for the most part, although I disagree with many of his policies and actions – his election and re-election as our first African-American President is of major historic importance by itself. It is a source of pride to all Americans, and certainly to the African-American community in Trenton. Honoring Mr. Obama is a good thing to do.
But this honor, and its placement, raises a major question. According to the Trenton Times piece yesterday by Alex Zdan, the bust “will sit directly in front of the wall that bears pictures of Mack and the city’s previous mayors. Mack’s color photo will be just feet away from where the Obama likeness will sit.”
And that’s the problem. I believe it is seriously inappropriate and a great dishonor to the President of the United States of America to have his likeness placed in close proximity to that of a man who has been accused of major crimes and betrayal of the public trust, by the same United States of America.
The placement and dedication of this bust reinforces the Wall of Mayors as not merely a historical documentation of Trenton’s past, but as a place of honor to those who throughout this City’s, and this nation’s history, have given us the gift of their honorable public service.
As long as he is under suspicion and under indictment, the inclusion of the photograph of Tony Mack is an insult to all those other mayors, and to President Obama. It must be removed before Thursday’s ceremony.
If, over the next several months, the result of the process that is now underway, Mr. Mack is acquitted of the serious charges of extortion, bribery and mail fraud he stands accused of, then his picture should of course be restored to its place in that atrium.
But if he is convicted of these charges, then he will have lost any right to his inclusion in that place of honor, forever.
Since his indictment last week, he has refused to resign or take a leave of absence during the uncertain number of months leading up to his trial. Many citizens, City Council members, and several of our County and State legislators have called for his resignation. So have County Executive Brian Hughes and Governor Chris Christie. But the man brazenly declines to do the honorable thing, and just leave.
This is one small yet symbolically important move that we can insist upon. If the man refuses to physically go, we can at least demand that his likeness will not share the same space as our President.
I don’t know the precise way to make this happen. City Council will not meet for another couple of weeks, so a Resolution from them by Thursday will be impractical. So I suppose the remaining course of action is to contact the Mayor’s Office and the Director of Public Works, expressing the sentiment:
Keep the Bust. Lose the Picture.
Will it happen? I don’t know. I do know that while this City and its people continue to be shamed by the Indicted Occupant of the Mayor’s Office, there are many things we can and should do to retain some measure of self-respect, and of civic dignity. This is one, albeit small way.
Object to the disrespect and dishonor coming to our President by associating him with this man, however indirectly.
Keep the Bust. Lose the Picture.