The Christmas Mayor

If he seeks re-election next May, Trenton’s Mayor Eric Jackson will likely run on a record of bringing redevelopment money into Trenton. He has to hope that he will get all the acknowledgement, and votes, that he needs from getting money in, because he has been horrible at managing it once it’s here.

Like a benevolent Santa-Claus-in-Chief, the man relishes the opportunity to announce presents and gifts to the people of the City of Trenton, even when he is only standing by the people who actually make them possible. That’s Mr. Jackson standing behind Governor Chris Christie as the governor announced a grant of $13 Million in state money to tear down abandoned buildings in the City. That’s him again, standing behind the Governor as Christie gave another $9 Million to the City for new housing. Hey, how about when Christie gifted the City with $18.5 Million for a new park and a (snicker!) Bridge connecting this park to downtown Trenton? Yep! Another $2.4 Million for the City’s Cadwalader Park? Hmmm,  there doesn’t seem to have been a press conference for that one.

There’s been a lot of largesse from the State of New Jersey in the last few months, almost $43 Million Dollars in the preceding paragraph alone. How come? Is all this money really due to the diligent efforts of our Mayor and his Administration? Perhaps, but I think these grants have more to do with Chris Christie than Eric Jackson. Whatever the reasons he may have – creating a “legacy;” banking some political good will for another possible presidential run in 2020; giving back to Trenton a fraction of the $150 Million or so in aid the City would have received from the Capital City Aid program he canceled in 2010 when he took office; or perhaps rewarding Mr. Jackson for not rocking the boat during his doomed presidential campaign and for not opposing the state’s plan to downsize the state’s downtown building footprint, a plan bitterly opposed by a group of downtown business owners – Chris Christie is the reason for these recent grants, and not Eric Jackson.

Enough about Christie. This is supposed to be about our Mayor. Governor Christie has done a huge favor for Eric Jackson, gifting him with several sizeable grants to Trenton at a time that will help Jackson’s own re-election campaign, which so far remains unannounced. Mr. Jackson, in turn, gets to give presents to the City’s voters, playing Santa in the Summer.

It hasn’t been just government grants that Mr. Jackson is happy to publicly promote. When a developer announced plans last fall to re-develop the old Trentonian newspaper building on Perry Street as a Dunkin Donuts bakery, the mayor couldn’t wait to pull that be-ribboned box from under the tree. He very prominently tore the wrapping off that one at a MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce meeting in October of last year. “They’re planning to create almost 200 new jobs in our city. When Trenton attracts new business and jobs our local economy is stronger, people go to work and our city gets stronger.”

But, as often happens the day after Christmas, if the presents are the wrong color or the wrong size, or need different batteries, or need to be returned, it’s hard to find this mayor to go back to the mall and face the crowds. For instance, last night The Trentonian published an article that described the Dunkin Donuts project as “dead.” In that piece, reporter David Foster wrote, “The mayor did not return a message seeking comment.”

Similarly, last year in the middle of an upsurge in violent crime in the City the Mayor staged a big outdoor press conference with local, county and state law enforcement and elected officials to announce a “bold” plan to combat that upsurge. However, as described in this space last year, that plan itself had significant problems.

A year later, this fuzzy plan – announced with great fanfare and public pomp – has had rather predictable results. Crime in Trenton is again spiking, and the Mayor’s response this summer has been… a press release. Rather than make another public appearance on the matter that might leave him vulnerable to awkward questions and comments about the lack of progress over the last three years, Mr. Jackson instead released a mealy-mouthed statement after the recent shooting death of 15-year-old Kyler Bragg. In that statement, Jackson devoted only three lines to Kyler Bragg and his family, before pivoting away: “This local and national crisis requires a significant alignment of interest that are working comprehensively toward a solution to end this violence. I believe that complex public-policy challenges cannot be solved exclusively by elected officials.” He talked briefly about 12-hour shifts for police officers, a task force of more than 30 officers, and hey! “the help of funding authorized by Governor Chris Christie and New Jersey State Attorney General Christopher Porrino” to install video surveillance cameras around the city. New money! Grants! He finished up by reminding us, in case we didn’t know, “Unfortunately, crime is ever-present in our society.”

No shit!

It’s easier for Mr. Jackson to invoke the “ever-present” nature of crime in this “local and national crisis” than it is to face up to things that need attention in his own administration. As one recent example of this, last week a year-old video surfaced of Public Safety Director Ernest Parrey using racially-loaded language to describe some of Trenton’s residents. Mayor Jackson took no action with Director Parrey, dismissing the incident as merely a “bad and extremely poor choice of words” as reported in The Trentonian.

Just as no action was taken by the mayor a year ago, when Mr. Parrey was the subject of a City Council disciplinary hearing.

Just as no action has been announced by the Mayor in the aftermath of a report issued last week by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that last month’s water quality incident affecting thousands of Trenton’s residents was caused by “‘technical, managerial, and operational deficiencies’ within the Trenton Water Work’s Water Treatment and Distribution systems ‘that need to be addressed.’” As The Trentonian’s David Foster wrote last week, “In a statement at the time, Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson said that the problem arose from a technical issue at the city’s water treatment plant that caused chlorine levels to temporarily drop.” DEP has shown the mayor’s “technical issue” to be one that also involved “managerial and operational deficiencies;” that is, people and process issues that can be addressed and hopefully fixed.However, this Mayor, a former Trenton Public Works Director with prior direct responsibility for the Trenton Water Works, a utility that’s had more than its share of problems over the last several years, has been silent over the last week about issues that DEP reported “need to be addressed.”

Just as the Mayor has been silent about problems with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that led to the City having to give up over $3 Million in future grants because of past inappropriate spending and the Jackson Administration’s three-year failure to fix managerial and operational deficiencies in its administration of Federal grants.

Just as the Mayor was silent for a year after it was revealed a city vendor had been able to swindle nearly $5 Million in City payroll tax deposits, because of managerial and operational deficiencies in its financial departments.

Just as…

You get the picture.

Over and over again over the last three years – and at a pace that is likely to accelerate over the next year as we approach the next municipal election cycle – we’ve been treated to many virtual Christmas mornings, as our mayor has brought great tidings of joy, and new money, and grants, and grand initiatives.

But over and over again, we’ve seen how this mayor and his administration have been utterly incompetent in the day-to-day management of the City of Trenton. We’ve seen that all too frequently over the last three years, and again over the last week.

Eric Jackson is a Christmas mayor, great with glitter and fancy wrapping, horrible with everything else.

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