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Zachary Chester 2.0

I suppose finishing Second in the first round of your re-election does give one a strong jolt of humility, perhaps teaching the lesson that what you’ve been doing in the past might not be enough anymore.

That’s the only explanation I have for the way too little, way too late reinvention of two-term West Ward City Council member Zachary Chester taking place in the final days before his June 12 run-off against first-time candidate and first-place finisher on May 8 Robin Vaughn.

Mr. Chester has scheduled a Town Hall meeting for the residents of the Ward – his first in eight years, if memory serves – for the end of this month. And a 25-minute YouTube interview, under the auspices of the “Nubian News Afrikan Awareness Forum” reveals what looks like a brand-new candidate. Call him Zachary Chester 2.0.

These efforts, plus likely others he’ll try in the next two weeks, won’t work. This is a sad attempt to reverse in mere days a record and a persona that has been set in stone for the last eight years.

As recently as this past January, Mr. Chester was well known for pontificating from his position as City Council president, blaming his Hiltonia neighbors and Trenton voters in general for failing to help him do his job. Remember his comments at Council on January 16?

[W]e as a Community find everything wrong with this City. And then I ask folks, “Help out!”

My neighbors in Hiltonia, they don’t even drive down Stuyvesant Avenue. They take the back way to 29. My house sits right there. I sit on my porch. I see who ride past my house.

But then we talk about our City. We live here. This is our City. Today is a new day for our City. We have a new Governor. A Governor that stated that he would help the Capitol City.

But no one’s going to help us if our own people are fighting against us, and not trying to understand.

And I say to all of them, all of those, all of those who want to post the picture of me and the Gravy Train, “What have you done for your City? Which elected official up here have you worked with?”

Because I know when I had an election, and I ran against folks, and they said, “No matter who, we”… We were in a meeting, a debate, and everyone said “No matter who wins, we’ll work with that person.”

I wait. Because we can do more working together, than always fighting, and putting misinformation out there. Because individuals in this City believe Black and Brown folks in this City are not educated, and we don’t understand.

Because if you can call me for a pothole, call me for policy.

That’s right, said Mr. Chester in January. We didn’t call him enough on matters of policy. Our bad!

In his latest comments, Mr. Chester sounds almost contrite, 180 degrees from the arrogance on regular display in Council Chambers.

Right off the bat in his Nubian News interview, Chester for the very first time publicly mentions the elephant in the room that he ignored for the last four years, and which he uses to explain the entirety of his performance in office over the last four years.

The very first question from the unseen, unnamed interviewer is, at the 0:15 mark is, “Many people in the West Ward complain you’re nowhere in sight and not pro-active. What say you?”

Chester’s reply, from 0:26:

Well, many, I think many of the residents of the West Ward were not aware of the divorce that I went through. Going through a divorce and Council Presidency, which was a lot of responsibility had me more focused on getting my personal life together.

It’s something I did not, did not make public.    It happened.   Went through it, came out on the other end, still standing, with the responsibility of managing Council, and working.

So, in moving forward, in the upcoming Council – you know, because,I believe, that I am going to be successful – that I am not going to be seeking the Council Presidency. I’m going to focus on the Ward. Actually, I am in the process of reconnecting with the West Ward residents. I have several community meetings set up to sit down and reconnect with the residents of the West Ward.

So, that’s supposed to explain things? He was distracted for the last four years because of his divorce?!?! That’s why he was disengaged from constituents? That explains why he presided over four years of inattention and negligence?

Why, under his leadership, his Council twice re-approved the contract of the payroll vendor stealing millions of dollars from the City? Why his Council raised no objections to the ongoing deliberate withholding of resources and attention from the Trenton Water Works leading to its current state?

And now, that he has explained that the last four years are really better off just forgotten, he says he won’t run for Council president! He’s “reconnecting” with the people he represents in the West Ward! He won’t be distracted!

One obvious follow-up question begs to be asked, but was not by the interviewer: “If you were so distracted and out-of-touch during the past four years, why didn’t you, at the very least, step down from the Council Presidency to focus on your Ward then? Why did you push through, admittedly distracted?”

That’s a good question to ask him at the May 31 Town Hall, by the way!

Even in this apparent admission of failure intended to appeal to voters for another chance, he uses language that tries to deflect any personal responsibility for his record.

In the words above, which really do sound as if he recognizes his shortcomings and is asking voters to overlook them and his record during the last term, he can’t even bring himself to explicitly ask the voters for their support. He doesn’t mention at this point the upcoming election or the need for votes. He merely says that he “is going to be successful” in the “upcoming Council.” He doesn’t even acknowledge that he needs the approval of the majority of the June 12 election voters to send him back to the “upcoming Council!”

The next section of the interview is somewhat surreal, when you consider this man has been a sitting Council member for two full terms, eight whole years! In response to questions about how Mr. Chester intends to reconnect with his West Ward constituency, Mr. Chester explains that he’s now – only now!!! – going to put together a database of his constituents. At the 2:19 mark:

Moving forward, you know,  figuring out how to capture constituents’ contact information, whether it’s cell number, or email, to be able to email out information, text information out to residents. One of the challenges in doing that, is you know first getting the information, and then being able to afford to send the information. So, text message, for those residents that are willing to share their numbers, that’s very low cost. Because with Council, we don’t have stipend, or we don’t have funding to send out messages.

You see what he did there, at the last? It’s been really so difficult for him to communicate with his constituents in the West Ward because there’s no money in his City Council budget to do so!

The interviewer picks up on that and follows up.

3:04       Q: You don’t have any way to contact your constituents? I mean, any funding to do  that?

3:08       A: No. And Council would have to be willing to put funds into our budget, which we keep our budget at bare minimum, in order to do that. [Emphasis mine - KM]

Enough.

It isn’t Council’s, or the City’s, collective obligation to keep individual members in touch with their voters. It’s not up to the taxpayers – who fund Mr. Chester’s Council budget, after all – to do that.

It’s the sole responsibility of a Council member to do that, and the success or failure that the member has is on no one’s head but his or her own. If an eight-year member of Council has to talk about starting to put together a list of constituent contact information, you know that’s an admission of his ongoing failure to have done so up until now. And, in the waning days of his eight-year tenure on this Council, to blame a lack of City resources on his failure to communicate with residents is appalling.

How much does Twitter cost? How much does Facebook cost? How much does a basic website cost?

Next to nothing! Cost isn’t a good excuse here.

Neither is lack of resources. At the end of 2014, after his successful re-election the year before, Mr. Chester had $2,643 dollars in his campaign account. That was even after incurring over $10,000 in non-election expenses such as contributions to other political campaigns and non-profits.

Do you think he had enough money then to spend on constituent communication?

Over the following four years, he continued to raise funds for and spend money from his campaign account. Going into the beginning of his re-election year this January, he had $3,038 in his account.

Do you think he had enough money over the last four years to spend on constituent communication?

His most recent campaign finance report, filed on April 27, disclosed he had $20,038 cash on hand, more that several mayoral candidates.

Do you think he has enough money NOW to spend on constituent communication?

Of course he’s had plenty of resources available to him for each and every one of his eight years in office to communicate with his Ward!

Just in case there’s any doubt on the matter, the manual for all political candidates and elected officeholders in the State prepared by the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission explicitly states permissible uses of campaign funds. Among those are (page 33):

a.) Costs of communications to constituents, including:
i.) The production, circulation, and postage of newsletters, mailings, or
other written materials for officeholding duties;
ii.) The sponsorship or holding of a seminar or other meeting to be
attended by constituents

In this interview, Mr. Chester attempts to explain his poor record and failure to communicate with the people he represents by the distraction of his divorce, the lack of constituent contact information, and the lack of taxpayer funds.

Bullshit.

Mr. Chester would have been much better off in these last few weeks doing just as he has over the last four years: nothing. His efforts this week – a last-minute Town Hall and non-apologetic apologetic video interview – only emphasize how ineffective and out-of-touch he has truly been.

I won’t summarize the rest of the interview. The link above will take you to the whole piece. Overall, it is a very unsatisfying piece. Many of his answers and explanations are very highly edited, so that is impossible to get an idea of what Chester intended to say in his response. In any case, after the first three minutes of defensiveness, non-apology apology and deflection, you get a sense of where the whole thing goes.

I do applaud and agree with his call that, over the next four years, City Council and the rest of City Government need to focus on “getting back to the basics” of local representation.

In Zachary Chester’s case, it’s way, way too late for him to participate, or even to apologize.

By his poor performance in office, he has proven to the residents and voters of Trenton’s West Ward that the Best Basic we can work for right now is a brand-new Council member for this Ward.

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