As the city recorded its 19th murder on Saturday amid the absence of any substantive plan from Mayor Tony F. Mack to address a tidal wave of shootings, homicides and robberies that continue to sabotage Trenton’s quality of life and reputation, the City Council on October 18 introduced an ordinance that seeks to reduce his annual salary to $60,000 from $126,400.
The vote was 5-2 with the usual 'no vote' from the duo of defiant do-nothings: Councilman at Large Alex Bethea and Councilwoman at Large Kathy McBride. McBride, I am told, covets the mayoralty—a frightening prospect, to say the least.
According to Jim Carlucci, the nearly superhuman city activist and OPRA-requesting machine, in order for the ordinance to survive a veto from Mr. Mack when it is brought back in November, it will need five votes from the Council to make it law. Therein lies the challenge.
The Council also narrowly passed a resolution issuing a vote of no confidence in Mr. Mack for his shocking inability to lead and for his low profile. His public schedule has been barren for months, according to published news reports.
Despite what Councilman at Large Alex Bethea believes, the genesis of the symbolic effort came from the grassroots good government organization Majority for a Better Trenton (MFABT), and not from some devious and sinister plot to undermine Mr. Mack, who has been shafting taxpaying Trentonians since he took office in 2010. Last month I became a member of the non-partisan MFABT, and I encourage other Trentonians to learn about its work and consider joining. Its website is mfabt.org.
Trenton is in dire need of a public safety strategy with benchmarks; capital improvements to infrastructure; a long-term economic development blueprint; a public/private bank that can assist developers with low interest loans; streamlined permitting and the elimination of certain licensing requirements; and a marketing plan to attract entrepreneurs and prospective homeowners with American Express cards to our city. These are just a few of the potentially transformative ideas that could reverse the city’s economic condition.
But to accomplish these imperatives, the city will need a new, courageous mayor who can work in common cause with the City Council, a reality that appears to be months away. The City Council, since Mr. Mack hijacked city government, has been a divided and collectively timid body on holding the mayor accountable for his non-existent policy agenda and unauthorized, reckless spending that has resulted in a proposal by the mayor to raise taxes to the highest level in the state.
Trentonians will be watching East Ward Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, who was the critical fifth vote at the October 18 meeting when the salary ordinance was introduced, and who normally has aligned herself with the mayor like a mooring rope to the Hindenburg. She will most likely be pressured by Mr. Mack and his surrogates to not support the measure at the next go-round.
If Ms. Reynolds-Jackson remains independent and part of the coalition of Council members that includes West Ward Councilman Zachary Chester, North Ward Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson, South Ward Councilman George Muschal and Council President Phyllis Holly-Ward, she can go back to her constituents with a significant accomplishment and with her dignity intact.
Leaders, I have learned, sometimes do not face reality well. This is the fundamental flaw of Mr. Mack, who has lurched from one misstep to another. Instead of building political currency and linking the right people, strategies and resources together—core processes of effective leadership that could have saved his failed Mayor’s Learning Center Libraries—he has pursued a scorched-earth-style of management that has gutted the government of institutional knowledge, dismantled careers and sandbagged livelihoods.
Leaders step forward of the line to do bold things. I hope that Councilwoman Reynolds-Jackson, who was elected to lead, will demonstrate that she represents her constituents and not Mr. Mack’s bizarre and self-destructive descent into political obsolescence.
Michael A. Walker is a city activist who blogs about the performance of Trenton municipal government. His radio show, Slipstream, airs every Thursday at 5 PM on WBCB 1490 AM.