Saturday, October 27, 2007

State of dissent

In his State of the City address given before Council on Thursday evening, Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer continued to rant against those who can’t or won’t view the city through his rose-colored glasses. After taking a dramatic pause to scan around Council Chambers at those gathered to hear his warmed-over rhetoric, the Mayor launched into a mini-sermon about how dissenters hurt the city.

But tonight, I do question whether we remember what has brought us this far. Some of us appear to have either lost our way, or, are having difficulty finding the way … the way to work together to get things done.

Certainly, criticism can be good … constructive, fact-based criticism. But not one person is hurt when we talk about our city with minor league truths and major league lies…Trenton is hurt.

This is not an all together incorrect statement. But who is lying and who is telling the truth?

Not one person is hurt when the media report on gang members like they’re celebrities, but treat honor students like they don’t exist. Not one person is hurt. Because the honor student likely goes on to college, and if the honor student happens to be our newest Assistant City Attorney – and graduate of Trenton Central High School – Nakia White – that honor student makes her way to Harvard Law School and then comes BACK to her hometown in Trenton to work for the City where she was a summer intern. So, again, the honor student isn’t hurt when that story is never told … Trenton is hurt … because families that might otherwise consider calling Trenton home, pass us up and go elsewhere, because they think their child can’t make it to “a Harvard” by way of Trenton Central High…But these families don’t hear enough from us about the many students who do.

Certainly there are good things in Trenton that don’t make the “news” and it is a shame, but it is a fact. Young people are supposed to avoid gang involvement, do well in school and succeed in life. It is what we all want and hope for Trenton’s children. Meeting that expectation is only newsworthy if it is abnormal or extraordinary. To say otherwise indicates that failure is the norm, thus making success newsworthy.

Factual and timely reporting of gang activity and crime doesn’t hurt any one person or the city as whole.

Trenton is only “hurt” when we don’t face up to the real facts and work together to change things. The first step in correcting a problem is admitting there is a problem.

Similarly, factual reporting of failing school systems, questionable police management, or public officials who threaten lawsuits when questioned by the public doesn’t hurt the city as much as it highlights how much work needs to be done.

If there has been one consistency in Mayor Palmer’s tenure it has been his reluctance, if not outright refusal, to admit that his critics might be right and he might be wrong. His tendency to treat criticism as high treason instead of an opportunity to make a positive change is what is hurting the city.

A continuous hum of negative vibes in the most personal way hurts the value of your property….Why would anyone want to buy a home in your neighborhood if all they ever hear is how bad you say it is?

What hurts the value of our property is the lack of enforcement of codes and laws; the litter in the streets; and the dysfunctional school system.

So what do we actually get at the end of a day of Trenton-bashing? Well, I’ll tell you what I think we get: We get a community that’s polarized because lines have been drawn and people feel compelled to pick a side … and worst of all … We get a city that’s marginalized … because Trenton will never reach its true potential if Her citizens don’t find common ground, commit to a common agenda and work together to achieve it.

Funny, but it seems to me it is the Mayor and his minions who like to polarize and marginalize those who dissent or disagree with the party line.

So if you love Trenton, lift Her up, don’t tear Her down…if you love Trenton, don’t look to find blame, work to find solutions…if you love Trenton, focus on Her beauty, not Her faults. I intend to work with citizens who will help us lift Trenton up.

We – ALL of us – from the Battle Monument to Centre Street, from Chambersburg and Villa Park to Hiltonia – we are all Trenton.

While there are those who paint the city with a broad brush of negativity, most people of our acquaintance love this city and appreciate all it has to offer. These are the people who volunteer their time and energy to work for the improvement of their neighborhoods; those who lead civic associations and other community groups; people who are committed to supporting local businesses and cultural organizations.

There are a lot of people who are doing what they can to improve the city. In the course of their activism and advocacy they are bound to disagree with the Mayor.

Does that make them any less loyal to Trenton than Douglas H. Palmer?

As we move forward with our comprehensive agenda steadied on the future, I remind us all: In one way, we are very much the same city that we have been for decades. We still can’t afford to get complacent … We still can’t afford to become distracted … and we still can’t afford to believe that the strategy of divide-and conquer will deliver us our victory. I will spend all of my efforts working on the problems – and working with citizens on a positive, constructive course of action.

We are all Trenton. And as part of Trenton we have the right to criticize and question how and why things are done. A true leader would recognize that and use it to his or her advantage to move the city forward.

Instead it seems that our Mayor is the one who is set on divide and conquer. He should heed his own words.

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