Friday, January 31, 2014


On Monday, February 3 2014, the prosecution and the defense will make their closing arguments before a jury charged with determining the guilt of Trenton Mayor Tony Mack and his brother Ralphiel in the alleged scheme to accept cash bribes from a would be developer of a downtown parking garage.

This is the end result of an FBI sting investigation that fronted the fake development deal to see if the Macks and their friends JoJo Giorgianni and Charles Hall III would take the bait.  Giorgianni and Hall have already entered guilty pleas, leaving the Macks to stand alone.

Some still wonder if this “sting” was actually “entrapment” and/or if this was part of some greater vendetta against the woefully underperforming mayor and his clique of unruly and ill-mannered friends.

We personally think the prosecution has made its case that there was a conspiracy and that the Mack brothers were not only aware of it but participated in it.  The law does not require that either one of them be caught actually taking the bribes, although Ralphiel was found to be in possession of some of the currency that the FBI used in the investigation.

One can never know for sure how a jury will vote. It only takes one reasonable doubt for the whole case to crumble and the defendants set free.

It is significant that this trial will end, however it ends, just as the municipal election campaign season warms up. Just three months after the verdict is delivered Trentonians will go to the polls to select a mayor and city council for the next four years.

Candidates and voters alike need to take some time to reflect on the past three and one half years of the hands down worst administration this city has seen in its over 300 year history.  We all need to review not only what was done but how it was done.

Before casting one vote in the May 13th municipal election, the public needs to thoroughly and thoughtfully review their choices.  The candidates cannot be judged solely on the cut of their suit or the church they attend.

We need to examine who they associate with; where their campaign money is coming from and how they have conducted themselves in their public and, yes, private lives up to this point.

Engaged citizens must review the information that is available to them via New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission reports.  Does the candidate file complete and accurate reports on time? Are they reporting proper expenditures?

Trentonians must also ask direct questions of those seeking office and not accept the typical, non-committal political double-speak designed to win voter approval but containing no substance.

Mayoral candidates must present measurable, realistic goals and define a plan that they will follow to achieve them.

City council candidates must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the governing body’s role in city government; its authority and power.

Pay attention to not only what candidates are saying but how they communicate.

We all say we want the best for Trenton, let’s not lower our standards just because we have a personal affinity for an individual who is running for office. 

If we want elected leaders who can think critically, than we must be critical in how we choose them.

The 2010-2014 term has been a waste for the city of Trenton. Corruption scandal aside, we have seen more waste and ineffective, often non-existent, government. It is well documented and openly recognized that the city’s woes did not start at noon on July 1, 2010.  What has transpired since has dragged Trenton down to the lowest point in our memory.

Despite what may be said during the campaign, whoever takes the oath of office on July 1, 2014 will not be able to flip a switch and immediately make everything “OK” again.

So choose wisely, Trenton. Or be prepared for an even rockier next four years.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

No time for cheers

The Trentonian is reporting this morning that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his newly appointed executive director of the Schools Development Authority, Charles McKenna, have promised Assemblyman Reed Gusciora that Trenton will get a new high school.

This is just the latest in a long series of promises and hoped for starts on remedying a situation where students and staff are forced to endure conditions that in any other district would not be tolerated.
The situation with the 82 year old high school is not new. It has been punted back and forth for over a decade pitting the state against that school board against the preservationists against the state and so on.

Everyone wants to point the finger and no one wants to accept any blame. That has to stop. Now.
Let’s start at the very beginning: the Trenton school district let the building deteriorate.  Undoubtedly, defenders of our board of education will say it was a money problem, but let’s be real. It is a management problem.

Yes, it is an older building and proper repairs and upkeep cost more than temporary, slap-dash fixes. So budget and plan. Trenton’s funding for its infrastructure (like that of the county and the state) is woefully inadequate. We have no problem pumping up salaries for administrators and the like but we won’t invest in maintaining and improving what we have.
When the courts determined that New Jersey was required to allocate some $8 billion for fixing up the dilapidated schools in the state’s poorest districts, it got everybody excited.  With all of the money in play, could scandal be far behind?

After only five years in existence, the Schools Construction Corporation created to oversee the investment in school improvements was abolished in 2007 by then Governor Corzine. Audits showed that hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted in the gold rush to get new schools built. The SDA was formed to “put an end to the wasteand mismanagement of the past”, Corzine was quoted as saying in August of 2007.
The reorganization of the funding and management authority meant all projects would be reevaluated. This put the Trenton Central High School plans back into play and set the stage for more delays.

Alumni and preservationists felt, and we believe rightly so, that a properly managed restoration and updating of the existing school would actually be less expensive than totally new construction. Princeton’s high school, the same vintage and similar design as Trenton’s, had undergone just such a renovation and no one complained about their building as being inadequate.
There is an unfortunate bias that “new” is better and will solve our problems.  It is an attitude that is a holdover from the first couple of centuries of this country, when resources were seemingly unlimited and we could just expand and build a new whenever and wherever we wanted.

A new school building, made of concrete block and drywall instead of brick and plaster is not going improve test scores and raise graduation rates.
That was the popular position and one that the SDA (and its predecessor, the SCC) played to. Building new was cheaper, they said.

And so it went, back and forth; Build New! Restore and Renovate!
The ineffective, mayor appointed school boards and school administrators (with a few exceptions) collectively fell in with the community cry for all new construction. The preservationists made enough noise to give the SDA political cover for its own inadequacies, indecision and political posturing.

Nothing got done.  Conditions in the building worsened.
In the run up to last November’s gubernatorial election, a lot of attention was given to the school. It became just another pawn in the political chess game. Media tours, protests, candidate visits and the incumbent’s reported refusal to tour the building were reported and remarked upon constantly.

Now that Governor Christie is ensconced in his second and final term, and regardless of his aspirations and success in moving to the White House in 2016, he’s promising “a new school.”
We continue to hope that the plans call for mostly renovating and restoring the existing structure, but we realize that is unlikely at this point. It’s a shame.

What is a bigger shame is that it has taken this long to get something done (if, indeed, the promise comes to fruition).
There should be no self-congratulations; no high-fives; no cheers.

The powers that be (and were) created this mess. They prolonged the agony and contributed to the destruction of a once beautiful and quite serviceable school building.
Instead of demonstrating the value and worth of taking care of the things we have, the school district, the board of education, the elected leaders at all levels let us down. They morphed maintenance and management issues into political posturing. They all said “It’s for the children” and for more than a decade, an entire generation of students has gone without.

There is no cause for celebration and no reason for further blame shifting.
Just sit down and get to work.

“It’s for the children.”

Friday, January 10, 2014

Now what?

Is the defense team for Tony and Ralphiel Mack trying to stifle coverage of their trial on corruption charges?

{edited at 9 pm, 1/10/14 to include notes about and from the Times article on the matter}

On the same day that jurors and the public heard a recording of JoJo Giorgianni complain about Trentonian columnist LA Parker constantly writing stories picking on Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, the defense team appears to have subpoenaed another Trenton reporter.

On Friday evening, the Times of Trenton published a story online noting that Thursday morning, January 9, Times of Trenton reporter Alex Zdan was served with a subpoeana asking for "all notes pertaining to coverage of the Mack et al matter."

According to the article by Jenna Pizzi,
“Attorneys for The Times have notified the judge and the defense attorney of our intent to fight the subpoena," said Matt Dowling, editor of The Times. "Courts have long-recognized a privilege deeply rooted in the First Amendment that protects reporters from being compelled to provide evidence in judicial proceedings.”

Just after Judge Michael Shipp called a one hour recess for lunch on Thursday, Times reporter Alex Zdan was approached by Robert Haney, attorney for Ralphiel Mack.

Haney, accompanied by private investigator Buddy Wright, walked over to where Zdan was speaking with colleague Jenna Pizzi.

Haney and Wright stood slightly apart for a moment and were largely ignored by the reporters. After politely waiting for a pause in the conversation, Haney asked Zdan if he had been “served.”

There was a very tense pause while Zdan just stared at Haney. Finally, Zdan told Haney that he would not and probably should not speak with him, at least not without a lawyer present. The reporter’s tone was calm and measured but there was unmistakable tension in the words.

Haney nodded and stated that was why he had approached Zdan. He asked that any legal representative of the reporter’s please contact him.

This happened the same day that a lengthy article based upon an interview Zdan did with Giorgianni appeared in the Times. Whether that article was the catalyst for the legal action against Zdan is not known.

Zdan’s reporting on the entire investigation from the time of the FBI raids of the homes of the Mack brothers and Giorgianni has been intensive. He has uncovered the reasons why search warrants were issued for certain individuals.

We hope the defense is not unfairly trying to silence the press or discourage further investigative reporting as part of its trial strategy.

And we hope the defense team is a zealous in pursuing  and preventing possible witnesses from sitting in the courtroom during proceedings, such as Rodney Washington did on Thursday.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

R.I.P. Mrs. Stewart

Patricia H. Stewart
5/17/1944 – 12/31/2013
The passing of Pat Stewart on New Year’s Eve is a sad event.  Our deepest sympathy is extended to her son, Nicholas, and the rest of her family.

Like many of her friends have already said, the loss is huge.

Mrs. Stewart, as most knew and addressed her, was an indefatigable defender and supporter of Trenton. She was an active member of several community groups, held appointed positions on the Zoning and Ethics boards, and was a member of Trenton’s historic St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

Pithy, sharp of wit…and tongue, Pat Stewart was a tireless advocate for a better Trenton. Even as her health waxed and waned, her love for and belief in her adopted hometown never wavered.

Pat was old school, but not old fashioned. She believed in doing your homework, forming an opinion and expressing it with proper grammar and spelling.

She believed in right and wrong and in speaking her mind.

Pat Stewart was not born in Trenton; she did not grow up in Trenton or attend Trenton schools. Those minor facts did not make her any less of a Trentonian.

As the new year dawns and the campaigns for municipal office begin , candidates and voters alike would do well to ask themselves “What would Mrs. Stewart do” before acting on something or speaking on something.  Candidates and voters should not invoke their “Trenton roots” unless and until they can demonstrate the common sense, big hearted and sincere expression of their citizenship as Pat did.

It’s going to take everyone working together to fill the gap left in Trenton’s civic life by Pat’s passing.