Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Regarding the State of Our Cities

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Regarding the State of Our Cities

Article excerpt

AS PRESIDENT of the New Jersey Political Science Association, I recently hosted a forum called "The State of Our Cities," a roundtable panel in which the mayors of some of New Jersey's largest cities came to discuss the challenges that their municipalities face, and how they are dealing with those challenges. The idea was that some struggling cities could learn from the example of those that have seen successes, and those mayors who have just been elected recently can learn from their more experienced counterparts.

The panel, consisting of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Atlantic City Mayor Donald Guardian and Camden Mayor Dana Redd, came in the wake of Governor Christie's budget address, and so the pallor of the state's struggling economy cast the context for the day. But at the conclusion of the event, the mayors, the audience and I could not help but feel optimism for New Jersey's cities, primary because of the leadership at the helm of these cities and the mayors' desire to right the ships they have taken over.

The challenges these cities face are enormous. Their fiscal situations range from being on solid ground to being on the brink of collapse, but they all face challenges in terms of crime and in terms of addressing the broader societal ills - including drug use and dysfunctional family structure that have a strong effect on many facets of city life.

But there are also commonalities in how they are shepherding their cities through the economic recovery.

Fulop was elected in 2013, and the economic successes that Fulop has fostered made him the envy of the other mayors. Fulop - who gave up a job at Morgan Stanley in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to join the Marines and was deployed to Iraq -- ushered in a 2.13 percent reduction in taxes in his first municipal budget, while hiring 132 new police officers. During his administration, businesses in Jersey City have added more 8,500 new jobs, and Jersey City was one of 12 municipalities nationwide to receive a $2.25 million Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. A prisoner reentry program created by Fulop's administration has become a national model.

Public-private partnerships

Fulop described the importance of public-private partnerships in his successes and also noted that the state's struggling fiscal situation has made it imperative that cities plan and project far into the future. "We don't want to be held hostage by what happens in Trenton, and we have to plan for ourselves. I can tell you with 90 percent certainty where our budget is going to be in 2019."

Redd - whose mother and father passed away when she was 8 years old and who worked as a bank teller as a teenager to help support her younger brother, earning her college degree at night -- is serving her second term as Camden's mayor. …

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