NJ Spotlight on Cities Focuses on Policies

By Michael Hill

“Certainly for New Jersey we’re entering a critical time where we’re going to be electing a new governor in a year, a lot of major issues facing the state and in particular its cities,” said NJ Spotlight Founding Editor John Mooney.

With that, NJ Spotlight put a day-long spotlight on policies to improve New Jersey’s cities and got ideas from former governors, current mayors and dozens of advocates for community schools, immigration, transportation and the environment.

“We’re non-partisan so we come into the conversation really about policy and really about what makes people’s lives better. I think that’s important to anybody who wants to be re-elected,” said Watson Institute for Public Policy Executive Director Barbara George Johnson.

One session focused on creating more affordable housing.

“We’re not going well at all. Since the Council on Affordable Housing was created and our Mount Laurel decisions in the late ’70s and mid ’80s, we have not created nearly enough affordable housing for the people that need it in our state and our communities,” said Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey Executive Director Renee Wolf Koubiadis.

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage spoke about the unexpected.

“Somebody said to me, ‘Mayor, what do you do to prepare for this?’ I don’t think you prepare to wake up in the morning for a bomb to be in your city at the train station,” Bollwage said.

At one of the busiest train stations and the trains not running.

“And the goal was to open them up before the rush hour Monday morning. They literally walked the trestle looking at the train tracks for any other packages that may have been up there,” Bollwage said.

In a discussion with Mayor Ras Baraka, Former Gov. Tom Kean says he hopes the next governor will focus on New Jersey’s cities.

“An urban agenda, caring about it as a candidate and governor and come to the cities, demonstrate their importance, talk about them in your State of the State, make them part of your policy agenda and as you build that agenda, work with the mayors,” Kean said.

Baraka welcomed that advice and called for a huge commitment to cities.

“I’ve been saying that we need an Urban Marshall Plan. At the end of the day, a Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after the war with millions of dollars. Today that would be billions of dollars invested and I don’t think that was ever invested at that capacity in these cities,” he said.

Advice perhaps for the next governor and president.