POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Trenton’s new mayor outlines his vision for the capital city

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |
Provisional ballots will be counted Friday, after which the Mercer County Clerk’s Office is expected to make official the results of a runoff election that unofficial results indicate longtime Assemblyman Reed Gusciora won by a mere 355 votes. He spoke with Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Aron: You’ve been in the Assembly for 22 years. Why did you want to leave and become mayor of Trenton?

Gusciora: Well, I think I’m invested in the city of Trenton. I’ve represented the capital city for the last 22 years. I’ve been disappointed in the inertia for the last couple of administrations. And I think we really need to get back to the basics and a mayor can do some of those basic things that a city needs to flourish. We need to pave the potholes. We need to take down abandoned buildings. We need to clean the alleys. We just need to offer some kind of hope that we can get outside investors to come in and take a chance on Trenton. And at the end of the day that means jobs for our residents and real economic opportunities.

Aron: Is Trenton a city kind of hard on its luck at the moment?

Gusciora: It is, but I see the potential for Trenton. I see a lot of constituents are eager for change. They work really hard and work their heart out. We had seven candidates who wanted to be mayor, so the enthusiasm level is there, the potential is there, we just need to move forward and collectively work on our common challenges.

Aron: Trenton Water Works has come under scrutiny by the state DEP [Department of Environmental Protection]. Are there water quality problems there, and do you need money from the state for new water infrastructure?

Gusciora: I think they’re all manageable problems. The Christie administration did not approve any hiring until we 60 vacancies and that caused a lot of the quality problems that are there. We need a city that has a partnership with the governor to allow us to grow as a water department, work on our water quality issues. So it’s more management opportunities that we need to take, and not only live up to our responsibility. We service five communities. We need to offer top quality, but get the job done with the right kind of employees and the right kind of management running the water department. I should say we need to keep that as an asset. We should not be privatizing the water department. That has a been a positive asset for the city of Trenton and we hope to keep it for many years to come.

Aron: Former Gov. Chris Christie wanted to try and transform Trenton at the tail end of his second term. He talked about building some new state office buildings, but away from downtown and you were highly critical of that when I interviewed you last month. Is it too late to reverse the location of those new state buildings?

Gusciora: I hope not. Christie was a very poor partner with the city of Trenton, particularly with the state building plan. He proposed to tear three buildings down. If you talk to an urban planner, they say put that downtown where it can foster more economic development, or put it near a transportation center. He’s done neither, and it was a cynical attempt to shove a building project in his last waning hours of the administration. I would urge Gov. Murphy to take a hard look at that, do it right. I think at the end of the day there will be more development if we can foster that by having those buildings downtown where it will be a win-win, both for the state and the city.

Aron: You finished second in the first round of voting. What changed between May 8 and June 12?

Gusciora: Well, it was a 1,000 plurality swing. I was 700 votes down the first round and then won by 3oo votes, so that was 1,000 votes. I think my team worked really hard. We used the first round as a basis to go ahead forward, learn from some of the pitfalls we did in the first round, but really built up a broad coalition and were able to be victorious on election night.

Aron: You defeated Paul Perez, you’ll be sworn in on July 1. What’s the first thing you want to focus on?

Gusciora: Filling the potholes and starting a program to take down abandoned buildings, putting up parking meters and just really getting back to the basics so we can demonstrate, not only to our constituents, the city residents, but to the outside world that Trenton is a city worth investing in, and living in and coming to socialize in.