Democratic Response to Rahway’s 2014 State of the City

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Voice of the People by James J. Devine

Listening to the State of the City address by the newly appointed mayor made me feel like I was watching someone put lipstick on a pig. While I harbored great hope the new mayor would rise to the demands of his job, I see that his only aim is to don rose colored glasses, enjoy improved prestige and pretend that all is well.

The policies proposed by the appointee show an almost complete lack of recognition for the serious economic problems presented by the global financial meltdown and the Great Recession, the monumental changes in our city and the new challenges posed to working families and seniors living on fixed incomes.

I recently received a letter from President Obama that said, “The only way that we as a country can realign our politics so that it matches the decency and goodness of the American people is if we support Democratic efforts early. It is our duty as Democrats to reward candidates who are serious about the challenges that this country faces — and reject the ones who are not.”

Although I like and respect the appointee, I believe his words and actions suggest that he is simply not serious about his job. Rahway needs an experienced and dedicated progressive whose full attention will be on the reformation of city government.

Downtown development is being pushed at a price, in tax abatement and PILOT programs that cheat residential homeowners. The bankruptcy of major developers and the closing of the Indigo Hotel exhibit a housing glut that makes more taxpayer giveaways nonsensical and irresponsible.

Closing our eyes to the problems we face or trying to put a shine on a bleak, somber and dispiriting outlook is reckless. Real leadership faces reality. Real leadership listens to the people. Real leadership deals with the situation instead of deluding itself and deceiving the public. Real leadership aspires to be greater.

I have heard from people in Rahway from all walks of life and from all points of view. The overriding theme I’ve heard is that our city is heading in the wrong direction, so voters want and deserve a new and different direction.

The transformation of Rahway’s downtown was a significant achievement, and I am proud of my part in helping make it possible, but needs someone who is going to stand up for us now and in the future. The revival of the city’s center was a priority of the past century, the past millennium, but not of the last decade — today income inequality and the restoration of the American Dream is the priority for our city and all across the nation.

We must not allow giant global corporations to dodge the responsibility of paying a fair share of taxes by Merck got a one-third tax reduction without a fight from City Hall. Tax fairness is a growing concern and we have a vast problem locally because the middle class has not been protected.

Rahway’s situation has also changed in other ways that have given birth to troubles that have never before been urgent priorities.

Crime is one example. We may have had fewer crimes from year to year, but police solved fewer than one in four reported felonies, according to the latest State Police Uniform Crime Reports. We had two shootings in the last several months, one a murder and the other involving a wounded Rahway High School student. Neither case has been solved and no guns have been recovered.

Gun violence has come to Rahway, so it is time for leadership that shows concern and gets results. Gun violence is a regularly debated political issue in the United States, but local officials have been deafeningly silent.

Rahway has not joined Michael Bloomberg’s coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is determined to fight crime, espousing a belief that we can do more to stop criminals from getting guns while protecting the rights of American citizens to own them.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ran on a pledge to reform his police department’s aggressive use of stop-and-frisk practices, while our newly appointed mayor often convened political meetings in the police chief’s office. Real leadership does not confuse ethics and expedience, and it never puts politics ahead of public safety.

In the coming months as he deals with a range of serious issues, including union negotiations and a city budget, residents will have an opportunity to judge his ability.

A mayor’s response to winter weather does not end when we plow the streets, and Rahway’s public works crew should not be faulted for a leadership failure.

One winter storm was dumping eight inches of snow on city streets the day after the Super Bowl kicked off in a dry and balmy 50 degrees, and another storm expected to lay down additional layers of snow and ice headed in our direction caused the appointee to postpone his State of the City speech. When he finally did deliver the address he omitted mention of climate change and when the crisis will mean if we fail to act now.

High residential property taxes, a growing concern about crime, the need to focus on the plight of the elderly and working class, who have been left behind in the rush to develop downtown, these are the chief concerns of our city and they were not discussed tonight.

Instead of promoting solutions to move our city forward, the has ignored senior citizens, middle class families and small businesses.

Americans have always aspired to be greater. Real leadership aspires to be greater. Rahway deserves real leadership.


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