Sunday, February 19, 2012

State of the (Jersey) City (speech)

“Jersey City is a leader in the State of New Jersey on nearly every front, whether it be in public safety, economic development, sustainability, the arts, or entertainment.”
Mayor Jerramiah Healy

State of the City speech … a good speaker, the Mayor, who highlighted many accomplishments including an impressive amount of green initiatives. He seems justified in taking credit for J.C. not laying off any police officers or creating several youth (or as his J.C. accent tended to say, “youft” as in Paftmark) programs or filling in 92 pot holes. The council room was filled to standing room only capacity. Many in attendance were city employees, such as the woman near me, who told me she worked there, meaning city hall. She loudly applauded at the conclusion of the speech then declared “now I can go home.”
The speech is worth reading not for its rhetorical flourishes (which were mainly absent) but how it highlights lots of local stuff you probably don’t know about. I know I didn’t. If this link doesn’t work just google.
Politics… America… this year there’s the presidential election, next year Healy is going to run for reelection and his main opponent is Councilman Steve Fullop. Everybody expects a mud fight and judging by the nasty comments about the Mayor Fullop supporters are prone to making and the fact that Healy is a seasoned, experienced politician well adept at battle in muck and mire, expectations will be filled well passed flowing. Forget about the brim; we’ll be knee deep before we know it. This speech is one of the last hurdle-free victory laps our oft beleaguered Mayor can take.
What role will our city politics play in affecting the national and state situations? I guess by definition, a State of the City speech must be myopic, so as a means to gauge larger implications it is quite inadequate.
Low voter turn out, in large part due to a sting operation on bribe taking politicians, resulted in the election of that disgrace in Trenton, Republican superstar, Christie. Obama’s second term is not assured, progressives feel short changed on change and the Republicans are in a frenzy with a panel of scary crazy candidates the likes of which I have never seen (Gingrich, really?).
We live in polarized times. I believe in America, I believe in Justice, Godfather. I believe that the Democratic Party is our only political hope and the reliable stalwarts of the New Deal dream were, for better or worse, city political machines, unions and voter turn out. The 99 percent of yester year made FDR’s policy and the hope they embodied a reality, imperfect at best and in the scheme of history, sadly short lived.
 In New Jersey, the Dems are in disarray after the debacle that was Corzine. What Democrat will run against Christie – who is now a celebrity, you can’t deny he has attained that status even if you like me find it offensive; proudly overweight, arrogant, and anti-intellectual, it’s as if the inner, aging frat boy of the Republican party has come to life – or for that matter, what N.J. DEM replace Lautenberg, who is a great Senator but is now about 120 years old. I wasn’t looking for hope at the State of the City, and I didn’t find it. I felt better about thinking locally but was disappointed when I thought globally.
The most enthusiastic applause came for the paving of Christopher Columbus, which is sadly telling about our true residential priorities. Development and construction defines any aspirational hope in the local economy so all sorts of new projects, mainly residential, were cited. Goya Beans was a standout – best damned can of beans at C-Town! – They’re moving their plant here and promise 500 permanent jobs. There’s talk of a re-industrialization of America, and maybe a new cannery in our fair city can be taken as an early harbinger of such a dream becoming true.
Mayor Healy spoke of Jersey City becoming a World Class city. World Class is such a way overused phrase that one must wonder what does it really mean. I’m not exactly sure how a city which is world class should be defined but I suspect a World Class city is not one with only one museum and that museum is closed down, ownership of its collection in doubt and has been sold; or a city whose one live entertainment facility, a beautiful but only partially restored former movie palace, is closed every summer, holds one, maybe two events a month the rest of the year and is still waiting for seats in the balcony. Well, he did talk about the live music ordinance (New Orleans – J.C. has a fee structure for licensing in place – watch out!).  Maybe I love Jersey City because it can never be World Class; but our leaders think it can be, in spite of themselves, their priorities and the facts of circumstance. Hope springs eternal, or least the espousing of such hope with such sound good phrases as World Class. Who would truely want to be World Class anyway, have you seen the world lately?
The Mayor, who seems like a good guy, is focused on keeping his position. Unlike Schundler, he seems uninterested in taking his act on the road to the hinterlands to fulfill grander ambitions. Healy doesn’t seem to have an appeal beyond Hudson County; he is too much of here.
Everybody takes it (wrongly I believe) for granted JC/NJ will vote blue come November, so why talk more broadly about Democratic ideals? This speech was not the place for that. Healy cited environmental issues, anti crime initiatives and public/private partnerships that have spurred economic development that are essentially progressive solutions to specific issues, which can be take as separate components of our needed paradigm shift even though they fall short of being the shift. Still…
Most people prefer to complain than act. J.C. artists here are justified in claiming that City Hall is not as artist friendly as it should be, and yet the representatives of those constituencies  were nowhere to be seen at City Hall to hear the state-of-the-city speech. Other one-issue constituencies, like anti-crime activists, school officials, fire fighters were in abundance. I’m an observer, not an activist. Just saying, it’s easy to whine, to bitch and moan or make clever sarcastic remarks about the way things are politically. Political change and involvement in quality of life issues, especially on the managerial level of a city, is not just about rhetoric (although that is important), it is about enduring tedium and assessing details then making decisions so change and the infrastructure necessary to support that change can occur. If the artists want more city hall support, might want to consider making yourselves better integrated into the structure of government beyond the random council meeting when your issue is being debated.  
Dismiss all politicians as corrupt, but if you want change and don’t become involved, than how much intellectual integrity is contained in your dismissal.  I do not like his Jersey Shore decision, but it is not an impeachable offense, and those opposing the spin off filming did not feel the need to make their presence known at this space at this time, the first public appearance by his honor since he did what Hoboken would not.
Healy comes across as smart, competent and someone who genuinely cares about our city and its people. I have no reason to believe that impression is false. Is that enough to vote for him next year, well you can decide that for yourself in the voting booth and your decision will likely be based on everything that happens from now until then. I’m not a prognosticator, my sole prediction (and recommendation) is that the sky will remain above the ground.
The 2013 Mayoral election occurs six months after what (right now) I hope is the re-election of President Obama. The segment of the population that will (most likely) determine the winner in the national election is the same constituency that will be just as decisive in our local race, the Gen Yers, aka, millennials (I abhor that term). In J.C., the hundreds (maybe thousands) of new residents mainly fall into that bracket – folks well under 40, the majority of whom live in Downtown, Fullop’s ward.
They may not be enough to make any candidate a sure thing by themselves, but they will be the group most likely to mean the difference. The closer those vote tallies are, the bigger difference they will make. If other candidates run, which the official media prognosticators predict will occur, votes will be siphoned off, and the chasam between Fullop and Healy becomes exceedingly narrow. Those young (mostly white)  people in Downtown – the very voting block who were barely represented in the audience at the State of the City speech – will be the makers of the next king of our would be world class fiefdom. In 2008, this population has been credited for getting the first African American in the white house and compared to Gen X or Baby Boomers: they have a much higher voter turn out percentagewise. Yet, in 2009, many of these young jerysities (including Hudson County) and Obama supporters, stayed home on Election Day. Their unwillingness to make an effort and vote Corzine gave us Christie. In 2010, nationwide, they also stayed home and we got a tea party congress. So following this admittedly weak analysis, whether they vote or not vote, Gen Y determines our political future, nationally and locally.

As with other complex issues, this too was not addressed in the State of the City speech

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