TRENTON – It’s another late summer day in the state capital of New Jersey where, amid evidence of extreme poverty and hardship – ongoing record levels in New Jersey – a downbeat mood accompanies those considering the presidential candidacy of Gov. Chris Christie just within eyeshot of the glorious Gold Dome that towers above ramshackle surroundings.
Ronald Walker sat on a row of crumbling steps across from City Hall on West State Street a week after two councilmen nearly came to blows in the second floor council chamber. “That ain’t gonna happen,” he said, when asked if he could picture Christie in the White House. “He would lead us into another war. He needs anger management for a few years. That’s what he should do. Get anger management. Then he can run.”
Near the Trenton Train Station, Tiffany Stevens likewise brushed aside a polls sagging Christie’s presidential designs. “He will do for the country what he did for Trenton,” she said with a shrug.
Jeremy Kirk gave a nod to the former mayor of Trenton, led away in handcuffs on corruption charges. “I’d rather have Tony Mack for president than Chris Christie,” Kirk said.
Ten people PolitickerNJ talked to about the 2016 presidential contest said they preferred Hillary Clinton as a candidate for president and universally proclaimed that the time is right for a woman to serve as president.
“Christie’s not fit, he’s not up to par,” said Tonya Peagler, who told PolitickerNJ she’s homeless.
“I slept in front of Mill Hill Park,” she said. “That concrete is tearing me up.”
Peagler said she came here from California ten months ago and at this point is simply trying to scrape together enough money to get back to California. “Oh, God,” she said, when asked how she likes New Jersey. “People are tight here. They’re not compassionate at all.”
The reality is the 2008 economic crisis devastated places that never recovered, compounding the essential trouble of a city like Trenton that has precious little taxable property. Trenton received the triple impact of a corrupt mayor, pried from office last year after a lengthy and expensive trial.
“There are an astronomical number of vacant properties in Trenton,” said Arnold Cohen, the Senior Policy Coordinator for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “The problem worsened [before the current mayor, Eric Jackson, took office last year] but even with the best person in charge, the city is in crisis. There’s only so much you can do as a municipality.”
In the upcoming session, the legislature will consider a host of bills directly targeting vacant and foreclosed properties. Cohen worked
with state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) of Newark on a land-banking bill (S-2867), which Christie initially vetoed, citing lack of transparency. Ruiz hopes the bill passes in this upcoming session.
“The senate passed it in June and it still needs to go before the Assembly,” the senator told PolitickerNJ. “The purpose is to create land-banking authorities to transform magnets for crime into hope. As an individual from Newark who is impacted by a high foreclosure rate, this bill would create a tangible positive impact.”
“Both Senator Ruiz and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey [D-27] have done an excellent job pushing the bill,” said Cohen, who noted other bills, including one aimed at protecting Hurricane Sandy from foreclosure as they wait for federal assistance, and another providing funding for foreclosure prevention.
“Foreclosure is not just an urban problem,” noted Cohen, who pointed to the aggressive lead on the issue undertaken by South Jersey’s state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1).
According to a study published last year by Legal Services of New Jersey, the relative cost of living in New Jersey is so high that real poverty amounts to 250 percent of the official poverty level. Based on 250 percent of the FPL, there are 2.7 million impoverished New Jerseyans, including 780,000 children. Forty-nine percent of black residents and 54.6 percent of Hispanic or Latino residents were below 250 percent of the FPL in 2012.
Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14) backs A-4030, which expands free access to breakfast for at-risk youth; and noted Democrats’ efforts to pass Earned Sick Leave, which he co-sponsors, and which will reappear after the November elections. This morning, Benson joined a conference call with reporters organized by the Anti-Poverty Network, a coalition representing more than 45 organizations throughout the state. The network has put together a pledge they want lawmakers to sign as they launch a more aggressive awareness program and legislative agenda for the coming season.
The pledge reads: As a candidate for Assembly in District X which encompasses LIST COUNTIES, I recognize that there are X number of people (X percentage) living in true poverty in these counties. True poverty is defined as those earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level. I believe that my district will best thrive when all residents have access to decent housing, basic nutrition, and economic opportunity. If elected, I pledge to work with the Anti-Poverty Network and its members to prevent, reduce, and end poverty in my district and throughout New Jersey.
“Poverty is an issue that impacts our whole society and New Jerseyans need to know that our elected officials recognize the breadth and depth of the problem,” explained Serena Rice, the network’s Executive Director. “We are inviting the candidates to make a statement that every person in their district should be able to meet their basic needs, and to pledge their effort to work toward opening this opportunity to everyone.”
Using the most recent Census numbers (from 2011-2013) APN has calculated the numbers of people in each county living in true poverty, defined as 200% of the federal poverty level. In real world terms, this encompasses people earning less than $48,500 for a family of four. APN found the following five counties with the highest percentages of poverty:
Cumberland with 40% (or 57,745) of its residents living in true poverty. Cumberland is covered by legislative districts one and three.
Hudson with 37% (or 237,402) of its residents living in true poverty. Hudson is covered by legislative districts 31, 32 and 33. Passaic with 36% (or 178,090) of its residents living in true poverty. Passaic is covered by legislative districts 26, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, and 40.
Essex with 36% (or 274,776) of its residents living in true poverty. Essex is covered by legislative districts 26, 27, 28, 29, 34, and 40.
Atlantic with 33% (or 89,774) of its residents living in true poverty. Atlantic is covered by legislative districts 1, 2, 8, and 9.
$61,200 is considered a survival budget for a family of four, according to the ALICE study published last year by the United Way of Northern New Jersey. Almost 40% of households in New Jersey struggle to afford basic household necessities, like housing, food, transportation, child care, and health care, according to the report.