TRENTON – There was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on a television set and Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer listening with deepening skepticism. Palmer, a short-list candidate for lieutenant governor, thought Jindal’s Tuesday night GOP bite-back at President Barack Obama’s federal stimulus speech was especially poor.
“I think he’s being panned a lot,” Palmer said of the Republican governor who in his remarks likened an aid package to federal bureaucrats haplessly attempting to micromanage Hurricane Katrina relief, and who would refuse a profusion of new federal funds to his state.
“Bobby Jindal’s either hypocritical or he’s putting politics ahead of his responsibility as governor of Louisiana,” said Trenton’s mayor since 1990. “Louisiana especially should welcome aid, and it’s his job to make sure that money is used effectively. Look, we tried the governor’s approach and it’s not going anywhere.”
Former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the most visible New Jersey mayoral presence coming out of last week’s face-to-face with Obama, Palmer said he’s not trying to be coy when he says he doesn’t know what’s on Gov. Jon Corzine’s mind regarding a running mate in this year’s general election.
“I’m a team player, I don’t mind playing a secondary role,” said Palmer. “But it has to be substantive. I couldn’t just sit around or cut ribbons. As mayor, I’m CEO of a corporation. I want to know what the job description is, and if there’s a real role for the lieutenant governor, I would consider the governor’s call. I’m certainly not lobbying for it, but I’m open to talking about it.”
Although state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Middletown) would have supported a stimulus package – substantially slimmed down from what the Democrats passed and with a mostly public infrastructure improvement focus – the Republican shares Jindal’s worry that a profusion of federal dollars now into state level programs could spawn more government demand later.
“The stimulus bill creates very significant changes in education and Medicaid, and without future stimulus packages it will make it more difficult for future state legislatures to grapple with,” said Kyrillos, a senator since 1992 and himself a potential candidate for lieutenant governor on a ticket with GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Chris Christie.
Kyrillos said he was also unhappy that the president “outsourced” the stimulus package to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. Congress, who promptly and heedlessly burdened the ultimately $787 billion bill with pork, in the senator’s view.
“The president had a chance to be post partisan, and I believe he missed that opportunity by just agreeing with House Democrats,” Kyrillos said.
Palmer concedes the only way the federal stimulus package will work in New Jersey is if people know where the money goes, so for his part he’s committed to showing dollar for dollar on the City of Trenton’s website how his administration distributes the aid it receives.
“What’s critical is how we use the money to leverage private investment,” said the mayor, who hears the concerns about one-shot-only government funds creating the potential for future shortfalls and thus either more taxes or elimination of programs.
“Right now, you need to prime the pump, and the idea is you are using public money to create the environment for private investment,” said Palmer, who participated last week in a mayors’ conference with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. on the stimulus package.
According to the mayor, in December, more than 15% or 6,149 Trentonians sought work they couldn‘t find, while of the 2,060 Mercer County residents who applied to receive unemployment checks; 1,378 of them were from Trenton.
Palmer said one specific job for a lieutenant governor could be the development and refinement of New Jersey’s metro economy. The mayor recognizes that as an urban leader he has specific skills pertaining to running a city, but he sees a potential for an LG to build that specific relationship between urban and suburban, focusing on jobs, transportation and housing, to create a better working relationship between the two and ultimately a functioning whole.
“There are so many exceptional candidates for lieutenant governor,” added Palmer, mentioning Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), state Sen. President Pro Tempore Shirley Turner (D-Lawrenceville), state Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-Bridgeton), East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser, and state Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair).
“I reject the idea that this has to be a minority pick,” said Palmer as he amplified somewhat his own favorable opinion of Sweeney.
“I wouldn’t want to be classified that because I’m the flavor of the month, I’m lieutenant governor,” the mayor added. “We saw what happened when John McCain picked Sarah Palin. The great thing about the Democratic Party is we are blessed with an abundance of individuals, and the important thing here is we don’t need a placeholder, we need a person who can step in and take over in a crisis.”