Latinos’ Hopes for Change In Trenton
Mayor George Muschal Begins Clean-Up// Former Police Officer
J.Smith/ El Hispano
Trenton – Nearly two hours after Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson had forced ex-Mayor Tony Mack to relinquish his duties, Judge Gregory Williams administered the oath of office to City Council President George Muschal, with his fellow Council members in attendance.
The locks to the Mayor’s office were duly changed, ex-Mayor Mack’s pictures removed, and a new era -albeit interim- for the city of Trenton had begun. The ousted mayor was convicted of bribery, extortion and related charges in connection with a scheme to promote the construction of a parking facility in the city.
As Interim-Mayor, Muschal voiced the city’s collective sense of “relief” that they are no longer being “held captive” by the convicted Mayor.
“The game is over.” said Mr. Muschal.
In the predominantly Latino Southeastern section of Trenton, an area dotted with vacant factories, Hiram Garcia reflected a similar sense of relief: “It’s about time they got him out. He was a crook.”
Holding a copy of the local Trentonian newspaper under his arm, Mr. Garcia, 64, expressed his incredulity at the actions of ex-Mayor Mack: “Here he is making very good money and he just got greedy. And that’s what he’ll be thinking about in prison.”
“People don’t think about the consequences of their actions,” added Mr. Garcia, a native of Puerto Rico. “The law has a long arm, and it will get you.”
“ A lot of political people make promises,” said Jose Acevado, alluding to the former mayor. “I’ve been here 22 years and instead of getting better, Trenton is getting really bad.”
Recalling that he was punched in the head while standing at the door of his apartment, apparently because, “the man didn’t like the way I looked at him,” Mr. Acevado recommended the new Mayor, “put more police on the street.”
A native of Guatemala, Mr. Acevado also spoke of a recently arrived “Spanish man” who had been living in Trenton for only one month, when he was robbed and killed making a pizza delivery by “people waiting for him in the street.”
“Here is a man coming here to make a good life for himself, and he is dead in one month.”
Despite being the Capital city of New Jersey, Trenton – with a population of just under 85,000- for the last twenty years has ranked in the top twenty (4th in 2005) of the most dangerous cities in the country. Among Interim-Mayor Mushcal’s first actions on taking office, the retired Trenton Police Officer sent an appeal to Governor Christie for funds to hire an additional fifty police officers.
An African-American shop owner, July Coleman Harker, also welcomed the change, saying she would like to see the new administration arrange to have “more community networking” events for local businesses.
“All of that crowd should have been out a long time ago,” said Juan Romero, a security guard. “His whole family was corrupt.”
Of his advice for the new mayor, Mr. Romero said, “They should clean up the streets. The streets are so dirty – with abandoned cars and buildings – it’s beginning to look like Camden.”
The Father of five pursued the subject, advising the mayor to clean up the “parks and have more summer programs for kids.”
Having been the victim of a stolen car, Mr. Romero recalled that it took the police “three hours to get here.”
“You don’t see things like that in Hammonton, NJ. The police do their job in Hammonton,” continued Mr. Romero. “ I just think the police should should communicate more with the neighborhood and walk around here a lot more.”
Asasclo Rogua, a Landscaper originally from El Salvador, agreed that the city needed ‘cleaning” and to “fix the roads,” that have sprouted with potholes after a number of severe winter storms. Mr. Rogua went on to offer another recommendation: that there are “groups of Hispanics’ in Trenton who would be willing to ‘help them clean the city’s streets for free.”
“First, we need more police,”said Margarita Escobar, a twenty-something Trenton native. “There is a lot more harassment and killing than ever in this city.”
Ms. Escobar also noted the need to address the city’s growing “homeless” population; and the decrepit condition of Trenton High School, which she said should be torn down: “It was in bad condition when I went there and it’s worse now.”
Taking office in July of 2010, Mayor Mack sought to solve budget constraints by firing 108 police officers, nearly one-third of Trenton’s police force. Things in the Mack administration seemed to go awry very early on: His first Housing Director resigned after it was discovered he had a conviction for theft. This was followed by Mack’s Chief-of-Staff stepping down after he was apprehended for trying to buy heroin.
More recently, the administration’s Law Director, Marc McKithen, resigned from office and cited the Mayor’s refusal to comply with open records laws. Mr. McKithen also referred to potential violations by Tony Mack of laws prohibiting giving contracts to campaign contributors.
As part of his reorganizing of the city, Mayor Muschal announced the dismissal of three of ex-Mayor Mack’s aides, Harold Hall, Anthony Roberts and Attorney Nate Jones. “They totally mistreated people working in here,” Mr. Muschal told the media.
Recalling that when he arrived in the United States from Puerto Rico in 1980, that “there were good-paying jobs for anybody who wanted to work,” Mr. Garcia expounded further on his enthusiasm for Mayor Muschal: “This is a guy with integrity. He’s a hard working guy, a family guy and honest.”
“He says he wants to clean the place, and he wants to add police,” continued Mr. Garcia. “And as a former police officer he’s in good shape, and if he wants to stay another term, I hope he does. I love this guy.”