It’s All About Collaboration For Trenton’s New Mayor
By Anne Levin
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora prefers the title “collaborator in chief” to “mayor.” Since his inauguration July 1, the former New Jersey assemblyman has been putting his energies into creating partnerships with various public, private, and educational organizations to rejuvenate the capital city, he told members of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning.
It was standing room only at the Trenton County Club, where members and guests gathered to hear Gusciora talk about his plans. He focused on four challenges: water, public safety, education, and economic development. Gusciora also detailed a program in which Trenton would collaborate with area institutions of higher learning, giving them a greater presence in the city.
“Within an hour of me contacting five institutions of higher learning, Princeton University was in,” he said. “The next day, we had six colleges interested. Each of them can have an innovative education center, which is a connection to the capital city.”
Fixing the ongoing safety issues of Trenton Water Works, which serves Hamilton, Ewing, Lawrence, and Hopewell townships as well as the city, Gusciora said bringing on former West Windsor mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, who worked as water supply administrator for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, is a key part of the plan. “We’re not going to privatize,” he said. “We will keep it as an asset to the capital city.”
On public safety, Gusciora said his naming of Mercer County Undersheriff Pedro Medina as Trenton’s interim police director has resulted in 25 more officers on the street instead of at desk jobs. By adding 25 a year to the force, which is now at 290, he hopes to reach the former level of 400 officers, he said.
With 70 percent of Trenton’s third grade public school students not reading at the third grade level, Gusciora acknowledged that the schools are in need of serious help. He is hoping for better results by extending the school day and the school year for students from kindergarten through third grade.
Economic development is a priority, with a nationwide search for a director underway, Gusciora said. He said the city’s glut of houses that are vacant and in disrepair should be taken down, but Trenton is working with Isles, Habitat for Humanity, and former prisoners returning to the workforce to stabilize those that are able to be saved. Gusciora cited two offers to renovate Trenton’s long-shuttered, historic Eagle Tavern as an example of renewed interest in the city.
Trenton’s arts scene, which provides “low cost, high return,” Gusciora said, presents significant potential. The War Memorial auditorium, which was extensively renovated by the state and is on the National Register of Historic Places, is underutilized and will be more vigorously marketed as a venue. The annual Art All Night festival, during which a shooting broke out and one person was killed last month, will return next summer, “bigger and better,” he added.
A project to uncover, or “daylight” portions of the Assunpink Creek, covered over decades ago for development that never happened, will double the outdoor space near Mill Hill Park and downtown offices, Gusciora said, comparing it to a project in Providence, R.I.
The mayor’s transition team, which includes Senator Shirley Turner, former Senator Peter Inverso, Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman, County Executive Brian Hughes, Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Freeholder Samuel T. Frisby Sr., and New Jersey Manufacturers President and CEO Mitch Livingston, is active, Gusciora said. Proposals are out to marketing firms to rebrand the city and upgrade its website.
“We just got in, and we’re plugging a lot of dikes,” he said. “We want to reclaim the city. It should be the best quality of life, not the least.”