Observers have a tendency to point to historic events that represent the nadir of American urban areas.
For Cleveland, it may have been the moment when the Cuyahoga River set on fire in 1969, symbolizing years of pollution, disinvestment, and general irresponsibility.
The famous burning of the Bronx during the World Series in the late 1970s was a similar moment.
Many Trentonians point to the 1968 riots as our city’s darkest moment, as rioters burned the North Ward, looters raided downtown, and the exodus of the city’s middle class moved into full-gear.
Up north, a year earlier, Newark experienced some of the worst riots in the nation’s history and then three years later, saw its mayor, council, and other high officials hauled off to federal prison for selling City Hall to common criminals and mob henchman.
Somehow, I think the past few days may have been among our city’s darkest moments, thanks to the coincidence of events that took place in our own City Hall Tuesday and late last week, further down State Street, in the dark, crime-infested rooms of the Rowan Towers.
There a 7-year-old Trenton girl was pimped by her own teenage sister and gang-raped by a bunch of thugs who, as Mayor Douglas H. Palmer said, now have a special reservation in the depths of hell.
Then, Tuesday night, decades of disinvestment, misguided leadership, official malfeasance, and an existence as a welfare city came to a head as Mayor Palmer attacked the state over cuts to Trenton’s aid that threaten our city’s very livelihood. These cuts threaten us with the worst taxes in the state, reduced police coverage, fire-fighting capacity, and incomprehensible slashes to city services.
If they remain in place, Trenton will face nearly insurmountable odds in redeveloping, holding onto its remaining middle class, or attracting others back into the city.
Yet none among those vying for the mayor’s seat in the May election have offered anything concrete about how they plan to move the city out of this mess and out of the decades of decay that have destroyed our neighborhoods, killed our citizens, and brought us to a point where little girls are being sold as sex slaves to others.
Frankly many are disgusted by this lack of concrete planning, and it seems that perhaps none of the candidates who want to lead our city actually deserve to do so.
Our candidates – and better yet, the citizens – need to come up with some answers quickly, or we face further decline and a fate akin to that of Camden, Detroit, East St. Louis, and other towns that have become emblems of America’s urban problem.