The first time I met Francisco “Frank” Moran, he was a young, married, blue-collar dad buying a new townhouse in an East Camden development I was writing about.
It was 1990 and Moran, a Woodrow Wilson High School graduate in his early 20s, had recently gotten hired by the city’s Public Works Department.
The earnest and ambitious young Democrat went on to be elected to the party’s county committee and, in 1997, to the City Council, where he has served as president for the last eight years.
And on Jan. 1, Moran — the longtime director of Camden County Parks — is to be sworn in as the 48th mayor of Camden.
“I want to offer the people of Camden a heartfelt thank-you from a kid who was born and raised in the city and knows nothing but the city,” he said during an interview last week.
“They can rest assured that Frank Moran will be in the community. I will be active. My administration will be hands-on, and face-to-face with the community.”
An energetic and enthusiastic fellow, Moran described himself as the personification, or the “face,” of Camden, and as an example for today’s city kids to follow. He will be the second Latino to hold the office in a city where Hispanics make up about half of the population of 74,000.
“I’m honored and blessed to be where I am,” Moran, 49, said.
“When I became an employee of the city, I cut grass in the parks and ran the North Camden pool for three summers. Whatever I did, I gave it my all. I feel I am better prepared for this job simply because of my journey in life … coming up through the ranks.”
Moran said he has not yet made decisions about appointments, beyond those in the mayor’s office itself; Angela Johnston, a customer service representative in the city council office, will become his chief of staff.
But the mayor-elect said a “forensic audit” and other assessments of the “strengths and weaknesses” of the Camden Redevelopment Agency are needed. He noted that there are public-private agencies, such as the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, doing rather similar work in Camden, and added that he wants the city to begin “liquidating the exorbitant amount” of residential and other properties it owns.
And while Moran hailed the spectacular abundance of development projects sparked by the state’s Economic Opportunity Act — its incentives have lured companies such as Subaru, American Water, the 76ers, and Holtec International to the city — he also said he is concerned that about 60 percent of all real estate in cash-starved Camden is tax-exempt.
“We need more development on the commercial side,” he said.
A father of two grown children and grandfather of two, Moran grew up the youngest of seven siblings on River Road in the city’s Cramer Hill section.
He played shortstop for a Little League team named the Wildcats and explored the wilderness of the Harrison Avenue landfill, which he and other local kids called “The Dumps.”
Part of the site is now home to the magnificent Salvation Army Kroc Center, while an adjacent portion of this long-abandoned landfill will become a waterfront park.
Moran attended the announcement of a $25 million state grant for the project earlier in December and told me he sees it as yet another building block in the city’s reconstruction.
“I’m a public works guy,” Moran said. “I know infrastructure.”
Accurately describing some of Camden’s residential streets as like “a roller coaster,” he noted that the city has been buying equipment to enable it to do some milling and repaving projects in-house. “We have roads that haven’t been touched in 50 years,” he said.
Moran’s proposed 21st Century Infrastructure Plan, developed with input from the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority and other agencies, would necessitate issuing bonds to pay for perhaps $15 million in additional roadwork. Some $21 million in federal and state grants for extensive “complete streets” improvements, including bike lanes, in North Camden already has been secured.
The municipal budget’s structural deficit — a fact of fiscal life for decades — means Camden must partner with agencies and entities outside City Hall, Moran said.
As for his own relationship with the partner of all partners, Cooper Health System board chairman and Democratic Party power broker George E. Norcross 3d — a force largely seen as responsible for, if not controlling, the city’s trajectory — the mayor-elect said this:
“Let me tell you that I am part of an organization that has been an amazing organization, and nothing but [amazing].
“Camden is seeing the most development in its history because we have a team,” he added. “I call George Norcross a friend. I call Congressman [Donald] Norcross a friend.
“Frank Moran is a fighter for the people of Camden. Everything I can get for Camden, I will get. I will do that with George Norcross, I will do that with the county freeholders, with [Gov.-elect] Phil Murphy. … I will do that if President Trump comes to Camden.”
I’d like a front-row seat for that one.
But in the meantime, I’ll just wish the new mayor the best of luck.