Camden mayor tells leaders what her city needs
To thrive, Camden must address public safety, improve education, and increase public-private partnerships, Mayor Dana L. Redd told the city's movers and shakers during her State of the City address Wednesday at the Adventure Aquarium.
Redd spoke during the Cooper's Ferry Partnership's annual meeting, at which the nonprofit development agency highlighted its work in the last year. More than 300 people attended, including former Gov. James J. Florio, State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), and City Council and school board members.
"Camden faces similar challenges [to] many of our nation's other postindustrial urban centers," said Redd, whose speech lasted nearly 40 minutes. "Camden lost jobs, industry, and its middle class to the suburbs. . . . Our great city has seen unbearable hardship."
Redd, who plans to seek a second term in November, said she wanted Camden to become a more "livable city." Step one, she said, is addressing public safety.
Camden, America's poorest city, was also recently ranked as having the nation's highest crime rate, based on 2011 data. Last year, the city recorded 67 homicides, its most ever.
"I will not allow our right - the right to live free of fear, the right to allow our kids to play safely in front of their homes, the right to walk to the corner bodega, the right to live - to be glanced over just because we call Camden our home," Redd said.
The city has entered an agreement with Camden County to disband its police force in favor of a new county-run force. Redd noted the plan would save the city $7 million, to be used on other "critical programs." A detailed police budget has not been presented to the public.
The new force's metro division, which is to patrol Camden, is projected to have 400 officers, making it larger than the current force of nearly 260.
"It is my vision that increasing the number of law enforcement officials in the city will have positive long-term impacts that will not only keep our residents safe but encourage people to move back into the city," she said.
Opponents, including local and state Fraternal Order of Police officials and the national NAACP, object to the plan as union-busting and a civil rights violation.
Redd also expressed support for new charter schools expected to open in the fall, including International Academy of Camden and Camden Community Charter, which recently broke ground at Eighth and Linden Streets.
Though she is an advocate of public-private partnerships for schools, she said she wanted to work with the school district as well. "Our public schools must become stronger, better, and more competitive and creative," she said.
Redd said she also would like to see public-private partnerships to redevelop the city.
While most of the investments in the city last year came from existing medical and educational institutions that do not provide tax revenue to the city, Redd said they would result in private investment in the coming years.
"As more students flow into the city to attend our universities, there is a new demand for local entrepreneurs to open new retail and restaurants," she said.
In 2012, Rutgers-Camden opened a $55 million graduate student residence hall on Cooper Street, just a few blocks from LEAP Academy Charter School's new science, technology, engineering, and math high school. The $139 million Cooper Medical School of Rowan University opened on Broadway, not far from the $100 million Cooper Cancer Institute, which is under construction.
"As these institutions continue to invest in the city, Camden must make sure that adequate homes and apartments are available to support this critical mass," Redd said.
Camden's educational and medical institutions employ almost 30,000 people, yet only a small percentage of their employees live in the city.
Small businesses that set up shop in Camden last year included Yaphie Inc., an information technology start-up based in North Jersey, and Cooper River Distillers downtown.
During Wednesday's event, the Camden Hero Award was given posthumously to Kevin G. Halpern, cofounder of the organization that is now Cooper's Ferry Partnership. Before he died last summer, Halpern was chief executive of Camden County's Health Services Center, a long-term-care facility in Gloucester County.
Camden High School graduate Monte Williams, who went on to play basketball for Eastern Arizona College and returned to live in Camden, was recognized as employee of the year for the Camden Special Services District.
Redd will repeat her address at the March 12 City Council meeting.