Camden Mayor: City can’t afford to go back to the days before tax breaks

Camden mayor, Frank Moran, offers remarks at a community rally held in Camden to create a safer environment for children on Thursday, April 25, 2019. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Camden mayor, Frank Moran, offers remarks at a community rally held in Camden to create a safer environment for children on Thursday, April 25, 2019. (Miguel Martinez for WHYY)

Recently, a report on Camden’s finances was released by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration because it advanced a particular narrative in the battle being waged against Camden. Per the Director of the Division of Local Government Services, these internal reports are prepared for ALL Transitional aid towns. So why is Camden being singled out and why was the report for Camden released to the media?  Simply put, the intent was to do harm to a city that is working hard to build on the progress that has been made over several years.

Not only do we as a city have to battle through serious challenges on a daily basis, but we also consistently endure the negative headlines that have long-term damaging effects on Camden. The drumbeat of negativity aimed squarely at my city has been a decades-long attack to keep Camden on its knees. For 50 years, Camden has reaped pain with no gain.

As someone who has spent his entire life in the city, I can say without hesitation that what is happening in Camden is unprecedented, to say the least. I have never seen progress in my city at the level that I have since the Economic Opportunity Act was introduced in 2013.

The fact of the matter is that before the incentives were instituted, Camden was stuck in a revolving door of crime, poverty, and economic desolation. There were no jobs coming to the city, unemployment rates were astronomically higher than the state at large, and there was very little opportunity for upward mobility to be found.

Since that time, we have seen a renaissance within our city that few believed was possible, and it was a result of collective, public-private partnerships and teamwork at all levels of government. The charge was lead by the EDA’s extraordinary efforts to attract outside investment to our city. Thanks to that hard work Camden has welcomed new businesses from Fortune 500s all the way down to startups and small enterprises in just six short years. The result has been new jobs, record low unemployment, and a renewed sense of hope within a city that previously had none.

The city has embraced this opportunity and taken advantage of it as a catalyst for widespread change, and I’m proud to report that the quality of life is rising in Camden as a result.

In 2012, someone was shot in Camden every 32 hours. In 2018, crime reached a 50-year low, our streets are now safer, and our residents have a renewed sense of pride in their community. You simply cannot accomplish that kind of turnaround without comprehensive investment throughout the city. Take that away, and we will watch that progress erode immediately.

The effects have touched countless other areas. Take education as just one more example. Countless academic studies have shown that when crime and unemployment go down, outcomes in education go up. Since 2013, our school district is graduating more of its students, our kids are testing higher in math and reading, and the dropout rate has plummeted.

These benefits are real and they are far-reaching. For years, the people of Camden were told that no amount of help would be enough, that their city was irreparable, and that they weren’t worth the investment. We always knew that wasn’t true, but we needed someone else to believe in the City Invincible and to go all-in on the City of Camden – and mean it.

I appeal to the governor and his administration and hope they can support Camden’s growth and separate politics from good government. We cannot afford to go backward at this critical moment in Camden’s history. The Camden of today is stronger, safer, more vibrant, and offers more to its residents than it ever did when I was growing up there. This is the Camden that I believe in, and I hope that Trenton can join me in that belief.

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