From Princeton to Cape May, what do you wonder about South Jersey, its people, and its culture that you want WHYY to investigate? Let us know here.
Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen told an audience at Camden High School on Thursday that the state of the city is “Camden Strong.”
Prior to that several officials — including Camden City School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs, City Council President Angel Fuentes and Minister Wasim Muhammad, and President of the Camden City School Advisory Board — praised the mayor’s leadership leading up to Carstarphen’s update on how the city is doing.
Not only was it his first State of the City address, it was the first event held since before the pandemic, when Frank Moran was mayor and Carstarphen had just begun his political career.
How strong is Camden?
Among some of the highlights the mayor shared include crime at its lowest levels in five decades, the demolition of 140 blighted properties with a second phase underway, a budget that was delivered on-time, an upgraded credit rating, unemployment in the city is low, and more students are going to college from the city school system.
“Let me be clear, we got work to do,” he said, “but our progress is real and it’s tangible.”
During the 56-minute speech, complete with PowerPoint presentation, Carstarphen emphasized the theme of team work and partnerships, as he reflected on the beginnings of Camden’s revitalization about a decade ago, and what has transpired since he took office in May 2021 as interim mayor after Moran resigned due to health issues.
He gave shoutouts to his “partners” on the city, county and state level, federal representatives to Congress, various community leaders and organizations, as well as South Jersey Democratic machine boss George Norcross, who is also chairman of the board of trustees for the Cooper University Health System and the hospital.
Carstarphen said that the city has improved since issuing the plan for the first 100 days of his administration, which he said addressed the issues that residents cared most about.
He also talked about the gains made through his “Camden Strong” initiatives, a holistic approach to improve the quality of life for residents. It led to the demolition of 140 blighted properties, with another 140 units slated to be torn down in the current phase.
The mayor also said they are working to repair streets in the city, some of which have not been repaired in decades. He added that roadway improvements to the worst street in the city, 27th St., will begin once underground utility work is completed.
“The city has been listening to residents and leading transformative efforts to improve utility systems, upgrade water mains, upgrades to the city wells to address PFAS, separating sewer and storm lines, alleviating chronic flooding conditions, adding bike lanes, promoting more equitable transportation solutions throughout the city.”
How the $62 million from the American Rescue Plan will be spent
The speech also looked ahead to plans Carstarphen has for the immediate future and beyond. He also outlined how the $62 million the city received from the American Rescue Plan will be spent. This includes $5 million to clean up an illegal toxic dump at 7th and Chestnut streets, $5.5 million in park improvements and $3 million to improve community services. The city also used $1.5 million to replace a tower ladder truck that has served parts of the city for two decades.
The speech also addressed cultivating arts & culture, investing in the city’s housing stock and efforts to prevent illegal dumping, including a $500,000 federal grant to fund surveillance cameras to catch illegal dumpers in the act.
Carstarphen, after sharing his updates, encouraged residents to get more involved in the city through participating at community events and volunteer opportunities when they become available.
“You may ask … how can I join ‘Team Camden,’” he said before informing the audience “you are all on ‘Team Camden.’
At the end of the speech, he walked from the podium, asked for the lights in the auditorium to be raised, so he could see the audience. He encouraged people to “take in this energy that’s in this room.”
“Continue wanting to be better for our city,” he said. “Continue to want to work together. Whether we have some differences or not, we all can agree on one thing in this room, we love Camden.