Students should be realistic about wards
Having followed the ward issue in New Brunswick and having disagreed with the position Empower Our Neighborhoods has taken, I am pleased to know that there is another group, Unite New Brunswick, representing the voice of University students. I am also disappointed to see that recent editorials have misrepresented the views of both groups and the facts surrounding the issue.
On the Sept. 9 editorial section of this paper, the letter to the editor "Wards provide students with voice in city government" was full of falsehoods and completely distorted the differences between the competing visions for the future of our city, EON's plan to divide our city into six wards or UNB's proposal to expand participation and choice with a seven-member city council elected at large. The author claims that a quarter of the city population has zero representation on city council, but in reality with the current system, residents can vote for all five members of the council and under the system proposed by UNB, students would be able to elect seven members to represent their interests.
The author also claims that a ward system would give students, who he says are currently a minority, a larger voice. The truth is, with a ward system students will end up voting for fewer council members then they do today — only four of the nine member ward-based council, which will reduce students to a minority voice in city government. With seven at-large members elected, students could go to any members of the council and use their weight as a constituent of that councilperson to ensure their opinions are represented.
The author noted that without a ward system, students "would just continue to pay parking fines and noise violations." Without the power to elect even a simple majority of City Council, students could find themselves a target of more stringent laws regarding parking or parties. Currently, street parking permits in New Brunswick are free for residents, but with the ward system what prevents the other wards where parking is less of a concern for their residents from charging for parking as the University does in order to generate more revenue for the city?
Our neighbor, Piscataway, which has wards, recently gave police the power to arrest people on private property for underage drinking. With a ward system, other wards with few or no college students would out vote the members of the council representing University students and impose a policy similar to the one enacted unanimously by Piscataway's ward-based council. This could mean huge underage drinking busts with students having to go to court, pay fines and have blemishes on their criminal records. Without the power to have every member of the council representing students, students run the very real risk of being second-class citizens to the majority and unchecked power of the five other ward representatives.
Finally, the author simply refuses to recognize the progress and improvements that have been made to New Brunswick in recent years. Having come to New Brunswick from St. Louis, Miss., a ward-based city known for its crime, it is refreshing to have a clean, safe, vibrant downtown to enjoy, free from fear, a downtown that includes luxury low-income, age-restricted and student housing. New Brunswick has the lowest unemployment and crime of any urban center in New Jersey. I can only wish that my home city of St. Louis would replicate the success we see here in New Brunswick. Can EON name a single urban center with wards that has achieved so much?
Overall, expanding the city council to seven members will allow more representation for University students and the entire community while maintaining the great progress the city has made in recent years. Many of the issues raised in the author's letter to the editor are irrelevant and untrue and are unfair attacks on a group working to continue improving New Brunswick.
Denise Letendre is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science.