Wards provide students with voice in city government
On Tuesday, Kyle Kirkpatrick, of a new organization known as "Unite New Brunswick," which in reality is nothing more than a shill for the city administration, wrote in this paper that the current City Council structure has led to a new era of improvement and safety for New Brunswick residents and University students. He gives examples that would be laughed off by most readers. Kirkpatrick's evidence is flimsy at best, and grossly misrepresents the reality of New Brunswick life. For example, Kirkpatrick claims that "students can now walk safely from Cook to College Avenue and back without thinking twice." And yet, incoming freshmen are routinely warned against setting foot off campus alone. I would argue that improvements to safety in our neighborhoods have occurred despite the actions taken by the City Council over the last decade. The downtown "cleanup" seen since the early '90s has not come without a cost to New Brunswick's sense of community. The current administration has done a great job kicking people out of their homes to make way for upscale condominium developers. The author's presumption that the City Council deserves credit for the Route 18 expansion (a state highway) is laughable.
I would also like to remind the author that it was the Community Empowerment Project that fought for years to force rent control through. It was in 2002 that Mayor Jim Cahill, his brother and his cousin admitted to illegally raising rents beyond legal limits. Cahill and his partnership were forced to pay more than $3,000 to 14 tenants in the city.
The option that the author has proposed, a seven member at-large council, does nothing to ensure the rights of minorities in our city. A vote of 50 percent plus one would still elect all seven members. Translation: the student community would still see its voice drowned out by the rest of the city. We would just continue to pay parking fines and noise violations and we would have no one on the council responsible to us. Unite New Brunswick's sole purpose in putting this question on the ballot is to confuse voters. If the five member at-large system has helped the city to "flourish" why would Unite New Brunswick and its supporters want to change the system. The truth is the current system is flawed. A ward system would give the student minority – centered in the sixth ward — a city councilperson for the first time in city history.
The author's distortions even include his false history of the Empower Our Neighborhoods organization. EON is and always has been for creating a hybrid system of six seats by wards and three seats at large.
The author was right about one thing. This vote is about representation. The ward system is proven to provide minority groups a voice — be it ethnic minorities or students. When a full quarter of the city population can receive zero representation on City Council something needs to change.
Mike Shanahan is a Rutgers College senior, a member of EON and volunteer coordinator for the Yes for Wards campaign.