Ward system proven to fail in NJ urban centers
By now, many New Brunswick residents have become at least vaguely familiar with the city's upcoming ballot question. The decision on whether or not to change the council to a ward system has gained an undeniably large amount of recognition, especially relative to past local government issues.
But while the idea of dividing the city into six sections and giving each a representative may sound to some like the right idea, too many have conveniently glossed over applicable facts and the clear precedent set by other cities in New Jersey. Experience tells us one thing: Wards don't work in urban cities in New Jersey.
Take even a cursory look at the list of major ward-based cities like Trenton, Irvington, Plainfield, Paterson, Jersey City and Atlantic City. The list also includes Camden and Newark, the University's other homes. Certain themes arise in these cities: crime, poverty, unemployment and, often times, desolation.
New Brunswick, on the other hand, has excelled where others have failed. Out of the urban centers in New Jersey, New Brunswick has the second lowest crime rate and the second lowest unemployment — the only city edging New Brunswick in those areas is Hoboken, which has had its own difficulties, producing two corrupt mayors in the past five years and having its finances seized by the state because they could not even adopt a budget this year due to political in-fighting among the council. New Brunswick has relatively low, stable taxes, and has become a great place to work and do business. Out of all of these cities, New Brunswick also happens to be the one that does not currently operate under a ward system. It simply is not a coincidence — the ward system is inherently flawed.
Evidenced by the aforementioned urban centers, wards tend to produce impotent and inefficient government. Often in these cities, ward representatives fail to work toward the betterment of the city as a whole. Instead, representatives are forced to act in the context of their neighborhood, and when this happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to pass a vote or engage in any cooperative action. Wards can turn an efficient, forward-thinking government into a slow, bureaucratic mess.
New Brunswick has endured some very rough patches throughout its existence, but it has emerged as a model of improvement for all cities, and not only in New Jersey. This is how you revitalize a town. This is how government should work.
All voters — longtime residents, students and renters alike — should vote for what they think is right. But, when we consider the fact that a ward system has not worked for any urban center in the state as well as our system has worked here, can we honestly say that a ward system is right for New Brunswick? Is it at all logical to eliminate a successful government model only to replace it with one that has proven to be a failure?
It's time for some to stop pretending that a ward system is the solution to every minute issue in New Brunswick life. We should indeed get involved with government, go to council meetings, join a community organization — but we shouldn't tear apart the infrastructure of our city unnecessarily. Examining the real facts rather than unsubstantiated rhetoric, the answer is clear: New Brunswick's current at-large government simply works better.
Kyle Kirkpatrick is a 2009 Rutgers graduate and an active member of Unite New Brunswick.