Voting process undermined by incumbency
New Brunswick mayor’s 23-year term has run its course
Election Day is coming up this Tuesday. Like the politically and civically involved students we are, of course we’re all up to date with the candidates and referendum questions that will be on the ballot, and we’re ready to make a carefully informed voting decision. But for those of us who aren’t, there are plenty of opportunities over the next two days to read up on the candidates and their platforms — unless, that is, you were interested in voting for one of the mayoral candidates for the city of New Brunswick, of which there is a grand total of one.
Jim Cahill has been the mayor of New Brunswick since 1991. He is running for his 7th four-year term, and for the first time, he is completely uncontested. So if you were worried about making an informed decision when you’re at the polling station on Tuesday, don’t stress — it looks like you’re not really going to have much of a choice anyway.
Cahill has been mayor for 23 years and counting. Being in power for that long isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. That much experience can’t hurt, and in a local position such as the mayor’s office, a lot can get done with the right amount of support and experience. But over more than two decades with Cahill as mayor, has enough really been done for the residents of New Brunswick?
The city of New Brunswick is more than just the institutions that are usually given the most attention, like Rutgers University, Johnson and Johnson and Robert Wood Johnson. More than a quarter of the entire population of New Brunswick is living below the poverty line, and it’s more important for a mayor to focus on the residents themselves. But one of the main focuses of Cahill’s terms in office seems to be on redevelopment initiatives, which are hardly ever in the interest of the city’s underprivileged and minority residents. Just because Cahill keeps getting re-elected doesn’t mean that he’s the best fit for the job. Who are the people voting, anyway? Without the necessary education, awareness and accessibility to voting procedures, voting is essentially limited to those who are more privileged with the time and opportunity to learn about the voting process. The downtown development efforts that Cahill led during his last election campaign brought about the Fresh Grocer and the Robert Wood Johnson Fitness and Wellness Center. Needless to say, the Fresh Grocer was a huge disaster.
While his salary as mayor is not that significant, Cahill still makes plenty of money on the side as a private attorney and landlord. On top of that, the donations he rakes in from those who have benefitted from his administration only add to the advantage he has an incumbent with more money, name recognition and experience than anyone who challenges him. Holding the same position for 23 years leads to a sense of comfort that no one in power should ever be allowed. This is an example of why it’s so important for us to be as involved as possible in our political system. We shouldn’t have a mayor running for his 7th term in the same position completely unopposed. Cahill usually beats his challengers by quite a large margin anyway, and that is certainly something that should be addressed — incumbency is a powerful advantage for any politician. But competition is still healthy, and we shouldn’t have found ourselves in the position we’re in now with only one candidate for mayor.
A city leader should be immersed in the New Brunswick community and understand what the residents of the city really need. This should illustrate to us how important it is for us to pay attention to our local politics as much as we can all year round, not just when Election Day comes up. The ballot on Tuesday is the culmination of a long, multiple-year process. Let’s make voting on Tuesday just the beginning of our reinvigorated involvement in politics.