Recently, a report on Camden’s finances was released by Governor Phil Murphy’s administration. Per the director of Division of Local Government Services, these internal reports are prepared for all transitional aid towns, which includes Paterson, Atlantic City, and, yes, Camden. But why is Camden being singled out and why was the report for Camden released to the media? I believe the Camden report was released because it advanced a particular narrative in the battle being waged against Camden by our leaders in the statehouse.
This is frustrating to me as the mayor of Camden, because not only do we as a city have to battle through serious challenges on a daily basis, but we also consistently endure the negative headlines that have long-term damaging effects. The drumbeat of negativity aimed squarely at my city has been a decades-long attack to keep Camden on its knees.
As someone who has spent his entire life in the city, I can say without hesitation that the progress happening in Camden right now is unprecedented. Before the incentives of the Economic Opportunity Act were instituted in 2013, Camden was stuck in a revolving door of crime, poverty, and economic desolation. There were no jobs coming to the city, unemployment rates were astronomically higher than the state at large, and there was very little opportunity for upward mobility.
Since that time, we have seen a renaissance within our city that few believed was possible, and it was a result of a collective, public-private partnerships and teamwork at all levels of government. The charge was lead by the Economic Development Authority’s extraordinary efforts to attract outside investment to our city. Thanks to that hard work Camden has welcomed new businesses from Fortune 500s all the way down to start-ups and small enterprises in just six short years. The result has been new jobs, record low unemployment, and a renewed sense of hope within a city that previously had none.
The city has embraced this opportunity and taken advantage of it as a catalyst for widespread change, and I’m proud to report that the quality of life is rising in Camden as a result.
In 2012, someone was shot in Camden every 32 hours. In 2018, crime reached a 50-year low, our streets are now safer, and our residents have a renewed sense of pride in their community. You simply cannot accomplish that kind of turnaround without comprehensive investment throughout the city. Take that away, and we will watch that progress erode immediately.
The effects have touched countless other areas. Take education as just one more example. Many academic studies have shown that when crime and unemployment go down, outcomes in education go up. Since 2013, our school district is graduating more of its students, our kids are testing higher in math and reading, and the dropout rate has plummeted.
These benefits are real and they are far-reaching. For years, the people of Camden were told that no amount of help would be enough, that their city was irreparable, and that they weren’t worth the investment. We always knew that wasn’t true, but we needed someone else to believe in the “city invincible,” and to go all in on the City of Camden — and mean it.
I hope the governor and his administration can support Camden’s growth and separate politics from good government. We cannot afford to go backward at this critical moment in Camden’s history. The Camden of today is stronger, safer, more vibrant, and offers more to its residents than it ever did when I was growing up there. This is the Camden that I believe in, and I hope that Trenton can join me in that belief.