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Camden's mayor celebrates the city, still won't say whether she'll run for third term

Mayor Dana Redd has presided over a period of tremendous changes in Camden, from massive police layoffs to large-scale business development

Standing before photographs depicting scenes of the "new" Camden, such as renderings of glittery development projects and a 2015 visit from President Barack Obama, Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd on Thursday said her administration has restored accountability to City Hall, fostered education reform and business growth, and made the city safer.

"I believe in the city of Camden with all my heart," she said to city leaders and residents who attended her annual state of the city address at Rutgers-Camden. "We refuse to give up. Instead we choose to keep working."

Redd cited accomplishments over her two terms as mayor, such as grants secured for major infrastructure work, housing, and social services.

She did not address whether she would seek reelection in the fall. After the speech, she said she had not decided.

"Right now, we're just going to focus on the work in Camden," Redd said.

City officials and others have speculated for months about Redd's plans. Privately, a number of city leaders have expressed doubt that she plans to run again, but none would comment out of deference to Redd.

The deadline for filing nominating petitions is April 3, with the primary in June.

Redd apparently started fund-raising for the 2017 election several years ago. A committee called Redd for Mayor was formed in 2014, state campaign finance records show, and reported contributions of about $35,000 as of last month.

Elected mayor of the heavily Democratic city of 77,000 in November 2009, Redd took office just as an eight-year state takeover ended in January 2010.

Redd  oversaw the tumultuous dissolution of the Camden Police Department, which resulted in the creation in 2013 of a county regional force that patrols only Camden.

The 2013 passage of the Grow New Jersey law has also begun to transform the city. The program rewards employers that invest in struggling cities as part of the 2013 Economic Opportunity Act. U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a South Jersey Democrat, championed the law as a state senator, saying the use of tax incentives would lure employers to Camden.

The state Economic Development Authority (EDA) has since promised more than $1.5 billion in tax credits to companies that agree to relocate to Camden, and corporations including Subaru of America, Lockheed Martin, and Holtec are building facilities in the city. The 76ers built a training facility on the waterfront last year.

State and city leaders say the developments will lead to more businesses and jobs and a more robust local economy. Critics have said the deals are too generous because they largely involve the relocation of high-paying jobs from elsewhere in South Jersey, with no strategies aimed at addressing Camden's chronic unemployment. Most of the companies moving in will have few jobs to offer the city's long-term unemployed, and the deals will allow the companies to recoup building costs while paying little in property taxes.

The EDA does not mandate that the companies invest in Camden, though many of the companies have indicated they plan to train city residents for construction jobs, offer paid student internships, invest in youth programs, and more.

On Thursday, Redd said she would soon announce details of a new program that "will provide small businesses with the resources to grow."

Redd closed by thanking those who have worked alongside her in City Hall, saying they helped make Camden stronger.

"If we say we love Camden, and we want what's best for her, let's keep our promise to her," she said.