There are two ways to clean up government: by locking up corrupt officials, or by electing leaders who aren't corrupt.
Harry S. Pozycki is a relentless advocate of the latter approach.
For years Pozycki has promoted good government in New Jersey, of all places - a state in which more than 100 public officials have been convicted of corruption in the last seven years. As chairman of the nonprofit Center for Civic Responsibility, based in Metuchen, Pozycki recruits people in all 21 counties to get involved in local government and change it for the better.
In four years, their Citizens' Campaign has enlisted 300 leaders who have trained about 5,000 people.
"It's an opportunity for honor," said Pozycki, who works for no pay.
Pozycki and his army of committed volunteers have succeeded in adopting more than 200 local ordinances in New Jersey banning "pay-to-play," the corrupting practice of awarding government contracts to big campaign donors. They are reforming New Jersey government one township at a time.
For his impressive accomplishments against a strong tide of malfeasance, the Editorial Board has selected Pozycki as The Inquirer's Citizen of the Year.
The Citizens' Campaign has achieved remarkable results. Its citizen-legislators have attacked pay-to-play in more than 50 municipalities, including Collingswood in 2006 and Cherry Hill this year. His allies even played a role in helping to craft Philadelphia's new reform law governing no-bid contracts.
Pozycki also persuaded the Legislature in Trenton to enact one of the toughest bans on pay-to-play at the state level in the nation. After the state law was passed in 2005, one report found that 85 percent of state contractors' campaign donations had dried up.
He's become so influential in the arena of government ethics that Gov. Corzine is said to seek out Pozycki's opinion before committing to a particular good-government bill.
"Harry is likable, incorruptible, well-spoken and thoughtful," said Bob Shinn of Cherry Hill, a Camden County cochair of the Citizens' Campaign. "He's an indefatigable optimist. And he doesn't take 'no' for an answer."
With guidance from the Citizens' Campaign, Shinn and dozens of volunteers this year also persuaded Cherry Hill Township to adopt ordinances to increase the transparency in awarding professional service contracts, and to better inform residents about vacancies on various appointed township boards and commissions.
Pozycki, 61, was born in Perth Amboy and grew up in Woodbridge. He earned a law degree at Fordham University and, after a stint in banking in New York, opened a private law practice in New Jersey.
In the early 1980s, he wrote the state's first Planning Act, followed by fair housing legislation. He later ran successfully for freeholder in Middlesex County, and ultimately won the Democratic Party chair in the lair of party boss John Lynch (since imprisoned for corruption).
After several years running the Common Cause affiliate in New Jersey, Pozycki and his wife, Caroline, founded the nonprofit Center for Civic Responsibility in 1997. The Citizens' Campaign is an outgrowth of the center, with a mission of educating people about local government and how to serve.
The Citizens' Campaign's latest effort could be its most ambitious. Its "Call to Service" seeks to recruit a broad pool of talent to serve on state boards and commissions, local emergency squads, local political parties or as legislators. Details and educational material are available at www.jointhecampaign.com.
"People want to be on the side of the good," Pozycki said. "We've got to take our fate into our own hands."
This is the fifth annual Citizen of the Year award by The Inquirer Editorial Board.
In 2007, the award went to Helen Gym of Parents United, for her tireless efforts to bring accountability to Philadelphia public schools. In 2006, the award went to former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. for his work helping children of incarcerated parents. In 2005, the winners were Russell Diamond, Timothy Potts and Eugene Stilp for leading the pay-raise revolt in Harrisburg. In 2004, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean was honored for his leadership of the independent 9/11 Commission.
The award honors people whose work has upheld in a major way the ideals of citizenship: promoting justice, strengthening democracy or fostering community.