Connecting the Dots and Making a Pledge
I've read a couple very intriguing news articles this week which really got me thinking about my campaign platform. What's interesting is that both articles - which dealt with the lack of opportunity and justice for the underprivileged - came about during the same week in which I spoke before City Council on the issue of homelessness.
One article, from the Advocate, discussed how one local activist group - called the Newark Think Tank on Poverty - is trying to help lift people up both individually and in our society overall. Specifically, the article mentioned their efforts to "ban the box" on job applications which requires applicants to reveal whether they've been convicted of a felony in the past. The reason for their advocacy in attempting to remove that section of applications is that far too many citizens who are trying to reform and build a better future for themselves are left feeling hopeless when they have to disclose their past mistakes. A discouraging number of employers often reject applicants outright once they see a criminal record, and we wonder why recidivism is a problem.
The other article, which I found on Think Progress, highlighted an unprecedented act by a City Council that will - if it becomes law - guarantee a bill of rights for the homeless. Included in said "Bill of Rights" are protections from invasions of privacy and destruction of private property, as well as the rights to "move freely in public spaces", "access...emergency medical care", "equal treatment by city services", and to have 15 days notice before the city displaces them from whereever they camp. There were more protections, some of which were removed, but I'll let you read those for yourself.
It goes without saying that we - as is the case with any community - have a lot of problems to address. A lack of hope is at the top of that list. Moreover, if you think that this deficit of hope is somehow separate from all of our other issues, then you aren't thinking about this extensively. Consider the top three issues - at least in my mind - for this campaign:
1) Our streets
2) Equipping our safety forces
3) Making Newark a safe and welcoming home for all
Sure, at first glance, they look like individual issues. One would even argue that I forgot to mention "jobs", but I would feel compelled to respond that dealing with such both depends on and influences our ability to tackle these three. In reality, each issue listed here is inextricably connected to the other two. We can not expect to attract good paying jobs if our infrastructure is not well-managed, our police and fire departments aren't properly supported, or if the people themselves are left to feel like the system isn't working for them. Yet, we need good paying jobs to help boost tax revenue so as to finance the city's services as well as to boost citizen satisfaction. Almost seems like a catch-22.
The streets aren't going to fix themselves, and what we're doing now just isn't cutting it. So, what do we do? I propose that we first reach out to the people and see what they think. Let's see if they are willing to tolerate any kind of modest tax increase to help improve our ability to fix more of our streets, and what kind of service cuts they would be willing to tolerate in the event that a tax increase isn't an option. Secondly, the city must seriously consider - again with extensive public input - bringing fixed-route busing into Newark - complete with a slight tax on fares to help pay for our streets and bridges - as well as a plan to overhaul how our trash is collected. Adopting both public transit and a change to trash pick-up would help to provide significant relief to our streets, reducing the wear and tear we see.
For our Police and Fire Departments, I believe that we need to survey both the public and those who serve us - in addition to reviewing how other communities have dealt with this - so as to reach the best solution moving forward. The community needs to know that they are going to have reliable, swift protection whether it is from crime or some other unforeseen disaster, and our safety forces must have the certainty that their services are fully-funded, and that we will have their back when the time comes to show our gratitude for their sacrifice. Again, I realize that our resources are limited, but we can make progress if we work as one.
Finally, the citizens - of every class and background - must be able to see themselves as party of a united community. We must promote citizen engagement both with our city government and with one another. The people have to feel welcome and safe as part of the Newark family if we hope to ever rise up together. There has to be some sign that things really are moving forward and that people can lift themselves up from hard times. How do we make Newark welcoming and safe for all?
Here, in addition to promoting what I'm proposing on the first two issues, I want to offer the following. Inspired by the aforementioned articles, and by what I have mentioned in the past, I want to offer our own "Bill of Rights" (please note, that this is off the top of my head, and may be expanded over time as I interact with the public and get your input):
1) Barring all employers from discriminating against the homeless, unemployed, or those with a criminal record (unless the criminal record is pertinent to the job being sought).
2) Protecting the homeless in their privacy, including shielding their belongings from warrantless confiscation, and providing that they have the right to move freely in public places.
3) Requiring at least two weeks notice before evicting the homeless from an encampment.
4) Prohibiting the discrimination in providing any services - public or private - on the basis of one's status as being homeless.
If you have more ideas, feel free to add them. I can imagine that there is much more that can be said about this. Let the conversation and our work to build a better Newark begin.