Trenton youth press mayoral candidates on recreation, transportation and violence
TRENTON >> Sometimes kids ask the best questions.
That was on display Thursday night at Rider University during a symposium featuring four Trenton mayoral candidates and a dozen city youth. After a screening of the documentary called “Generation Change,” which features Trenton teens, mayoral candidates Walker Worthy, Reed Gusciora, Paul Perez and Darren “Freedom” Green fielded questions from a panel of the city’s brightest.
Karon Moore, 15, who was representing Big Brothers Bigs Sisters of Mercer County asked, “Trenton is filled with a ton of abandoned buildings. There is also a lack of activities and recreational opportunities for children and teenagers in the city. What will you do to fix both of these problems?”
Worthy said the city must “make something out of them.”
“We don’t have bowling alleys, movie theaters and skating rinks,” Mercer County’s deputy clerk said. “We need to turn those abandoned buildings into life ... We don’t have to build starting from scratch. We can take what we have now and renovate what we need.”
Perez, who was 2014’s runner-up, also felt the city can use what it already has.
“We have school buildings that every night they’re closed and nobody’s using them,” Perez said. “We can use those right now while we begin to construct other recreational opportunities.”
Green asked the audience if they remembered Weed and Seed, a federal program that was once utilized in Trenton for recreational activity.
“If that worked for us in my generation and gave us a safe haven and places to go and things to do in terms of after school, why are we robbing this generation of that opportunity?” the city activist said. “We need to start filing grants again.”
Assemblyman Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) outlined that in 10 years Trenton will be a “very young city.”
“There’s a lot of opportunities in this city and that’s why I ask for you to stick it out,” the longtime 15th district legislator said. “There will be a lot of young people and it will be a great city because your generation is going to take over.”
Transportation and road conditions were also hot topics with the city’s youth.
Representing Anchor House, 19-year-old Lonzelle Davis asked, “Many young adults in this city are full-time students with part-time jobs. Most of us rely on unreliable bus systems, which are constantly making us late to where we are going. We also have options with Uber and Lyft but those are costly and unaffordable. As mayor, what would you do to put in place as an alternate solution to this problem?”
Perez produced an interesting “idea for the future.”
“We’ll create a trolly that will be for free and you can ride it and you can jump off and jump on, which you see in other cities,” Perez said. “But to do that in my city, I would have to find about $750,000 to put that in place.”
In the meantime, Perez said he would look into giving students free bus passes.
In his response, Gusciora said there is a “backlog of students trying to catch the New Jersey Transit buses to school” in the morning.
“So we don’t have enough buses to get to school,” he said. “So we have to work with the state, New Jersey Transit, and get more buses to take the students to their place.”
Jason St. Clair, 17, who was representing Let’s Film Trenton, asked “So I’ve lived in Trenton for the past 10 years and noticed that when you drive down our street, you either seem to come across a bump or a crater on the road or a crack in the sidewalks. My question to you as mayor, what are you going to do to fix that?”
Worthy said he has already fallen victim “to one of those big craters in the road” one day after he bought a new car.
“Luckily, I got the tire warranty that I didn’t want to buy,” Worthy joked. “We’ve got to go after grants that’s going to help this city pave these streets. In my neighborhood there’s a street — and all my neighbors laugh but it’s really not funny — we know to drive on the opposite side of the street to avoid all the potholes on the other side. I’m going to work aggressively to make sure that we get the funding from the state and federal funding to improve these streets — it’s an emergency.”
Green stated “when you look at Hamilton, Lawrence, Princeton, and Ewing, you don’t see what you see in Trenton, so it makes Trenton an enigma.”
“What you have right now with the administration in City Hall — we have to be real about it — it’s incompetency,” he said. “I’m going to bring in professional, competent, qualified directors to be able to address that issue.”
Violence was also on the minds of city teens.
Representing Trenton Recreation at Sam Naples, 14-year-old Remi Sharif asked “As a 14 year-old girl, I’ve already lost one of my friends to gun violence and another to suicide. I watch my peers use alcohol and marijuana to cope with their mental health issues. What program would you put in place to help young people in this city cope with a wide range of mental health issues that they’re dealing with?”
Gusciora said “PTSD is not only for soldiers.”
“There’s PTSD in the urban areas where kids are afraid to go to school because of the gun violence, crime, joblessness and the hopelessness of the city,” the assemblyman said. “Mental health is important that we have to deal with it.”
Green told Sharif she was a “replica of what is happening in this city.”
“The biggest problem with mental health is the stigma ... in our community we shame people who actually admit that they have a problem,” Green said. “I would bring (programming) into the schools on a consistent basis. I would also bring in the faith-based community.”
During one question that Gusciora was asked about abandoned housing, he tried to turn the tables.
“We’re having a new high school,” he responded. “If the name were to be named Barack Obama High School, would you approve of that?”
CBS 3’s Alicia Nieves, who was moderator of the debate, got Gusciora back on track.
But when he was done answering, one of the students told him she’d support it.
“It’d be the first one in the nation,” Gusciora responded.
Before the symposium began, there was a screening of “Generation Change,” which featured Trenton teens making some powerful statements on how they would make the city a better place to live.
Asked who would be a good ambassador to make the people of Trenton hopeful and positive, 19-year-old Marquis Parrish said it was a “hard question.”
“The way things are going right now, it seems like it’s not really going to make a difference,” Parrish says in the film. “I think it starts with us.”
The film was produced by Seven13 Films with assistance of Margaret Fontana Media and RiderCom341 class.
“Our film is about listening to young people,” director and producer Joseph A. Halsey said. “Our narrative is to join education, film, politics and more importantly youth. We all need to do this together.