The Trenton Mayoral Tilt: Perez Swats Gusciora over TTF Vote, Partisan Politics; Gusciora Jabs at Perez on the Downtown Hotel; ‘Military-style Policing’

TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy would figure significantly into the citywide fight here, the agonies of a statewide budget cycle he finds himself in dissected locally by the two men who want to lead New Jersey’s strangled capital city (see below).

It was but one plot line in this bigger story as Paul Perez and Reed Gusciora squared off at Mercer County Community College this afternoon in their lone mano-a-mano mayoral tilt, which proved a little like the rough shorn version of those interminable debates at college about who was the better philosopher: Plato or Aristotle.

Some professor would be so convincing making the case for Plato that you would think to yourself, “Yes, Plato got it right.” Then he’d introduced you to Aristotle, who blew up Plato, and you’d say, “Yes, Aristotle got it right.” But then Aristotle didn’t write like Plato, so you’d go back to Plato on the strength of how he said things, even if what he said made no sense; which finally grew tiresome and forced yet another defection to Aristotle, who was blandly right.

In their own diligent way, Perez and Gusciora unknowingly acted out those august roles amid the cratered, beat-down mean widely foreclosed streets of New Jersey’s capital city, their voices at times rising above the occasional siren-whines outside on this grim, cold-chill day.

At one point, the crowd shifted amid murmurs of “Shots fired.”

A former Pentagon security employee, Perez – light gray suit, pink tie – swatted at Gusciora early in front of the packed crowd on the second story of the local community college, dredging the assemblyman’s vote in favor of a 23-cent gas tax hike. “The Transportation Trust Fund. The 23 cent increase. He voted for that. Our senator, Shirley Turner, said no. He said, ‘We probably won’t get reelected for making this decision,'” Perez griped.

Gusciora – darker charcoal gray suit, yellow and black striped tie – shot back.

“Infrastructure improvements don’t fall from the sky,” he said. “The Transportation Trust Fund was designed so we could make those improvements. Paul thinks we can magically get that money.”

The crowd jeered.

There was a moment.

It seemed as though everything that followed would be acrimonious.

But a moment later Gusciora continued uninterrupted.

“The Transportation Trust Fund was designed to make those improvements and there was no other way to get those improvements,” he said. “It’s up to the state to provide us with those dollars. I didn’t want to raise your property taxes.”

They both support drivers’ licenses for undocumented workers. Gusciora wrote the bill, he said. Perez supports it. Mental health. Counseling. Agreed, agreed. Should Trenton be a sanctuary city? Yes, agreed, with caveats, see below. Gentrification? Bad. Trenton waterworks. Perez wants more information. Asset to the city, Gusciora said, preserve it as an asset. Rather than target Perez, the assemblyman for the most part worked over former Governor Chris Christie – who stopped hiring at the waterworks, for example – and President Donald J. Trump.

“By the way, Governor Chris Christie is gone,” Perez complained at one point.

When a question came up about the former Marriott Hotel downtown, it intensified the debate.

Can the city revitalize without the hotel?

“It is a tragedy that the hotel has been shut down, and it’s all been exacerbated to close the health and agriculture buildings,” Gusciora said. Paul was for putting the buildings downtown but he got the suburban laborers endorsement and now he’s against that. He doesn’t want those buildings downtown. Trenton has to have a hotel. We have a Starbucks. Now we just need a hotel.”

Perez fought back.

“We keep talking about revitalizing our city,” he said. “The hotel is owned by someone who has lost interest in our city. This thing about these two buildings has been a cornerstone to his candidacy. And it’s a good thing, because it keeps Mr. Gusciora in play.” But the city needs a full downtown renovation, he argued.

“There is little doubt no one is going to venture down to shop on the other side of the Dept. of Labor,” Gusciora said on the rebound.

Then it got very rough on the subject of sanctuary cities.

“At the NAACP forum you called for military style policing,” the assemblyman chastised his rival. “I don’t know how you’re going to have a sanctuary city with military-style policing.”

“Liar, liar, pants on fire,” Perez said in response, his supporters cheering. “We’re playing partisan politics. I have no connection to Christie. I have no connection to Trump. You have more pictures with Christie than I do.”

Gusciora repeatedly made the case for why relationships matter.

Perez tried to pull that apart.

“Governor Phil Murphy’s good man, but he has an incredible responsibility right now,” said the mayoral candidate. “He has a state that is cash-strapped. He has a legislature that is not working with him right now. He’s preparing for a budget shutdown in July. The best thing we can do is be independent and be responsible with managing our money, laying out our resources. I’ve been married for 38 years and I can tell you right now relationships are not a one-way street. Phil Murphy said he will have our backs, we have to have his back.”

“I had dinner over at Governor Murphy’s house,” Gusciora started in as a rebuttal.

That triggered an angry voice in the crowd, unintelligible. “Relationships. Relationships.”

Gusciora again went forward.

“The next mayor needs those relationships,” he said. “Fifty percent of the property in this city is tax exempt. Governor Chris Christie called me numb nuts. He was no friend to the city of Trenton. I was proud last week that Governor Murphy signed my Urban Enterprise Zone [UEZ] bill into law.”

“You had a nice dinner, but the problem is in 22 years we haven’t gotten this city to a place for where it is self-sufficient, that’s the truth,” Perez said.

Do both men plan to permanently live in Trenton after the election?

“This is not just a city to me, this is where I was born and raised,” said Perez. “This is the place where Carol, sitting right there, went to school with me. I’m an accomplished individual, who was taught by people in Trenton.”

He’ll live here, he said, “evermore.”

“I’ve been coming to the city of Trenton ever since I was a little kid,” Gusciora said. “I established a home here. I live in a beautiful home here and went in halves to buy another home. I want to see this city succeed. We’re all in this together. This is such a great city that we all need to make this city succeed. I’m invested in this city and I hope you are as well.”

The debate played out in front of an animated, seesawing crowd, with the imminent endorsement by retiring Mayor Eric Jackson apparently going to Perez, who signaled his approval of Jackson at one point by declaring, for no reason, that he respects him, in the process explicating a comment by the Gusciora-backing Walker Worthy last week about how the city has suffered for the last “eight years,” fire-blanketing the Jackson era in with that of the jailed Tony Mack.

They embraced at the end.

“I think deep down Paul and I like each other in some strange way,” Gusciora explained amid laughter. “He’s a good guy.”

“And so is Reed,” Perez added.

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One response to “The Trenton Mayoral Tilt: Perez Swats Gusciora over TTF Vote, Partisan Politics; Gusciora Jabs at Perez on the Downtown Hotel; ‘Military-style Policing’”

  1. This is exacty why Malave didn’t show up to this debate. The focus should have been the mayoral candidates vision for the city, and not the controversies between an incumbent supported by Perez and a loyal Democrat abandoned by his party.

    It seems like Perez and Gusciora are ok with George sitting on council during the next four years. While it is fashionable to have diversity at the office of the Mayor, keeping the status quo in the council is acceptable.

    Santiago Rodriguez has been the only legitimate Latino candidate to win without political clout behind him. While many believe Perez help Rodriguez, insiders know Rodriguez did it on his own. But now Trenton has the opportunity to have a more diverse city council; but if the Regular Democrats stay home, the flawed white hope of Trenton will deter all future improvements for the overwhelmingly immigrant community in Trenton.

    We need to have the die hard dems in Trenton to send a message to the future children of Trenton, Latinos are part of our City. They are not going away, and Malave is the man to take it to the next level. So, come out and VOTE MALAVE ON June 12th.

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