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Hudson County Politics Message Board

Jersey City Is Creating Golden Neighborhoods

By Stan Eason
Stan Eason was Director of Communications for the City of Jersey City when Glenn Cunningham was Mayor.

Originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of NJ Municipalities Magazine

A safe city is inspiring to developers.

"In the political realm they say a week can seem like a lifetime. Then two years in politics must seem like an eternity." Glenn D. Cunningham, Mayor of Jersey City.

Tackling problems of a big city sometimes may seem insurmountable, or at least accomplishing that goal would take an eternity. However, in two years the administration of Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham has gotten things turned around in Jersey City. And, in the right direction.

On July 1, 2001, Glenn D. Cunningham began his term as Mayor of the town he lived in his entire life. As the city's first African American mayor, Cunningham had a number of challenges before him: overcoming a $54 million structural deficit; planning renewal of neglected inner-city neighborhoods; and stopping the scourge of drug abuse and the crime it feeds.

Taking on one of these issues is challenging enough for any elected official, but taking on all three at the same time poses a Herculean task. Well, Cunningham, who left the post as United States Marshal to run for mayor in January 2001, took the challenge head on.

The ambitious former Marine learned in boot camp that any hill can be climbed; the courageous former Jersey City beat cop learned that fearing challenge leads to failure; and the cunning former U.S. Marshal learned that without a plan there would be no success. "When I walked through the neighborhoods with my wife Sandy, who is a source of support and inspiration for me, we saw the crime-ridden vacant lots, and despair on the streets, I said that something has to be done for the people, my city," Cunningham said.

Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham and First Lady Sandra Bolden Cunningham
Golden Neighborhoods
From his first day in office Cunningham got right to work, scheduling meetings with waterfront developers who have reinvented Jersey City's Gold Coast. It was his aim to get developers to reinvest in other neighborhoods in the city, creating Golden neighborhoods to compliment the evolving Gold Coast.

But the Golden Neighborhoods Initiative was briefly sidelined when the city, and our country was put to a horrific test.

Cunningham was called upon to lead the city's police, fire and emergency services workers, and hundreds of citizen-volunteers in the rescue-recovery efforts following the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Jersey City is less than a half-mile across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan.

And, it was the Jersey City Waterfront where thousands fled to safety and for medical treatment that horrific day. In the days that followed, thousands more gathered to form a human lifeline of food and equipment that would be ferried across the Hudson to Ground Zero.

"Nothing could prepare us for the grief and anguish we experienced due to the great loss of life and the destrution of the magnificent Twin Towers," Cunningham said. "The shock and horror we witnessed less than half a mile away led me to draw on all my years in the Marines, the police department and in the U.S. Marshal's Service because we needed to establish order and instill confidence in the citizens who had no idea of what would come next."

Readying the City
The lessons learned during 9-11 proved valuable for Jersey City. Cunningham put the city's revival plan into high gear, but with so many plans for renewal and continued growth, Cunningham knew that the city's precious resources needed to be protected.

Cunningham called for a "threat risk assessment study," which was completed by former FBI and law enforcement officials. The report is the foundation for what may be the development of the first Municipal Division of Homeland Security in the country.

The plans for the new security diviion received a major boost from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when Jersey City was recently issued a $17 million grant via the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), federal grants designed to assist urban areas in the United States to enhance their overall security and preparedness level to prevent, respond and recover from acts of terrorism.

The Department of Homeland Security determined the grant sums cities across the country would receive through a formula that took into account a city's population density, critical infrastructure, credible threat information and first-responder status.

After "9-11 "Jersey City's first-responder status was again tested when numerous municipalities in the region were besieged with anthrax threats. Jersey City responded to nearly a thousand calls to investigate and recover suspicious items at home and in neighboring communities.

"Our police and fire departments constantly increase their training to handle all situations, even the unpredictable," said Cunningham, referring to the summer Weapons of Mass Destruction Drill held in city limits. The drill was witnessed for analyses by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The Midas Touch
Building a safe city is inherent within the Golden Neighborhoods plan, which has been on the fast track the last two years.

The "readying" of the emergency response officials to the unpredictable coincided with the highly successful Anti-Crime Initiative that was launched in November 2001.

The ACI, which led to an unprecedented 9,000 drug related arrests in that span, incorporated a holistic approach to drug abuse and its related crimes by offering intervention programs, identifying youths at risk and developing a second chance program for single-arrest offenders who need employment.

"If we are going to rebuild a city and continue its growth, people need to feel safe," Cunningham said. "Arresting drug offenders, which takes a bite out of several crime trends, isn't the only answer, it's one of the tools. That's why we need other tools, be it our second-chance program or identifying juveniles at risk before they head down the wrong path."

A safe city is inspiring to developers. Currently there is $2.5 billion in construction under way, including 6 buildings with four million square feet of office space and another 10 residential buildings under, or near completion with a total of 2,238 apartments on the waterfront.

In the center of the city, Journal Square, the city broke ground on the first new project there in 20 years. This new construction will include 130 apartments and storefront retail space, and 30 of the residential units will be reserved for people with low or modeate incomes.

In the historic downtown area, or the Powerhouse District, the first artist's housing project has begun, which will include 60 new apartments and retail space. Ten percent of those apartments will be for low- and moderate-income residents.

And, in the inner city neighborhoods that were in desperate need of renewal, new in-fill housing is sprouting up through nearly every corridor. There are nearly 1000 units of low and moderate income housing underway or approved for construction.

However, the crown jewel in the Golden Neighborhoods Initiative was recently realized during the groundbreaking of a 24-unit affordable housing complex in the inner city that will be completely constructed by Goldman Sachs as a donation to the city.

It is the first such agreement in the city's history, but marks the beginning of what Cunningham envisions as a greater relationship with the city between its development community and the residents.

"The people at Goldman never hesitated. It's their commitment to the community where they have set up their corporate offices that will be an example for others to follow," Cunningham said. "The Jersey City story was 'a tale of two cities' because while our Gold Coast was experiencing tremendous development, our neighborhoods were neglected. I am focusing on all our neighborhoods so that all of Jersey City benefits from the construction boom."

Jersey City is continuing its spectacular growth as a major economic force in the metropolitan area. Also on the horizon is the new $200 million dollar, state-of-the-art Jersey City Medical Center, which will open on Grand Street next year. It is the first new Medical Center in the Tri-State region in 25 years. There are plan with the Board of Education to build two new high schools over the next two years, one that will serve as a medical academy.

However, despite the development growth, the region and country are still mired in a depressed economy and fiscal spending had to be watched closely. For two straight years Cunningham froze property taxes, trimmed government fat, managed to hire new police officers and firefighters despite the inherited $54 million dollar structural deficit.

"Tough decisions had to be made to fix the budget problems. I knew that could be done," Cunningham said.

His five-year economic plan was praised by the State Local Finance Board for incorporating a long-range financial recovery plan, which included refinancing $120 million in debt while interest rates were at historic lows. The result saved the city $14 million in debt fees this year alone.

"Today we mark another milestone on the comeback trail of Jersey City," said DCA Commissioner Susan Bass Levin during the spring '03 announcement that Jersey City would exit the Distressed Cities program.

"Getting the prosperity of the Waterfront development to be realized in our inner city was my top challenge," Cunningham said. "We had to get developers to commit to our vision of Golden Neighborhoods and that has happened. The people of the rest of the city see that what is happening on our Hudson River waterfront benefits the rest of the city, too. With crime being decreased and taxes being stabilized, Jersey City is a top Destination City."

In Lieu of Flowers
Donations May Be Made In Honor of Glenn D. Cunningham To:

The Sandra & Glenn Cunningham Foundation
20 Chapel Ave
Jersey City, N.J. 07305


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