Twenty Five Minutes, Thirty Six Seconds

Based on one loose and entirely subjective measure, as applied to one extraordinary piece of video, Paul Perez is already acting as if he has been elected Mayor of the City of Trenton, and has entered his fifth month in office.

That subjective measure is the “Tony Mack Scale of Unfair Media,” as used to bash the local press. Specifically, the Trentonian newspaper. The trail that Mr. Mack blazed eight years ago looks to be the same path being followed by Mr. Perez. And the copycatting does not suit the man. If anything, it should increase a sense of alarm that this man is a close contender to be elected Mayor next Tuesday.

I speak about the comments, unscripted and passionate, pretty non-specific and rambling, made by the candidate in a very extraordinary 25-minute, 36 -second video posted on Tuesday.

The video, initially posted on Facebook Live and now streaming on YouTube, was apparently occasioned by receipt of a new mailer published by Perez’s opponent, Reed Gusciora, Mr. Perez held the flyer in front of him throughout the video, referring to it frequently. The candidate attacked the flyer throughout as an unfair personal attack on his character and his own personal history, but directed specific and heated criticism at the publishers of the piece for sourcing some of the material from The Trentonian newspaper. At 6:10 in the video, he said, “Many of you out there that read the Trentonian have your own scale of credibility, when it comes to the Trentonian… I won’t disrespect them. I will just say it’s not really reliable.” He then attempted to pivot away from discussion of the newspaper and the Gusciora flyer, saying (6:38) “all we want to do is make a difference.” But 20 seconds later, he sheds some tears and becomes very emotional. The Gusciora flyer stays on-camera the entire time.

Eight years ago, disgraced federal convict and former mayor Tony Mack had his problems with the Trentonian. At one of his first press conferences, remember, a plain-clothes Trenton police detective physically intimidated that paper’s editor Paul Mickle, as he aggressively questioned. Mr. Mack later imposed a short-lived “ban” on having copies of the newspaper physically present in City Hall. That was five months into that mayor’s term. Paul Perez is showing himself to be as prickly about this newspaper as Tony Mack. That’s saying something.

Look, we are in a transitional period for our local media. NJ Advance Media, owners of the Trenton Times, has seemingly made a deliberate decision to reduce – it feels like a total elimination – its local Trenton coverage. And that’s a shame. The local print media is now dominated by the Trentonian, as the only local daily featuring original reporting and commentary of interest to those who live and work in Trenton. This is not a brand-new development. It’s been happening here for years, as well as everywhere else in this country.

In November 2010, in the midst of Tony Mack’s Trentonian “ban,” I wrote in this space,

The Trentonian, for all of its many faults and wrinkles, has been doing some good journalism over the last several months. With an aggressiveness seldom seen during the Palmer Administration, the newspaper has been breaking news, posting frequent updates online, using video, and generally proving the continuing value of a strong local news presence.

In comparison, the Times has been lagging in its city coverage, reduced often to reports of press conferences and Council sessions, as well as ripping and re-writing press releases from outside sources.  This is no doubt the inevitable result of a long process of downsizing at that newspaper, and the hollowing out of local resources in favor of concentrating them at Star-Ledger headquarters up north.

I’m not saying the Trentonian doesn’t make mistakes. Too many stories are rushed onlne and into print without corroboration, relying only on single unnamed sources whose credibility on a given story can’t be evaluated by the average reader.

I don’t think those lines need much revision. I’ve been very critical of the Trentonian over the years, sometimes pretty bluntly. That much hasn’t changed. But a lot has changed in this country over the last few years that put Mr. Perez’s comments in a very different, and more troubling light.

Professional journalism is under attack, and the value of a free press challenged, from the very top level of our national government on down. Even though the main motivation for these attacks by the Current Occupant of the Oval Office has been revealed to be a cynical effort to “‘discredit’ journalists so that negative stories about him would not be believed,” the example set by the Current Occupant has been picked up by many others in the country and used to continually de-legitimize a professional and free press and those who work in the profession.

It is sad and disappointing to see and hear Paul Perez take up that cause and propagate it in the City of Trenton.

Mr. Perez is done with his specific discussion of the Trentonian at about the seven minute mark in the video, although it – like the ever-present Gusciora mailer – is an unnamed player of the subtext throughout.

The remaining 18 minutes are taken up with rambling, disjointed, defensive commentary, flitting from topic to topic without ever naming the names or dating the dates of what he’s talking about at any given time. As noted in the Trentonian’s own story about this video, Mr. Perez keeps talking about unnamed opponents in the third person plural, using a lot of “They’s”  and “Them’s.” “They” are apparently everyone else not backing the Perez campaign. Mr. Gusciora, certainly. Many of his former opponents who have endorsed Mr. Gusciora. The permanent floating Democratic “establishment” working against him. The Trentonian, obviously.

When watching the entire video, the whole thing kind of rushes over you in a stream-of-consciousness style in which one topic flows to another. Always concerning “them” and what “they” are doing in this election. I think it’s only by isolating specific statements and comments that one can realize what a remarkable video piece, and how damaging it is to Mr. Perez’s reputation in the closing days of this campaign.

8:30    “They’re trying to manipulate us all!”

11:38   “Now I was advised not to do this video, but I can’t help it.”

13:10   “It’s sickening and upsetting.”

15:40   “We’ve seen what they’ve done to people connected to me.”

18:20   “They darkened my face.”

18:33   “I apologize that I have to come out and talk about this.”

19:03   “We still have to fight these career politicians and the incredible machine they have.”

20:09   “They jump from one team to another, and then they try to justify why they’re doing things.”

20:18   “They try to act like they’re a state agency at times, and tell you what the rules are.”

20:25   “It’s amazing, amazing, amazing, to see these actions.”

20:33   “We’re not going to let them get us down.”

21:55   “We’ve had enough of these guys.”

And, finally,

22:00   “We want to put them on display and let you know who they are.”

Mr. Perez apparently believes that he’s done just that. But, other than the Gusciora mailer that never leaves his grip, he hasn’t mentioned a single person or fact or incident!

In the middle of all of this, curiously, Mr. Perez make a quick detour to talk about – again, with his same annoying vagueness – his own campaign. He responds to unspoken and undescribed criticism of his campaign, which he is quick to blame on an all together other set of unknown “Theys.”

13:18   “I don’t have any power over what they call Political Action Committees.”

13:39   “That material is is marked very clearly as to who it’s from”

13:47   “Sometimes they don’t even get that information right.”

13:57   “It goes to show you there’s no coordination between us and them.”

Whew. That was exhausting to watch.

What are we to make from all this?

To me, first and foremost, this demonstrates – along with his behavior and comments at last Sunday’s candidate forum, as well as a newly-published but three-week-old interview with the Trentonian posted last night – that there is a huge disconnect between what his campaign formally stands for, and what the candidate is showing us about himself.

Mr. Perez and his campaign has done a very respectable and comprehensive job of considering all of the important issues facing the City of Trenton, and presenting ideas and proposals for how many of these issues would be confronted by a Paul Perez Administration.

Since the first round of the election last month, though, he has put the issues aside and has allowed his ego and his personality to take center stage as the most important factor in the campaign, to him. Yes, he has a good story to tell, of a son of Trenton who served his nation for several decades, rising to a pretty senior position in uniformed and civilian service. He has a lot of which he can be proud.

However, we need more than a positive personal history in Trenton. We’ve recently had one mayor who served ten years too long. Another led away in handcuffs. A third sleep-walked through his term. Now this guy who is one of the two persons who will be elected the next mayor on Tuesday is setting the stage for four years of turbulence and personal drama. No, thank you.

We don’t need to elect a man whose ego, ambition and temper outstrip his talent.

1 comment to Twenty Five Minutes, Thirty Six Seconds

  • What bothers me about Mr. Perez is that you don’t see him out trying to bring residents, business owners, government officials and not for profit leaders together in order to make Trenton a better place to live, work and play.

    Since I’m associated with a not for profit, I can’t really express any real comments in public, but I certainly feel that Mr. Perez is wrong for Trenton, and that’s my personal opinion.