What Are Political Relationships Really Worth?

Mercer County’s Deputy County Clerk Walker Worthy on Wednesday announced his second candidacy for Mayor. He also ran in 2014, finishing third. He and his political supporters believe he has a better chance this time around.

In his announcement speech, according to David Foster’s account in the Trentonian, Mr. Walker gave what appears to be the main argument for his candidacy:

“I’m the only candidate that the has the real relationships … that can help our city. I don’t want to hear I’m the county puppet. The city needs the county, the city needs the state, the city needs the federal government. We all need each other and we’re going to have to build our relationships so we can work together to build back this great city and I am prepared to lead.”

In this passage, I think we are hearing Mr. Worthy’s answer to the age-old question, “Are we a nation of laws, or a nation of men?” That is, what should be more important in our democracy, at all levels? That each and every person is equal under the law, and that the letter of the law determines and constrains how our government functions?

Or, that what is more important to the functions of public life is the complex web of personal relationships and personal reputations of those in power. In other words, it isn’t what you know (or what the law is) but who you know, how you know them, and how they know you.

This, says Mr., Worthy, is what should put him at the head of the table. It’s substantially similar to the pitch he gave us in 2014. In March of that year, I wrote about the candidate’s platform for that election. His website from back then is no longer online, so please bear with me when I selectively quote from a proposal that you can’t fully evaluate.

OK? With that said, here was one of the money quotes for his “Plan for Jobs & Economy:”

Use my experience and relationships with key state and county officials to create public/private partnerships and promote the benefit of doing business in Trenton.

Sounds like he’s saying the same thing in his campaign announcement this week, right?

Here was my take back then:

Hmm, Mr. Worthy only talks about his ”experience and relationships” with public officials in the state and county. OK, I will grant him that he might be able to leverage those connections into something of benefit to Trenton.

But relationships with public officials, as good as they might be, are only one-half of any possible “public/private partnerships.”

What kind of ”experience and relationships” does Mr. Worthy have with those in the private sector, and how might they be relevant to developing future opportunities in Trenton? If he has few or none in the private sector, then wouldn’t that require him to be dependent on those “key state and county officials” to gain him entree to the private sector? And will those officials have Trenton’s best interests in mind?

I doubt it. Mr. Worthy’s experience is substantial in public service, on the county level at least which explains why the Mercer Democratic establishment (most of whom reside outside of Trenton) is supporting him so strongly. But he has shown he has no depth of  ”experience and relationships” of the kind in the private sector that could benefit Trenton. So,


I really don’t have much more to add to that. According to Mr. Foster’s Trentonian account, Worthy did not talk about private partnerships, or initiatives not involving the city, county, state and federal governments. He seems to have dropped that, at least for now.

I wasn’t persuaded by Mr. Worthy’s argument in 2014, and I am not persuaded this time, based on the coverage of Wednesday’s announcement.

In 2014, I wrote that the candidate needed to really explain HOW his “experience and relationships” could benefit Trenton. He didn’t in that campaign, and that is the challenge he faces this year as well.

What exactly does he mean when he says “We all need each other and we’re going to have to build our relationships so we can work together to build back this great city and I am prepared to lead?”

HOW will his belief in “building relationships” – the rule of men, not law – serve to do this?

And, specifically, how will his “relationships” with people such as many of the folks in attendance at his announcement – many of the same people who have been in and out of Trenton’s city government for the last 30 years – help to accomplish in Trenton what these same people have been unable to move forward for most of those last 30 years? Mr. Foster names some of those who I refer to.

The 2014 third place finisher was surrounded Wednesday during his mayoral announcement by former Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, Mayor Eric Jackson’s mayoral aide Andrew Bobbitt, Trenton Democratic Committee Chairwoman Raissa Walker and former city Councilman Manny Segura.

These are among those whose “relationships” with Walker Worthy will help to rebuild Trenton if we elect him Mayor? If so, why haven’t they done it before now? What was stopping them then? Hey, if you liked the Hotel Fiasco and the way Trenton Water Works was allowed to deteriorate in the 1990’s and 2000’s, by all means give these guys another chance! Otherwise, no thanks!

I await more ideas and arguments for his candidacy from Mr. Worthy.

One final point. In 2014, Walker Worthy was new to the Trenton city scene. Yes, he’d been in the County Clerk’s office for years and active in Mercer County Democratic affairs. But no, he really didn’t have much of a voice or history of involvement in purely city matters or issues at that time. A lot of voters took that into account, and gave him a pass on that, in large part perhaps due to his being a newcomer to city affairs. He did finish third., after all.

However, in 2018 he is not a newcomer. We haven’t heard anything from Walker Worthy in the last 4 years. If, after the last election, he had any thought of running again, wouldn’t he have continued to be part of the civic conversation? It’s not as if nothing’s happened in four years, after all! Wouldn’t we expect to hear his opinions and positions from time to time, if he still wanted to be considered as a potential city leader?

I, for one, think so.

Perhaps he was constrained by his day job, his position in the County Clerk’s Office. Perhaps he, as did other Mercer County elected officials, stilled his voice so as not to embarrass or anger the current mayor and his Administration, who had been on good terms with the County? Perhaps he was being a good team player? If that’s the case, is that kind of person who we really as Trenton’s Mayor right now? After the failures of the last two Mayors?

I’ll leave those questions right there, for now. We still have a couple of months for him and the other candidates to make their case.

For now, we have Walker Worthy’s campaign announcement, leaning heavily on the value and utility of his political “relationships.”

How much are political “relationships” really worth, to a city such as Trenton? How much will those “relationships” really help improve the lives of its citizens? Will “relationships” make up for poorly written grant proposals? Will “relationships” offset flawed property revaluations? Will “relationships” be more important than competent, ethical and professional stewardship of valuable public assets and resources? Will “relationships” end pink water and lead notices in our drinking water?

The answers to those questions may determine the fate of Mr. Worthy’s candidacy this year.

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