Darren Green Is Not Entertained. That's a Good Thing for Trenton

There may not be a more unconventional mayoral candidate in Trenton this election cycle, than Darren “Freedom” Green.

There may not be a mayoral candidate who knows more intimately about how government – at all levels – in Trenton fails so much for so many in this city, than Darren Green.

There may not be a mayoral candidate known by first name by as many people of this city, than Darren Green.

There may not be a mayoral candidate as underestimated this election cycle, than Darren Green.

He is, I think, worth a closer look by voters.

I first met Mr. Green when he was an At-Large candidate for City Council in 2010, the same year I ran in the West Ward. He had made it to the June run-off, whereas I was eliminated in the initial round that May. I was impressed by his quiet intensity and granular knowledge of life in Trenton for many of its citizens. After that election, and after the 2014 election in which he did not stand as a candidate, Darren – almost alone among most of Trenton’s candidates, from whom we hear and see only every four years – has walked the walk, and continued to talk the talk. He’s been a presence at Council and other community meetings, and on social media.

He was an early and vocal supporter of the movement to recall Tony Mack – which again distinguishes him from all of the other mayoral candidates. Writing on her blog at the time that the recall movement fell short, recall committee member and now former Trenton resident Christine Ott wrote about Mr. Green’s work on that effort, “Darren Freedom Green is just pure decency and compassion, and I might just have to make a Darren Freedom Green Action Figure to keep with me at all times for inspiration.”

His professional background does not suggest that he comes with the requisite experience I’ve been seeking from other candidates. He’s not served, as far as I know, in any management capacity in an organization similar in size and complexity to the City. One of his positions over the last several years was as a special aide worker for the Trenton School District, a job I only know about by the fact that his departure from the job in 2014 after his salary (along with other in similar positions)was reduced was reported in the Trenton Times. His website does not include detailed discussions of his previous career.

Were he to somehow find a path to election as Mayor this Spring, I think he would end up being overly dependent on hiring a staff,  Department directors and other personnel and board appointees whose knowledge of the technical nuts and bolts of their jobs would likely far exceed Mr. Green’s. I think that would be the case for him much more than for the other candidates this season. The rest of his website is similarly lacking detailed exposition of the issues he identifies as well as his prescribed solutions.

And yet, his knowledge of and feel for the issues is personal and dead on. For instance, on a page discussing the crisis in vacant and abandoned buildings and the many pressures on the many small business owners to make a living, he introduces us to one of these businessowners. He tells us about Leroy Nevius and the properties he owns. He tells us,

Last year the City of Trenton did a property revaluation and Mr. Nevius’ tax bill increased by thousands. I know our City needs revenue, but I am, and have always been for sensible, socially responsible development. What type of administration provides a 10 year tax break to a millionaire politician who lives outside the City (the owner of the Starbucks property), but brings the hammer down on small business owners who have lived here their whole lives? Not the administration I would support. Not the administration you should support.

I have to tell you, I read that and I nod my head in approval. Do I think that Mr. Green has the right experience and toolset to take the kinds of action and make the kinds of changes that would help Leroy Nevius, and those like him? I don’t know, but I don’t see many other people asking for votes this season talking about either the horrible revaluation this City went through last year, OR the City’s scandalous record in handing out tax abatements like candy to those who least need them while ignoring those like Mr. Nevius.

His Issues page is brief and cursory in both diagnosis and prescription. In that respect, he shares with Councilman Alex Bethea. Yet for the last eight years at least, he has been much more detailed, much more consistent and – above all – much more coherent than Mr. Bethea.

And Mr. Green uses words such as “bold” and “revolutionary” on his website and in his speech almost as much as Councilman Duncan Harrison does.

Regarding Mr. Harrison, I said the other day that the only “revolution” Trenton might be ripe for would be a French one. From my rather removed, privileged and distant online perch, whose experience of Trenton is surely much, much different than many if not most of the people who are born, grow up and live here having gone through city schools and whose experience with city services is more frequent, necessary and unpleasant and frustrating than mine; from my perspective if, similar to the French people in 1789, Trenton were to put forth an authentic voice to speak and work for the disenfranchised and powerless, I think that person would look and sound a lot like Darren Green. He’s been to more funerals and celebrations in this town – as a friend – than most other candidates and officeholders, I would speculate.

On another of his website pages, he says – and I will quote that in its entirety:

During last night’s NAACP Town Hall Forum, I was asked about my thoughts on the two new “entertainment districts” being proposed for our City. My response was clear. Money comes into Trenton, but rarely ends up benefiting Trentonians. Councilman Harrison said he supported these districts, and the creation of others across the City — but my position is that until we have full accountability for how our money is being spent; until we have rules in place that prioritize the training, hiring, and contracting of TRENTON residents, I will never be for any of these developments.

The State announced on Fountain Ave last year that it was giving Trenton 11.5 MILLION to demolish up to 500 abandoned buildings. This picture was taken only days ago, a few feet away from where Governor Christie and our current Mayor made their announcement. Things have only gotten worse. Do you see what I’m talking about when I say accountability? Real people going through real things are going to feel this. We don’t need to be sold dreams about some entertainment district. We borrowed millions to build a new hotel and look where that has gotten us?

I am not entertained. I am enraged that our kids continue to deal with the trauma of blight and abandonment when they walk outside, while people in power pull the wool over our eyes as they quietly enrich their friends using our tax dollars. Trenton FIRST or no deal. Simple.

I have to tell you, “I am not entertained?” I love that! I cannot think of any other candidate this year who has earned the right to channel Russell Crowe in what passes for Trenton’s poor excuse for a gladiator arena. I think we’re the better for having him run this year.

I don’t know what Mr. Green’s electoral chances will be in May. I wouldn’t think that his campaign is as adequately funded as many of his opponents. I don’t see any “Green (or ‘Free’) for Mayor” signs around town, another sign that his effort is being run on a shoestring. On the other hand, he doesn’t have any of the huge, annoying, Baconator-sized billboards-on-lawns that Walker Worthy is planting around town, and that’s a good thing. We’ll learn more about that, and other candidates’ efforts, later this week, when the Election Law Enforcement Commission starts to post the required 28-day campaign financial reports due tomorrow.

As mentioned above, his unconventional background and skillset may not at this point provide him with all of the tools he would need to be the effective Executive this town has desperately needed for way too long.  He may not have what it takes to do the job.

But I will predict that – based on the resonance to his message, the many, many people in Trenton who have long known him, and know him to be direct, honest, passionate, consistent and committed – he will finish higher than at least half the field. Darren Green is definitely a wild card.

His presence alone in this race is classing it up. He is saying things, and taking positions that – even though his background may not be the most conventional – few others this year are taking.

Even if he is not successful in May, or June, he will continue to be a strong voice in this city. Whoever is elected Mayor, if it’s not Mr. Green, will be well advised to find a spot for him where he will have certainly earned a chance to serve the City and the people he loves.

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