A Governor Returns to his Roots

Several decades ago, East Camden was a middle-class blue collar neighborhood where a young man decided to raise his family. He worked as a night watchman to put himself through law school. In the years since, the East Camden neighborhood had deteriorated into block after block of vacant homes and rampant crime, and that young man left the neighborhood and became Governor of New Jersey. Today, he came back to his old neighborhood for a celebratory announcement. The full story and that governor’s comments are below the fold.

Over the past week, we’ve seen a lot of publicity about the impact that the opening of the Rowan Medical School will have on the City of Camden. Certainly, that’s a positive step for the hospital enclave and its surrounding area, but Camden is more than universities and hospitals (or “eds and meds” as Mayor Dana Redd puts it). What is really needed to move the city from its dubious designation as the crime center of the state to a vibrant self-sustaining city is the revitalization of its neighborhoods.

Today, a consortium of community organizations announced a major step toward that revitalization. Several dozen people attended a press conference organized by the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership and held in a renovated home in East Camden, one of the neighborhoods undergoing a renaissance. The main purpose was the announcement of a $100,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, but the efforts of these groups go way beyond that.

St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society (SJCS), an organization dedicated to the improvement of Camden Neighborhoods, the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership held the press conference in a newly-renovated home on Boyd Street in East Camden. According to Pilar Closkey, Executive Director of SJCS, her organization has purchased and renovated over 900 homes, 42 of them in the East Camden neighborhood. She told Blue Jersey that the efforts are geared not toward single homes, but toward entire neighborhoods. SJCS plans and organizes the renovation of the external infrastructure (sewers, lighting, etc.), as well as the blocks of homes. In this formerly drug-infested neighborhood, the home where the press conference was held sold for $129,000, with the new owner closing on it tomorrow. Other renovated homes in the neighborhood are selling for between $70K and $140K.

In addition to revitalizing these properties, SJCS and Campbell’s Soup (Camden’s biggest industrial employer) coordinate a three-month educational program for first time homeowners on the advantages and responsibilities of home ownership. About 40 construction jobs, mostly for Camden residents, are another benefit of this home revitalization program.

Among the dignitaries at the conference, in addition to the leaders of the community organizations, were Camden Mayor Dana Redd and former Governor Jim Florio. I spoke with the governor after the event. That interview is below, along with his remarks and those of the mayor.

Neighborhood revitalization does not get as much press attention as the opening of a medical school. Governor Christie did not come to cut any ribbons. But transforming vacant homes into a vibrant neighborhood results in ratable properties, an essential step toward self-sufficiency of our urban areas. In today’s world, where Wall Street greed dominates the headlines, organizations like Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, the Wells Fargo Foundation, and Neighborhoods America are the true unsung heroes.

My interview with Governor Florio:

Mayor Redd’s remarks:

Governor Florio’s remarks:

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