A city’s crime woes can’t be solved while many are jobless and economically distressed, says Maria Powell, who speaks from experience.
In San Bernardino, California, Powell worked in that city’s economic development agency for more than three decades, before moving to New Brunswick roughly six years ago. The key to addressing San Bernardino’s horrific crime and violence problems, Powell said, was building a partnership between the private, educational, government, religious and non-profit sectors.
The 2022 Republican candidate for mayor, Powell looks to bring similar strategies to City Hall if she wins New Brunswick’s highest elected office in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election.
“If you have a city performing very poorly in terms of economic development, you lose everything else,” Powell said during an interview with New Brunswick Today. “It results in violence and crime. Economic development and social development go hand in hand.”
Powell and independent candidate Charlie Kratovil are challenging Mayor James Cahill, who is attempting to win his ninth term in office. Cahill has served as mayor continuously since 1991.
High-rises reach skyward in the city’s downtown. But Powell does not see all sharing in the economic benefits of redevelopment. She advocates constructing housing for young families rather than office buildings.The homeless are a common sight, she notes, and they are not just the mentally ill. There are families suffering due to the sputtering economy and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are job programs “just sitting there,” Powell asserts, offered by the federal and other levels of government, that would benefit New Brunswick residents.
Powell disputes a claim by Cahill – made on the city web site – that 7,000 new jobs have been created for New Brunswick dwellers during the past 10 years-.
“I’ve spoken to business owners,” Powell said. “There’s a huge decline in business growth. They’ve let go a lot of people go because they don’t have the resources to pay the work force.”
She also finds fault with the mayor, saying he’s not doing enough to address the problem. “For starters, he can start paying attention and start a dialogue,” Powell said. “He’s not open to dialogue with anybody. I’ve tried to knock on his door for six years and all I get is ‘no’ for an answer.”
Powell also disagrees with Cahill’s contention that crime has decreased. Her neighborhood near New Brunswick High School is no stranger to shootings. “We’ve had stabbings often,” she said. “To me, one is enough.”
Powell said she would pay more attention to quality of life issues than Cahill, noting that the city draws students from across the country to Rutgers University. “To see the trash, unemployment, crime and educational system, it’s just not acceptable,” she said. “Students come from all over and they end up in this dump.”
The mayor’s position should have a term limit, Powell said, contending that Cahill has been in office too long.
Powell is the founder and CEO of the United States Women Grocers Association, a now-international organization that she started while living in California. She’s also had other interesting candidate experience.
She holds dual citizenship in the United States and Mexico and in 2018 ran for president of that Central American country. She did most of her campaigning virtually from New Jersey. The following year, she ran unsuccessfully for a 17th District seat in the State Assembly.
With Cahill deeply entrenched in City Hall and having the dominant Middlesex County Democratic organization behind him, Powell acknowledges it will be tough to unseat the incumbent. “I think the people of New Brunswick are listening to my message,” she said, “and it’s going to be up to them.”
She criticized Cahill for collecting an excessive level of political donations. “He raises funds from everybody,” Powell said.
Powell’s disdain for the sitting mayor was fueled further by a recent incident involving campaign signs. She claims hers were taken down by city workers. Kratovil captured a similar incident on video involving his signs being removed.
“I find it very, very disrespectful,” she said of the sign incident. “That speaks volumes to me about the mayor’s character.”
A journalist in Central Jersey for nearly four decades, Dave has won awards for news, education and opinion writing. Since 2017, he’s been a member of Friends of the Middlesex Taxpayers, a citizen’s group that has exposed corruption and waste in Middlesex Borough and promoted greater transparency.