Camden leaders push back against tax break critics

There were no marching bands or cheerleaders, per se, but Thursday’s event had all the earmarks of an Up With Camden pep rally, with the mayor, two former governors, corporate and union leaders praising the progress here in the last five years. They’re pushing back against any perception that the tax incentives that made a lot of the progress possible were a case small bang for big bucks.

“The fact of the matter is that this is not easy to pull together, but when it works, when you have the team of people that we have in Camden who have already invested their time, their resources, their money — and it doesn’t matter where they’re coming from. People come together to say, “We’re going to restore this great city to the prominence that it has had in our history,” said American Water President and CEO Susan Story.

“But to be here as a Camden citizen, who’s been here through everything, the good times, the down times and now the rising times in Camden is such a great honor to see us come back this way,” said Camden County Sheriff Gilbert Wilson. “It is a day by day process, and folks who talk about these tax credits can see what’s taken place here besides the businesses coming in.”

“As the father of New Jersey’s tax incentives, which have attracted more than $17 billion of business investment and created and saved more than 100,000 jobs, I come not to bury tax incentives, but to praise them,” said former state Sen. Ray Lesniak.

But there are plenty of people along the tough streets of Camden who question whether progress, incremental or otherwise, is reaching all of Camden’s residents.

“I remember the time when Broadway was Broadway. You know. Any city you go in, you got Broadway, you know, you find Broadway with all types of businesses and stores and things of that nature. At one time, Camden had that, but now, what are they putting up on Broadway now? What’s on Broadway now?” said Camden resident Michael Moore.

Outside the press conference at the Florio Center, demonstrators further made the case that the corporations benefiting from tax cuts have done much better than the people if Camden, with pointed references to power broker George Norcross.

Back inside, the man in whose think tank everyone was gathered, addressed the controversy that inspired this pep rally and attracted all the press, offered to bring the southern and northern factions together in the best interest of Camden and New Jersey.

“What we can’t be having is defamation by anecdote; defamation by somebody whispering. Whispering, rumors and stories as to what might be a case is something that could make an area unstable. The business community doesn’t respond well to the whole idea that potential problems are hanging out there,” said former Gov. Jim Florio.

This was a feel good event for all those involved, but even the most optimistic person there acknowledged that the Camden renaissance, such as it is, has not reached all corners of the city.