It’s coming down to the wire now. Trentonians are getting ready to mark their figurative X in a surprise City Council seat run-off pitting a social services veteran–one Marge Caldwell-Wilson, against New Black Panther Party Youth Minister Divine Allah.
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this.
Speak it, and they’ll come, declares Allah, a born-and-raised North Ward resident, citing his years of activism, food and clothing drives, conflict resolution, block parties, free school supply giveaways and down-home activism. It gives him the edge, Allah insists.
“The people know me. I am from here. This is me. I’ve been working with my people for years,” said the 37-year-old father of three. “My platform addresses: the issue of housing, the gross mis-education of our children, public safety, and community and youth development.”
Recent retiree Caldwell-Wilson proudly details her 40-years-plus of work experience, much of that time in social services, eight of those years with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families.
The former president of CWA, Local-1087 and one-time delegate to the New Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council of Mercer/Monmouth/Ocean County noted, “Although a position on City Council is considered a part-time position by some, I could not in good conscience run for office and only provide part-time attention to a city with full-time issues.”
She cited her involvement with dozens of charitable organizations and events over the years and having served as a member of the Mercer County Board of Elections for nine years.
Wilson-Caldwell told the AmNews, “In late December when I began knocking on doors, I came across many residents who I have not had the pleasure of speaking with in my 27 years in Trenton. To date, I have knocked on 7,000 doors, and I have found that Trenton residents are fed up. From broken streetlights to garbage piled high on the curb, people want to see improvement. From unemployment and poverty to the political corruption that thrives upon the status quo, people are ready for change. From decaying neighborhood properties to the chronic unemployment rate, stronger neighborhoods, safer streets and a successful school system that truly educates our children, residents want a new direction. I have heard their concerns, and I have established a platform that residents embrace. During the first election, I won the majority of the votes split between five candidates. Why? Because I have real solutions to real problems facing the community of Trenton.”
Allah said that his strength lies in the connection he has with the community, “People will vote their interest and connect with the candidate who they see is genuinely try to reach out to them.”
The campaigns of both candidates were moving at a steady pace–then two weeks ago, came The Trentonian front-page headline calling Allah the “flag-burning candidate,” referring to a 2008 protest on Harlem’s 125th Street. The debate raged on for days.
Allah questioned the timing of the controversy. “In an effort to stir up the already-heightened racial tensions in the United States surrounding the election of President Barack Obama, National Geographic documented the New Black Panther Party at a community ‘Rally Against Government Oppression’ in Harlem.”
Allah told the Amsterdam News, “The burning of the flag is a sign of protest against a symbol that has not adequately represented poor and oppressed people.
“I was born right here in New Jersey, but no one can deny the facts. Historically, this flag has not always protected those most in need. Fact check: Just recently, the Detroit police department murdered a 7-year-old girl in her home. These are people who are supposed to protect and serve, yet they killed this child. The burning of the flag speaks to the fact that such issues are allowed to go on in our communities. This killing has not been addressed, as it would be if she was an upper-middle-class white child. In fact, it would not happen in that community. I represent the same working poor and oppressed community in which Aiyanna lived in Detroit.”
Allah defended his right to “protest injustices. As a ‘citizen’ of this country, I fully understand that I do have certain rights that were given to me. There are those who know me as just Brian Bethea, the fourth and last child of Mr. Horace and Mrs. Betty. In my conscious responsibility, I have and will always be a bold and courageous voice for the voiceless.”
He added, “As we come out of Memorial weekend–which I am sure is why this two-year-old story has just resurfaced, I say that we cannot just attach the flag to the military. That is arrogant. There are questions that need to be asked. You have people right now trying to go up against President Obama because they feel they have the right to have their opinions heard. My campaign is about focusing on poverty, poor education, questionable politics and policy–we wanted to burn right to the core of the problems affecting the community.”
Caldwell-Wilson determined, “With such a reason for celebration and so much activity happening this past week, I haven’t really paid much attention to the flag-burning controversy involving my opponent, but I do think it is unfortunate. It is a distraction that the community doesn’t deserve when there are real problems that require real solutions. When this race is over, I certainly hope we can join forces and work together for the benefit of our community.”
She added, “With two weeks to go, the community has been energized by our recent victory in stopping a waste and recycling center from opening in our North Ward. Last week, the Mercer County Freeholders voted unanimously to remove this polluting facility from the county’s solid waste management plan. Before the freeholders voted, I had the opportunity to work with the Eyes of Trenton Civic Association, the neighborhood group behind this fight, in preparing our strategy for winning this battle. I have been involved in fighting environmental injustice in the past, and took time away from campaigning to lend my support to the residents in need.
“Among my endorsements, I am most humbled to have received the endorsement of the Eyes of Trenton Civic Association, who I consider to be the true heroes of this story. My hope is that as a member of the City Council, I can work to prevent this sort of injustice in the future by pressing for zoning changes to the neighborhood.”
With the June 15 election approaching, Allah, beginning on Saturday June 5 at 10 a.m., is asking “each and every candidate who recently ran for office to come out and help to with a community clean-up to beautify the city and to meet the many residents who still want and need their leadership. Organizers will gather at the Battle Monument and select at least four to seven blocks to pick up litter, remove fallen branches and other abandoned objects.”
Allah will host a press conference on Thursday, June 3 on Sanford Street (between Brunswick Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), at noon. For more information, contact Baye Kemet (609) 792-9038.