Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Empower Our Neighborhoods Continues Stand Against City Council

By Joe Bindert

At the February 18 News Brunswick City Council meeting, members of the progressive-activism group Empower Our Neighborhoods continued to take a stand against the city council officials on their refusal to adopt the ward-based election system.

Created in 2007 by Rutgers University activist group Tent State, Empower Our Neighborhood’s ward-based election campaign seeks to establish a system in which New Brunswick City Council members are elected by city ward as opposed to at-large as they are now. Each of the six wards would have its own elected member of the council, and three more members would be elected at large for the whole city, making a total of nine member. Empower Our Neighborhoods argues that this system will be more democratic, as those running for the council seats will have smaller areas to focus on, allowing individuals with less establishment support and less money to compete more fairly for election. The current system, according to the group, favors those connected to the local Democratic Party and keeps lesser known candidates from running.

Last September, the New Brunswick City Council denied a motion to include a question about the ward system on the November general election ballot. Despite this, Empower Our Neighborhoods has not stopped attending city council meetings and making their voices heard. The February 18 meeting was no different, as three members of Empower Our Neighborhoods made their voices heard to the council and the people of New Brunswick at the meeting. Charles Kratovil, 23, also attempted to hand out literature written by the group during the meeting, but City Attorney William Hamilton denied him from doing so, telling him to do it after the meeting.

The motion to get a ward system in place is currently tied up in a legal battle as a result of it being turned down for the November elections. The cost of the legal proceedings was raised during the meeting when a concerned citizen asked about getting a traffic light installed at a dangerous intersection by her home. Empower Our Neighborhoods member Xavier Hansen, 34, spoke up and told the council that the city could have installed the traffic light she requested with the money the city have wasted trying to fight the ward system in court.

The group also shows no signs of letting up with their cause. “We will never give up”, Hansen told the city council during a heated discussion. When questioned after the meeting, each member of Empower Our Neighborhoods claimed that they would be attending future city council meetings as well.

Empower Our Neighborhoods will be having their next meeting on Tuesday, March 17 in the New Brunswick Free Public Library.

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