Power of the pen? Camden mayor, Mayors Association each write letters to EDA — latest salvos in incentive fight

File photo EDA incentive programs have certain exceptions for projects in Camden.

Whoever said people don’t write letters anymore has never met the mayors of New Jersey.

Snail mail was alive and well this week as prominent mayors sent letters to the two top officials at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Who knew: Perhaps all the political fighting over incentives can be handled with some old-school conversations?

Then again, maybe not.

Both letters, of course, were written with some not-so-subtle political overtones regarding the state task force reviewing recent awards handed out by the EDA.

Will either letter be viewed as anything more than a political play? Not likely.

But whenever the battle goes public, we’ll bring it to you.

Here’s a quick recap. The letters can be accessed below.

Camden Mayor Frank Moran responded to a July 24 letter from EDA Chairman Kevin Quinn requesting more information on the impact the EDA’s Economic Opportunity Act has had on Camden.

Moran, in a six-page letter that detailed the recent economic growth in Camden, wrote:

“After 50 years of social and economic isolation, Camden is on a growth trajectory. The city is safest it has been in decades, K-12 education has improved in tangible ways, over a thousand new housing units are being rehabilitated or built in neighborhoods and new park and road infrastructure projects are being advanced.

“There can be no doubt that many challenges remain. As someone who was born in the city and has been a lifelong resident, I can attest to the fact that the progress and growth in the city is demonstrable but could disappear if the political climate continues to deteriorate.”

While Moran and many associated with Camden feel they are under attack from the state and need to defend the EDA awards they received, the heads of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association told EDA CEO Tim Sullivan they were thankful for a recent meeting with Sullivan and had a positive opinion of the the incentive programs Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed.

NJUMA President and Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly and NJUMA Vice President and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, in a six-page letter of their own, wrote:

“As mayors of New Jersey’s most populated municipalities, we face unique opportunities and challenges. We realize that economic development within our state must be equitable and tailored to fit the needs of all residents.

“We believe Gov. Murphy’s new incentives bill will be a catalyst for economic and community development for the state of New Jersey.”

Moran noted how Camden’s unemployment rate was at a 30-year low. An improvement, he said, considering Camden was one of the poorest cities in the country in 2012.

Moran not so subtly mentioned that EDA incentives have sparked this turnaround, noting how a recent hiring spree has occurred without a single award being given out, writing:

“The Economic Opportunity Act has been a driving force to attract businesses to Camden and in some cases help those companies already here expand their operations. As a direct result of the tax incentives, some 15 companies have chosen to establish or deepen their roots in Camden with more arriving over the next few years, should the current destabilizing political climate subside.”

He went on to write:

“As an objective matter, many of these companies have invested capital and employed Camden residents even before New Jersey Economic Development Authority has certified their tax incentive award, let alone provided a single dollar in tax credits.”

Kelly and Baraka offered many recommendations to Sullivan and the EDA, moving forward, offering big-picture thoughts on process, local control and participation as well as specific suggestions regarding the governor’s proposed incentive plans: NJ Aspire, NJ Forward, Brownfield, Historic Preservation and the Innovation Fund.

“As the bill progresses, it is our hope that we can continue to work together to ensure that the provisions in the legislation will create stronger economic development strategies for the state,” they wrote.