Candidates run on experience, not promises

Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — From one perspective, Trenton’s incumbent Mayor Gerald Brown may seem the underdog heading into next month’s general election. During the August primary, the 869 votes for Brown placed him second to his November challenger, former City Clerk Kyle Stack, with 1,371 votes.

“I predict a different outcome,” Brown said of the Nov. 8 contest. The summer preliminary election attracted just 16 percent of the city’s registered voters, and general election turnout in Trenton is typically above 40 percent.

Whoever wins the mayoral contest when Trenton voters cast ballots in November, the city’s mayor will bring a wealth of experience to the office. Combined, Brown and Stack have more than half a century of service to the city. Brown has an even decade behind the mayor’s desk, a career that came on the heels of service with the Trenton Police Department. Stack is adjusting to life away from the clerk’s office, which she ran for 26 years prior to a resignation last month that cleared the way for her mayoral bid.

Their experience brings a grounded-in-reality attitude to both campaigns, as neither challenger nor incumbent offer false promises of what can or cannot be done at City Hall. Early conversations with voters and supporters reflect a common thread when it comes to the minds of Trenton’s residents.

“They’re concerned about the retention of city services,” Brown said, citing property values that have dropped by 20 percent in the past three years. “They understand that values have dropped which decreases our revenues. My goal is to retain what we have, at least.”

Stack has heard similar concerns, both from behind the clerk’s desk and while attracting support for her campaign.

“The number one thing is to keep the city services we’re accustomed to,” said Stack, who cited too-many empty storefronts and no signs of progress with the former McLouth Steel plant — now owned by the Detroit Steel Company — among voter’s concerns.

How to address those issues, however, is where the candidates differ. Stack said she doesn’t make false claims about what her administration might accomplish, preferring instead to educate residents on the need for community involvement.

“I cannot promise them anything,” Stack said. “We all have to work together as a team, not only employees but residents. We’ve gotten to the level of good, we need to make it great.”

Compared to many of its Downriver neighbors, Trenton is in “good” shape, as Stack said, and has weathered the economic storms of the past decade with few interruptions in service and, Brown said, just two layoffs. (Total city staff went from 200 in 2001 to its current 130, which Brown said was done by attrition and not dismissal.) Brown recalled taking the helm just as state shared revenues were reduced, and just prior to the decline of property values. Planning ahead and minimizing the budget back then, he said, helped steer Trenton through difficult economic times.

“We had the foresight and it made us pretty fiscally sound,” Brown said. “I know the direction I’m taking our city right now is the proper one. It’s not time to change gavel holders, we’re still trying to come out of this thing.”

Stack, on the other hand, said that supporters are encouraging a changing of the guard, a sentiment that first prompted her to consider putting aside retirement plans for a mayoral run. One point of agreement between the candidates is the need for public involvement.

“The most important thing is to use your right to vote,” Stack said. “If you want changes, improvements, we can make the community a better place to live. We need to all work together.”

The November ballot also includes four candidates seeking three city council seats. Incumbents Dan Gillespie, William LeFever and MaryEllen McLeod are seeking re-election and challenger Robert Howey is vying for one of the seats.

(James Mitchell can be reached at