Trenton Makes List Of `Best Places To Live' The Ranking, Which Reflected Growth In Mercer County, Was Greeted With Disbelief.

Posted: June 11, 1998

TRENTON — The news quickly spawned grimaces and guffaws. Surely it was a mistake, a mockery of the urban decay and middle-class flight that haunt this troubled post-industrial town.

But there it was yesterday, in Money magazine's annual survey of the 300 best places to live in America: ``Trenton ranks best in our medium-sized city category in the Northeast.''

``Get out!'' shrieked one resident.

``What are they smoking? Look at all those boarded-up houses!'' said another person working in downtown Trenton.

The surprise ranking, which in fact was more a reflection of growth in other Mercer County towns such as Hamilton and Ewing, came in a revamped version of the magazine's annual ritual of naming the best cities in America.

The ranking - one of several annual surveys by rival publications purporting to label the best and worst of everything - labeled Washington, D.C., as the best city in the Northeast with more than 1 million people.

Boston was No. 2 and New York No. 3 among big Northeastern cities. Farther down, Pittsburgh was No. 7, Philadelphia No. 9, and Newark No. 11. In other regions of the country, Norfolk was called best in the South, Minneapolis in the Midwest and Seattle in the West.

The rankings, based on 63 factors from crime and economy to culture and even weather, broke down the country into four regions and three sizes of metropolitan areas for the first time - no longer proclaiming just one place the best, said magazine spokeswoman Patti Straus.

Among cities with less than 250,000 people in the Northeast, the overall best was Manchester, N.H., followed by Portland, Maine. Johnstown, Pa., was No. 4, State College, Pa., No. 5 and Vineland, No. 11.

The No. 1 ranking for ``Trenton'' - really Mercer County - came in the medium-size category of Northeastern cities with populations between 250,000 and a million. In that category, Dutchess County, N.Y., was No. 2, followed by Wilmington at No. 3 and Harrisburg at No. 5.

Tripp Reynolds, associate producer of the magazine's Web site, said the ``Trenton'' label was used because it is the formal name used by federal statisticians. ``It really covers all of Mercer County,'' he said.

The name choice was hardly academic around Trenton, where it elicited incredulity on the street and careful commentary in City Halls.

``This is a joke,'' said Paul Hosszu, 49, an ironworker from south Trenton. ``The whores and prostitutes have moved down to our neighborhood. My daughter moved away because of guys trying to solicit her as she came out the door. . . . The problem is the middle class have all moved out.''

Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer conceded that the honor belongs to all of Mercer County, but asserted ``people have to begin to understand that as Trenton goes, so goes the county. . . . People really should take a good look at Trenton, because I think it's an excellent place to raise a family.''

However, despite ardent development efforts and a flurry of construction projects, the capital city is having trouble. In the 1994 census, Trenton lost its throne as Mercer County's biggest town to neighboring Hamilton Township, where the median household income in 1996 was $50,800 - well above the state average.

``We have a great deal of people moving out to the suburbs from Trenton,'' Hamilton Township Mayor John K. Raffery said, adding that the town two years ago got its own zip code. ``I certainly . . . want to be part of raising Trenton up. But I can't do it by not giving Hamilton its just due.''

This year the rankings, which mainly provide bragging rights and promotional material for cities, are broken down in the magazine's Web site ( ), allowing readers to see how each city stacks up according to each factor.

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