For Redd, the toughest job of all

With Mayor Dana L. Redd (third from right) at her inauguration at Antioch Baptist Church were (from left) new City Councilman Arthur Barclay; Councilwoman Marilyn Torres; Councilman Curtis Jenkins; Council President Frank Moran; and State Sen. Donald Norcross.
With Mayor Dana L. Redd (third from right) at her inauguration at Antioch Baptist Church were (from left) new City Councilman Arthur Barclay; Councilwoman Marilyn Torres; Councilman Curtis Jenkins; Council President Frank Moran; and State Sen. Donald Norcross. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 10, 2014

Centerville, where Dana L. Redd's roots run deepest, has a nickname.

"The Capital of Camden" is the affectionate term for the neighborhood that the mayor used Tuesday as she made her second inaugural address.

"These next four years will truly be exciting," Redd vowed to an enthusiastic crowd at Antioch Baptist Church, touting plans to "transform some of our most challenged neighborhoods into viable and sustainable communities."

The promises in the mayor's heartfelt speech might already look like reality around Antioch, where the faded heart of Centerville has been lifted up by an abundance of new construction.

But amid the impressive expanse of public housing, public facilities, churches, playgrounds, parks, and parking lots along Ferry Avenue east of I-676, what's lacking is . . . commerce.

Except for a fortresslike liquor store and a Chinese takeout near Ninth Street and Ferry Avenue, "the Capital of Camden" seems devoid of capitalism. Almost everything in sight is public, nonprofit, and off the tax rolls; substantial private workplaces or commercial enterprises are long gone.

So while Centerville may look less challenged than a decade ago, is a subsidized island viable, much less sustainable?

"While we can all agree that bricks and mortar are great . . . we need more than just buildings," said Redd, whose city's unemployment rate of about 13 percent is nearly twice that of the nation.

"We need real opportunities and jobs for our residents."

The mayor gave a good speech Tuesday, peppering it with calls to "move Camden forward" and "restore the pride."

But having heard her six immediate predecessors also promise to rebuild the city, I couldn't help but have doubts.

Some of those previous mayors really did try to turn Camden around. But none of them succeeded - because none of them could.

Camden had more than 43,000 manufacturing jobs in 1950; the most recent figure is 1,624. You can bet the decisions that led to that precipitous plunge weren't made in Centerville, or in the mayor's office.

The decisions that broke the city's blue-collar backbone were made in executive suites and corporate boardrooms.

So before blaming the usual suspects for the city's plight, consider how, say, Cherry Hill might fare if it lost all but a fraction of its white-collar jobs.

Redd and others on the dais at Antioch talked about real prospects for job growth - particularly in the city's increasingly vibrant "eds and meds" sector.

The mayor also said that "several other businesses, which cannot be named at this time . . . have expressed their desire" to locate in Camden.

The heartening words were made more so by references to the enduring strengths of the city, and Centerville as well.

Orphaned young, Redd grew up in an extended, deeply Democratic family. Her uncle Dave Redd ("the mayor of Centerville") was locally famous for the homemade barbecue sauce he ladled out at his political picnics.

The neighborhood is one of the oldest black sections of the city, and remains a reservoir of the community's pride - including pride in the homegirl who now occupies the mayor's office.

"Are you with me, Camden?" Redd asked, winding up her speech.

She needn't have worried about the answer.

Then again, the folks in the pews were not the audience she must convince. If the mayor persuades a significant number of private enterprises to set up shop in Camden during the next four years, she will have accomplished the toughest job of all.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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