I’ve heard the question posed time and time again. “Why do people support Jerry Green and his candidates?” Rarely is a cohesive response given in return. “Haven’t we learned?” these inquiring minds wonder.
Of course, there are many factors contributing to how the machine keeps its grip, and how Jerry Green maintains a solid following in the City of Plainfield. Much is made of campaign war chests, and rightfully so, but the currency of dominance in Plainfield lies in the promise of political jobs. That’s right, the good old patronage mill.
It makes sense. What better way could there be to build a strong core than paying your foot soldiers’ mortgages?
Not long ago, I read a wonderful – and equally frightening – book called Planet of Slums by Mike Davis. It gave a vivid picture of the exponential growth of the world’s cities in our era, much of which happens in the periphery of metropolitain areas – namely in shantytowns in Asia, Africa, and South America.
A common thread of this book was how often homes built and intended for the unemployed in expanding cities were instead given to generals, administrators, and other workers. Permanent, free and low cost housing seemed to universally end up in their hands, while its intended targets got no benefit. In a way that no grass-roots opposition ever could, leaders around the world play the patronage game, using government funds to trade shelter and other necessities for a reliable political base. It’s a way to keep the population in check.
They do it here, too.
This past March, on the day of the Democratic City Committee’s selection of its candidates, I gave Assemblyman Green’s office a call on behalf of Plainfield View. I had an inkling that Green merely selected the nominees himself with no committee vote, but I wanted to hear it first hand. In an extremely roundabout way, the Assemblyman explained to me that my assumptions were correct. He picks the candidates, thus denying a vote to the City Committee.
I never wrote about the story as by the next day the blogosphere was already buzzing about how the City Committee members are circumvented. Jerry’s selection process was at that point clear. Moreover, his meandering, evasive explanation of how he picks a candidate for line “A” was too hard to make into anything interesting.
Nonetheless, Assemblyman Green took my phone call as an olive branch. Perhaps he saw this perceived hand shake as a way to quiet an increasingly harsh critic. Who knows why he approached me after that meeting. Curious as to what he could possibly have to say, I decided to listen. What Green delivered was a recruitment pitch.
Almost immediately – after first politely showing displeasure towards my portrayal of him on my blog – Jerry Green excitedly bragged about how many people he gives good jobs in Trenton.
It makes no difference whether you work or not, whether you have a career already – let alone any ideological considerations. To those who run the patronage mill, as I’ve observed countless times, leading with the job pitch is almost automatic. It’s what they do. It’s their bait, their grab – their pick-up line.
Think about the most passionate supporters of Mr Green’s machine. It’s almost certain that they or a loved one are on some Jerry-influenced payroll, somewhere. Other times they aspire to be, as there are only so many jobs to go around. The mere promise or potential for a job – or even for relatively frivolous perks – is enough to elicit support.
They’ll show up for meetings, speak out, cheer, boo, manage campaigns – they’ll even run for elected office on his dime. In public, they appear to care about the city, about its residents, about its progress. While blindly siding with Jerry Green and serving as a piece of the machine that allows the Assemblyman to please his superiors, they fully convince themselves that they are doing something positive. They’ll claim that Green’s investment in them is one of good will. They know it’s not true.
Behind closed doors, they talk badly about the powers that be and how they’ve run Plainfield for the past two decades. “Jerry’s gonna be Jerry,” they calmly lament, attempting to justify their complicity. One very notable Green supporter stopped me to say, excitedly, “I loved your cartoon of the Assemblyman,” in a soft whisper fit to not disrupt the potential money train down the road.
A good number of these people have been slighted personally by Green, not to mention how they’ve seen him treat others and, of course, the City of Plainfield. But history and morals are all inconsequential when it’s time to get that money.
The patronage mill. Dependency. Power. Rather simple. Just one of the ways that the RDO maintains its control over much of Plainfield.
We’ll talk about the other ways soon.