Revitalizing Camden: A Conversation with Mayor Frank Moran
Mayor Moran visited AL DÍA to discuss his first year in office, his efforts to spur economic development in Camden, and his vision moving forward for the city just across the river from Philadelphia.
Camden Mayor Frank Moran is Camden, born and raised. He has been a lifelong public servant, having served on Camden’s City Council for 20 years before being elected mayor in 2017. He served as Council President for eight of these years.
Now a year into his first term as mayor, Moran has focused much of his time toward trying to economically revitalize his city, which has included efforts to attract corporations and jobs to Camden, as well as improve public safety and education.
On Jan. 24, Moran joined AL DÍA for a 1-on-1 interview to discuss his first year in office, the successes and obstacles he has experienced thus far, and his vision for Camden moving forward.
The following interview has been condensed. You can tune into the podcast embedded below for the full interview.
The most important change that we did was addressing the public safety. If we wanted to have a prosperous city, a city of promise, a city of opportunity, we had to literally address the needs of the public safety department, and the needs of our community. And we did that. We actually dismantled our police department as it was known, simultaneously standing up a Camden County Metro Department that today we see 50-year lows in violent crime and reported crime. We have more cops on the street. We have a better community policing paradigm and mechanism, which has proven to bring promise to the city.
Subsequently, we made major changes in the public education system because we know that if you want to be a prosperous city you have to address the public education system, and a public education system that was failing our children by 50 and 75 percent dropout rates. We have seen again 30-year lows, a decrease of dropout, an increase of graduation rates, an increase in children reading at their levels, and partnering up with renaissance and charter schools, as well, and giving parents the opportunity to decide where they want their children to go to school.
The third component of this transformation is attracting corporations and job opportunities so that Camden is a city of opportunity, and has the jobs.
The rebirth of the city is around the “eds and meds.” We now have partnerships with Rowan, Rutgers, Camden County College, where we have a Rowan Cooper University Medical School, we have a nursing school, we have Rutgers campus every year is growing by about 1,000 new students into the city. So, we have taken advantage of that opportunity to create density, but more importantly give an opportunity to these individuals that decide they want to come into Camden to be educated, and give them a quality education where they can compete with anyone in the region, and anyone nationally.
Now, we’re actually branching out into the communities and bringing development into the communities, ie. additional housing, upwards to $50 million in park improvements, and building new parks within 15-minute walks from every resident in the city - [residents] should have no more than a 15 minute walk to your local park. That’s millions of dollars of investments.
Roadway improvements, which, I’m a public works guy - the importance of going after infrastructure dollars to improve the quality of our roads and infrastructure. Demolishing more properties that have just been dilapidated in the City of Camden for the last 30, 40 years, and demolishing and creating safer communities. That’s the inclusive prosperity that I’ve always practiced as a leader, as a council person, and as a mayor in year one and year two.
I think we’ve come to a point in time now is that there is a well balance of traditional public, there’s a well balance with the charters, and there’s a good balance with the renaissance schools as we call them, so I think that we’ve addressed what we need.
We have to tweak it a little bit more with the public system because most of the resources that come in are stuck in salary and wages, and not many is for infrastructure and quality of improvements to the board, to the schools. But nonetheless, we have made strides in the public education system, whether it’s a renaissance, charter or your traditional public, that is truly benefiting the students, and the parents are super excited about the results, so it’s key.
We probably have, for road improvements alone - probably just to resurface roads - probably close to a 60 million dollar need. The additional money is all the infrastructure work, which is the pipes and the water pipes and sewer. We get allotted from the state on an average, which is Department of Transportation dollars, on an average of about $650,000 to as much as $900,000 a year. To do one road could cost you upwards of $50,000 to $75,000. So, you do the math.
Priority number 1 is establishing what we call CamdenWorks. CamdenWorks is going to be an office that will be overseen by me, my administration as the mayor, in partnership with Cooper’s Ferry Corporation, a partnership which is a very good partner of ours when it comes to a lot of the positive things that we’re doing in the city. And, the bottom line of CamdenWorks - Philadelphia has it, Newark has it - is to create a data bank, and a feeder for the job opportunities that are in the city and that are coming into the city.
I am a strong proponent for medical marijuana. If the doctor prescribes you, because the quality of your child who has 100 seizures a day could be reduced by half, for medical purposes, I strongly believe that that should be the case. It’s a drug, wherever you get it from legally, if it helps your child and it’s prescribed then all be it. I’m not a proponent for opening up dispensaries or anything in my nine square miles of city, which has been plagued with illegal drug use. Because I don’t believe that legalizing marijuana is going to eliminate the black market for it.
Camden is a player now on the big level. Camden is at a point that there’s no turning back. All the negatives of many, many years past are gone and soon to be completely gone. And Camden is going to be that model city that other cities like Gary, Indiana and some of these other cities throughout the country could really look towards, and say, ‘wow, what they did in Camden was amazing,’ but we were able to do it because we had a true partnership at the federal level at one point, all the way down to municipal government. That’s where I see my city.