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'We Dream Big Dreams'

These "maverick mayors" are strong-willed, idealistic, and they seem to be getting the job done.

Bernard Gavzeer
October 23, 1994

ACROSS THE NATION A GROUP OF tough, talking political outsiders, ideological mavericks and confrontational innovators is taking over city halls. Faced with huge deficits, failing schools, job losses and violent crime, these mayors are balancing budgets, bringing back investment and and jobs, and trimming city contracts.

Ed Rendell in Philadelphia, Richard Riordan in Los Angeles, Bret Schundler in Jersey City, Michael White in Cleveland and Rudolph Giuliani in New York have adopted a take-charge approach to the tough business of turning around their cities.

Who are, these guys?

Described as strong-willed, determined, inventive and sometimes unpredictable, they are individualists who do-not fit into familiar political molds. "I think we're all pragmatic-idealists, and what we'd all say is that what you see is what you get," says Michael White. "We are what we are. We dream big dreams."

I traveled around the country to visit it these mayors, to find out how they are changing city government.

Bret Schundler, 35, a conservative Republican millionaire, is in his first full term as mayor of Jersey City, an overwhelmingly Democratic town. Schundler has a variety of schemes to attack the city's problems. For example, he wants to stage vendor conventions where companies that provide maintenance or cleanup services would have sales booths at which to pitch their services. Neighborhood groups would vote for the company they want and the city would pay for it.

He is particularly keen on voucher systems. "I'm for changing the welfare system by providing vouchers for health, housing and food for those who have little or no income, and tax credits for those who have income," Schundler told me. "If you do get a job, the voucher decreases but doesn't disappear. The way it is now, 41 percent Of my people are on public assistance. If they get a job, they lose medical coverage, and their income is cut in half. That shouldn't happen."

Schundler is a champion of school vouchers, despite critics who say vouchers would destroy the public school system. "My poorest citizens should, have the, same opportunity as richer persons to be able to afford to choose the best school available for their children," he said.

When he took office, Schundler voluntarily cut his salary from $60,000 to $30,000 and promised not to accept a pay raise any year he failed to cut taxes. (His salary is now up to $45,000.) A former Wall Street investment banker, Schundler made his first million before he was 30. Before that, he worked on Gary Hart's Presidential campaign but became disillusioned with the programs put forth by the Democrats. He got back into politics to work for change. "What I want to do is give the people in this city the power to make decisions governing their lives," said Schundler.


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Hudson County Facts Winter 2006 by Anthony Olszewski
Hudson County, New Jersey is a place of many firsts - including genocide and slavery.
Political corruption is a tradition here.
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