Change in Trenton starts with a new City Council

NJ Urban News writer Alexis Collins interviewed Michael Ranallo, a leading candidate for a spot on the Trenton City Council candidate and co-founder of the Trenton Orbit–a popular Facebook page about the city of Trenton. In a wide-ranging two-part interview, Ranallo discusses the state of Trenton politics, the divisive Trenton City Council, and the entrenched stigma of corruption in New Jersey politics… 

NJ Urban News: What prompted you to run for Trenton City Council? Did you always know you wanted to be in politics? What values do you hold as a publicly elected official?

Michael Ranallo: Politics was never an end goal for me. When I was in college 500 years ago, I got my two degrees in political science and criminal justice. I initially thought I wanted to pursue careers in those fields. Still, while looking for a career and deciding what I wanted to do, I got an opportunity to be involved in a high-tech startup company in Princeton in the late 90s and early 2000s. I found I really enjoyed the high-tech field, so I pursued that as a career instead, but politics was always an interest. I’ve been living in Trenton for about 20 years, and for those 20 years, I’ve been following Trenton politics. I pay close attention to what’s going on and who’s doing what in what position. {In regard} to my decision to run for council, I began giving it some serious thought late last year, and then [upon] looking at the results of the current council, I decided why not? I always wanted to serve the city I live in, so running for council is just how I chose to do it. We should have honest people who can see the larger picture beyond personal agendas and personalities, and keep the city’s best interests as that goal. I can do that.

NJ Urban News: Can you please address all of the controversy and scandal that has plagued the city of Trenton and the Trenton City Council in recent years (council members allegedly verbally and physically assaulting each other and their constituents; the scandal and imprisonment of Former Mayor Tony Mack; and the constant allegations of corrupt and illicit activities throughout the city of Trenton, including by city officials)? 

Michael Ranallo: I think what it boils down to is voters making poor choices. I mean, the voter turnout in Trenton is extremely low, so you have a tiny portion of the population controlling what impacts a substantial amount of the population’s life. I think that in Trenton, people vote for somebody because they sit next to me in church, or they grew up with my family, my cousin, or friends. Instead of being a little more pragmatic about it and asking themselves, “how is this person going to serve the city regardless of the things I just mentioned?” I think a lot of people get voted into office because of that. During the campaign and election of Tony Mack, I heard an inordinate amount of talk like, “Tony Mack’s a great guy, he was a wrestler, he’s friends with everybody, he’s super nice, I grew up with him, I grew up around the block from him…” Those are not the reasons to elect somebody. 

 I can’t speak to you about the personality differences, especially on a council when you put several different personalities together. You never know what to expect. There was an instance years ago where one of the council members almost started a fistfight during a meeting.


Trenton councilmen nearly come to blows

What we’re seeing now with certain council people and their behavior, I think that if people felt that they would act like that, they would never have gotten elected in the first place. If you know someone has an unstable personality, you should think twice about electing them. 

Corruption in politics is a New Jersey thing; I don’t think it’s just limited to Trenton. When Tony Mack was convicted and went to prison, that was a terrible look for Trenton, and we’re still trying to live that down.



NJ Urban News: Politics in New Jersey has always been chaotic and controversial. Why do you think that is? 

Michael Ranallo: New Jersey politics and corruption have always gone [hand-in-hand]. You travel around the country, and if you ask somebody out in California what they thought of New Jersey politics, they’d probably say “corrupt,” it’s just what they heard. In Trenton, you have a system where so much outside money comes through. Trenton relies on millions and millions of dollars from the state and the federal government. Millions and millions of dollars come through the city annually; perhaps the temptation is too big for some people to resist. Maybe that has something to do with it. 

In part 2, Ranallo will share his views about the future of Trenton.

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