We apologize to our readers that are not "political insiders" or historians of Trenton politics, for the teacher, student nature of this lesson in Trenton politics. For those of you that are approaching senior status or those that are political insiders the nature of this opinion column will not be such a surprise.
It seems that every large city currently has or has had a "political machine or dynasty that seems to have unparalleled success in backing winning candidates or perpetuating family political dynasties. Philadelphia had Frank Rizzo whose political appeal transcended political parties and even coined the term Rizzocrats in Philly. Chicago has the Daley family dynasty. Between father and son the Daley's have served over 40 years as Mayor of Chicago and ruled Cook county politics with their political machine. Massachusetts has the Kennedys, enough said. Well, guess what, greater Trenton has the Watsons.
The Watson influence in Trenton political circles has lasted nearly as long as the Daley's in Chicago. The primary difference however, is that the Daley's are in your face politicians and the Watson influence is far more quietly shrewd, but just as effective. That is why we have dubbed their powerful political influence as "The Watson Factor". During the early 1970's when Rev. Woodson's political career was winding down, John S. Watson's political machine was just winding up. In 1970 John S. Watson became the first African-American elected to the Board of Chosen Freeholders in Mercer County. In 1977, he became the President of the Board. For 12 years, Watson was a member of the New Jersey State Assembly and served as Chairman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
John Watson's daughter, Bonnie Watson Coleman admits to being in politics since her early youth. (See NY Times, 'The Family Business", published May 5, 2002). Just a year after her father's death bonnie began her run for her father's former seat in the New Jersey Assembly. She still serves as your State Assemblywoman from Trenton. Bonnie Watson, became the State Democratic Chairperson from 2002-2006, making her arguably the most influential Democrat in the state. She has also served in powerful positions such as Appropriations Committee Chair (2002-05) and Majority Leader in the Assembly (2006-09).
One of Bonnie Watson's brothers has been an administrator of the Green Acres program for the state Department of Environmental Protection, and another worked for New Jersey Transit and headed community relations for the transportation department.
Brother Bill or William is perhaps the most politically powerful of the Watson clan. This would seem to defy all logic in that Bill Watson holds no political office and his sister Bonnie is a 6 term incumbent in the NJ General Assembly. Yet political insiders will tell you that Bill Watson has more clout than any other Mercer county politico since the late Dick Coffee who ruled Mercer County (and for a brief period State Democratic Chairman) politics with an uncompromising iron fist. Bill Watson was hand picked to be King Doug Palmer's first campaign manager while his politically powerful father was still alive and exercising his influence in Trenton politics. That move was the fuel that ignited the current "Watson Factor's" powerful flame. It is rumored that the current position of Chief of Staff in City Hall was specifically crafted for Bill Watson as a political payback.
Let's be truthful, Bill Watson is no political hack. He has a doctorate degree in Trenton and Mercer County politics. He was reared at the foot of a father who was renowned as a gentleman politician. He is smooth as silk and has the friends and influence to be able to cross party lines when he needs something done. His political work of art is almost always skillfully executed in the shadows and crafted so quietly that the opposition rarely knows he is up against them, until they lose. William Watson the political power broker and ultimate insider (see Politickernj.com) by all accounts did a commendable job as Mayor Palmer's Chief of Staff. His departure to personally greener pastures led to a less effective and less engaged Mayor.
Some of Bill Watson's associations (present and past) are listed below; President of Trenton Parking Authority; Director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College; King Doug's campaign manager and chief of staff; member of the Lafayette Yard Community development Corp. (can you say Marriot or hotel); President of Trent Towne Group L.L.C.; Executive V.P. of IBS CompreCore (a value added reseller of cable products to companies including Verizon); close friend, advisor and confidant of King Doug; delegate to the Democratic National Committee and last in this list but certainly not least, brother to Bonnie Watson Coleman, Assemblywoman in the 15th legislative district which includes the City of Trenton.
I think perhaps you get the idea that the Watson clan is like a political spider with legs that reach virtually everywhere in Trenton, Mercer County and State political circles. Now why does all of that matter? First virtually every Mayoral and many Council campaigns in Trenton on May 11, either had candidates or prominent operatives that were either tied to the Watson's or cut their political teeth at their knees. There appeared to be only three candidates running for Mayor that did not have intimate ties to the 'Watson Factor". Keith Hamilton, John Harmon and Manny Segura. Only one of the three is currently left standing, Mr. Segura. Have any of you ever bothered to examine the magnitude (both in number as well as dollar amounts) of contracts that are awarded by the City of Trenton and the Trenton School Board? If not, as a taxpayer and an interested resident you should. The totals are mind boggling. Why are we referring to the School Board? Isn't that an independently run form of government? Well perhaps it was intended as such, but King Doug has managed to appoint all of these independent Boards members, so how independent do you think it is? Is the picture developing any clearer for you?
When it comes to City contracts we are not talking any small potatoes. The City has two types of contracts that they award. Contracts awarded through a Fair and Open Process in accordance with NJSA 19:44A-20-5 are contracts that were awarded through an open and public bid process. Contracts awarded through a Non Fair and Open Process are not subjected to the bidding rules and regulations and are commonly referred to as "No Bid Contracts". Hundreds of contracts are issued each year for contractors/vendors providing services to the city and their employees. Paving and curbing contracts, food, healthcare, legal, insurance, demolition, repair, consulting and employee benefit contracts are just a few examples for you to think about. When you extend the contract world to the school system the number of contracts and the dollars awarded increase incrementally.
After 20 years of an open door policy for the "Watson Factor" and those doing business with Trenton, the door could slam closed if the wrong candidates are elected. That is one large amount of influence that could be shut down or shifted. Thus, the interest by the Watsons, Palmers and every other political power broker in and about Trenton. Our antennae suggest that the Watson/Palmer money if you will, is on Eric "Pothole" Jackson. That makes sense since Mr. Jackson owes his current job and political viability to the same group. We would imagine that is why there has been so much noise about a Jackson recount and potential Court litigation about the election results.
If Mr. Jackson does not prevail where does the "Watson Factor" and the political insiders that have been doing business inside East State Street go next? The answer may surprise you, but our bet is on our man Tony "I take money from a Child Rapist" Mack. You see, even though Tony "the Bouncing Check" Mack likes to portray himself as a Palmer outsider, nothing could be further from the truth. Tony "Deadbeat Taxpayer" Mack was born and reared politically at the knee of King Doug and his friends, long before Doug became King. It was no coincidence that Tony ”I love Jo JO" Mack became Trenton's next freeholder after the King decided to run for Mayor. The decks were cleared for him by Doug and the Watson influence. Tony "I was fired from Barrington" Mack was even given a light job in the Palmer administration. It was not until Tony's ego and ambition got in the way of his little brain that King Doug slapped and excommunicated him. So old connections and the pressing need to befriend someone that can actually help an incompetent Mayor manage city government points to a dire need for Mack to cut a deal and reach out for help. I am sure that Billy and Bonnie will be on the must call list particularly if the other candidate is not black (sorry but the word on the street is increasingly sounding the race card against Mr. Segura).
In a year where voters nationally and locally have shown an appetite for change, our bet is that he with the least ties to the old and he with the most desire for change and a new fresh future will prevail. Throw out the old and bring in the new. Good luck Mr. Watson we know you are out there lurking in the shadows, perhaps even in Council races. Council does control the purse strings don't they?
P.S. How much influence do the Watsons have? We just received a note from a reader advising that he posted a comment on Trentonian.com below an article about Eric Jackson that included his ties to the Watsons. The article was taken down 10 minutes after it was posted. We told you that they were quietly powerful!! If we can get a cop of it we will post it here.