McEwen sees ‘positive vibe’ in struggling city of Trenton

Terry McEwen, MBA ‘98, stands before the steps at City Hall in Trenton as he assumes his new role as business administrator.

By Alex Zdatny and Ankit Choubey

The new government of Trenton has begun working diligently to bring resources back into a city that has suffered a steep decline for decades, especially over the past four years.

Addressing the City’s Issues

Terry McEwen, who earned his MBA at Rider in 1998 and later served on the university’s Board of Trustees, has joined new Mayor Eric Jackson in a challenging effort to rebuild the struggling city. 

A banker by trade with over 30 years of experience, as well as former director of banking for the state of New Jersey, McEwen described his financial expertise in dealing with governments as significant to his appointed role as the city’s new business administrator.

“The mayor had a vision on how to take the city to great heights, and he shared that vision with me,” he said. “We discussed it and I want to be a part of it.”

It was because of McEwen’s experience in the financial world that Jackson called him on June 30 and asked him to start on July 1 to reinvent the city that had gone through one of the worst periods in its history.

Former Mayor Tony Mack is now serving prison time on federal corruption charges. During his reign, quality of life declined on almost every measure.

Every city department was in trouble, as Finance was missing a treasurer, Health and Human Services was down 84 people, and the police force was cut by 108 officers, leading to record levels of crime.

Asked why he took a pay and prestige cut to serve a city in desperate need, the former college football player said, “I do like a challenge, but more importantly I think the time is right for Trenton to make a positive comeback.”

Looking Toward the Future

On the up side, it will be easy to do better than the previous administration. “It’s hard to go any lower than the city had gone without failing,” he said. “Anyone can step in and make a tremendous impact.”

Now he feels that city is primed and ready for improvement.

McEwen sees good planning along with the state oversight as positives for the city. He revealed that the administration is finalizing the 2015 budget ahead of schedule.

“We are not looking at quick fixes, we are looking for long-term fixes,” he said. “If we are going to spend a dollar, we only want to spend it for the right reasons.”

The ultimate vision for improving Trenton is a three-pronged approach focused on public safety, education and economic development. Making police and emergency services paramount will reduce crime rates, reinstate value into the education system, enhance economic development and just make citizens feel better.

“There is a positive vibe now as you go through Trenton,” McEwen said. “People are in the parks again, walking the streets, and we even had National Night Out with over 70 community events outside.”

With the iconic Trenton Central High School closed and slated for a $130 million replacement, McEwen says teachers, superintendents, and principals come in each year, bright-eyed, excited and ready to work. But many students and their families quickly become disillusioned with the educational system.

“Students don’t value the process because they have never been shown any economic upturn,” McEwen said. “In order for that to happen, we have to take the city to new heights.”

A comprehensive property redevelopment plan has been put in place for the first time to create jobs and establish infrastructure to reintroduce businesses to Trenton. The city has begun cleaning up trash and cutting weeds along the main entrance corridors, just to make a good impression.

Early Years

Originally from Princeton, McEwen attended the Hun School and then the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a business degree with minors in economics and psychology in 1980.

He became a member of Delta Sigma Phi and played on his university’s national championship football team as a wide receiver, adapting from his years of playing running back in high school.

McEwen had the good fortune of playing with elite players such as Tony Dorsett, who went on to play for Dallas; Dan Marino, who proceeded to the Miami Dolphins; and Jimmy Johnson, who served as his defensive coordinator throughout college and went on to coach the Cowboys to two Super Bowl championships. He eventually became a sportscaster for ESPN.

In 11th grade, McEwen’s history teacher became invested in his future career. Though it was a time when opportunities for African-Americans were not as viable as today, McEwen slowly realized he wanted to become a banker.

“My teacher knew my favorite subjects were math and science and told me that in the summers I should become a teller and let my career blossom from there,” McEwen said.

“I learned how to open and close accounts and learned terms that I would never admit to knowing, but over time I’ve seen how the accounting process works.”

The advice and motivation paid off as he worked his way up the ladder to become senior vice president of First Washington State Bank after receiving his master’s from Rider. 

Money Matters

At First Washington, McEwen was in charge of nearly every department including retail, mortgage, human resources, community development and consumer lending, as well as facilities management and public relations. In a four-year period, he helped grow the bank’s assets from $280 million to $688 million, while keeping his hands in the nitty-gritty.

McEwen continued his banking career and served as New Jersey’s director of banking from 2006-10, working through the financial collapse of 2007-08. He was responsible for creating a licensing system that oversaw all financial professionals from bankers to loan originators, a nationally-used system that provides background and credential checks. 

The GUDPA (Government Unit Deposit Protection Act) system, an insurance program designed to protect towns whose budgets exceeded their limits for normal banking, needed attention in 2009. After the system failed in the state of Washington, McEwen and colleagues tried solving the problem so it could not happen again.

Just prior to taking the position he holds today in Trenton, McEwen was working with troubled banks as president of Preservation Capital Services.

“I wasn’t some lawyer that got appointed by the government,” he said. “Bankers knew me. I worked with them and they trusted my earnestness and my integrity.”

Anthony Campbell, dean of students, said that such integrity has been present throughout McEwen’s time at Rider.

“Terry has been an active supporter of Rider. He chaired the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees, and as chair of EOP, he began the book fund to provide textbooks for EOP students who can’t afford them.”

McEwen also said he wants to have a small administration, but one that can get the job done.

“We are not going to get back to the historic numbers, but to the right size.”

Ultimately, the projects planned for Trenton will help the city go forward to become more safe and inviting, he said.

“So in the next two to three years, you will absolutely see a more vibrant, robust and energetic Trenton,” McEwen said. “Not to say all the problems will be solved, but you’ll start to see the vibrance of Trenton.”

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