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An appreciation of the late Michael Coleman

first_imgThomas Newman Dear Editor: I was saddened to read in last week’s Reporter that Mike Coleman had passed away. Old time Hoboken residents will remember him as the city’s Model Cities director in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Those were the days when it wasn’t clear if the country’s urban areas, racked with crime and decay, were going to survive as livable places.Mike was one those idealistic young people who answered JFK’s call to ask what you could do for your country, not what it could do for you. It was 1968, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, riots ripped the ghettos of our major cities, and the Vietnam War threatened to tear apart our national political culture.There was no “brownstone revolution” in Hoboken. It was, in fact, the city’s nadir from a long economic slide that began after World War 1. Mike was Lyndon Johnson’s man from Washington to see if some federal dollars could be wisely spent to set us on the road to a Great Society.One of the most successful projects was the Home Improvement Loan Program which gave low interest loans to little owner-occupants to fix up their homes. But if I were to pick his greatest achievement it was that he kept the program free and independent from the local political patronage system for which federal money was traditionally a kind of honey pot. And much credit here goes to then-mayor Louis DePascal as well. The short story is that Hoboken did become a model city for the Model Cities program.In the ‘70s Hoboken was a national role model as a successful low-income housing provider. At the end of the decade roughly 20 percent of all housing units in the city were subsidized in one way or another. All through this transition period Mike Coleman was the Community Development director and the city’s man who steered these programs. It was his mission to see that the renaissance of Hoboken benefited the city’s long term, diverse residents.Mike was one of the good guys, a moral force in turbulent times, and for me an inspirational leader.last_img read more