Waldemar Ronquillo has lived in Trenton since he arrived as a teenager from Guatemala 34 years ago, and has been a prominent voice for Trenton residents for 20 years, with a focus on education.
Mr. Ronqillo has four children and two step-children who have attended Trenton public schools. Long ago he became involved as president of parent-teacher organizations for three schools; from there he was asked to serve on the school board in 2011, taking over the seat vacated by Algernon Ward. During his time serving with the schools, he became aware of poor decisions that he worked to correct. He points to several instances where school transportation has fallen short of state requirements; in 2010, school children would regularly walk through a part of the city inhabited by a large number of registered sexual predators. Armed with a map, he presented the information to authorities and forced the school to remedy the transportation issue.
Waldermar Ronquillo, photo courtesy of Ronquillo's Facebook page
His commitment to the city goes well beyond education. He has assisted in addressing domestic violence issues, and has helped guide women in need to WomanSpace, the domestic violence shelter in Lawrenceville. Like a number of council candidates, he identifies violence as an issue of great importance in the upcoming election. He cites the loss of police officers as one of the primary causes of the increase in violence: “Since 2011, when 118 police were laid off, the violence went up, and the police don’t have that manpower back up yet.” This is part of a whole complex of issues that demand attention, but violence cannot be addressed only by hiring more police. Education and libraries are part of the solution that lay a foundation for the success of young people so they can choose a positive direction that doesn’t involve violent behavior; he sees too many closed libraries in town and wants them to get the funding to reopen. He is critical of the privatization of services (food service, transportation, security, and other elements) in the public schools; students are better served when parents, teachers, and the school board hold direct control. He wants to do more to attract business, both large and small, to Trenton, to bring in tax revenue, create jobs, and provide for a better quality of life. As an example of public safety initiatives, he proposes that an overpass should be built over Route 129 at Lalor Street, where at least two people have been killed recently while crossing the large thoroughfare.
Waldemar Ronquillo visits the Trenton Journal to share his Trenton story. Pictured from left to right, Waldermar Ronquillo and Trenton Journal publisher Kenneth Miles
Ronquillo is not shy about speaking up when needed. He opposed a 2017 plan in the Trenton public schools that would have essentially segregated immigrant children from various foreign language backgrounds, placing them all at school in the West Ward. He took his opposition all the way to the state government and helped to stop the reorganization. While he supports hiring more police, he is also aware of abuses perpetrated by police. He talks about a recent encounter he witnessed between Trenton police and a young Black man in a traffic stop on South Broad Street. The driver had a large amount of cash from his paycheck that he had just cashed; police wrongly accused him of having “drug money” even though he showed the officer his paystub. Mr. Ronquillo intervened and made an eight-minute video of the incident, thereby averting further conflict. In the wake of the 2020 riots after the murder of George Floyd, he confronted then-Police Chief Sheilah Coley over her decision to order officers to stand down while rioters caused $300,000 worth of damage to a liquor store on East Hanover Street. Ms. Coley was forced to step down.
In Ronquillo’s view, our city is suffering because money is not spent intelligently, and gets lost in political conflicts among council, the mayor’s office, and administrative offices. In his 20 years as an activist with communities across Trenton, he has not seen city council members become directly involved. He looks forward to working directly with Trenton’s residents for the benefit of the entire population. “I’m not a regular political guy. I’m here for the people, and I want the opportunity to represent the people, because they deserve better. I want to stop the violence, that’s my main concern. We need to bring more business into Trenton so we can create more opportunities and more people can get a piece of the cake.”
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