Politics has a bad reputation. You never hear anyone say "That's politics" in a complimentary way.
But the announcement this week that the Vineland Developmental Center will remain open shows the value of politics and of people who know how to get things done within our political system.
Early in 2011, state officials announced that the Vineland center would close in 2013. The plan was part of an effort to move institutionalized individuals into community settings, something New Jersey has been slow to do. In most other states, large institutions have already been closed, replaced by smaller group homes. New Jersey has seven large developmental centers and the highest percentage of institutionalized residents in the nation.
In recommending the closing, the Department of Human Services cited the age of the Vineland facility - opened in 1888, it is the oldest developmental center in the state - and the condition of some of its buildings. It also said Vineland had the highest percentage of residents who desired community placement.
But once the announcement was made, it was clear that there were also good reasons to keep the Vineland facility open.
Very vocal opposition to the closing came from families of some of the residents who have called the center home for most of their lives and from the center's 1,400 employees.
Local business and community leaders, led by Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, warned that the county, which has the highest unemployment rate in New Jersey, would be devastated by the loss of those jobs.
Van Drew has a reputation for jumping onto any bandwagon that will have him.
As a Democrat in a largely Republican district, he tries to be extremely responsive to his constituents. That means he sponsors a lot of legislation, much of which goes nowhere.
But you can't deny that it was Van Drew who led the fight to keep the center open, arguing that an independent task force should look at all the evidence and decide which state facilities should close.
Van Drew wrote the law creating the task force - which included provisions requiring that the panel consider the economic impact of any closing and which made the panel's decision binding. And he worked hard to get that legislation passed.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a North Jersey pol who needed some goodwill in the southern part of the state, supported, tweaked and eventually signed the legislation, which gave the Vineland center a fighting chance.
The same combination - Van Drew pushing, Christie acquiescing - brought down the security fence at the Garden State Parkway bridge over Great Egg Harbor Bay.
That's politics. And in this case, it served the people's interest.