May 15, 2010; Source: The Times of Trenton  | This is an interesting snippet of a story of for-profit versus nonprofit advocacy. The for-profit American Water Company has made an offer of $80 million to purchase the city-owned Trenton Water Works (the water pipes and water tanks in the city and the suburbs). To persuade voters to endorse the deal, American Water has backed an advocacy effort called “Trenton Yes,” described by the head of the Company’s New Jersey division as “supporting an education message.”

Countering the company-backed campaign is “Stop the Sale,” a campaign organized by the Washington-based nonprofit, Food & Water Watch. The nonprofit is helping voters put the sale of the Water Works on the June 15th ballot for an up or down vote. The company’s advocacy campaign is conducting telephone polls that some have described as “push polls,” though the company’s pollster claimed that the calls present both sides of the argument.

The issue before the voters isn’t simple, as the company will acquire only pipes and tanks in the suburbs, while the City would still own the Water Works treatment plant, reservoirs, and central pump station. This is an interesting local advocacy case study to watch, pitting a national corporation’s deep pockets against what is really a grassroots citizens mobilization effort.—Rick Cohen