Councilman, political newcomer hoping to unseat mayor in Orange

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Left to right: Orange East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley, Mayor Dwayne Warren and political newcomer Jan Morrell. The trio have each entered the fray to become the city's chief executive when voters head to the polls in May.

 

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
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on December 08, 2015 at 1:27 PM, updated December 08, 2015 at 1:40 PM

 

 

ORANGE – A three-way race has emerged as the city prepares to elect a new mayor next year.

Mayor Dwayne Warren, who is looking to secure a second four-year term, will need to fend off challenges from East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley and political newcomer Jan Morrell.

Over his time in office, the mayor touts accomplishments such as the closing of a more than $4 million budget deficit, an upgrade in the city's credit rating and budding developments at the former Orange Memorial Hospital and around the local transit hub.

"Orange is now a fiscally stronger, safer, and more engaged community, that is now headed in the right direction that we can all be proud of," he said in a statement.

Critics, however, the mayor's term has been largely politics as usual.

Many point to an early fracture with the City Council, stemming from his appointment of former Assemblyman Willis Edwards III as deputy business administrator, despite the council's earlier decision not to appoint Edwards to a permanent post. The move set off a costly legal dispute that simmered for nearly two years until September, when the city agreed to change Edwards' title and reduce his salary while officials vetted candidates to head the office.

"To me....that was a usurping of the city council's prerogative. That's not how government is supposed to operate," said Morrell. "We have a tripartite government so that there are checks and balances."

Other detractors point to Warren's 2013 endorsement of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, and hires they claim reek of cronyism, such as the appointment of Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp as city finance director. Warren serves as chief municipal attorney in Plainfield.

"City Hall is like a business," said Coley. "It's not a place where you can just give your frat brothers and all your family and friends jobs."

Warren fired back, however, saying that Edwards had been a valuable member of his administration railroaded by petty politics, and saying voters should be wary of turning over the town to candidates with little experience in elected office.

Coley was a longtime sergeant with the Orange police until being fired in 2011 – a move he alleged was politically motivated. Morrell is also retired after a 38-year career in the talent and admissions offices at Rutgers University, and has served on the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment and Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee.

In a statement, Warren said handing the reins of the city's $70 million budget to Coley "will only erode the progress we have made", and criticized Morrell's platform as "outdated for the challenges we face."

Though voters will not head to the polls until early May, tensions between the candidates began earlier this year, when Coley and Warren began publicly sparring earlier this year after an explicit video appeared on his Facebook page. Coley claimed he was hacked, but Warren accused him of misogyny.

Issues in this city of roughly 30,000 are not unlike those of larger surrounding communities like Newark and East Orange, including escalating taxes, widespread home foreclosures and streets often littered with debris.

Crime rates have been fluid during Warren's term – the city recorded no homicides during 2014, but has seen at least five this year, according to an NJ Advance Media count. A class of 8 officers was added to the ranks this year and another 12 are on track to join them in 2016, though Coley and Morrell said the moves should have been made sooner.

Each of the contenders are still very much in the coordination stage – Coley recently aligned himself with a slate of council candidates, though Warren said he has yet to finalize his own. Many in town, however, say they are already holding out hope the votes for a more unified government come this summer.

"The council and the mayor don't see eye to eye in what direction they want to take the city," said Shelly Alexander, who chairs the city's Democratic Town Committee.

"Orange is not making the strides that it really should be making."

Dan Ivers may be reached at divers@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DanIversNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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