Eldridge Hawkins Takes Clear Win at West Orange Mayoral Debate

Friday, 17 October 2014 16:08 Local Talk News Editor

On Monday, October 13, 2014, West Orange High School hosted a debate with the city's four mayoral candidates. The debate started right on time as declared at 7:00 pm. Incumbent Mayor Robert Parisi, former Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins, Jr., West Orange Councilman Joe Krakoviak, and Rodolfo Rodriguez all answered questions on how they would lead the town.

Mayor Parisi said that since he took office, he cut down the budget, and cut 52 employees while keeping the same service the people deserve.

Joe Krakoviak said that since he has been on the council, the majority of the resolutions pass with 4 to 1 against him, except if it is otherwise a good resolution. He talked about wasteful spending, especially about the Edison Factory site and police substation, which has an expense of over $400,000 that opened next to the substation's lease site of $3,600 per year, and he repeated not month but per year.

Hawkins said, "Crime has gone up as high as about 53% in the first year of Parisi's administration, and they (residents) were looking all these problems and I asked them, 'why do you want me to consider running for mayor?' They simply stated that the best chance of getting change is by having someone who is experienced. So I would love the opportunity to bring that experience back to my hometown and to make a difference in their lives."

Rodolfo Rodriguez said, "I am running for mayor because I want this town back to the 90s. I worked as a manager for so many years in the food serving industry. My management skills is more than 21 years...We see what's going on in the downtown area, and we have decided to run for mayor."

On working with the board of education, all of the candidates said that the control of the board lies in the hands of the school board. The four of them felt that the mayor should work with the schools and the board. Hawkins, however, said that as a mayor he could use his resources to bring more money to the schools and reduce taxes that way.

"Sometimes the perspective of how we look at issues is different," said Hawkins on compromising and working with others. "One of the instances where I had to compromise and was successful was when I was mayor and we suffered about a $6 million loss in funding. It had us staring down the barrel of a 20 percent tax increase. We unfortunately had to engage in layoffs. While it was necessary, that doesn't mean we stopped there. We had to negotiate and keep compromising to bring people back to the table. In the initial layoffs we lost about 12 firemen and the closure of one firehouse. In the negotiations, we got those 12 firemen back. We also got a $1.3 million grant from FEMA to hire 12 more firefighters...Ultimately for the residents, we were able to get them a stronger fire department at a lower cost."

"I believe that every candidate who runs in the state of New Jersey runs on taxes," said Rodriguez in regards to what he felt was the biggest issue in West Orange. "The way I would reduce taxes in West Orange is to be more business friendly. I said it before and I say it now, each student costs us more than $21,000. Businesses do not send kids to school. If you go to any town in the area, you get to bring what you sell out to the sidewalks. You don't see that in West Orange. I believe we need to encourage businesses to come to West Orange to invest in West Orange, and by investing in West Orange, we can definitely lower taxes."

When asked how he would reduce crime, Krakoviak said, "My plan would include hiring more police and cutting down on forced overtime. We need to have enough police so that when we have problems in town, we have a sufficient force to address a specific problem and leave them there until the problem is fixed. We have to put more priority on public safety because the crime is too much."

In response, Hawkins suggested a more community-based approach rather than being reactive by hiring more police. He also suggested improving the town not just socioeconomically, but also physically, as it would be a factor in lowering crime and boosting job growth.

Mayor Parisi countered that he proposed more police in two budget proposals, but it was shot down by the council. He specifically pointed out Councilman Krakoviak for being against the proposal. "Economically, you cannot put 500 police officers on the street," Parisi said.

On the topic of the budget, Parisi said, "What's important to one neighborhood isn't as important to another. If you hire a lot of police officers, then you sacrifice recreation, you sacrifice the health department. Those are tough decisions to make. We found ways over the last four years to cut spending, to cut jobs, through attrition and unfortunately through layoffs, to stabilize our municipal budget over a four and five year period. It's impossible to predict what we will raise the budget to next year or what we will cut because governing is no different than you operating your home."

The issue about the Edison Battery Factory seemed to be very debatable. However, there was not any hot crossfire between the candidates, so the debate was very smooth, even though the points presented to the 100-plus audience were different to them.

Krakoviak said that in eight years, the project has not even been truly started. He said that the proposal of many apartments would bring many children and it goes back to the taxpayers.
Rodriguez said that if we bring apartments, we have to pay taxes for the children's education. But, if the administration brings commercial businesses, then they have no children, but they pay taxes, and that way taxes can go down.

Parisi said that most of the units were one bedroom apartments, and that the town would not have any problems with children. Hawkins countered that the town should bring commercial units to bring revenue. He added that if there are 300 apartments with two children, that would mean $5 to $6 million must be allotted for their education in West Orange, which would increase taxes. Hawkins also spoke on the $6.3 million bond that helps the developers, but not the taxpayers.

Overall, the debate organizer and moderator did a very good job. While the crowd seemed to be pro-Parisi, as every now and then he would make an entertaining comment to gain some applause, the reality was that Hawkins had the most solutions that were actually feasible, and that can be effective for the short term and long term to help the residents of West Orange

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