Interview with John Sowell: Candidate for Mayor of Irvington

February 7, 2014

Essex County Politics

 

John Sowell, a candidate for Mayor of Irvington, met with Essex County Politics in Irvington. He discussed his candidacy, his platform, and his goals for Irvington.

A graduate of Newark Tech and a graduate of the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local No. 25 four-year Apprenticeship Program, John has lived in Irvington since 1990 and served on the Irvington Municipal Council from 2000-2012, including 10 years as Council President. John earned the distinction of being the longest serving Council president in the history of Irvington.

 

Essex County:              Thanks for coming to meet me.

John Sowell:                Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, actually. I appreciate you taking time out to find my candidacy worthy enough of attention.

Essex County:              You’re welcome. I’d like to start with your prior service to Irvington. You served on the Irvington City Council for 12 years, from 2000 until 2012. And then you didn’t run for reelection. I’d like to begin by asking you what made you get out of politics, and then decide to get right back in?

John Sowell:                I made the decision to run for mayor in the summer of 2013 after lengthy discussions with many residents that I have known over the years. And looking at the conditions of the township, and based on my experience in government, and my experience in my private work life, I felt that I could definitely be the mayor and move the township forward.

Essex County:              Isn’t Wayne Smith, the current mayor, running for re-election?

John Sowell:                Yes, he is.

Essex County:              Would he be the favorite at the moment?

John Sowell:                No, and this is based on the response I've been getting from the voters for my candidacy. He does have some power of incumbency, but there has not been any substantive growth in Irvington in the last 12 year that he can point to. Also, there is the poor condition of our streets, the deteriorating condition of our properties, and crime. Those are the three major concerns.

Essex County:              You imply that Irvington somehow went down during Smith's tenure.

John Sowell:                The decline, I believe, was brought about by inaction and inability to adequately address the concerns. Further, there is a big concern about code enforcement, which I have proved can be done. I, as a private citizen, filed municipal complaints against property owners, took them to court, and they were fined, and then they cleaned their property. I did this as a private citizen, so why can't government do the same thing? If I can go online, find out where someone lives, write the complaint out, have them served, and show up in court as a private citizen, why isn't the government doing this? That's the question that folks want to know. Why is this not happening? Because what can really degrade a community is when properties are not maintained. Why is there no action from the Smith administration? I can't answer that question, but I do know that the Sowell administration will definitely enforce the codes, will definitely hold the property owners accountable.

Essex County:              You have said before that your first priorities would be enforcing the codes and improving housing. Why?

John Sowell:                I completed a walking tour of Irvington from September 3rd to October 23rd, 2013. I walked the entire township. We are 3 square miles, we have 64 miles of roadway. I walked every street, every block. I checked every house, every building and every tree. I counted about 650 abandoned, vacant, boarded up, or burned out houses, over 400 vacant lots. Now, on some of these vacant houses, the taxes have not been paid for years. I found one house on Linden Avenue. A fire occurred in 2006 and the taxes have not been paid since 2010; we are now into 2014. So we've lost upwards of around $40,000 in taxes on this one property for the past 3 years. So if we get these unproductive properties back on the tax rolls, we have an increase in revenue. Then we can hire more cops, purchase more equipment, invest in technology. That's why the number one concern for me is addressing our budget deficits and our budget concerns because whatever project or program we undertake requires funding. That's why that top priority of my administration is to get property back to being productive and paying taxes.

Essex County:              You said you did a walking tour and you can identify the property owner. You can go after the property owner for back taxes. But how does that get them to start renovating the property.

John Sowell:                Well, there are two things. When property tax is not paid on a property, there is a process in government in which a township can foreclose on that property.

Essex County:              Eminent domain?

John Sowell:                Not eminent domain, just foreclosing on it to collect the taxes. It's a lengthy legal process. So my plan is to start foreclosure proceedings immediately to take possession of the property. You have to notify the person and find out if they’re going to pay the back taxes. If the requests to pay the back taxes are ignored, the township forecloses. But once we’ve foreclosed on that property, the township now owns it. Now, the township in turn will have a public auction and folks come in and bid on that property. You bid on that property, you win the bid, now you have X number of months to renovate and get back on the tax roll.

Essex County:              If you auction it off, the new owners will likely have a certain number of months or years to renovate. Will there be municipal aid to help them do that?

John Sowell:                It would be up to the developer or the person developing it to seek out other resources for their project. I mean, if there is something that we can do on the government side, we would be more than happy to offer that. However, there are funding options out there to help fund your renovation project. But where else can you come and get a property for anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 and you renovate it and bring it to the $200,000 price range? So you get the house at a bargain; it's an existing structure. It may need a lot of work, maybe new pipes, new windows and new doors, but you are buying an existing structure, which is a lower cost than building from the ground up. That's the benefit. You get to buy a property. It's an investment in most cases. Whether you want to buy it for yourself and live in it, whether you want to buy it, renovate it, and sell it, it's an investment. Investors buy these types of properties all the time and so do private citizens. But the benefit you get is you get an existing property at a very, very low price, because it's going to go to the highest bidder we have at the public auction.

                                    We will work with the new buyers, because we don't begin to charge them the full amount of taxes until the house is restored and occupied. So you get to have this property and pay a minimal tax until you finally complete your renovation. You may have anywhere from 12 to 18 months to renovate it. Our goal is to get it back to being occupied, back on the tax rolls. So the sooner you renovate it, the sooner you sell it, rent it, live in it. That's my plan with the abandoned and vacant properties.

Essex County:              So, essentially, renovated housing is the backbone of your plans for reviving Irvington. With the boost to the tax rolls, you can finance all the other reforms that you are talking about.

John Sowell:                Exactly. Because right now, the house is vacant, and if the owners aren't paying taxes, we get nothing from it, and it also causes everyone else to have to pay more taxes. That's why our taxes are high, because not everybody is paying. The best thing that we can do to lower taxes is to make sure every property is productive and paying taxes.

Essex County:              OK, you are offering a tremendous bargain, because you can pick up a house for virtually nothing with the proviso that you renovate it. OK, I understand the value of that, but how would you tell a potential homeowner, come live in Irvington, wonderful Irvington? How would you actually make that sale?

John Sowell:                I can make that sale by saying you can live in Irvington and be close to 6 universities and colleges, you can be a 5 mile ride from Newark International Airport. You can be one bus ride away from Newark Penn Station. You work in New York City? One bus, a bus from here to Penn Station, it's a 20 minute bus ride to Penn Station. So I would talk about the amenities that we have to offer. No other town has that to offer. No other town has what we have. If you work out west, you can take Route 78 or Route 22. We are close to that. The Garden State Parkway. That's what I would tell them; this is why you should move to Irvington. You know, it's interesting because we have people moving into downtown Newark, now. They finally have residential housing in downtown Newark, and folks are paying upwards of $1500-$1800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Newark. Why do they live in downtown Newark? Because they are close to Penn Station and other amenities.

                                    There are a lot of folks interested in the commute. They live in New Jersey and commute to New York. I can convince those folks that, for a short bus ride, 5 miles away, you can be in Irvington in a house, as opposed to an apartment. No one has ever told the story of what we have to market. That's my selling point. That's why cleaning up the community is critical. The folks that are looking at housing want to ride through a clean community. We are bordered by Maplewood, South Orange, Union, and Hillside. Those are four towns which are viewed as stable communities.

                                     So folks are riding through Irvington to get to Maplewood. Folks are riding through Irvington to get to South Orange. They are border towns. So let's move Maplewood further down into Irvington, and move South Orange further into Irvington, move Union further into Irvington. These are all attractive communities and that's what I'm talking about. You can live near an attractive community. Because the success of Irvington helps in the success of those border communities. I believe you will have some spill-over effect, that you can live close to South Orange, but not in South Orange. You can afford a house in Irvington, which is close to South Orange, but not pay a South Orange price for that house. That's what I believe we can capitalize on.

Essex County:              Certainly that’s a good selling point. But what about safety? Irvington has a higher crime rate than the surrounding areas.

John Sowell:                Actually, that’s a bit of a misconception. Unfortunately, we suffer from very, very old data. We have one of the best police directors in the state of New Jersey. He ran 3 of the largest departments in the state of New Jersey, Joseph Santiago. He was the director of 3 of the largest police departments, or law enforcement agencies, in the state of New Jersey. He was the director of police in the city of Newark, director of police for the state police, and also served as the director of police for the county police. In fact, we've gotten a grip on our crime in Irvington. Statistics show that our crime is down, but, unfortunately, many people still hold on to data that may be 10 years old.

                                    In addition to that, when we redevelop and repopulate our neighborhoods, that's another crime deterrent. We have more eyes and ears on the street. Take illegal dumping, for example. If a house is occupied, no one would drive up into that driveway with a load of tires and dump them and drive off. If somebody lives there, I'm afraid that someone is going to see me, take a photo of me, and track me down. That's why population is so important. What makes a community safe is people. If I live on a block and there are 10 houses on my block, and 3 of the houses are vacant or abandoned, it brings down my property value. In addition to that, it creates an environment for nefarious activity. Whether it be dumping, or vagrants, or squatters, or all of those things. I am convinced that repopulating our communities will help with our crime. People don't want to commit crimes if they believe they are going to be seen or caught or captured. When you are in a community where there are vacant properties and devastation, you are more likely to commit a crime there.

Essex County:              Is the crime in Irvington the result of joblessness? Gangs? Drugs?

John Sowell:                Well, most of the crimes that have occurred in Irvington have been gang-related and fueled by the gang culture and the illegal drug trade. But again, all our statistics, the uniform crime reports from the police, show that Irvington crime is down, substantially, compared to what it was 10 years ago. So again, there is a perception that crime is high in Irvington, but it's only a perception. It has gone down. Can it be improved? Of course, it can. Could we hire more police? Of course, we can. Invest in more technology? Of course, we can. And that's why the population and getting the houses back to being productive helps all of those concerns.

Essex County:              The perception is sometimes stronger than reality.

John Sowell:                I concur.

Essex County:              I understand what you’re saying. Nevertheless, upon being elected mayor, you're going to have to do something about crime. You simply can’t say that crime is down. What would you do?

John Sowell:                The first thing I’ll do is look at our department and conduct a real-life needs assessment. Over the years, I’ve heard folks in Irvington talk about doing a needs assessment in the police department, but it has not been done. I would actually do it. In fact, that’s the first step: finding out what our needs are. Then, we develop a plan and work towards those needs. Some needs may be long-term and high cost, some needs can be short-term and low cost, or short-term and no cost.

Essex County:              What would you perceive to be the immediate needs coming in to office?

John Sowell:                Well, my perceived immediate need is more boots on the ground. That can be accomplished by a term called “civilianization” of our police department. Look at our police department and look at what tasks or assignments can be done by civilians as opposed having a trained police officer doing that type of task. That's the first thing that I would look at. How can I take this trained officer, get him out of that office environment, and have him doing something more critical to what his training allows. That's the first step. That's the first thing I'd do because the cost of a civilian can sometimes be a third of the cost for a police officer. In addition to that, police officers are most effective when they are doing their job to fight crime, or to reduce crime, or to prevent crime. That's the first thing I would do. That would be my first day in office. Look at every position, who has it, what can be transferred to a civilian. OK, so maybe I would have to hire more people, but now I'm hiring a civilian at a salary of maybe $30,000 to $50,000, as opposed to a cop who can make anywhere from $90,000 to $125,000. That's the difference. That's the first step.

                                    Further, I would look at the retirement list. We can save money there. Most of the folks who are retiring now are retiring at the high end of the salary range. You bring someone in at the lower end of the salary range. So what can we do to get a bigger bang for out buck. For example, we have a police officer who’s retired making $125,000 a year. We can hire 3 new officers for $40,000 each. I don't want to match everything 3 to 1, but for certain positions we can. If 10 cops retired, I can possibly hire 15 because of savings on the salary. That's going to be projected out in what it's going to cost in the long-term, but in the immediate short-term, I need to be able to get more for that same salary.

Essex County:              Is crime in Irvington gang-related or drug-related?

John Sowell:                Yeah, but not as much as people think.

Essex County:              Are there state or federal funds available for that?

John Sowell:                There have been several funding grants from the federal government for law enforcement. They have diminished over the years. We have been the recipient of several rounds of funding for police and fire, and we will continue to take advantage of that funding.

At one time, in 2002, there was a gang culture that had taken hold in Irvington. I was on the council at the time. The council and the administration had gone to the governor’s office and requested the assistance of the state police, and the county prosecutor’s office sent us a drug task force with the New Jersey state police. There was a task force of the Irvington police department, and the police department really attacked, aggressively attacked, this gang culture in Irvington. I'm proud to say that was a very, very successful program. But people are still thinking, back in 2002, there were a lot of gangs in Irvington, and that's just not the case any longer.

Essex County:              Beyond gangs, are there other crime issues in Irvington and what would you do to stop it?

John Sowell:                There used to be a great deal of street-corner loitering in Irvington. You don't see a lot of street-corner loitering any longer on major thoroughfares, Stuyvesant and Chancellor, Union and Chancellor, Grover and Springfield. You arrive at these neighborhoods at night now; you don't see the same amount of street-corner loitering, and to me, that's a sign that these folks have gone someplace else, because you can't loiter anymore. These are visible signs of how the crime has come down: the loitering has come down. Still, one shooting is too much. Unfortunately, when there is someone out there with a bullet intended for them, no one can stop that. That's premeditated. Unfortunately, law enforcement and police officers are a reactive way to deal with crime, because you call a cop after the crime has happened. So I want to focus more on preventive measures. What has been successful in reducing crime is  providing alternatives. What's the alternative to crime?

                                    Three alternatives: education, recreation, or employment. Those are the proactive measures that will focus on how you prevent the crime. And recreation for everyone, whether they be seniors, whether they be adults, different sports leagues and things like that. We have a recreation programs for kids, say from 9th grade to high school, so 13-18. After that, what do they do? There is no more recreation. Other communities have leagues for every sport that you want to mention that adults participate in. So these kids get all this recreation for 5 years, from 8th grade, all through high school, now I'm 18 years old, now what do I do? I can't go to the rec center, that's for kids. So we are looking at creating recreation for everyone, not just young people. Community recreation for everybody. That's what we are going to have in Irvington. I'm a long-time cyclist and I've been cycling for 27 years. I belong to a cycling club; I've been a member for 25 years. We meet every Sunday from March to November for group bike rides, and it can be anywhere from 10 to 100 people. That's my recreation as an adult, and everyone in the club is an adult, anywhere from 20 years old to 70 years old, still cycling.

                                    What can we offer our young people, or our citizens—for that matter, anyone. What if we have free cooking classes? A big part of my administration will be to encourage people to volunteer. I volunteered for community garden in Irvington last summer, and the person who runs that community garden was excited. She has 3 vacant lots, and that's the community garden. They grow stuff there, they have a party there, and folks take stuff home and cook it. I want to establish a community garden in every ward in the town. In her garden, everybody has a 4X4 plot of land to plant whatever they want to plant. Some plant tomatoes, you can plant pink peppers, onions, so when the harvest comes in, you all swap different vegetables, which is a very, very good community activity. Now we have all these vacant lots in town, some are town-owned and some are owned by private people, but I want to establish community gardens in every ward of the town. People all over the country are establishing community gardens. Michelle Obama advocates for community gardens, the president’s wife.

Essex County:              This is going back a little bit, but when you served on the Irvington City Council, did you talk about these things then?

John Sowell:                Yes, I did, but, and I had that question come at me yesterday from Ms. Jackson, a voter. She said John, you were on the council for 12 years and you couldn't do this stuff then? And I said Ms. Jackson, there are 2 distinct roles. The council is the legislative branch of government. We are in charge of 3 things: we appropriate the budget, we create the laws. and we can investigate. So the council is responsible for legislating, appropriating, and investigating. Once we appropriate that budget to the administration, it's the mayor's budget. He does the hiring, he does the firing, he does the procuring. He manages that budget. That's the main responsibility; he's chief executive of the township. I'm a board-of-director person. You look at government as a corporate structure, the council is the board of directors, the mayor is CEO. The board of directors helps to direct the corporation, but ultimately, the CEO makes the final decision. He hires who he wants to hire, fires who he wants, and so forth. That's the difference, that the mayor is responsible for the daily running of the town, not the council. I can make all these suggestions to the administration, but they are merely suggestions. He can say, OK, thank you, or go pound salt, because it's his decision to make.

                                    That's the difference in being a legislator and being an executive in government. And that's why everything I've mentioned that I want to do as a mayor is within my purview as the chief executive of the township.

Essex County:              You say the relationship between the mayor and the City Council is similar to that of the CEO and the board of directors. A company generally runs well when there is a good working relationship between the CEO and the board of directors. Is the relationship between the mayor and the City Council generally amicable in Irvington?

John Sowell:                It's amicable.

Essex County:              So you don't anticipate like a situation like President Obama has in facing the Republicans in Congress.

John Sowell:                No, I don't anticipate that because, fortunately, I have 26 years of experience working with boards. In Irvington, I was council president for 10 years. The council president is elected by the council, and it's a 2-year term, so the council elected me 5 times as their presiding officer, the leader of the council. You don't get to be elected to be a presiding officer without being able to negotiate and compromise and hear people out. I have a history of working with people, and that's what's important. Being able to work with people and building a consensus. The council is elected, just as I am as mayor, and it's important that their concerns are heard. My plan is to present the council with the facts and the figures, think over any comments that they have, and then move forward. That's why I know I can work with anyone because it's about compromise. You do it at every level. We do it as adults. We do it with children. We do it with spouses. We do it with everyone. It's all about compromise. You can't always get what you want. There has to be some compromise; there has to be some middle ground.

                                    My history shows that I can work with anyone. That's why I am looking forward to working with the council. And in this area, information is the key. I'm very, very big on having information and making informed decisions. Good information allows good decisions. I plan on presenting good, complete information to the council.

Essex County:              Let's turn to schools. What would you do to improve schools in Irvington?

John Sowell:                Well, currently, what many citizens don't realize is that the school system in Irvington is a separate entity of government. They have their own board of government; they have their own superintendent and a separate election. Municipal government and the school board are their own separate entities. But we in government work with other entities in town, and I will work with the school. There are programs all over the country called Safe Routes to School. It's about ensuring that children have a safe route to walk to and from school. Now, if you ride by any of our schools in Irvington, you can see the amount of devastation, the amount of litter, garbage, trash, and debris that our children have to walk past every day. It is very, very challenging to tell our children, “hey, don't litter, don't throw stuff on the ground,” when they walk around with litter all over the ground. So, cleaning up our communities, cleaning our streets, having these safe walks to school will help our young people. It's been proven, study after study, on how devastation, destruction, and trauma affect the psychology of children. We know it affects children in an adverse way. That's one thing I want to do to help the schools: creating safe routes to school.

                                    In addition to that, in the state of New Jersey, every high school student must have a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. I want to involve high school students in helping us to keep track of what's going on in town. We have 396 blocks of Irvington, that's square blocks, and my plan is to assign a student to each block, so to speak. Twice a week, you are required to walk this entire block, just walk around the block and make a note of anything, any abnormal conditions that you see. Branch in the street, a pothole, anything that you see. You sit down at your computer or use your smart phone and email that information to the township. So imagine, if you will, 396 people walking the township twice a week reporting abnormal conditions.

                                    In 2012, during Hurricane Sandy, the storm was a big challenge because no one knew what was going on in our community. If a tree was down, a wire was out, no one knew, and our town employees were scrambling and responding to phone calls because everyone was calling. It was hard to figure out what to do. But if we had my program in place and the storm happened and folks walked their block, any devastation caused by that storm would have known about in a couple of hours because everyone would have walked their blocks, seen it, and forwarded that information to the township. We are not going to move this township forward by government alone. Government doesn't have all the answers. Government doesn't have enough people to do it. I want to involve our young people, high school students, to teach them a sense of civic pride, let them know that it's their responsibility to help maintain our communities. That's what I would do for the schools, because right now, I don't see lessons out there about having young people take pride in their community. What are they doing to help improve our community?

Essex County:              What you are saying makes sense and I understand it, but when people look at schools, when they think of moving into Irvington, they are looking at the actual education that the kids are getting. Are the kids being prepared for college? Are they being educated to get good jobs? I know you can’t control the education, but people are still going to hold you responsible for the poor performance of schools.

John Sowell:                I agree, I agree. But I believe in telling people the truth. I'm very, very clear. I know what my role is as mayor, as a council person. I understand the roles of the separate entities. One thing I will not do is misinform or mislead the public into thinking that John Sowell is going to come in here and rescue our school system. Folks don't want to hear that, but I'm still going to say it because it's the truth.

Essex County:              If you are elected mayor, there is no way, realistically speaking, that you are going to be able to fix all the problems in Irvington and reverse years of decline in 4 years. What can people reasonably expect to be accomplished in your 4-year term?

John Sowell:                I believe a lot can be accomplished in that 4 years. The challenge that I've noticed in other administrations is that there is never any plan. A lot of activities, but no plans and no programs. A plan is written, a plan is specific, a plan is measurable. A plan has timelines, benchmarks; a plan has a budget; a plan has an end date. Every project or program for Irvington in my administration will have a definitive plan. In my recent campaign literature, I mentioned that my first pre-mayoral project is my walking tour of Irvington to chart abandoned and distressed areas. I showed my project plan for improving areas, showed the justification, showed why we were doing it, how we are going to do it, what's required to do, the personnel required to do it, and a budget required to do it. I gave my plan, I gave a timeframe. From September 4th to October 20th, that's all laid out, and I finished my plan. When I am elected mayor, I will implement the plan.

                                    I'm going to have a team. There will someone from the police department, fire department, a housing official and a code enforcing official, and myself as mayor. We are going to walk 2 voting districts a day in 20 days. I was walking a district by myself in anywhere from an hour to 2 hours. So now this team of people will walk this voting district. We note any abnormal conditions, and we take a necessary course of action. So now we have some boots on the ground. In 1 month, we can cover the entire township. When we finish, we do it again. So my program is that we will walk from 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM, Monday through Thursday. Friday is a make-up day, if we need it. Friday is also a day you can be in your office following up. In addition to that, we walk the top half of the day, the bottom half of your day you are in your office. That's a program. So I want to be able to walk an entire town in 1 month and we finish it, we do it again. That's an ongoing program.

                                    When citizens hear that we are covering the ground in this fashion, watch and see how fast they comply with our ordinances and town codes. The first step is getting folks to notice that we are going to have aggressive enforcement of our ordinances, especially the quality-of-life ordinances. A big challenge of Irvington now is you call the town hall for services, you call to express your concern, no response, and you continue to call and call and call, never get a response. There is no tracking of concerns. That will change.

                                    In my last piece of campaign literature, I talked about a citizen-concern tracking system. All web-based, being used by thousands of communities throughout the world. This technology has been on the market the last 25 years. You go online, log in your concern, you get a tracking number and now you can track that concern until it's complete. That concern is assigned to someone, so the tracking is very, very critical. Now, we don't expect the government to address every citizen concern the next day, but I should be able to tell you when we will be able to get to it. We should be able to plan our work effectively. That's one thing that hasn't happened in Irvington. No accountability.

Essex County:              OK, accountability. On certain levels, that works fine, but on the larger level, you are raising expectations of Irvington having tremendous assets, not being in nearly as severe stress as it's perceived, bringing people to Irvington, renovating housing. These things are not fixed on walking tours. You are raising expectations. At the end of 4 years, yes, it's easy to get a downed branch fixed, it's easy to get a pothole fixed, or get a response to that. But look at all those abandoned houses and schools still not doing what they are supposed to. You've raised expectations, now how would you manage those expectations? What could reasonably be expected on those levels?

John Sowell:                Yes, I'm raising expectations, and we are going to take necessary steps to meet those expectations. Obviously, not all are going to be met. But at the end of 4 years, I'm going to say, look, there were 600 houses that we put up for auction and we only sold 100, and we are still working on selling the other ones. I can at least show some work progress. People will not be able say we didn't do anything. That's my thing. Of course, we expect a lot, we want to expect a lot, we want to promise a lot. But again, if people can see, well, John did have the auction, John did foreclose on it, John did serve the summons, folks can see that you actually worked towards something. At the end of the year, I can show you how many calls came in for potholes, how many we patched. The important thing is to prove to the citizens that we are doing something and making progress toward a better Irvington.

Essex County:              Essentially, there is a scorecard for people to measure success.

John Sowell:                Exactly. That's what the plan is: managing those benchmarks.

Essex County:              Have you managed people before?

John Sowell:                Yes. I was employed by the City of Newark as the Manager of the Division of Parks, Grounds, and Trees. I had a staff of 45 people. I also served as the Director of Site Operations for Citilog Enterprises for 2 years.

Essex County:              What does Citilog do?

John Sowell:                We constructed an urban saw mill in the city of Newark. I served as the Director of Training, Apprentice Administrator, and Director of Recruiting for the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 25. I did that for 5 years. I also worked as a project coordinator and project manager for 2 construction companies for 15 years. I have been in the union for 29 years as a sheet metal worker. I've worked as a draftsman, mechanical coordinator, and project manager. That's my experience.

Essex County:              OK, let’s move ahead. You're 4 years down the road, you are running for reelection. What would you tell the voters to use as the benchmark to judge how you've succeeded on the larger level? Would it just be going to those benchmarks again: look at what we accomplished, look at what we've started?

John Sowell:                That's what I will ask them. Look at what we've accomplished. Look at what we accomplished in 4 years compared to prior administrations. That's what I'll ask them to compare.

Essex County:              I think we've now taken you from candidate to running for re-election.

John Sowell:                Yeah, that's what it sounds like, that’s my plan. You have to have a plan. And you have to accept accountability. That's why my experience, and even my private life, involves a lot of planning, coordinating, organizing. Plans matter. The mayor has to have a plan, and that hasn't happened in Irvington.

Essex County:              On a more personal note, I understand that, you recently biked from California to New York.

John Sowell:                Yes, my trip of a lifetime, yeah, it was in 2011. We started in California and we rode back to New Jersey. 3,053 miles and 28 days. It was a wonderful trip.

Essex County:              Was there a reason, to raise funds, for example?

John Sowell:                No, I did it purely for personal reasons. I rode to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2007. Left my house and rode to Atlanta. That was 910 miles in 8 days. Then, in 2008, we rode from New Jersey to Montreal, that was 435 miles in 5 days. A lot of climbing, a lot of going uphill to Montreal. I always wanted to ride a bike across country, so when I left my job with the city of Newark in 2010, I wasn't working. I was in great shape. I started training very hard in 2010, so I started a cross-country trip from California in 2011 and I had to be back in 30 days because I had a new job to start on August 15. I got back from my trip on August 13, and I started a new job on August 15. It was something I always wanted to do, and I like being able to brag that I am the only candidate who has literally ridden through thousands of communities. Thousands. We came through 12 states, so I've seen a lot of communities in my lifetime. In addition to that, there is a ride in New Jersey called the longest day. We ride from High Point, New Jersey, to Cape May, New Jersey. 208 miles in one day. We ride clean across the entire state of New Jersey.

                                    I've seen every type of community there is in the United States. Urban, suburban, rural. I've seen the farm lands. I've seen the cranberry bogs. I've seen the cornfields. I know communities and that's why I'm proud to offer my experience to the voters. This is what I bring to the game. Because folks don't ask, if we hire you, what are you going to do? Folks are going to ask you why should we hire you, what have you already done to give us a reason to hire you? So I ask the voters look at what everyone has done, and hire that person who is going to best represent you. That's my position when I talk to voters. I will manage Irvington differently, and I will have a results-driven administration because I have already as a public and private citizen. That's my plan.

Essex County:              John, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

John Sowell:                Thank you, very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my candidacy.

 

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