Parisi Defends Tenure In Friendly But Firm Debate

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By Owen Petrie
Essex County Politics

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The B’Nai Shalom synagogue in West Orange Monday night was the site of a rather congenial mayoral forum relative to how volatile such events can get. Although the participants, Eldridge Hawkins, Joe Krakoviak, Rodolpho Rodriguez and mayor, Robert Parisi, were polite and measured in their tones, there was some nuanced barbs leveled by the candidates. The men took turns answering the same questions from the moderator, addressing the estimated 175 to 200 people in attendance. The challengers all wore jackets and ties, although Rodriguez and Hawkins were the only ones in suits. The mayor was more casual in a sports coat and polo shirt.

The questions began with each candidate being asked how they would “sell” West Orange to prospective residents and businesses. Mayor Parisi when first, extolling the townships recreational services and community diversity. Hawkins was next. He spoke of West Orange’s transportation infrastructure, realizing and revitalizing redevelopment projects, and partnering with business, local universities and museums. Mr. Rodriquez wants to capitalize off of what he says is West Orange’s rich history, particularly Thomas Edison and his culture-shaping inventions. Finally, Joe Krakoviak spoke of the towns diversity and potential for such to be a dynamic enticement for business.

As the debate wore on, the challengers admonished the mayor about the rising crime rate, particularly as it compared to the neighboring towns, the lack of development and the declining school rankings. Parisi countered that it was easy to call for solutions but finding those answers without raising taxes was the prohibitive proposition in their scenarios. Parisi argued that he has maintained those programs that were successful for “20 years” before he got into office.

Krakoviak challenged the mayor on what he said was a lack of transparency in his administration. The challenger, who sits on the West Orange Municipal Council, said that he had, “been trying for several months to get the administration to tell us exactly how much it costs us to provide emergency medical services and transport … I just got it tonight, at 6:30.”

“Nearly everything the councilman said is wrong,” Parisi responded. In regard to crime, the mayor said that the township didn’t have the money to replenish the ranks of the police officers who had been let go during his administration. He explained that there were federal monies available by way of grants, and in that process, you win some and you lose some. “We got a grant for the fire department, we didn’t get one for the police,” the mayor explained.

Hawkins immediately jumped on that during his turn to speak, identifying the failed grant procurement as a sign of Parisi’s ineffectiveness. Hawkins pointed out that when he was mayor of Orange, he secured more than $100 million dollars of outside funding inclusive of grants for the police and fire. “The mayor talks a good game, but his sweet talking, trying to find clever ways to explain why he failed. Don’t be fooled.”

It was obvious that despite the relative cordiality of the event, the incumbent had a bullseye on his back and was squarely in the sights of the men vying for his job. While not quite on his heels, Parisi was clearly on the defensive most of the evening. On November the voters will decide how if the men who would be mayor were on target.

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