Hawkins Pulls Away From The Pack

Photos taken at Mayoral debate. From left: Mayoral Robert D. Parisi, Joe Krakoviak, Eldridge Hawkins, Jr. and Rodolfo Rodriguez 

Last night the African American Heritage Organization and the Men Make a Difference organization sponsored a Mayoral Town Hall Debate at West Orange High School in the Media Center. In attendance were all four candidates; incumbent Robert D. Parisi, Joe Krakoviak, Rodolfo Rodriguez and Eldridge Hawkins, Jr.

The Media Center was packed with residents eager to hear from the four mayoral candidates and according to sources, Robert Parisi brought extra people to ensure that he padded the audience with supporters.

The format of the debate was traditional more or less.  The moderator, Dr. Debra Harvest (Assistant Superintendent for Operations in the East Orange School District and a West Orange resident) asked each candidate questions, some formulated by the audience. Candidates were allowed two minutes to respond, which was then followed by each of the other candidates having the opportunity to answer the same question. Current Councilman and mayoral candidate Krakoviak seemed at times to struggle with his ideas, he frequently read from prepared notes while candidate Rodolfo Rodriguez entertained the audience with humor.

The evening however belonged to mayoral candidate Eldridge Hawkins, Jr.  When asked questions about ways to improve redevelopment, lower taxes and reduce crime, Hawkins showed no hesitation in articulating a clear vision for West Orange.  Hawkins’ ability to convey his prior experiences impressed many who were in attendance and “quickly positioned him as a clear front runner”, according to an attendee who preferred to remain anonymous.

Hawkins, the former mayor of Orange, NJ exhibited a degree of knowledge and passion that was palpable to the crowd of approximately 200 residents.

Incumbent Robert D. Parisi at times struggled to provide clear answers. When asked “what is the major problem for our city”, each of the other 3 candidates quickly pointed to taxes as the number one issue facing the township followed closely by crime. Krakoviak, when asked  about taxes said “West Orange has the 7th highest property taxes in the state”.

The town’s budget was also on the residents minds last night and when asked questions, the candidates agreed that scrutinizing the towns growing budget for waste was critical, but Hawkins identified additional ratables from commercial redevelopment as an alternative means of controlling soaring property taxes and increasing homeowner equity so that homeowners would not be taxed out of their homes.  Hawkins said that as mayor he would, “work hard to ensure that current residents were able to stay in their homes and enjoy retirement life while on social security”.  Another idea that seemed to resonate with residents gathered at the forum was Hawkins’ platform of strategic cuts within administrative departments and implementing best practices from other cities such as, New York City’s, 501(c) 3, which supplements Police, Fire and EMS Departments as an example of what he would do to lessen the financial burden of concerned West Orange taxpayers.

When the question about regionalized services came up, Parisi said that is a strategy that has been used before and outlined how the smaller towns would benefit more from such an arrangement. While Krakoviak and Roldolpho said they would try anything that would help relieve taxpayer burdens, Hawkins spoke pointedly about his experience as the Chairman of the Management Reform Committee for the NJ League of Municipalities. Hawkins said that although regionalization can work, he cautioned that residents should first have a complete understanding of all its nuances. He indicated that community forums might be used to familiarize residents with the concept.

High drama was saved for the end of the debate when each candidate was allowed to ask a single question of another candidate. Hawkins, Rodolfo and Krakoviak all turned their sights on Parisi and Prism—the developer of the Edison Factory site.  Krakoviak asked why the mayor would go against the will of the community and not allow the project to go to a referendum. Parisi’s answer was blunt… “I don’t believe in governing by referendum” he said.

When Krakoviak reminded Parisi that more than 2,500 residents signed a petition to have the decision go to a referendum Parisi reiterated his position. Rodolfo’s questioning of Parisi’s decision making was along the same lines as Krakoviak's.  However Eldridge Hawkins took a different approach. He question why the development had been halted stating that the litigation filed by town residents was over the $6.3Million bond slated for Prism. Hawkins further stated that other sources of revenue could be sought. Parisi offered no response.

Mayor Parisi pointed out to the (standing room only) crowd that during the early part of his administration he had to cut $2Million from the town’s budget and he took this moment in the debate to ask a single question of all three candidates. The question he asked was “how would you cut $2Million from the budget”?

Krakoviak’s response was consistent with many positions he’s taken on the town’s council. Hesaid, “I’d reduce wasteful spending,  that should amount to around $2Million". Rodolfo gave an answer that was less coherent to many in the audience but said he would continue to look for redevelopment opportunities down the bottom of the hill. Hawkins, again took an entirely different approach to answering the question. Hawkins indicated that cutting was only one part of a multi pronged approach to seeking tax relief. He said “why can’t we think out of the box and find alternative sources of funding like the 501(c)3 I spoke about”?

The mayoral debate that lasted just over two hours and provided some drama, theater and a bit of humor. Rodolfo stole the show when he commented that by the time Prisim starts the project they’ll need a permit to cut down the trees that have grown among the 6ft weeds—the audience roared.

This forum provided residents with a first time look at all of the candidates and an opportunity to have their questions asked and answered. Tonight it was clear to all in attendance that candidate Hawkins had command of the issues and presented himself as an alternative to Mayor Parisi. With just about three weeks remaining before election day, it seems Hawkins has taken this opportunity to move to the front of the pack. It would appear that the others, with such short time, have a mammoth job to catch up with Eldridge Hawkins, Jr., West Orange homegrown.

The debate was recorded and will be available on local access cable television.


Do you like this post?

Showing 4 reactions

commented 2014-10-17 03:37:59 -0700
Eric Dawson owns this domain. He just happens to be Candidate Hawkins’ communications director. Irony? I think not.
commented 2014-10-15 16:30:32 -0700
This is called Essex County Politics but doesn’t cover the entire Essex County and is very bias! Just call it what it is
commented 2014-10-15 13:03:17 -0700
Were you at the same debate as everyone else? This bogus take on the event doesn’t even come close to reporting in any sense of the word. The fact that you have two of the four candidates’ names spelled wrong speaks for itself.
commented 2014-10-15 09:42:29 -0700
This seems to be a very biased article, this is certainly not journalism or true reporting. That is fine as long as it so noted. “Essex County Politics”
if you are backing Hawkins come out and say it don’t insult your readers.