Interview with Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss

Friday, 05 September 2014 16:06 Local Talk News Editor


The city of Irvington has undergone a powerful transformation. For years, Wayne Smith was in charge. However, the voters have now put Tony Vauss at the helm to move Irvington in a new direction. Recently, Local Talk sat down with Irvington's new mayor.

Dhiren Shah: You have been in Irvington for little while now. What is the biggest adjustment you have made so far?

Tony Vauss: Trying to get our house in order. Getting everyone up to speed and at a level that our employees are feeling good about the town and direction we are going in, and trying to get our plans together. One of the things I like to say is, "It's best to plan, then prepare, then perform." We're in the planning stages.

DS: How has your experience as a district leader and assistant director of neighborhood services helped you as mayor?

TV: It gives you a familiarity with the town. I live here, I grew up here, I went to school here, and I've worked here. So it gives a lot of insight into things going on in the town that some overlook. I have insight on what some of the issues are and what some of the problems are. At the same time, knowing the community, knowing the problem areas, areas in need of help. It gives you a better insight on those things.

DS: In the short term, you have tackled potholes and implemented a quality of life task force. In the future, you want to stabilize property taxes. However, are there any other issues you seek to rectify immediately?

TV: Everything is interconnected. Tackling some of the most pressing issues - like potholes for one - the crime was definitely one of those issues, and cleaning up our streets. I campaigned on the motto of making our streets clean and safe and that's what we've been trying to do since day one. Because we can't do anything, we can't stabilize taxes, we can't deal with redevelopment, and we can't deal with any of these other things until two issues are addressed first. So that has been the main focus of my administration.

DS: As someone who served on the board of education, have you been able to forge a partnership with the board to improve education in the city?

TV: Absolutely. We've met with the board of education on several issues already. One of the issues is shared services. We have three government agencies in town, the housing authority, the public schools, and the municipality. We each spend money for some of the same items. So, we're trying to better utilize our resources so that we can provide more for our residents as well as our students here in the township of Irvington. We can have more money for programs, more money for educational programs and supplies, so on and so forth. It starts by us being able to utilize our resources together.

DS: How much does the board of education receive?

TV: The tax levy is separated by municipal, county, and board of education. I think right now they get about $17 million from the levy, and I definitely support it going to the board of education.

DS: What is the biggest issue in the city right now?

TV: Quality of life. This includes the streets being clean and safe. That's one of the things we've been lacking and trying to address.

DS: Who has been your main ally so far in making Irvington better?

TV: The residents of Irvington, who have been very supportive and elected me to serve, overwhelmingly. They've been my main ally in trying to bring Irvington back to a place where we know it can be.

DS: For years, Wayne Smith was in charge of the city. What do you feel is his greatest achievement?

TV: I think Wayne Smith is a very knowledgeable person. He had a lot of great ideas about how to move the township forward. I think we all come into a situation where we're looking to do something better for our community; it's just which route we take. I really don't have a greatest achievement, or a greatest fault either. I believe he did the best that he could do under the circumstances.

DS: With the tension concerning Chief Chase and the community, how would you improve the relationship between the Police Department and residents?

TV: That's one of the things we've been focused on. When we talk about being safe, it involves the police officers interacting with the community, residents, and businesses. When I did the executive order for park and walk, it puts police officers on the streets, into stores, going to homes introducing themselves, trying to forge a relationship we haven't seen in a very long time.

DS: How is your relationship with neighboring towns?

TV: We have great relationships. As a matter of fact, we had a meeting with the mayor of Maplewood a couple of weeks ago about shared services. We're putting together something with the mayor of Newark about our border patrols. I have a good relationship with a friend of mine, Lester Taylor, the mayor of East Orange. He actually worked as an attorney for the school district when I was there. Mayor Parisi of West Orange actually came down and walked a health campaign with me. I did meet with Mayor Warren in Orange and we shared some ideas, and I met with Mayor Angela Garretson of Hillside. I had relationships with most of them prior to becoming mayor. We can only build on those relationships.
It's a new time, it's a new age, where people are electing young new mayors in most of these municipalities. We all have great relationships, and we can learn from each other. None of us have all the answers. We can ask questions, we can talk to each other, and we can get ideas on how to improve all of our municipalities, and that's what it's really about.

DS: What do you feel is the city's biggest asset in acquiring businesses?

TV: The location. Irvington is strategically located. You can get to anywhere from Irvington. We have the Parkway, 78, 22, 280, Turnpike, the airport is minutes away. I think strategically our location is Irvington's greatest asset along with our people.

DS: How can you improve the commercial zone and ease parking constraints?

TV: We've went into two phases. We've looked at our parking garage on Nye Avenue, putting together a plan to have some of our commercial people utilize that. Also, we've looking to utilize the parking lot between Orange Avenue and Smith Street so we can take care of some of the congestion. We want Irvington to be the type of place where you can come, eat, shop, spend money so we can generate revenue. We want to address that head on, and those are some of the issues we are already looking at.

DS: Where do you see Irvington in five years?

TV: I have an outlook that we've been able to clean up our streets, bring back the pride. We've been able to make Irvington safer. With that, we can build on things like stabilizing taxes, redevelopment, and so forth. I want people to start taking pride in their community. The thing we have to change most is the perception. Irvington is not the way some people portray it to be.

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