Interview with Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren

Monday, 18 April 2016 16:03 Dhiren Shah



Last week, Local Talk published interviews with Orange mayoral candidates Janice Morrell and East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley. Due to unforeseen circumstances, incumbent Mayor Dwayne Warren was unable to participate. However, we were eventually able to sit down with the mayor for an interview.

At a recent debate, Mayor Warren said that he is running for reelection because of his family and unfinished business. Out of fairness for the other candidates, the questions were adjusted to avoid any unfair advantage of an extra week and published content from his opponents.

Dhiren Shah: Welcome to this interview. Let's dive into the hot topic of Business Administrator Willis Edwards III.

Dwayne Warren: He came to the city by way of the council candidates that won in 2008. They brought him in, and indicated that they did not understand the municipal budget and other parts of the municipal government. They had him explain their position to the mayor about issues they had that they felt were important. They used his skills and benefited from them.

In looking at the New Jersey statute, it gives you the criteria for hiring someone, and you have to do it based on education and experience. He has experience at the Port Authority where he managed the budget. He had an undergraduate degree from William Paterson University and a master's in Municipal Finance from Columbia University. So he was well qualified for the job.

Members of the council didn't like him or his politics, or he wouldn't carry through on some of the agenda items they wanted, and so they voted against him for the BA position. They went to court, and the court decided he had to repay his money because he was not properly in the position. He's indicated to me that the issue is now under appeal.

DS: There was a settlement between the city of Orange and Mr. Edwards and yourself for him to resign. He was then appointed as Deputy Business Administrator, per an old statute (circa 1985). Why?

DW: I didn't enter into any settlement with the council. The litigation started when one judge ruled he should not be in the position, and then another judge overruled and said the legal procedure was not properly followed.

DS: Can you update us on the latest with the Business Administrator position?

DW: I put together a search committee. We're currently looking at resumes, and I'll abide by their recommendation and put that name before the city council.

DS: Do you know how long it will take?

DW: I asked them to move as quickly as possible. They're doing an exhaustive search, which will go beyond New Jersey. They are casting as wide a net as possible to get the best person.

DS: Are you running with a team or independent?

DW: There are 13 running for council. I've been approached by all of them to run with them because they like the direction we're taking the city. I'm running with Adrienne Wooton and Jeffrey Wingfield. There is a number of candidates seeking the third spot.

DS: What would you consider as your biggest success and failure as mayor?

DW: When you look at development, we've had the biggest development boom in decades. You look at children's programs and what we have for the summer. Certainly, the purchase of the YWCA as a rec center with the finance option that we don't have to pay any money; we got grant dollars to do it. It brought relief to many residents that we were able to pave some of the worst streets; there's still some more to go. We have a Double A bond rating, the top bond rating under Standard and Poor's index, and that certainly is a success.

The biggest failure is not communicating the successes to everybody out in the world, letting them the other priorities and successes we are building on.

DS: When you ran for mayor in 2012, you said that you would focus on lowering property taxes and improving public safety. Have you been successful on those fronts?

DW: Our approach on property taxes has been first to attract development of parcels that are underperforming and are not paying taxes into the city coffers, and we needed developers to do that. The next phase was to bring them in and implement a development plan where they start to build buildings and contribute to the economy. That is underway with the project we have completed, some are ongoing, and some looking for groundbreaking. The next phase now is to start the collection phase so that we can reduce taxes.

On public safety, we've hired eight more police officers. We hover around 102 officers. The key is officers on the street. Through a bond, we've acquired equipment and resources our police department needs. We have undertaken various strategies to combat crime. There has been better use of our camera system throughout the city. We worked hard to establish relationships with the sheriff's department, East Orange, and other towns about the gang violence issue. That really was the source behind the spike in crime. We're working with the others to bring them to justice.

DS: The board of education has dealt with several issues, from the computer hack to the firing of teacher Marylin Zuniga. Is there anything you can do, directly or indirectly, as mayor to improve the schools?

DW: As mayor, I can help to direct resources and make sure the students have what they need. I brought the governor to the City of Orange Township, and had him meet with our school officials. We're going to have an expansion of our high school and a gym at Cleveland Street. Those plans are now on the priority list for school construction. Also, the leaders have to be active and visible in the schools.

DS: What is the next big project your administration is looking to tackle?

DW: Highland Avenue and the Valley will receive a lot of attention as we seek to refurbish the Highland train station with a grant of $600,000. We're looking at what the environmental impact is going to be, with the station cleanup. We're going to have multimillion dollar development around the train station that will fuel the growth there. We're looking at Central Park, and the recreation for the children.

DS: Besides experience as the incumbent, what can you offer the citizens of Orange that your opponents in the upcoming election cannot?

DW: I've been an attorney advising municipal governments for the last 25 years. I've handled budgets, passed budgets, come through deficits. Those kinds of leadership skills are very important. The other thing that separates me from my opponents is that I'm accessible and available to the community. I don't just talk the talk. We need to see that kind of involvement and encouragement. I don't think any of the other candidates can do that. There's also my legislative experience. Being able to go to Washington D.C. or Trenton to get resources.

DS: Why is there so much negative campaigning?

DW: I've been in politics since 10 years old. I've come to learn that most negative campaigning comes because the one party that initiates it doesn't have a record. They don't have anything to stand on or a plan to present to the people. It's better that we have candidate forums and debates where we can stand up before the people and present our plans and ideas.

DS: During your tenure, how did you help local businesses?

DW: The first thing I did to promote local businesses is that I shop on Main Street. My family and I shop in the city of Orange. The other thing we have is our periodic sidewalk sales. I encourage our developers to use local suppliers and local merchants for their needs. We looking for façade improvement grants.

DS: The mayor's salary in Orange is $25,000. In my opinion, it is low. What is your opinion?

DW: If I was doing it for the money, I wouldn't be doing it long. It will go every year before the people, and the people will make a decision. That is not what motivates me. There is rich, huge and long potential for growth in Orange. If I can be the steward that makes that happen, that's what motivates me. I was okay before with the salary being that. That's not that big of a deal to us.

DS: Do you have any message for your constituents?

DW: At the polls, they have to look at qualifications, skill and experience. Those are the bottom line things you seek. They can walk though Orange and see the improvements going on, and that we need to continue. But I also stress to our residents as we initiate this campaign for public involvement that you get involved.

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