Four candidates are seeking to fill the state Assembly seat vacated by the August resignation of Anthony Chiappone in the 31st District. The winner of the Nov. 2 special election will serve until a new assemblyman is sworn in after next year’s regular election.
Chiappone was forced to resign after pleading guilty to one count of violating the state’s campaign finance laws.
In September, Democratic Committee members of the 31st District voted to name Bayonne resident Jason O’Donnell to fill the seat until Nov. 2, and also to run as their candidate in the special election. The 31st District includes all of Bayonne and slightly more than half of Jersey City.
O’Donnell is being challenged by Democratic independents Robert Mays and Denis Wilbeck, both of Bayonne, and Republican Joseph Turula of Jersey City.
“It’s fine to set up an office and provide constituent service, but you have to get out and meet people.” – Jason O’Donnell
As a follow up, all four candidates agreed to answer some additional questions about issues they are likely to confront if elected on Nov. 2
Turula: a supporter of small business
As a Republican in a predominantly Democratic Hudson County, Turula is something of a stranger in a strange land – although he is no stranger to the political theater. A partner in the Jersey City law firm of Garcia & Turula, he previously served six years on the Pompton Lakes council, and currently lives in Jersey City.
In 2008, he was selected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Turula unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Albio Sires in the 2008 election.
Turula said he wants to remove the burden small businesses face in this state, noting that they are victims of high taxes while at the same time being the largest generator of jobs in the state.
“In a good year, a small business might make as much as $500,000 and then has to pay 9 percent taxes on it,” he said.
This punishes mom and pop stores for doing well, he said, and he would try to find incentives to reward them instead.
He feels regulations are onerous, and though Turula said he supports programs that benefit the environment, approvals for development must be streamlined so that projects can move ahead promptly.
How to stay in touch with local needs is one of the big challenges a legislator faces, and Turula said he would meet with the public as often as possible to hear their concerns.
But his role, he said, would be to come up with ways of helping municipalities keep costs down and as an assemblyman, he will have to make tough choices between balancing these against the ability of taxpayers to pay for them. He said the state has too many municipalities, not in Hudson County so much as elsewhere, something that needs to be addressed. So does the impact of unpaid-for state mandates that raise local taxes.
Turula said the state needs to change drastically.
“What went before isn’t working, and it has become progressively worse, so we have to do something else,” he said.
A supporter of many policies proposed by Republican Gov. Christopher Christie, Turula believes that a Republican elected to the state assembly in a historically Democratic county such as Hudson can only benefit the county.
“It wouldn’t be a bad thing for me to have the governor’s ear,” he said.
Denis F. Wilbeck: another choice
A retired vice principal in the Bayonne School District, Wilbeck hopes to use his contacts with local families to help him represent them in the district. The president of the Hudson County Scholastic Association and other groups, he said he has experience in both cities.
A candidate for City Council earlier this year, Wilbeck said public officials should always be accessible to the public, which is why he gives people his business card with his address, email, and cell phone number. His goal is to open up government to the people.
He said keeping the city affordable for people to raise families here is the most important issue.
How to reach the public and get their input is a challenge for public officials on a state level, but he said he has been meeting with senior citizens, and said people talk to him all the time on the street and supermarkets.
He said his role as an assemblyman would be to find solutions, working in conjunction with local leaders.
“I might not know how to fix a problem, but I would find out,” he said.
While reducing waste in government, Wilbeck said local government can also be a tool for training young adults for future jobs, such as using the school districts to provide apprentice opportunities in the inner city and elsewhere in order to teach people about working.
Small businesses are not helped by developing mega malls, he said, and said as an assemblyman he would work to find ways to help the smaller stores in existing shopping districts.
Although a Democrat, Wilbeck said he believes many of the things Republican Gov. Christopher Christie is doing must be done – such as downsizing government in order to make it run more efficiently – so that people on fixed incomes such as senior citizens can afford to live here, and people are not taxed out of their homes. He said he is also opposed to mandates that raise local taxes.
Wilbeck said the city has been spending more than it takes in, and the bulk of the cost is put on the shoulders of seniors and other long time residents who can least afford to pay ever rising taxes.
“People are working two jobs with a lot more of their income going to taxes,” he said.
Jason O’Donnell: the incumbent – sort of
Because he currently occupies the assembly seat, O’Donnell is considered the incumbent. He also serves as the public safety director for the City of Bayonne, and this is the first time he is running for public office.
Endorsed by a prominent state wide business association made up of banks, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies, O’Donnell said that businesses have to deal with too much red tape, often causing unnecessary delays and thus money and jobs. A one-time owner of a small business, he said, he is very in touch with those concerns.
“Paperwork dominates a person’s day,” he said.
New Jersey used to be the top state for innovation, he said, but it has fallen to third in the nation partly because of state budget cuts. He said he would work to encourage innovative companies to team up with universities in the state.
A strong supporter of green technology, O’Donnell said these industries are very time sensitive. So he would work to clear through red tape so they could do business in this state.
Reaching the public to find out what is on their minds is a matter of going out and meeting them, O’Donnell said, which means going to meetings of seniors and other groups, and collecting information first hand.
“It’s fine to set up an office and provide constituent services, but you have to get out and meet people,” he said.
In his opinion, an assembly person represents those people in the district the way a council person does a ward, and is charged with bringing those concerns to the state.
He said while he agrees with Gov. Christie on the need to change the way government works, he believes the governor is looking for short term solutions at the risk of hurting future growth.
“We both want to see what’s best of the state, but I think the governor is shortsighted on some issues,” he said. “While I believe we need to change the way government does business, we can’t balance the budget on the backs of our children, disabled, and senior citizens.”
One area where many Democrats and Republicans agree is on eliminating unfunded mandates to municipalities, and he said he foresees legislation passing to restrict such mandates.
Robert E. Mays – seeks jobs
Unavailable at the time of publication, Mays said during a recent online video interview at www.hudsonreporter.com that his primary concern was bringing jobs to the district, and that he would work well with Gov. Christie to bring jobs to local residents.
A 2004 graduate of New Jersey City University, Mays works in the alternate school program in the Jersey City school system. He is a former aide to State Sen. Sandra Cunningham and the chairman of Democrats for Chris Christie during the 2009 gubernatorial election.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.