Selecting the person who will lead your town is a tough decision and should be—the biggest issues facing the country play out on the local level. This year’s mayoral candidates are Mitchell Brown, a physician and attorney, James Davis, incumbent mayor, and Jason O’Donnell, former Assemblyman, firefighter and Bayonne Public Safety Director. The winning candidate will need more than 50 percent of the vote to win. If no candidate reaches 50 percent, a runoff election will be held between the top two vote-getters.
Readers are encouraged to speak directly with the candidates, call their offices, tweet at them, and engage in any way they can. Meanwhile, the Bayonne Community News has been reporting for almost a year on the candidates, the issues, and what citizens demand from their leaders. Below is a synopsis of what you’ll need to know before you go to the polls.
Because local governments are responsible for funding public schools, the historically contentious issue of taxes is more prominent in local elections than in national ones.
Candidates this year are divided on tax issues that concern housing and development. Even if residents support new development, how will the new housing be financed?
Mayor Davis has employed payments-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) agreements for developers that create direct streams of revenue for the city over 15-30-year time frames. Normally, those who own property, or develop it, pay a local property tax based on the assessed value of the property – 40 percent of which goes to fund the local school district. In Bayonne, five percent of PILOT revenue is allocated for the school district, another five percent goes to the county, and 90 percent goes directly into the city coffers.
Jason O’Donnell argues that because PILOTs pay only five percent of the payments to the school district while serving to increase Bayonne’s population, the district’s resources will be further limited and could bring higher property taxes down the line. Davis, meanwhile, argues that closing the city’s structural deficit should take top priority. To a city in a $17 million structural deficit hole, the use of PILOTs to help plug the hole is a viable option but will have to pass muster with voters to continue.
Dr. Mitchell Brown, while supportive of development, has a different view than the other two candidates. While focusing on fiscal responsibility, Brown argues that too many resources are allocated to police and fire departments, shortchanging other initiatives.
Candidates disagree on what financial effect these redevelopment policies will have on Bayonne over time, what kinds of projects should be prioritized to receive the incentive, and what the developers’ responsibilities should be to the city’s education, infrastructure, and construction workers.
On these fiscal concerns, Davis says that you fix the structural deficit with development, O’Donnell argues that Davis has given out too many PILOTS to residential projects, and Brown claims that Davis has attracted low-level businesses that attract unskilled labor.
The biggest issues facing the country play out in local elections.
The city council proposed a change in parking rules to allow residents to legally park in front of their driveways with permits the council initially said would cost $50 per year, per household. They later cancelled the fee. In response, O’Donnell proposed a ten-point parking plan that poses solutions to longstanding parking problems.
O’Donnell has been a vocal opponent of driveway permits, supporting the current informal system in which residents trust neighbors to park only in front of their own driveways. His plan promotes public-private parking garages, such as the one behind Barnabas Health on Broadway, and a practice of requiring developers who cannot or do not meet parking requirements to pay into a fund for the city to purchase land for purposes of parking.
Davis’s proposals include introducing a mobile payment option for municipal parking and putting up more signage on the streets for drivers to find parking. Davis has relied on developers sticking to parking codes by constructing onsite parking, often in indoor garages on the premises.
Brown, who recognizes a need to curb commercial vehicles parked overnight and drivers with handicap placards occupying too much space on Broadway, has criticized his opponents for not doing enough to address parking issues in the past.
O’Donnell charges that the streets are dirtier than ever, encouraging the public to take pride in cleanliness and advocating for garbage cans on every block. Davis trumpets his clean up initiatives, such as the one on Earth Day, and vows to issue another referendum on side-street cleaning. Brown claims he doesn’t see a lot of dirt, but reiterates that some funds dedicated to police and fire could be better used to keep the city clean.
Public transit Davis takes credit for moving ferry transport forward, part of MOTBY development. O’Donnell charges that the ferry is too expensive for most residents, calls a proposed gondola “fantastical,” and promotes more capacity on the light rail. As mayor, Brown would commission studies to examine the issue.
Supporting local business
While O’Donnell touts better use of the UEZ, Brown counters that the UEZ is ineffective; he wants to impose higher standards on business owners to maintain the appearance of their buildings. Davis maintains that the development he’s championed will attract up-and-coming business people.
In a rare instance of agreement, Davis, O’Donnell, and Brown all concur that the contract with Suez Water needs to be renegotiated because of ever-rising water rates and that something needs to be done about the amount of plastic that’s clogging the city’s century-old sewage system.
Community engagement Davis continues to tout the Hometown Fair and the UEZ’s initiatives to beautify Broadway as efforts that will encourage public interaction. O’Donnell pushes programs that are sustainable all year round, and Brown proposes themed fairs, classes and adult education, and a functional community center. Davis supports the community-center concept but hasn’t been able to get funding or find public land.
Davis and O’Donnell are each running a slate of five city council candidates – one from the First, Second and Third Wards, and two at-large candidates. All five sitting council members are running on Davis’ slate, while a slew of newcomers has joined O’Donnell. Meanwhile, Zoning Board Chairman Mark Urban is running independently for Third Ward city council.
The Third Ward is the only ward in which three candidates are vying for the same seat, which requires more than 50 percent of the vote to win. If no candidate reaches 50 percent, a runoff election will be held.
While issues facing Bayonne affect every resident, each ward experiences those problems slightly differently. For instance, uptown residents in the Third Ward experience different parking issues that those of First Ward residents due to the many commuters from the west side of Bayonne and Staten Island flocking to the light rail stations. Meanwhile, many residents in the East Side neighborhood in the Second Ward have been vehemently vocal about their opposition to large-scale development in the neighborhood, which they fear could bring more traffic, increased parking problems, and a change in community culture.
The First Ward, which includes Bergen Point, has a whole other set of issues. For instance, the Bayonne Bridge construction project has negatively affected the quality of life in the construction area over the last few years. But Bergen Point is mostly looking ahead and considering how to maximize the use of the redesigned Dennis Collins Park. Potential for a linear park under the Bayonne Bridge also has residents excited.
The mayoral candidates have addressed many other issues, such as improving waste management and revitalizing parks and recreational facilities. Visit hudsonreporter.com. to check out past Bayonne Community News reporting on the election and to view the mayoral debate held at the Hudson Reporter office on April 10.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
To find your polling location and to follow live election results, call the Hudson County Board of Election at (201) 369-7740, visit its website at hudsoncountyclerk.org, or email email@example.com.
Hudsonreporter.com will be updating the website to reflect the most updated polling results.
Mayoral Candidate James Davis
Campaign office: 717 Broadway
Phone: (201) 858-6010
Facebook: Davis for Bayonne
The Davis Slate
2A: Incumbent mayor James Davis
4B: At-large candidate, Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, tech career
8C: First Ward candidate, Thomas Cotter, motorcycle rider
8C: Second Ward candidate, Sal Gullace, private contractor
10C: Third Ward candidate, Gary La Pelusa, proprietor of landscaping business
5B: At-large candidate, Juan Perez, former NJ State Trooper and Hudson County Sheriff
The O’Donnell Slate
1A: Mayoral candidate, Jason O’Donnell
7B: At-large candidate, Melissa Enriquez-Rada, realtor and insurance agent
9C: Second Ward candidate, Kevin Kuhl, proprietor of Kuhl’s Tavern
8C: Third Ward candidate, Matt Klimansky, National Guard veteran
9C: First Ward candidate, Sharma Montgomery, Air Force veteran
6B: At-large candidate, Dan Ward, educator and chair of BHS History Department
Campaign Office: 510 Broadway
Phone: (201) 858-8457
Facebook: Team O’Donnell
3A: Mayoral candidate, Mitchell Brown
Office: 758 Broadway
Independent Council Candidate 9C: Third Ward candidate, Mark Urban, Bayonne Zoning Board Chairman
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.