ROSELLE, NJ — Residents in the borough of Roselle are closely watching this year’s municipal primary in June, four Democratic candidates are running for two council seats — two for a single seat in the 3rd Ward and two for a seat in the 1st Ward.
Candidates for 3rd Ward council seats are incumbent Andrea Staten and Cynthia Johnson, current vice chair of the Roselle Zoning Board.
The 1st Ward candidates are Richard Villeda, a Hillside Board of Education member who is running on Staten’s ticket, and Roselle Planning Board member Denise Wilkerson, who is running on Johnson’s ticket.
Both Staten and Villeda have the support of the Roselle Democratic Committee, including state Assemblyman Jamel Holley and Roselle Councilman at-Large and Roselle Democratic Municipal Chairman Reginald Atkins, who are both members.
The Roselle Democratic Committee will also field a full slate of county committee candidates in the June primary.
Staten was appointed to the Borough Council in 2014 following the death of former Councilman Randy Sandifer and was elected to a full term later that year.
During her time on the council, Staten has focused on youth recreation programs and public park improvements and initiatives. She works in the mortgage banking industry and has lived in Roselle for more than 20 years.
Johnson, a Roselle resident for 16 years, is a retired Union County corrections officer and has been involved with the Roselle Democrats for 13 years. A small business owner, Johnson has been a community activist and is a member of the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
Re-elected to the BOE last year, Villeda would become the first Hispanic member of the Roselle Borough Council, if elected. He works as a supervisor at an industrial company and has been a Roselle resident for nearly 15 years.
Wilkerson is the CEO and founder of Abounding Women Community Outreach Inc., a women’s empowerment organization, as well as a longstanding community advocate. She is the third vice president of the National Council of Negro Women’s Roselle chapter, as well as the corresponding secretary for the NAACP Roselle Area Branch.
Staten told LocalSource that during her time on the council, she has worked closely with her colleagues to keep the community moving forward.
“Together, we have been able to upgrade our parks and recreation facilities, improve public safety and community trust with new police body cameras and keep property taxes stable,” Staten said in an April 16 email. “I plan to continue working for the best interests of our community as a council member.”
Johnson told LocalSource she would bring much-needed balance to the council.
“I would bring diversity, which would recover a balance on the council,” Johnson said in a recent phone interview. “I would hold the council accountable and bring fiscal responsibility back.”
Villeda believes that, as a member of the school board, he has an understanding of the needs of community residents.
“I have a strong understanding of how to represent the people of Roselle and do what’s best for them,” Villeda told LocalSource in an April 16 email. “Our district is making excellent strides in improving curriculum, creating great new programs and increasing college acceptances for our students and we have done it all while keeping property taxes stable. I will bring that same focus on delivering for the taxpayers to the Borough Council.”
Wilkerson said that her more than 20 years of business experience would serve the borough well.
“I have a long history of management experience, so I have the know-how to manage borough resources and staff,” Wilkerson told LocalSource in an April 22 email. “I work well with others. I have been on many committees, technology development projects and more, so I understand the importance of working well with others to achieve a common goal. I am always professional and I would represent the residents of the 1st Ward with dignity and professionalism.”
According to Staten, one of the most important borough initiatives is the development of the Mind and Body Complex, a $56 million community center and school facility which broke ground last week.
“I plan to continue working with the Borough Council to make sure this amazing project keeps moving forward,” Staten said. “Our community deserves this new addition and the Borough Council is working to make it happen. Also, I plan to continue upgrading our parks and public property, such as the new turf renovations to our football field.”
Johnson said that if elected, she will focus her efforts on infrastructure, cost-effectiveness and public safety.
“My campaign is going to focus solely on putting community first,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s stabilizing taxes to economic growth to improving programs, it’s all going to be about enhancing our community. That’s what matters most.”
Villeda hopes, if elected, to bring members of the Hispanic community into the process of governing.
“This will give me a unique opportunity to get more Hispanic residents involved and engaged in local government,” he said. “I plan to work to reach out to this community and all the people of Roselle as a council member. I also believe in improving our 1st Ward business district and have a vision for advancing the Sheridan Ave./East 2nd Avenue Streetscape project to make the area more attractive to potential shoppers and customers.”
Wilkerson said she will focus on affordability, infrastructure, safety issues and community engagement.
“I will work to stabilize taxes so Roselle can be more affordable for residents,” she said. “It is getting harder and harder for families to stay in their homes. I will also continue to make infrastructure improvements in the 1st Ward a priority, especially making sure our roads are maintained well.”
Wilkerson also noted that the 1st Ward has a high incidence of accidents in specific areas that must be addressed.
“I’ll be bringing traffic safety issues to the forefront,” she said. “We need to reduce risks in these areas so that our residents are safe. I also want to work with residents and utilize borough assets to keep the 1st Ward clean.”
According to Staten, issues of public safety and police-community relationships have been a challenge throughout the country, including in the borough.
“In Roselle, we have taken steps to improve this situation through community policing programs like Coffee With a Cop, and most recently we have started a body camera program for our police officers to increase accountability and trust,” she said.
Housing affordability and economic growth are issues that Johnson said she will take on immediately.
“We need to do something about the issue of so many foreclosures in Roselle,” Johnson said. “We need to enhance the potential for Roselle for commercial ratables, as well as retail and industrial properties. We need to put the interests of Roselle taxpayers first.”
According to Villeda, economic development has been a challenge for the borough.
“But it is also an opportunity,” he said. “I plan to work to continue bringing more redevelopment initiatives to Roselle to bring more energy and excitement to the borough while also creating new tax revenue.”
High taxes is an issue Wilkerson said she will address, if elected.
“Roselle taxes are punishingly high, especially considering the mean gross income of its families,” Wilkerson said. “The tax rate is over 8 percent. Current residents cannot afford to stay in their homes and homebuyers are bypassing Roselle, all because of the high taxes. We have to find a way to stabilize taxes.
That means we have to find ways to be more efficient in everything we do.”
Wilkerson said she hopes to create a sensible balance of incentives to attract businesses to the borough, as well as having those businesses pay their fair share of taxes.
The primary election will be June 6.