UNION COUNTY — Mark Martini is not the typical candidate vying for a seat on the Union County Freeholder Board and, quite frankly, he does not want to be.
As a one of three candidates challenging incumbents Linda Carter, Bette Jane Kowalski and the vacant seat left open by the resignation of former freeholder Daniel Sullivan, Martini, 48, of Westfield, has a slightly different philosophy about running for a seat on the board. Sergio Granados is the third Democrat running for a freeholder seat.
For starters, Martini does not claim to have all the answers or a fool proof plan for change. What he does have is an honest approach to opening a dialog on the board.
“I believe there should be accountability and checks and balances on the freeholder board,” said the candidate in an interview Friday, mentioning that right now, there is no one on the board challenging decisions.
For Martini that means getting elected so there is open debate on issues, not automatic approval down the line by Democrats.
“I don’t care what happened in the past. It’s really about delivering a very simple message to voters, which is how do you feel about 20 percent of your property tax dollars going to the county and not knowing what are you getting for it? I want voters to say ‘we need a guy like Mark Martini having a voice on the board and calling the freeholders into question when the issue is clouded or just does not seem right,’” the candidate said.
“When all is said and done, you need the door to be open slightly so there is another voice; one that speaks for taxpayers. One that is not the same as all the others,” Martini added.
Actually Martini always considered himself an independent and not affiliated with any particular party.
“I have never been hung up on political party affiliation and for this campaign it does not matter if you are a Democrat or Republican. What matters is that your interests as a Union County resident are being represented and served,” he said, adding that since 1997, the board has been managed by a “one party, one rule” reign.
“It’s been 15 years of increased taxes, borrowing and spending without and eye towards fiscal responsibility,” the candidate explained. So how is Martini different from all the others that tried to unseat the Democrats over the last 15 years?
“I think instead of being adversarial, I can create a healthy debate,” he said, noting he has approached his campaign in a way that looks at both sides of the issues, not just one. He also is quite honest when it comes to discussing how things unfolded, leading to him agreeing to run for a freeholder seat.
Actually, he said, when the Union County Republican party approached him about running, he confessed he had little knowledge about the board. Like many residents, he knew little about county government or the role freeholders play.
“My response was the same as most voters: what is a freeholder and what do they do?” Martini said, explaining that after receiving a quick lesson informing him this board, elected at large, performs both legislative and executive functions for the operation of the county, his interest was definitely peaked.
From that point Martini researched more on what the board does, as well as looking into issues that surfaced since the freeholders have maintained a political stronghold for 15 years.
While many would agree that fighting for a seat on a board that has kept out any challengers for the last 15 years is quite a chore, Martini chuckled at that notion.
As the father of 15-year-old triplets and 12-year-old twins from his first marriage, along with the new addition in June of bride Kathryn and her 12-year-old daughter, there is not much that can ruffle this candidate’s feathers. In fact, he said once you have multiples, not much takes you by surprise.
Subsequently he learned the art of negotiation as a father and through his work, which involved both the public and private sector over the years.
As a New Jersey native who graduated from Villanova University and Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Martini has over 20 years experience in the private sector holding significant leadership positions in the finance industry at prominent banks.
He also has legislative and legal experience in the public sector, including performing roles for the Massachusetts House of Representatives, senate, district attorney, attorney general’s office and New Jersey State Assembly.
When this candidate is asked how he intends to accomplish rolling back taxes, empower municipalities and send more property tax revenue to schools, he is very aware that should he get elected to the board, that job will not be easy.
However difficult the job may be, he is aware of where the county stands now and of where it should be.
“The most sensitive touch point for Union County residents is our property taxes and how they are being spent,” he added, pointing out that a study by Forbes determined the county is on a short list of counties that share the title of having the highest property taxes in the United States.
Martini would like to see that change and he is ready to hit the ground running.
“I will fight to roll back and cut county taxes and empower the 21 towns in our county to manage our property tax revenue for our schools and local services, ensuring our children are better educated and safe,” said the candidate.
With the election just weeks away, Martini said he has been visiting all 21 municipalities in the county, and listening to what residents have to say. Most, he said, are concerned about rising taxes. He has had coffee with blue collar workers in Elizabeth, lunch with residents at a diner and attended forums where he discussed the issues facing not only the county, but every municipality.
Although many were Democrats, he was somewhat taken aback that they also want someone on the freeholder board to ensure there are checks and balances.
“I’m hearing that all over and it came as a surprise. I hope all these people come out and vote on Election Day because that is the only way change can come about,” said Martini.