RAHWAY, NJ — In a public rally at Rahway River Park on Saturday, Oct. 24, “Column A” Republican Freeholders met with leaders of the popular Coalition to Save Rahway Park, who encouraged their fellow members and supporters to vote “Column A” in the upcoming county election on Thursday, Nov. 3.
“We want people to consider that we don’t have a voice on the Freeholder board, and we need one,” said Leigh Daniel, a member of the Coalition, who had previously said the organization’s leaders didn’t want to become overtly political. “That changed, because we realized we need representation on the Freeholder board. Now we’ve met, we’ve conversed, and we have their endorsement.”
The Coalition’s concerns with the Rahway River Park proposal, engineered by the all-Democratic Board of Chosen Freeholders, are well-documented. The $5 million project would add 1,200-seat bleachers, several pavilions, a press box and more in the middle of the park, violating its “passive recreation” status, according to Coalition members.
They also have problems with the turf field, potential changes to animal habitats, degradation of water quality, and an increase in light and noise pollution. The Board of Chosen Freeholders has heard these arguments on many occasions, in public meetings and elsewhere, and at one point compromised with the scope of the project, lowering the proposal’s number of bleachers from 5,000 to 1,200.
But the Board members aren’t showing any signs of scaling back the project further, let alone putting it on hold in response to residents’ concerns, said Coalition member Scott Aruta. In contrast, said Aruta, the Republican candidates have spent plenty of time going door-to-door in towns like Rahway and Cranford. They understand how significant this issue is to local residents, added Aruta, and were receptive to a dialogue with the Coalition to hear their concerns.
“I wanted to thank these guys for coming out and taking the time, for their last-minute campaigning, to meet with us, so that we could share our ideas and concerns with them. This is something the freeholders have never done,” said Aruta. “We’ve been going to meetings with them for a year, always with 20 or 30 or 40 people, expressing our concerns, our objections and the facts of this field.”
The Coalition’s e-petition against the proposal, which is on www.change.org, has more than 4,800 votes as of press time. And the number one issue in towns such as Rahway and Cranford is the Rahway River Park proposal, “which is what brought us here,” said Republican Freeholder candidate Rene Dierkes.
“Most of the people here today see a park that’s supposed to be nature, it’s supposed to be trees. They’re going to take down trees. A park is to be green and grass. They’re going to take away green grass here — a park is not artificial,” said Dierkes. “This is a place where people come and play, you can see that right now, there’s loads of people here. There’s a couple that was just sitting on the grass, just eating their sandwich. That’s what a park is supposed to be, and that’s what they’re taking away.”
If elected to three-year terms, the Republicans would still be the minority party on the Board of Chosen Freeholders, outnumbered 6-3. But it would send a message to their Democratic Board members that “there is a consequence to not listening to the public,” said Dierkes, and that the 2016 election season isn’t so far away.
“The freeholders’ attitude has been ‘if you don’t like it, vote us out.’ That’s what we’re doing. We’re meeting with their opposition, to get a feeling with where they stand on our issues, and we’re looking to look them in the eye and get a feeling for their integrity and their character,” said Scott. “We’re pleased with what’s happened here today.”