By frank Capece
Sylvia Weisbrot as usual had the best seat in Union on Monday evening. As an official time keeper for the League of Women Voters local debates over the past thirty years, the Linden resident has performed the very necessary task of keeping time and waving the different colored cards to keep the candidates on schedule.
On Monday night in Union, the crowd of 90 or so residents saw three impressive candidates speak about the future of their community. The event faced the competition of National League baseball playoffs, the final Presidential debate and Monday night football. Myrna Wasserman, the moderator from the League, also brought forth a far more pressing problem — the evening’s TV tape would run out at 8:30 p.m.
The debate helped to present some different views and even a few surprises. Anthony Terrezza, the veteran Democrat, was pretty spunky. He outlined the improvements to the athletic fields, library construction and the attraction of new jobs mostly from the relocation of the corporate center of Bed Bath and Beyond. Terrezza estimated 3,000 new jobs in total have been brought into the community.
Republican newcomer Christopher Hackett faced the double challenge of facing two seasoned incumbents and the community’s Democratic voting trends. Still, he shared a strong knowledge of the budget issues and hammered home the weakness in the perceived decline of the downtown, historically a strength of the community.
Democrat Manuel Figuierdo finishing his first term promoting the tax abatement program and recent growth in the downtown. He has the ability to make the subject of infrastructure needs actually interesting. On the downside, his maddening repetition that in most areas Union was “second to none” in delivery of services cried out for some fact checking.
To the credit of the participants, there were some interesting new aspects. Hackett, with a little too much emphasis, spoke of the need for a shuttle service between Kean University and the downtown to increase foot traffic.
It fell to Terrezza to bring a dose of reality regarding Kean University as a neighbor. He pointed out they don’t pay real taxes, only a far smaller contribution known as in lieu of taxes. A sore spot for Terrezza is the failure of the University to keep making the payments on a promised fire truck.
The power of incumbency was used effectively by the Democrats. They cited street pavings, new soccer fields, and improved tennis courts that have occurred. As former Mayor Ed Koch in New York would say “If I am blamed for problems, I should get the credit for the results.”
It was Hackett’s task to set forth the argument that one party domination should not be accepted. He drew a sharp distinction in stating he would end the SID special tax on the downtown merchants. He joined with his opponents in pledging no cuts to senior or youth recreation.
At the end of the evening, the League members thanked the three participants for an effective exchange of views. On that point, the League was spot on. Elected officials in Union make $16,550 and the Mayor $19,000. That’s a hefty amount. Still, when Terrezza points out the garbage costs remain inside the tax bill in Union and not a separate bill, that’s impressive. While there can be debate whether the township is always second to none, the drop of 8 percent in crime is a big plus.
Taking on incumbents in a Democratic town is a tough task for Hackett. Still, his informed participation along with two experienced incumbents still running for elective office should make the town proud. Weisbrot and friends helped us all to see that fact last Monday.