The candidates for the 2nd Ward seat on the Weehawken Township Council, incumbent Rosemary Lavagnino and challenger Karen Brady, both understand that they are running for the seat that is probably the most representative of township’s future. With the Roseland Properties’ Port Imperial South development project already underway along the waterfront, and a proposed revitalization of Park Avenue in the works, the 2nd Ward is an area that will face major change in the coming years. Both candidates feel that they are the most qualified to bring the Second Ward through the period of transition.
Lavagnino maintains that her lifelong resident status and experience serving the last four years as the 2nd Ward councilwoman give her the upper hand. Brady, who maintains that she is not a politician, believes that she has the best interests of the community in mind.
Here are some of the excerpts of their participation in the Council Candidates’ Forum held at the offices of the Weehawken Reporter recently:
Question 1: Please tell us what experience you have to hold this position and why you are the best qualified candidate.
Brady “The experience I bring, in a large part, comes from working for seven years at Columbia University, which is the second largest employer in New York City. In fact, the total is close to the population of Weehawken [around 12,000]. I had to handle many different situations, a lot of negotiations, and I was able to achieve my goals. I worked in a business school with professors and I became an expert in my field in the communication, in paying attention to detail. I was very successful at my job. That’s my prime qualification. I’ve also lived in Weehawken for the last 20 years.”
Lavagnino: “I’ve lived in Weehawken all my life. My parents and grandparents also lived here, so I’m third generation. I learned to ride my bike in Hamilton Plaza, so I’m committed to preserving that view. Since I was passionate about that view, I was asked to become a member of the Planning Board. I served on many different committees, involving issues that concerned the town. I established a reputation and credibility that enabled me to join Mayor Turner as councilwoman four years ago.”
Brady: “I certainly think that civic responsibility has its value. I’ve reached out to my neighbors, to understand their values and backgrounds, and to become in touch with their needs and concerns. In terms of the [Hudson-Bergen] Light Rail that is coming to Weehawken, I don’t think the current administration has done anything with pedestrians in mind. We need more access.”
Lavagnino: “I stand by my record. Karen has only been involved in the last couple of weeks. For 20 years, Karen has enjoyed the fruits of my labor.”
Question 2: One of the biggest challenges at stake is the revitalization of Park Avenue, the plans to restore the Weehawken Water Tower, and the plans to have a joint agreement between Weehawken and Union City strictly to help the Park Avenue district. What is your opinion of how important Park Avenue’s revitalization is to the township?
Lavagnino: “The Park Avenue section is not only vital to Weehawken; it is vital to Hudson County. It is the gateway to north Hudson. To many, it’s the first impression people have when they leave the Lincoln Tunnel. The Turner administration has tremendous interest in Park Avenue, but to begin with, there was no money and you can’t do much with no money. But we looked at Park Avenue and realized that this part of the town could improve. We repaved the sidewalk and planted 35 trees. We redid the streetscape to give it a visually better look. But we still wanted to do more and we’re doing more. We received $1 million in a Community Block Development Grant to restore the Water Tower, both inside and outside. We’ve been able to offer affordable housing in the area. As Park Avenue is concerned, we have to have two town centers, both upland and on the waterfront. We can’t make Park Avenue look like Washington Street in Hoboken and we don’t plan to do that. But we want to have more businesses come.”
Brady: “As a candidate, I realize the importance of Park Avenue’s revitalization. But I have to question why it took so long to do anything. I question the statement of having no money. We should have created public discussion on it and that’s the one thing that is lacking in this town. Most of the discussions are held without getting the input of the town. The residents should have a say of what kind of store or restaurant they would want on Park Avenue. Maybe people could fill out a survey and we could create something as a result of discussions and surveys. I also question this issue of how grants were used to create affordable housing. I’ve heard a lot of stories where people tried to get into affordable housing but were denied, but others who got in right away. There are a lot of favors being paid and I’d like to see that changed. We need to restore balance. We need more public discussions.”
Lavagnino: “They have no context to what they say. Surveying the residents about what they want on Park Avenue would be a disaster. You’d have businesses there that the area can’t support. The demographics of the neighborhood would have to support it. And there is certain criteria that needs to be met for someone to live in affordable Section 8 housing. You don’t apply. You don’t sign up.”
Brady: “I stand by my statement that some people have been pushed ahead of others on sign-up sheets for affordable housing. That’s what some people told me in reaching out to the public.”
Question 3: Describe what you feel are the best qualities about Weehawken and the ones that need improvement. How can you, as an elected official, insure the best quality of life? How important of an issue is the quality of life?
Brady: “The quality of life is very important. I know many people who moved to Weehawken because they loved the small town charm. When they get off the bus coming home from work, it’s quiet, peaceful. There’s no racket. However, I’ve seen a lot of changes over the last 20 years, like the waterfront development. I’ve seen parking become difficult. Traffic and parking are big quality of life issues and they need attention. The current existing parking regulations have to be reviewed. The development of the waterfront is going to bring about dramatic changes. A lot of people don’t even know what’s going on down there. There’s a hotel, a conference center. What else? People are shocked to hear how many buildings will go in such a small area. We need access, not just that stairway. And that stairway should be maintained better. In terms of crime, someone in my neighborhood had their tires slashed. We should know when these things are happening. We don’t know now. We should form community watches and inform the residents.”
Lavagnino: “We do already have community watches now. People are informed about what goes on. We just sent out fliers about a rash of burglaries. People feel so safe in town that they kept their windows open, so we sent out notification. We’re prudent about that. I remember a few years ago, when people said that development on the waterfront was going to be a disaster and we got Lincoln Harbor. Is that a disaster? We were going to have 3,000 people coming to tie up traffic. But 35 percent of PaineWebber’s employees have to use mass transit. The waterfront development will improve our situation and we’ve preserved the views.”
Brady: “There are many houses in town where parking is a major issue. These houses don’t have a driveway, so the residents ask, ‘Where can I park?’ More people move in, so things become more congested.”
Lavagnino: “There are no viable solutions to the parking situation. The majority of homes are multi-family, with the potential of having three to six cars per home. What can we do? Tell people they can’t have a car? We’ve managed the parking and the traffic as best as possible.”
Question 4: Easily the biggest issue and most controversial topic around town is the Roseland Properties’ Port Imperial South development along the waterfront. What is your view on this development project and your views on other possible development in town?
Lavagnino: “This development is a benefit to the town. The zoning is in place, the master plan has been updated and renovated. But the opposing team sued the town even if they knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on. The suit was knocked down at the superior and appellate courts. It received approval from the DEP and EPA. They say that they’re worried about the views. I live on Boulevard East. Do you think I would want something that would devalue my view? If there was a building that was going to block my view, it wasn’t going to happen while I was councilwoman. Building on the cliff face is prohibited, but they’re saying that it can happen. We reduced a lot of the density. We’ve been working on this project since 1998, with more than 50 meetings. How would Karen know? She’s never been to a meeting. The whole project was reduced by 30 percent.”
Brady: “WIN is not against development. We want smart development. We don’t want to create a monstrosity there. I wish my opponent would get her facts straight. I am not a member of the FWW [Friends of the Weehawken Waterfront] and have never been. The FWW sued the town. WIN didn’t. If you read their [Roseland Properties] description of the project, they say that they have $1 million homes, but they don’t even include the word ‘Weehawken’ in their literature. There’s going to be a wall of townhouses. The only way the view won’t be affected is if you go right up to the cliff. There won’t be access down there. It’s just not a good development.”
Lavagnino: “As far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t have to be a member of FWW. The leader of their group [Dr. Ben Goldman] is. There won’t be a wall of buildings. There will be access, right to the waterfront.”
Brady: “Our group does not have a leader. We are five people with different opinions and agendas. But we all feel that it’s time for a change in Weehawken and that time is now, with the development a major issue.” Profiles Second Ward
Name: Rosemary Lavagnino Ticket: Weehawken and You
Age: Not provided
Occupation: Financial Consultant
Marital Status: Single
Educational Background: B.A. Arts, Literature, Rutgers College; graduate study in Economics and Accounting; Rutgers School of Planning and Public Policy.
Previous Political Experience: Councilwoman, Township of Weehawken, 1998-2002.
Years Residing in Weehawken: Entire life
Name: Karen Brady Ticket: WIN (Weehawken Initiative Now)
Occupation: Corporate and Foundation Grant Writer, St. Vincent’s Hospital, New York
Marital Status: Husband, Alan
Educational Background: B.A. Columbia University
Previous Political Experience: Answered “Not a politician”
Years Residing in Weehawken: 20 years