No minced words among council-at-large candidates Weehawken’s first full municipal election in 12 years brings out a host of issues

For the first time in 12 years, a full-fledged municipal election will take place May 14 in the township of Weehawken, with all three of the ward council seats and the two at-large seats contested.

In Weehawken’s form of government, five council people will be elected, and from among themselves they will choose a mayor.

Since Mayor Richard Turner took the oath of office in 1990, he has never faced an opponent in a municipal election, until now. Turner has gained re-election three times, running unopposed for a council at-large seat each time. Only incumbent council members Louis Ferullo (in 1994) and Robert Sosa (in 1998) have faced opposition in an election.

The incumbent Weehawken and You ticket, headed by Turner, faces opposition from the Weehawken Initiative Now (WIN) team, a group that has centered most of the attention in the campaign on the Roseland Properties’ Port Imperial South waterfront development.

The proposed $500 million project, which will take more than 10 years to complete, will forever change the face of the Weehawken waterfront, calling for significant commercial and residential space.

The current administration, along with the township’s Planning Board, approved both phases of the project only after lengthy discussions to drastically cut the size and density of the entire development.

The size of the entire development was cut from the initial 2,200 units to approximately 1,244 currently planned. Nearly 160 of those units will be designated as affordable housing and another 270 will be designated as assisted living for senior citizens. The office structure was limited to 450,000-500,000 square feet, which is significantly less that the original plan.

The development will also include a shopping center, a hotel and a convention center. The first phase includes 42 brownstone town houses, which have begun construction, and the rest of the project is part of the second phase. However, there are other issues and concerns surrounding this vital election, as Weehawken voters will decide the leadership that will take the town through the times of the waterfront development and a proposed revitalization of Park Avenue.

Because of the enormous importance of the election to the town, the Weehawken Reporter hosted a candidates’ forum in which each candidate faced off against his/her opponent, answering a series of prepared questions with a chance for rebuttal after the answers. None of the candidates knew the questions in advance.

Each of the three ward candidates received approximately 30 minutes for questions, answers and rebuttal. The four at-large candidates received almost an hour’s worth of replies and retorts.

Two incumbent at-large candidates, namely Turner and James Terlizzi, faced off against WIN at-large candidates Dr. Ben Goldman and Arielly Laszlo.

The candidates answered some questions with aplomb, but also handled some of the questions as an avenue to simply lash out at their opponents and make sometimes-unfounded accusations, which caused tensions to rise. Below are some excerpts of the forum between the four at-large candidates. Articles on the forums with the ward candidates are inside the paper.

Question 1: Please tell us what experience you have to hold this position and why you feel you are the best qualified candidate.

Terlizzi: “I’ve been involved in many areas of the township’s government for many years. I was the chairman for the Board of Adjustment for 12 years and I was the director for affordable housing for the town for many years. I’ve lived in the town for 43 years and I’m very familiar with what goes on. I’ve seen some good times and some bad, and lately, there have been some very good times. The best of times have been since Weehawken and You has taken over, and I have four years experience with Weehawken and You.”

Laszlo: “I feel like I am qualified because I have three years of municipal experience [as the acting township clerk under Turner] and because I am a woman and a taxpayer.”

Turner: “I think the entire Weehawken and You ticket has the required experience and the knowledge to move Weehawken forward. Whether it’s good or bad, I have 29 years of experience in municipal government and it has been my privilege to serve as the mayor of Weehawken for the last 12 years. I know the history of the town, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. I understand that government is a very serious business and we should have people with experience running our local government.”

Goldman: “I have 20 years of public service on all levels. The WIN team believes it is time for new voices in the town. Our experience is what is necessary to give the balance of power that is needed. We have five strong voices, not just one voice with others holding a rubber stamp approving every decision or deal that comes across the desk.”

Terlizzi: “In response to Ms. Laszlo, I’m a taxpayer. We’re all taxpayers. I don’t know what Dr. Goldman means when he says that there’s a rubber stamp. That’s totally absurd.”

Laszlo: “As a taxpayer, I feel like I have a right to have my voice heard. Not just me, but the entire town. Voters, non-voters. All residents have a right to be heard.”

Turner: “Ari has a right to get involved not just because she’s a taxpayer. Anyone who lives in the town has the right. Weehawken has a proper balance of power right now. There is a township council and a mayor that work religiously on everything. We never violate that balance.”

Goldman: “I respectfully disagree with the mayor. I do not think one needs 12 years of experience to be a good council person. It goes against the grain of American belief. It’s time for a change. You’ve done some fine service and we’re all indebted to what you’ve done. But it’s time to move on and let other people contribute.”

Question 2: 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?

Laszlo: “I strongly believe that the decisions we make now are important and we have a responsibility to make decisions that impact future generations. The decisions we make today are vital, so we have to be careful.”

Terlizzi: “The quality of life in the town is very important and we address it regularly. We have the highest property values now than we ever did. Crime is down. Our parks have been renovated. We’ve paved the streets. We have a new library. We’re going to have a wonderful development that includes an 11-acre recreational area. These are all very important and we intend to continue to do that. We’re going to revitalize Park Avenue through the Main Street New Jersey program. We’ve acquired the Water Tower and we’re fixing that. As you can see, I’m very interested in the quality of life.”

Goldman: “The biggest mistake this administration has made and the legacy it leaves is the overdevelopment of the town. It is what motivated the entire WIN team to ruin. Their decision on the waterfront will run the quality of life. They’ve given a rubber stamp to the developer. We have a ton of concerns, regarding traffic, pollution, the lack of access. There is a list of egregious problems with that development. I’m glad to see that they’re acting on Park Avenue a month before the election. It’s political pork, too little too late. Why wasn’t this done 12 years ago?”

Turner: “We’re dealing with all of the needs of our residents in terms of the quality of life. It goes beyond the waterfront. It also deals with upper Weehawken as well. We know the limitations and we have to be able to reach out to everyone. Dr. Goldman doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about when it comes to Park Avenue. We’ve had plans in place for years. And there is no rubber stamp. Park Avenue is totally different from Washington Street [in Hoboken], which is what they want. We need good stores, quality stores. It’s a difficult neighborhood that is economically challenged.”

Laszlo: “I agree with Mayor Turner that the quality of life involves everyone. But the community has become terribly divided. There is a lot of diversity here, social and economic diversity. We have different levels. Our town needs to be unified. Not everyone is being represented. The Hispanic community has been pushed to the background.”

Terlizzi: “I don’t know what he [Goldman] is talking about in terms of overdevelopment and rubber stamping every proposal. And the revitalization of Park Avenue is nothing new. There have been plans in place since 1991.”

Dr. Goldman declined to offer a rebuttal.

Turner: “We do not have a divided community. Our children play together and go to school together. We have an integrated community with many different ethnic backgrounds.”

Question 3: 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?

Turner: “I think we have come up with a plan that is in the best long term interests of Weehawken, something that we can leave to the next generation. No one wants to damage this community. We’ve all worked too hard to do anything like that. We’ve provided for open space and mass transit. Are there problems? Yes, but we overcame those problems. This final plan is the true community plan. It’s not overdevelopment.”

Goldman: “The waterfront is a classic example of how this administration has denied the town’s residents to have a voice. Look at it now. It’s a big parking lot. This administration refused to listen to the people. There are legal, political and economic controversies. I’m tired of their charade of holding public hearings until the wee hours of the night. WIN welcomes the idea of mass transit, but it’s not the solution to our traffic problems. The waterfront will be an exclusive private enclave with no access to anyone.”

Terlizzi: “I think the plan that was finally approved was the best plan. It’s going to produce ratables. It will cause very little service problems for our police and regional fire. We’ve added ratables and provided the necessary safeguards.”

Laszlo: “I’m very concerned that I’ve never seen a model of what the waterfront will look like. I worked in the town government and I never saw it. I was supposed to be the caretaker of public records. But I never saw them. Who has them? Where are they? It’s an insult to my intelligence that I’ve never seen a model. I can’t see how it will benefit me or the rest of Weehawken.”

Turner: “They keep talking about skyscrapers and walls of buildings. They said that there are access problems, so they’re calling for an elevator to Boulevard East. No one wants that. We’ll have multiple shuttle buses that will bring residents to the waterfront. To say that we have a divided community is misleading to everyone else.”

Question 4: Probably most of the residents in town care about one thing more than any other, namely property taxes. What can you do, if elected, that can assure property owners that any future tax increases would be at a minimum, or to cut spending?

Goldman: “We can’t believe the lies we are being told about our taxes. If you look at the tax records, our taxes have gone up considerably since the current administration took office, some 72 percent. Any town with overdevelopment will raise taxes. It happened in Edgewater and it happened in West New York, where Mr. Turner is the administrator. [Note: Actually, taxes have been stable in West New York for the last seven years.] There are ways to cut taxes and a way can be done to modernize our government. We need to cut red tape and get rid of the padded payrolls. A lot of money is wasted by the people in power.”

Terlizzi: “One of the best ways to stabilize taxes is to increase ratables [which are taxpaying properties who can contribute payments to the tax levy]. Our tax rate is below the 1995 tax rate, thanks to the resident tax credit we received from the REAP program from participating in the regional fire. Our taxes are stable.”

Laszlo: “I’d like to see an accountability of the payroll. Some of the best kept secrets in town are in the payroll. You don’t know who’s on the payroll. I was the acting town clerk and I was amazed to see how many families are on the payroll. Some of the best husband and wife teams are on the payroll, very family oriented. So we need to take a closer look at that.”

Turner: “You don’t stabilize taxes through rhetoric. You do it by working night and day in doing what has to be done. We’ve been working our butts off to stabilize taxes. We have the best tax record. And the taxes went down in West New York. They did not go up. So that’s nonsense. And there is no payroll problem. We may have some people who work for the town that are related. But when we hire someone, we start with a Weehawken resident first. That’s what keeps the community strong.”

Question 5: 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?

Turner: “It’s as important as anything we do. We’ve had some great success with the revitalization and we just didn’t start overnight. It has taken a long time and we’re going to see it through to fruition. We’re doing it with state and county grants. Not a dime of taxpayer money has been used. It’s critical to keep developing Park Avenue. We have also secured $4 million of affordable housing dollars to go to Park Avenue, by improving living conditions there. That’s how you get revitalized.”

Laszlo: “I have a concern, Mayor Turner. How many families are going to be displaced as a result of this plan? Why are so many stores vacant on Park Avenue? Why is the crime so high?”

Terlizzi: “Like I said before, the revitalization is something that has been going on for a long time. We’re looking for economic development, not to move people out. We’re getting new stores, like a new coffee shop and a new Italian restaurant.”

Goldman: “Their position stinks. Their track record stinks. They lie about our record and proposals. We have never said that we want to turn it into Washington Street. It’s nothing but insults. We care about Park Avenue. We think there should be affordable housing everywhere in town, not just the $4 million that was state mandated. Why did they wait so long to apply for the Main Street New Jersey program? Their plans have been kept a secret. We have three priorities and Park Avenue is one of those priorities and our central focus. We’re going to devote every resource we have at Town Hall’s disposal and work with neighboring towns to develop comprehensive plans, not just the bird poop removal.”

Turner: “It’s very hard to respond, after bird poop has been thrown on the table. But we’ve made a deal with restoring the Water Tower and we’re going to make sure that it’s done right.” AT-LARGE Name: Arielly Laszlo Ticket: WIN (Weehawken Initiative Now)
Age: 50
Occupation: Realtor
Marital Status: Separated
Children: Darren (21), Christopher (19)
Educational Background: B.A., Business Administration
Previous Political Experience: Former Township Clerk
Years Residing in Weehawken: 19

Name: Dr. Ben Goldman Ticket: WIN (Weehawken Initiative Now) Occupation: Artist and Consultant
Marital status: Wife, Lois
Children: Emma (5), Breena (2)
Educational Background: Ph. D, New York University, Master’s (Philosophy), NYU, B.A. Vassar College Previous Political Experience: 20 years of service on the local, state, national and international levels. Community advocate; director of various non-profit organizations; advisor to the Clinton administration; written several books and articles that have influenced federal, state and local legislation and case law.

Name: Richard Turner Age: 52
Occupation: Mayor of Weehawken; Town Administrator, West New York
Marital Status: Wife, Eileen
Children: Richard (10), Katlyn (9)
Educational Background: B.A. Economics and Political Science
Previous Political Experience: Mayor of Weehawken since 1990; township manager Weehawken, 1982-1990.
Years Residing in Weehawken: 20 years

Name: James Terlizzi Age: 65
Occupation: Retired, former Director of Affordable Housing, Township of Weehawken
Marital Status: Wide, Jennie
Children: Lisa (41), James (37)
Educational Background: Union Hill High School, attended Rutgers University
Previous Political Experience: Councilman-At-Large, Weehawken, 1998-2002; Former Aide to Congressman Frank Guarini.
Years Residing in Weehawken: 43 years


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