On Nov. 4, Guttenberg residents will head to the polls to elect one of the three candidates vying for mayor. The position was left vacant after former Mayor David Delle Donna and his wife Anna were found guilty of extortion and tax charges this past spring.
Military veteran James Hannon was chosen to fill a portion of the term, but has decided not to run in November to keep the job.
Incumbent Councilman Gerald Drasheff is a contender, along with former Board of Education and Planning Board member Vasilios Scoullos and former teacher Hernando Alvarado.
The winner of the election will hold office from January of 2009 until Dec. 31, 2009. An election held in November of next year will decide the next mayor.
The mayoralty is a part-time job and comes with a salary of $7,700 per year.
The 4-by-12-block town of Guttenberg is dealing with several main issues that the mayor will need to address.
A building at the corner of the Anna L. Klein elementary school will soon be purchased by the town to use as a community center, including extra classroom space. This will help alleviate overcrowding at the school. Anna L. Klein is the only school in town, as the high school students attend North Bergen High School.
The town is also gearing up to create a public park on land that was purchased a number of years ago along River Road. Currently there is only one other playground in Guttenberg, adjacent to the Klein School.
The scarcity of parking is also a contentious issue. Residents tend to blame commuters, new developments, and possibly illegal apartments whose residents may be clogging the streets.
Drasheff, 63, is an attorney. He has held his council seat since 2001, and will complete his term Dec. 31, 2009. He ran on a ticket with Delle Donna when the massive Galaxy condo complex wanted one of their residents to run for office.
He grew up in Union City and went to St. Joseph’s High School, where he met his wife. Then he moved to North Bergen. They owned a house there for 22 years before moving into the Galaxy in 1994.
Drasheff has a son, two daughters, and four grandchildren. He said that when his children were younger, he was involved with the Finance Committee at their parish of Lady Fatima in North Bergen. He also helped out with the Boy Scouts.
He was barred from participating in bipartisan politics while he worked at the Port Authority from 1965 until his retirement in 2001.
“I went to law school while I was there at the Port Authority,” said Drasheff. “I went at night…just [learning] the discipline that comes from going to law school and the way you get to look at problems.”
Eventually, he became a staff attorney at the Port Authority. His jobs there ranged from supervisor of the development of the World Trade Center Operations from 1974 through 1978, manager for police planning and administration from 1985 through 1997, and staff attorney through 2001.
He was a staff attorney for the World Trade Center bombing litigation, representing the Port Authority from 2001 until 2005 with Mendes and Mount, LLP.
Since January of 2006, he has been a planner with the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management.
Key issues for Drasheff
Drasheff said that a main problem in Guttenberg is parking, which he said was alleviated for about four years when residential parking stickers were issued. However, in order for progress to be made and kept, “you’ve got to stay on top of things or they’ll slide back.”
He said the biggest issue is finding revenue sources, whether it is increasing ratables (which are taxpaying properties), or adding more fees for developers. He noted that right now, all local towns are in bad positions financially. In fact, with state aid shrinking and employee benefits costs and gas costs rising, most Hudson County towns have had to increase taxes this year. But Drasheff said Guttenberg is worse off because it does not have the room to expand with more taxpaying developments.
“The only way we have to go is up,” said Drasheff. “We don’t have a lot of vacant land, and putting more two-family houses on lots is not going to do it.”
Drasheff said that he would like to hire a planner to analyze what types of midrise developments would be best for Guttenberg, which would have self-contained parking and include more green space.
He said that shared services with nearby towns like North Bergen might lessen the burden as well.
Drasheff said one of his “high priorities” will be working with the Klein School for a community center. He also believes that the future waterfront park on River Road is very important, which he said will only cost the taxpayers about $50,000 from the town budget, thanks to the outside funds they were able to receive from the county.
“You can go to any event up by the school [and] it’s packed, so there is a real need for a place where people can go and kids can run around a little bit,” said Drasheff. “That is what I’m hoping to do.”
Drasheff said that transportation lines need to be looked at. He said that North Bergen was able to get a federally funded “jitney” bus to take residents east to west to the light rail, but they need more ways for people to get there.
Scoullos and finance
Scoullos, 57, was born in Morocco and moved to the United States in 1966. He obtained a bachelor’s of science in accounting and a master’s of business administration in finance at Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1976. In 1985 he bought property in Guttenberg and also bought a house in upstate New York, which he sold in 1994. Scoullos married his first wife Maria this past August.
Scoullos was elected twice as a Guttenberg’s Board of Education Trustee in 2004 and 2006 and was a member of the Planning Board from 1995 through 1998. He was also a member of the now defunct Guttenberg MUA advisory panel and was a Guttenberg Housing Authority commissioner from 1997 through 2003.
Scoullous was a project specialist for the Division of Pensions and Benefits in the Department of Treasury for the state of New Jersey from May of 2000 until September of 2001. He was a financial consultant for three months for the town of Guttenberg. For 12 years, he worked in accounting and finance for Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Before that he worked with Chase Manhattan Bank and Avon.
“I’m a very detail-oriented person,” said Scoullos, who believes that his experience as a budget analyst will help cut spending.
Will ‘think outside of the box’
Scoullos said he will “think outside of the box.”
He said that he had suggested to Drasheff that Guttenberg should consider luring more commercial development to town, so that they could benefit through new taxes without overburdening the town with new residents.
“We’re not going to survive as a small town the way we are now,” said Scoullos. “Governor [Jon] Corzine is talking about forcing us to merge some towns together. I can see this in the next five to six years, maybe 10 years. Guttenberg is not going to exist as a town.”
Scoullos said that he wasn’t in favor of merging with another municipality, but feels Corzine will cut aid to smaller towns to entice them to do so.
He believes that they can cut costs by analyzing what Guttenberg is charged for shared services. Scoullos said that when he was a trustee for the Guttenberg’s Board of Education, he noticed that the town was being charged $9,000 for each student sent to North Bergen High School, even though North Bergen’s school budget has allotted $7,000 for each of its own students. He also believes that Guttenberg’s charges are not allocated correctly in their contract with North Bergen’s Municipal Utilities Authority, and that an audit of town finances in necessary.
He said that the current administration states that they cannot afford an audit, but Scoullos said that if every homeowner was taxed a mere $6 extra, in five years they would have the funds for an audit.
Scoullous said that corruption in Guttenberg is one of his main issues.
“Right now we have corruption in Guttenberg, and this was corroborated with the fact that the government found the [former] mayor guilty of corruption,” said Scoullos.
Scoullos said that if elected, he would review resumes and interview prospective candidates for jobs rather than just appointing people he knows.
He said that the parking in town is “horrendous” and said that there is a need to fight gangs.
Scoullos believes there is a need for more playgrounds, but that there is a conflict of interest since there is little open space, and using residential lots will take tax revenues away from the town.
Alvarado, 36, was raised in Guttenberg until the eighth grade, when his family moved to North Bergen. He moved back to Guttenberg with his family three years ago. He married his wife Erika five years ago and has a 2-year-old son.
“I’m a family man,” said Alvarado. “I’m going to be here for a lot of years. My son is going to go to Anna L. Klein School and I want to make sure that I’m going to do my part to make Guttenberg better.”
He graduated from the Chubb Institute in 2000, where he received a degree in desktop support. Alvarado worked for the online trading firm Datek for about three and a half years until they merged with Ameritrade.
In 2005 he enrolled at New Jersey City University, where he is currently pursuing a degree in political science on a part-time basis.
He worked as a full-time substitute teacher for special education in the Newark school district for two years and then he became a union representative and organizer for the American Federation of Teachers, where he worked with Anna L. Klein teachers, adjunct professors at Hudson County Community College, the Paterson Head Start Program and Morris Community College. He said that he sat in on negotiations for members of the AFT for over three years, until this past June, when he started his own business, No Limit Fitness.
Alvarado said that he use to volunteer for recreational wrestling and that he is certified as a New Jersey USA boxing coach.
Wants more recreational activities
Alvarado said that his main focus will be increasing recreational opportunities for children in town and securing a community center. He said that nighttime basketball and a boxing program are needed in town.
“When you have nowhere to go, you hang out on the corner, and when you hang out on the corner, that’s a formula for trouble,” said Alvarado. “I’m just like every other kid in Guttenberg or in Hudson County just growing up in the school of hard knocks, and now I’m just trying to do the right thing as an adult.”
He said that development is always good, but that developers should have to donate things back to the community.
Alvarado said that tax revenues should be spent more wisely. He said that the summer concert hosted by the town cost $8,000 and was held during rush hour. He said that if elected mayor, he would not take a salary, because he has his own business and the town can use the money.
To hold public office, Alvarado said, “You have to have hard work ethic, know how to make hard decisions and have integrity. What have we had over the last couple of years? We’ve had corruption. We’ve had resignations. We’ve had conviction after conviction. Public service is something that should be admired, and these days, you look at public service and politicians are all corrupt.”
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