Squaring off

Weeks ahead of Nov. 2 election, ward candidates debate town issues

With a month to go until the Nov. 2 election, the candidates running for Secaucus Town Council participated in a cordial 90-minute debate Tuesday hosted by the Hudson Reporter newspapers.
Candidates Gary Jeffas, Robert Zych, James Clancy, Nancy Mateo, and Susan Pirro discussed such issues as property taxes, development, labor contracts, and the Secaucus Recreation Center during the debate that highlighted several differences in the Democratic and Independent slates running for office this year.
A sixth candidate, 3rd Ward Democratic contender Mark Bruscino, had a scheduling conflict Tuesday and arrived at the debate towards its conclusion.
Residents will be able to view the debate online at www.HudsonReporter.com beginning Oct. 19.


For the debate, candidates squared off against their ward race opponent.

Voters this year will select a Town Council representative for each of Secaucus’ three wards. The political makeup of the seven-member governing body will not shift as a result of this year’s race, since Mayor Michael Gonnelli’s Independents won four council seats last fall. However, next month’s election will be viewed as both a litmus test on the health of the local Democratic Party and political approval of the Independent administration.

Field includes incumbents and newcomers

Each party is fielding a slate of three candidates.
Bruscino is running on the Democratic ticket with 1st Ward candidate Zych and 2nd Ward candidate Mateo.
The trio is running against the Independent Take Back Secaucus slate that includes Jeffas, Clancy, and Pirro. The slate is backed by Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
Jeffas, the incumbent 1st Ward town councilman, is running for his second full term. Clancy, who previously served on the council under former Mayor Paul Amico, was appointed in January to serve out the remainder of Gonnelli’s term on the council after he was sworn in as mayor. Clancy is now seeking a full term.
This year’s campaign is Pirro’s second race for a 3rd Ward council seat. She ran in the 2009 primary as a Democrat, but lost that race to another candidate.
This is the first year Zych, Mateo, and Bruscino have each run for seats on the Town Council.

Council questions

For the debate, candidates squared off against their ward race opponent. Thus, in the 1st Ward, Independent incumbent Councilman Jeffas faced Democratic rival Zych. In the 2nd Ward, Independent incumbent Councilman Clancy debated his challenger, Mateo. In the 3rd Ward, Pirro, the Independent, answered the debate questions, but actually only debated Democrat Bruscino for one since he arrived to the debate late.
The council candidates who were present at the beginning of the debate were each given two minutes to make an opening statement and were then asked five issue-oriented questions, including:
• What should be done to reign in labor costs for municipal workers?
• Should the Secaucus Recreation Center be given more time to break even, or should the membership-only model be abandoned for a different business model?
• What steps should the council take to stabilize property taxes?
In response to the question concerning labor costs, Mateo said the town could benefit from a “cost-benefit analysis” of the municipal workforce to determine where savings could be made and added that retiring senior staff should, wherever possible, be replaced with junior level employees.
Pirro agreed that “careful evaluation is needed” of municipal staff. Highlighting her experience as a health benefits administrator for the Union City Board of Education, Pirro said that city has found “a lot of creative ways” to deal with rising health care costs.
Interestingly, Zych, a former Secaucus Police officer, said the Secaucus Police Department is “too top heavy” and needs to put more cops on the streets.
In response to the question regarding property taxes, Jeffas said of the 10-month old Gonnelli administration, “We’ve worked hard to stabilize taxes. This year’s [overall tax] increase was 1.35 percent…As promised, we’ve looked over every line item in the budget.”
Agreeing with Pirro’s earlier comment that “to stabilize taxes you have to stabilize spending,” Jeffas added that the administration has aggressively pursued payment of $850,000 in previously uncollected fines and $6 million in special assessments owed to the municipality.
Answering a question on affordable housing and overall development in town, Clancy said, “We should not overdo it with affordable housing. We need more commercial development so we can have more ratables … [We should] have the affordable housing, but have it fit in with what’s already there. Keep it in the style of family-style housing.”
In his response to this same question Bruscino stated, “We have to watch the number of units of affordable housing we build because it affects the numbers of school children we have. And the schools are crowded. But we need affordable housing because it’s not just for people who are poor…If you lose your job you may find yourself in need of affordable housing.”
To see the debate and responses from the candidates in their entirety, log on to www.HudsonReporter.com beginning Oct. 19.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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