Three candidates are running to represent Ward B on the City Council in a special election on Nov. 8. The present councilman, John Hallanan, business owner LeKendrick Shaw, and Lincoln High School Vice Principal Chris Gadsden participated in a recent debate at a forum held at the Gallo Center in Lincoln Park.
With almost 40,000 residents, Ward B is one of the most diverse in the city, with just shy of 12,000 whites, 12,000 African Americans, 11,000 Hispanics, and a melange of Asians and other cultures.
Starting north of Journal Square near the foot of Tonnelle Avenue, Ward B’s eastern border jigsaws along James Street, Newark Avenue, West Side Avenue, and JFK Boulevard to Bergen Avenue, to just below Sip Avenue, then roughly to Culvert Avenue in the south.
The western border runs along the Hackensack River and includes a significant portion of new redevelopment areas such as the Honeywell property on Route 440 and the existing and the new western campuses for New Jersey City University.
Lincoln Park is located within its boundaries, and most if not all the newly established Westside historic district is contained by Ward B.
Who are the candidates?
LeKendrick Shaw is an entrepreneur and community advocate
“I grew up here in Ward B and lived here all my life,” he said. “I learned about the stock market and went to New Jersey City University to study finance. I was on a Wall Street track.”
He was working as a summer analyst for Goldman Sachs when a close family member died and he changed direction. He decided to open a small business in Jersey City, opening his first apparel store on West Side Avenue. He has since gone on to a number of other projects, but said he also got involved with local civic activities.
Chris Gadsden is vice principal of Lincoln High School in Jersey City.
“I love what I do,” he said. “My grandfather was a cop and he taught me how to fight for the little person.”
He said he was introduced to civic activity when he was part of Americorp in 1995.
“I gained experience; I traveled around county working for programs that helped the homeless; then I came back to Jersey City, where I realized I could help improve the quality of life for people here.”
He said more than 70 percent of the population of Ward B did not vote in the last election, and he believed this has to change.
“But as a councilman I will represent even those who didn’t vote,” he said, calling himself the “ear of the community,” and he said he is looking forward to building coalitions of people within the ward to get things done.
Gadsden ran unsuccessfully for the Ward B city council position on the Team Walker ticket in 2013.
Councilman John Hallanan was appointed as temporary Ward B councilman after then Councilman Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal resigned last June.
“I’ve been the councilman since June,” Hallanan said. “I’m a lifelong resident of Jersey City and Ward B.”
His said his family’s history in Ward B is “long and deep.”
“I was raised to love this city and its history, and heard the tales of Jersey City as it had been,” he said. “Its past is great, but its future can be even better. This city is changing, it has gotten better in some cases, and sometimes unfortunately worse. It truly is a tale of two cities.”
He said it will be part of his role to bring to Ward B some of the investment that has benefitted other parts of the city.
A graduate of St. Peter’s Prep and St. Peter’s University, Hallanan said he originally pursued a career in urban planning, but didn’t feel he would do well at it and so pursued a law career. He was appointed a member of the city’s legal department. Hallanan, however, has been active in the community. A former president of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, Hallanan was hired as a city attorney shortly after Steven Fulop became mayor in 2013.
Issues in the community
Ward B faces a number of key issues – not at least is the recent death of an 11 year old boy, who was struck by a jitney bus on Kennedy Boulevard. Residents of Ward B had been petitioning for enforcement of speeding for years.
But massive redevelopment in Ward B is expected to have a large social impact, as thousands of new residential homes are constructed on property along the Hackensack River.
The new West Side historic district also raised concerns for many people living in the area because it will cost more to keep up homes and introduces significantly more regulations about what they can and cannot do, even done to details like what kind of siding they can install.
During the forum, the candidates responded to a number of questions covering these and other topics.
Do you support eminent domain as part of redevelopment process (taking of private property by the city)?
Shaw said, “We have to have a process and a dialogue with the stakeholders before the city moves ahead.”
Gadsden said he would approve only if it was for the public good and the community benefits from it.
“But if the city wants if for corporations or to build condos, I wouldn’t be,” he said.
Hallanan said the process is permitted under state law, but it should only be used as the laws say for infrastructure or to improve a blighted area.
Do you support the referendum to move municipal election to November?
Gadsden and Shaw opposed the move, saying local elections should remain local, and that moving the election would create a bloated and confused ballot.
Hallanan supports the move, saying he has seen it done elsewhere without significant problems.
“Most people think elections are in November,” he said. “We can change back in ten years if it’s problematic.”
Do you support the proposed city open space trust fund, and how should the money be used if you do?
Hallanan said he supports it and believes the funding could help upgrade and maintain many of the city’s smaller parks.
Shaw and Gadsden said if the community supports it, they will. Gadsden went on to say that there are safety issues in some of the parks the money can be used to fix.
Do you support casino gambling in Northern New Jersey (one is proposed for southern Jersey City)?
Shaw said yes, it if makes sense to the area and provides jobs and benefits to the residents of Ward B.
Gadsden said he is torn over the issue. Residents need jobs, but he said casinos, when they do not succeed, leave a void in the community.
“I’m leaning towards no,” he said.
Hallanan said although polls suggest people support the measure, his experience knocking on doors in Ward B show that people are opposed.
“So my response is to say no,” he said.
Do you support the designation of redevelopment zones? (Jersey City has nearly a hundred such zones.
Gadsden said he would support redevelopment for blighted areas, saying there are a number such areas in Ward F and some in Ward B.
Hallanan said the redevelopment designation is a necessary tool, and that the criteria for such distinctions are set by law.
Shaw said residents should be consulted earlier in the process, not presented with redevelopment plans after they are already nearly fully planned out.
What would you do to alleviate confusion over the new historic district on the West Side?
Shaw agreed that information sent out recently is confusing and does not give a clear picture as to what is allowed. This should be remedied and alternatives found so that people aren’t priced out by the high costs associated with repairs in a historic district.
Gadsden said residents waited 18 months to learn what can and cannot do, frustrated by not being part of the process and by the expense to cost upkeep of homes. He said the rules are unclear and should be made clear. He said the city needs to seek ways to offset increased costs.
Hallanan said part of the problem is the lack of enough people working in the planning office. The city needs to increase personnel that can help residents. He said because of the diversity of buildings in the historic district, many of the questions are unique to each property.
“We need at least one person just to handle questions involving the historic district, possibly two,” he said.
What will you do about speeding on Kennedy Boulevard.
Hallanan said the mayor runs city, the police work for him.
“I have asked, and freeholder (Bill) O’Dea has asked for something to be done, but it’s up to the public to put the mayor’s feet to the fire.”
Hallanan encouraged the community to conduct and email and letter writing campaign.
Shaw said there is a need to hold public officials accountable as to why there are not enough cops for traffic enforcement.
Gadsden said originally he opposed red light traffic cameras, but now says they are a necessary evil.
“People are dying along Kennedy Boulevard,” he said.
He said Bayonne enforced speed limits for so long people now automatically slow down when they cross from Jersey City to Bayonne. If Bayonne can do it, so can Jersey City.
All three candidates agreed that there is a need to beef up security cameras, and that the estimated price tag of $275,000 should be found in the budget. Gadsden and Shaw said the funding should come out of the annual surplus. Hallanan, who authored an ordinance earlier this year establishing a registry of business cameras that police might use to help curb crime, said additional cameras might be paid for out of the Open Space Trust Fund.
All three candidates agreed that the city should make it easier for small, minority-owned local companies to do business with the city.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.