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Re: Ward A Council Candidates Say Crime, Business, and Transportation Key
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2011/4/13 4:53
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2014/1/28 0:17
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It's interesting that all the things Epps mentions are Fulop's and Gajewski's platform: community policing, recreation, jobs. Perhaps the most curious thing is Epps' statement that ?My role is to create change, to inspire the mayor...? If the mayor needs inspiration, we need a new mayor. If we're looking for a change creator, we should look for someone other than a school superintendent who failed to move the needle on student achievement despite 10 years of almost total control of the school system.

Great argument to vote the Fulop ticket: 5A, 8B, 9B, 10B, and for Ward A Frank Gajewski 1C.

Posted on: 2013/4/24 12:23

Ward A Council Candidates Say Crime, Business, and Transportation Key
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By Matt Hunger

Ward A is the only ward to border both the Hudson River and Newark Bay, a political-cartographical curiosity that belies other polar opposites found within the area?s boundaries. There?s Porte Liberte, gated communities, and the Liberty National Golf Course ? home of the 2013 Barclays tournament. Yet not far away from where polo-wearing millionaires will be crouching over sculpted hills to read angles and distances in a nationally televised golf tournament, Habitat for Humanity constructs homes for low-income families. The cramped income gap in Ward A is symbolic of the city as a whole ? after all, the two bodies of water surrounding the Ward are developed and under-utilized, respectively.

Yet for all of the area?s uniqueness, the problems facing the area are true of the city as a whole. No matter how many times Mayor Jerramiah Healy?s administration insists crime is trending down, public safety remains a concern in a big way. When Ward E residents were frustrated by the difficulties of not having the PATH train fully operational for months after Superstorm Sandy, Ward A residents say public transportation options are bad in the best of times ? most residents are far from the PATH and Light Rail, and bus routes are limited. Other residents say more stores are needed, and those that are there ? notably in Ward B?s Hudson Mall ? are difficult to reach thanks to limited bus service. And then quality of life remains a problem, with parks described by some Council candidates as the place to find crime, not as a place where children can play.

With five candidates to choose from, Ward A is one of four wards without an incumbent?s record to point to when weighing a vote, as current Ward A Councilman Mike Sottolano opted against reelection (he said he wasn?t sure he could give the same amount of energy for another four years).

But considering the high profiles of two of the candidates, there is still quite a bit to go on. On Healy?s ticket, Dr. Charles Epps Jr. is the former school superintendent whose ousting left a wake of political baggage for Healy?s main rival, Ward E Councilman Steve Fulop, one of the key people responsible for Epps?s early exit. Epps?s time as superintendent was split for many; the state still controls a majority of the district?s operation because of low test scores, but Epps remains popular for many in the area.

Similarly, Frank Gajewski, Fulop?s Ward A candidate, briefly served as the city?s chief of police in the early 2000s, where he capped of an impressive career. Gajewski opted to retire after it was clear the city was moving in a different direction on police matters, but maintains he has the police leadership needed to reinstitute the much-touted community policing tactics that just about every candidate says they now support.

While candidates Rick Johnson, slate-mate of mayoral candidate Jerry Walker, and independent candidates Jayson Burg and Lori Hennessey are less known, many of the issues facing Ward A are longstanding, so perhaps some fresh ideas are needed.

Charles Epps Jr. ? Team Healy

Epps?s man for mayor is in City Hall already, and he remains on good terms with current Ward A rep Mike Sottolano, but that doesn?t mean he doesn?t see room for change.

?I see things we can correct just walking around the neighborhood,? says Epps. ?Ensuring garbage is picked up in a neat fashion, that neighborhoods learn how to keep the streets in front of their houses clean.?

The beautification of the city, he says, begins with the reestablishing of neighborhoods, which he says is a lost art in much of Jersey City.

?I can remember when my mom would wake up and go around to the corner store, but that comfortability is just not there anymore,? says Epps. ?Parents could let kids go to the park without worry about drug or gang activity.? Back then, ?everyone knew one another [and] if you did something wrong, the lady on the corner would know your mother and father.?

?I want to feel that we can do that again and create neighborhood spirit,? he continues. To do so, he says the city needs to expand the recreation activity options for the city?s youth. Little League, he says, is a key part of keeping kids involved in positive pursuits, but there also needs to be more ?places for children to go.?

On top of that, he says the ?adults in the community need to be more responsive.?

This is where Epps?s experience with parents and the school system comes in handy. He?s spoken with unhappy parents about their child?s progress or punishment; he knows which schools can offer what recreation opportunity for after school options.

Like in much of Jersey City, the warehouses are gone or on their way out. A workforce that once depended on such employment went without jobs for long stretches of time, and as the Hudson Mall took stores away from typical urban business corridors, the ward continued to suffer. For Epps, the obvious answer is finding a way to retrain these adults.

?The Ward lost its way via unemployment,? says Epps. ?People weren?t working as much as they were after factories moved out of Hudson County.? Which means, he continues, ?employment and training is key.?

?As kids grow up, not everyone is going to college, even though I do advocate that,? adds Epps. Instead, the area should consider reintegrating training programs for technical jobs the once helped out-of-work residents get back on their feet.

If these are ideas that sound like they might come from someone challenging the current administration, Epps says he has a strong working relationship with the mayor to get these ideas traction. Incidentally, Epps supports community policing, a police tactic that was implemented under rival candidate Gajewski?s tenure as police chief (which is, in part, why Fulop chose him for his slate).

?My role is to create change, to inspire the mayor,? says Epps, who was quick to note that he thinks Healy has done ?a wonderful job.? Yet, ever the instructor, Epps borrows a truism favorite of teachers the world over: ?We all make mistakes, we all have something we can improve on, from the President to mayors of cities.?

Epps acknowledges Ward A is a ?work in progress in terms of inequality,? but insists it?s no worse than elsewhere in the city. ?It?s the same with Ward E and B.?

But if he?s a known commodity whose ouster has led to numerous headlines, from secret meetings that led to a full-fledged investigation into the state?s influence on the district, Epps has found a simple way to move on.

?The Board of Education wanted to go in a different direction,? he says. ?I?ve been in the system for 42 years, I?m not going to see eye-to-eye with everyone.?

In his wake, Epps left a seriously flawed school system, but one he says that made progress under his stewardship.

Calling it the most important thing he?s worked on, Epps says under his leadership the school system made a concerted effort to work on test scores. ?We were not all that successful in every school, in some schools we were and others we were not, but that was true all over the country.?

Coupled with the school district?s ?strong anti-bullying program,? Epps says he?s incorporated a wide net of solutions to address problems in the school system, including the creation of charter Infinity School.

Still, for all of the works Epps has done, and for all his claims to having ?moved on,? the school district still struggles, has too much state control for many, and has a Board largely consisting of people who opposed his superintendency. But what is unclear is how the political light cast on the school district will play out with voters.

Frank Gajewski ? Fulop?s Ticket

A big part of Fulop?s public safety platform is informed by what the Councilman describes as successful policing strategies in the city?s past. That includes strategies implemented under Gajewksi during his 13-month tenure as police chief.

Those community policing tactics everyone has been talking about getting back to? They were a reality under a Gajewski-run police department. And for born-and-bred Jersey City folk who are worried about the so-called interlopers, Gajewski is a breath of familiarity. A name, face, and decorated uniform (thanks in no small part to his risky undercover work), not to mention the credibility he lends to Fulop?s ticket. A component police chief who says things can be better and that Fulop is the man to do it ? it helps a campaign.

For Gajewski, who retired 12 years ago, his ideas still make sense. As does his pairing with Fulop. ?I wouldn?t want my name on a ticket of someone I didn?t respect,? said Gajewski, ?and the same is true of Fulop.?

This mutual appreciation stems from what Gajewksi calls his frustration over ?what was coming out of City Hall.?

?I?m always saying someone has to do something about it. And I guess I?m the guy who has to do that something,? he said.

While the former police chief began fund-raising in 2011, bringing about speculation that he might try to run for the At-Large seats in November?s special election (he opted not to), the campaign infrastructure afforded a candidate on the richest slate to date means so much more. If this run is three years in the making, his frustration is much longer than that.

?Really, for most of this past decade, I?ve seen a lot of things going on in city government that have been embarrassing,? he says, referring to Operation Bid Rig, the FBI sting that netted 15 Jersey City politicians including some working for Mayor Jerramiah Healy. ?When I leave the state, people are always asking me which politician got arrested recently.?

But the crime Gajewksi hears most about is the kind that directly affects a neighborhood?s safety, not pride in their politicians.

You might find Gajewski circling the Ward on his bike, where he says he keeps hearing about how bad crime is.

?There?s a lot of street violence in my ward,? says Gajewski, who was inducted into the Evidence-Based Policing Hall of Fame at Virginia?s George Mason University in 2011. ?When you talk to people in the streets, they?re concerned about things like shots being fired. People are concerned about coming out of their house in certain areas.?

Yet this narrative flies in the face of crime stats coming out of Trenton, where crime appears to be trending down in the city as a whole, and where the homicide-rate is lower than it?s ever been. And while both Police Chief Tom Comey and Healy say they?d love to implement community policing, it?s simply impossible due to budget constraints and the high-rate of retiring officers.

Knowing all this doesn?t mean Gajewski is convinced by the numbers or the explanation. With the caveat that the police department is ?doing a good job,? he says bad shots and good doctors are often the difference between a homicide and a shooting. The real story is that residents don?t feel safe, and that means a ?commitment? to community policing, that seemingly fabled approach to policing where police were seamlessly integrated into a neighborhood.

And if At-Large Councilman Rolando Lavarro?s attempt at enforcing a law requiring a police operational review to be undertaken every four years won?t pass at the council level ? blocked by Healy?s supporters, as it turns out ? Fulop and friends might as well get someone who can do some of that himself, which Gajewski said he?ll do if elected.

While Gajewski said he couldn?t comment on specifics of what that would entail without looking at a table of operations, he could point to his C.V.

?When I was chief, there were a number of things we developed to move the officers away from doing some administrative tasks so they could go out and do police work. There?s not one thing in particular to change,? he continues, ?I just know we can do better.?

Comey has maintained that when community policing was in effect, the police department?s ranks had about 200 more police officers than they do now. With the number the department has and the budget constraints in a tough economy, other solutions need to be considered beyond adding additional officers to community policing tactics.

And as for that baggage that comes with Fulop?s secret BOE meeting in May 2011, Gajewski says it?s nothing to be worried about.

?It?s the schools, that?s why people I know have left Jersey City,? he says. ?There are a lot of good teachers, but the way the school district was run was a failure. I don?t understand why someone would have a problem with someone trying to make the system better.?

Rick Johnson ? Jerry Walker?s Ticket

Rick Johnson may not have the police chief cred rival candidate Gajewski has, but after years at the Hudson County Department of Corrections helping ex-offenders get back on their feet, he has an idea or two about solutions to the city?s crime and the challenge facing residents looking to reintegrate into society.

For Johnson, support of Second Chance programs isn?t based an abstract idea ? they are an integral part of his life?s work.

Hudson County?s Community Reintegration program, he says, ?is the number 1 program in the nation,? a clear point of pride for Johnson. Nor is his mission to beat recidivism based solely in working hours: Johnson runs a life- and job-skills program for ex-offenders at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church after work on Monday nights and again on Saturday mornings.

Born and raised in Jersey City, Johnson echoes a common concern among candidates: the sense of community that once existed in the city has changed for the worse, and as a result of the loss of after school and recreational opportunities, ?there?s nothing for kids to do.? No jobs and no fun means kids have to find their own way to make money and to have fun. That, sometimes, leads to crime.

?Without some type of program or opportunity for kids and adults to find work, they?ll go back to what they were doing, like selling drugs,? he explains. ?In the words of my pastor, show them they can go another way.?

If Johnson?s focus on these programs sound familiar, it?s because two mayoral candidates ? Ward E Councilman Steve Fulop and nonprofit head Jerry Walker ? have criticized the mayor for not doing enough (For his part, Healy says he has expanded recreation opportunities).

But the facts remain, jobs are scarce in Jersey City, much as they are throughout the state, where unemployment is higher (9.3%) than the national average (7.7%).

In fact, Johnson was previously a Fulop supporter, but grew disenchanted with the candidate after claiming to have heard him say he would eventually run for something else after being mayor of Jersey City. Fulop, for his part, has repeatedly maintained that, should he win, he would not leave a position early and is not using the mayoralty as a stepping stone for higher office.

Johnson, who intended to run as an independent, says he ran into Walker when he was picking up petitions. The two knew each other from living and working in the city, and after getting to talking about what they hoped to accomplish, it was clear there was a match in the works.

And if the lack of opportunities for the city?s youth is leading them astray, then the lack of options for seniors is making life unbearable. Visiting senior center Cherrywood, Johnson learned that there were no public transit options. ?In Hoboken they have a bus that goes around and picks up seniors to take them to the mall,? said Johnson of a service offered a few times a week. ?But we don?t have anything like that here.?

Incidentally, that same problem is true for the area?s youth who can?t easily get to places like the Boys and Girls Club of Jersey City, which is why another should be opened in his Ward, or else the city should ?subsidize? additional bus routes.

?Kids crowd around corners like a wolf pack,? he says. ?It turns away business because people are afraid to go in. This is not fair to business owners. They?re paying high taxes for what? So kids can hang out in front of the business and they lose sales when people are afraid to go in??

But that, he says, is only true for part of Ward A. Where it?s not true? Port Liberte, which he describes as a development for people who are mostly ?from out of town.?

?Cops patrol there, but not here. If you go down to Ocean Avenue, it?s like night and day,? he says.

Jayson Burg ? Independent

Jayson Burg is a man of words. He has his self-styled aphorisms, some of which get tangled by their impromptu nature. ?We don?t need the status quo, we need the current quo,? he says. By this he means we don?t need things to be the way they?ve been; instead, we ought to create a new way for things to be.

Sometimes he creates his own acronyms, a favorite of which is a bit misleading. When he says he stands for RATS, he means the opposite of what intuition might lead one to believe (RATS, it turns out, stands for respectability, accountability, transparency, and sustainability).

Other times he simply uses well-tread expressions, such as when he describes himself as a ?one man army.?

But no matter how one parses his language, what remains clear for Burg is his commitment to playing the role of civic instigator. A regular attendee at Council meetings, Burg is known for taking up every opportunity afforded to the public to speak so he can make sure a proposed ordinance meets his RATS standards. If the Council sometimes seeks irked, all the better ? Burg sees it as the public?s duty to ask questions, and he leads by example.

Burg is an outsider?s outsider. It?s not just Healy, who he says is as inaccessible to the public as ?Fort Knox,? and Fulop ? ?untrustworthy,? he says, pointing to the controversial secret meeting with Education Commissioner Chris Cerf ? who he can?t support for mayor. It?s also true for Walker, many independents? choice. Not so for Burg, who says only the longest-of-long shots, Abdul Malik, is deserving of his vote. Walker, after all, is working with state monitor Cathy Coyle, a move that makes Walker part of the ?interlopers? from the state looking to control things in the city.

?I have nothing against the candidates,? he says. It?s just that he?s trying to hold them up to higher standards. ?We need more from them,? he adds.

A lifelong professional educator and librarian in the Newark and Kearny school systems, Burg?s latest educational outreach is on the issue of sustainability. Burg was not only one of the first people to sign up for the adopt-a-lot program, he also sought a Jersey City Energy committee, which would focus on getting Jersey City?s energy needs from as many sustainable sources as possible. Though the idea never caught traction with city officials, he has not given up his efforts to green the city.

?I want to build a vertical farms program,? he says of a recent trend in urban farming that best utilizes limited space while greening the city both aesthetically and environmentally. Burg envisions using whatever is grown in these farms to help feed the city?s neediest.

It?s this adaptive reuse of space that fits into Burg?s good governance mantra. ?There are four things in government I can?t stand,? he says, a list that can fall under the umbrella of wastefulness. According to Burg, government needs to eliminate apathy, the wasteful duplication of government services (Burg is among those who contend the Jersey City Incinerator Authority and Department of Public Works overlap and should be combined into one agency), a lack of cooperation between agencies, and ?perpetuating the insanity of institution.?

There is space for ideas in this city, he says, if only city officials would be proactive. Instead, too much responsibility has fallen to citizens to find the solution themselves. The city?s adopt-a-lot program has enabled residents to take it upon themselves to clean blighted areas of the city. In fact, Burg says his adopted lot, located at 81 Garfield Avenue, had been ?neglected? for almost twenty years before he worked hard to erase at least one eyesore.

This Broken Windows-type theory is the basis for his quality of life solution: bringing life back to areas that have been ceded to either the blind spots of public neglect or gangs will solve crime, he insists. If it?s not safe to bring children to many of the area?s parks, the problem won?t be solved by letting ?the gangs stay there.? If the police can be at the parks all the time, they can improve them, which in turn would encourage residents to return. ?Our neighbors can be the eyes for the police? and report ?any unsavory activities they see,? he says.

Lori Hennessey ? an Independent

Although Lori Hennessey, the fifth and final candidate in Ward A, is running as an independent, it?s not because she?s looking for drastic change. She sees a need for a drastic improvement in government response to public needs.

?My main thing is, whatever people?s concerns are, that?s what I?m concerned about,? says Hennessey.

Like the other candidates, Hennessey sees crime and quality of life as interrelated. Improving parks, stopping kids from ?throwing fireworks or broken bottles,? says Hennessey, can all be solved by having more ?cops on the streets.?

The cops, she adds, have ?more important things to do? than focus on quality of life issues, but police walking the neighborhoods will go a long way towards stopping this by itself. ?If there were more cops on the streets, they could address less important issues for lack of a better word? by simply being around. Hennessey notes that there are fewer cops today than four years ago, which Comey has said is the reason why foot patrols are less common.

This is equally true of the area?s business areas, such as the shopping plaza on Danforth Avenue, which ?is always a big mess.? Cleaning this up would go a long way towards helping the area?s businesses.

A pre-Kindergarten teacher at P.S. 28, Hennessey?s professional life began working at a mutual fund company before she turned to teaching and her focus on community needs. On top of teaching and campaigning, Hennessey is also taking night classes for a master?s degree in education, which she expects to complete in June.

Although Hennessey does say she has a ?mayoral preference,? she prefers not to say who she?ll be voting for. ?Whoever stays or becomes mayor, I?ll work directly with them.? But being independent means she has ?no agenda, I don?t owe anybody? for their support.

That doesn?t mean she has no connection to the power structure in place, having been backed by Healy when she successfully ran to become a Jersey City Democratic Organization committee person four years ago.

Hennessey has also worked with Sottolano in her capacity as a committee member to identify who was responsible for knocking down fences along Route 440. It was in hunting down the people responsible ? calling residents for clues and helping people get reimbursements to help replace their fences ? that Hennessey got an inkling of a Councilwoman?s responsibility.

?I?ve worked as a liaisan between Mike [Sottolano] and residents,? she adds, saying the Councilman did a ?fine job? over the past eight years. ?I just think people need a bigger voice and I can be that voice for them.?

So far it?s been mostly a solo effort for Hennessey. Although she has a few friends helping her out, there?s no campaign infrastructure, no literature, and no money. Rather, she?s relying on her energy to get the word out.

?I?m sure every candidate is more than capable,? she said. But it?s not enough to simply want to do ?what?s best for the community.?

?I?m young, I know what people want, and I can make a big difference for them,? she says of her ?big voice? which she uses to ?get things done.?

Some of those ideas will have to wait, she says, as right now she?s ?more focused on getting elected.? Once she?s got that part down she can spend more time ?focusing on what I want to try to help get done.?

Already she knows seniors need help. ?They compalin that no one does anything for them. People come around for signatures,? she says of the election process. But after their names are on candidate petitions, the government presence ends. ?Talking to them struck something with me. I didn?t like [how they were being treated and I] wanted to help them.?

Posted on: 2013/4/23 17:35

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