BAYONNE, NJ - Although technically the incumbent councilman in the Nov. 5 special election for the First Ward Council seat, Neil Carroll III perhaps has the most to prove.
Bearing the name of his legendary political grandfather, Carroll starts his political career with big expectations. “I know I have big shoes to fill,” he said.
Carroll was appointed to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Tom Cotter last December, picked from a pool of 17 possible candidates – a show of confidence by those politically aligned with Mayor Jimmy Davis.
A teacher in the Bayonne school district, Carroll said he has learned a lot over the last 10 months and believes he brings both lessons gleaned from his grandfather and ideas of his own.
Carroll, a one-time aide to Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea and Bayonne Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, brings some of his own experiences to the position as well, he reminds voters regularly.
One of the things Carroll said he learned from his grandfather is how to be accessible to the public.
“My grandfather told me that you don’t know what the person across the desk is going through,” Carroll said. This means listening to the concerns raised.
“I have to learn patience,” Carroll said. “I cannot be too quick to react to a situation.”
Living in his grandfather’s house, Carroll has seen firsthand public service in action as well as savvy political strategy.
“My grandfather told me to accomplish things you need to build coalitions,” Carroll said.
But Carroll comes into the election with a number of issues he believes he will need to address over the next three years, including traffic safety, the impact of new development, and the wise use of abatements to help generate new revenue for the city.
He said he likes the idea that Bayonne is attracting new residents who can bring additional resources, not just in tax dollars, but also in spending in local businesses.
Born and raised in Bayonne, Carroll attended St. Andrews Catholic elementary school before attending St. Peter’s Prep and later St. Peter’s University. His BA is in history. His Masters in leadership. “I’m nine credits away from my doctorate,” he said.
If victorious on Nov. 5, Carroll would, at 27 years old, become the youngest elected councilman in Bayonne history.
One of his goals would be to help encourage young people to get involved with public service, he told TAPinto Bayonne. “For a long time, young people have not been involved,” Carroll said, noting that this has resulted in a generation gap in leadership.
“I want to bring together generations,” he said. “This is not about keeping the old down but having everybody work together.”
As a councilman over the last ten months, his phone continues to ring with people seeking answers.
“A lot of people are worried about the revaluation of property,” he said, noting that one of his roles is to ease fears and to educate the public about the process.
He said he believes that new development will help Bayonne grow, and that abatements are a tool to help that growth if done wisely.
Bayonne has already avoided some of the mistakes other towns like Jersey City made, Carroll noted.
“We already share abatement revenues with the schools,” he said. “This is a good thing. I’m a teacher. I see how the money gets spent in the schools.”
One of the single biggest issues facing Bayonne over the last several decades has been the annual budget deficit. At times, the city made one-time deals such as selling the central garage to balance the budget.
Later, the city sold off land on the Military Ocean Terminal. But Carroll said the current administration, has changed that approach, looking instead to reduce the deficit, and made progress.
“Five years ago, the deficit each year was $23 million. Last year it was $13 million,” he said. “I hope by 2022, we can cut that deficit to zero.”
New development is part of the solution, Carroll and his colleagues on the city’s legislative body seem to agree. But the city council must also be aware development brings its own problems such as increased parking. For this reason, he believes that any new project must include a parking space for every residential unit built. He said he is also looking for alternative solutions for increasing parking space in the city, such as a possible agreement with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to use space under the Bayonne Bridge for local parking, as well as possibly using school property off hours for residential parking throughout the city.
Carroll would also approach NJ Transit about development plans to extend the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line from where it currently stops at 8th Street to the foot of the Bayonne Bridge on First Street. He said he would like to see increased service as well since Bayonne residents rely on the trains for local transportation.
Carroll said he hopes to continue his grandfather’s legacy – a legacy that included service as a freeholder and as then aide to five members of the United States Congress.
“My grandfather casts a large shadow. But it is a good one, and I like the idea that I can carry on his legacy and do what he did. But that’s the future. I still have to prove myself. And not all of his ideas are his ideas, I have ideas of my own as well,” Carroll concluded.
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