SUMMIT, NJ – As Election Day looms, Andy Smith is excited.
The Summit resident is running for Union County Freeholder, a Republican trying to get elected to a board that has been entirely Democrat for 15 years. He and his running mate, Edwin Ortiz, are aware that their campaign is an uphill battle, but that doesn’t faze Smith, who says the facts speak for themselves: Union County government is corrupt and needs an overhaul.
And what has Smith excited is that the more people he talks to, the more people he realizes agree with him on the need for change, and for accountability, at the county level.
Smith lives in Summit with his wife Kathryn, and their three kids. He has been a member of the Summit Health Board, adjunct general of the American Legion, and vice chair of the Summit Republican City Committee.
“During that time, one of the people who got me involved in politics was (Summit Common Council member) Ellen Dickson,” Smith said. “She ran for freeholder last year, and I started paying attention to what was going on in county. That’s when I decided to run for freeholder.”
Smith, an attorney and veteran, calls what’s going on in Union County “amazing.”
“The city of Summit sends more money to the county than any other, so more of our property taxes are going to the county than to run the city,” he said. “And to me, there’s something wrong with that. We’re giving many times what others are giving to county, and we’re not getting those dollars reinvested in Summit.”
Smith said the communities of which the current freeholders are members get the majority of dollars.
“But that aside, the simple matter is we have an extremely bloated county budget,” he said. “It’s gotten way out of control.”
Part of the issue, Smith believes, is that it has been a one-party board – all Democrats – for 15 years. That kind of single-party ruling can too easily lead to a lack of checks and balances, and the resulting problems are serious.
Smith points to the MusicFest issue as an example. The prosecutor investigated the event, held annually for the past 14 years, and found that the record-keeping was shoddy, vendors had been overpaid and money was missing.
“The county claimed it cost $440,000, when in reality, it cost $1.1 million,” Smith said. “It’s the classic case of the fox watching the henhouse.”
Another example of poor governance is the Union County Alliance, he said, which files erroneous tax returns and is managed by the sister-in-law of a freeholder who is never in the office and never returns phone calls.
“They spend $350,000 a year to do that,” Smith said. “And these aren’t reports we’re generating as angry Republicans, these are news stories. There’s a lot that’s going on in terms of waste, nepotism, corruption.”
Smith is running with Edward Ortiz and said that even if voters don’t agree with them 100 percent on every issue, he hopes people see the need for another voice on the board.
“We’re just looking to bring in a new voice, a new perspective, to hold them accountable for their actions,” Smith said. “There are a lot of things that need to happen on the freeholder board, and we have a plan for how we want to do that, how we want to bring about those changes that Union County so desperately needs.”
Smith said there was a debate in October in Plainfield, and that’s when it became clear that the present freeholders have no plans to relieve the county’s tax burden. Smith said he asked several times about that and other issues, and no one on the present board even responded.
“When people start looking at what’s going on in the county, I think they’re starting to get it,” he said. “I really think our message is resonating with people. We’re excited.”