UNION COUNTY, NJ -- TAPinto has contacted the candidates for Union County Freeholder and offered the opportunity to be profiled in advance of Election Day. Our "Five Questions with..." series is a platform for candidates of both parties to express their views. 

"Five Questions With..."

Name: Richard S. Fortunato

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Current Occupation: Chairman of The Catastrophe Risk Exchange International Inc., a “Software as a Service” provider for the insurance and reinsurance industry

Education: Rutgers College, New Brunswick, BA (1982) (History), and The Fordham University School of Law, JD (1985) (member and associate editor of The Fordham Law Review)

Family: Married to Heba in 1984, three adult sons -- Tom (27), Chris (24), and Jason (20) -- all of whom graduated from the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school system

Years Lived in Union County: 23

1. Why are you running for Union County Freeholder?

I am running for Union County Freeholder because I do not think the current freeholder board is doing a good job.  Our County taxes are too high, County spending and debt levels need to be controlled, and our Freeholders need to be more responsive to the public and more focused on what matters to the residents and less focused on politics and political issues and rewarding their campaign contributors and political cronies.  After almost 20 years of single party representation at the Freeholder board, it is time for a change.

2. What do you believe is the most important issues in Union County? What changes, if any, can we expect to be made if you are elected Freeholder? 

The most important issue now is the high level of real estate taxes our residents pay. Union County residents pay the 7th highest real estate taxes out of the more than 3,100 counties in the U.S. Since 2000, County taxes have increased far more than the rate of inflation. These high taxes effect everyone in the County, no matter where they live, no matter whether they own a home or rent. These taxes effect all businesses in the County, making it harder to start a business here, harder to increase wages and harder for businesses to expand and hire new employees. 

Median income has fallen in Union County by more than $6,000 over the last ten years, partly as a result of the unfavorable business climate here in Union County. If I am elected I will work to control spending, starting with the institution of "zero-based budgeting" and an effort to reduce inefficiencies. If we can get spending under control, we can get taxes under control. Any spending proposal should satisfy two standards – “Is this something which is appropriate for County government to be doing?” and “Should we be spending other people’s money on this?”

3. What's your position on the proposed sports stadium for Rahway River Park? What do you think of the supporters of the opposing view?

I do not support the proposed project at Rahway River Park. Many Rahway and nearby Clark residents object to the project because they fear it will change the character of the park, and I agree with them.

Certainly it is appropriate for the County to maintain and even upgrade from time to time our County parks, and of course I respect those who support the Rahway River Park project.  I am sure that all sides of this issue want to see Rahway River Park (and all our other County parks too) remain a wonderful resource for our Union County residents, especially our families and children.  I would support further discussions among the Freeholders and the County parks department on the one hand and Rahway and Clark residents, on the other hand, to work out a better way to provide additional facilities at the park.   

4. Tell us about your non-government career.   

Prior to becoming the chairman of a Princeton-based small business several years ago, I spent 26 years (19 of them as a partner) in Manhattan at a large international law firm doing corporate finance and commercial and bank lending work. I did not argue cases in court. Instead, I was a transaction lawyer.  This involved dealing with many different kinds of legal issues as well as complicated financial structures, not to mention different types of clients and other parties to each transaction. In every transaction, legal and financial issues had to be balanced with the goals (and personalities) of all the parties involved. The skills I needed in my career would be very useful to me as a Freeholder. We need people on the Freeholder board who can understand the issues, including financial issues, and who can reach across the table towards solutions which work for Union County while at the same time not losing sight of the goal of reducing spending and taxes. 

5. What else would you like to say?

For almost 20 years all of the Freeholders have been from the same political party.  This has led to concerns regarding the awarding of contracts to political contributors, the employment of political cronies on the County payroll and questionable conflict of interest situations with the Freeholders themselves. The Union County political establishment is more concerned with itself than with County residents. New ideas from Freeholders not part of the Union County political machine would start to turn things around at the County – stopping tax increases, getting spending under control and bringing to the people a County government better than it is now. I, and my fellow Republicans running for Freeholder on Column A on the ballot, are the best chance for bringing new ideas to the Freeholder board.