MADISON, NJ – There were few areas of disagreement when five candidates for borough council and two candidates for mayor met on Oct. 11 for a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Madison Public Library.
On the dais were the two candidates for mayor: incumbent Republican Mary-Anna Holden and Democrat councilman Robert Conley. On the Republican team for council are former council member Martin Barbato and Robert Lundrigan. Democrat candidates are Carmela Vitale, also a former council member, and Robert McDowell. Sam Cerciello, currently serving on council, is running as an independent, write-in candidate.
A question on the $3.5 million bond for artificial turf fields brought a distinct no from Conley and a yes from Holden. “I’ve made my position very clear for the last four years,” Holden said. “I’m for it.” Conley said he would cast a no vote, although he supports the concept of developing 49 acres. Vitale backed him up. “We can’t spend money we don’t have,” she said. McDowell said it’s a financial decision and approval of a $33million loan would not be appropriate. Republican Barbato said that artificial turf, in the long run, has a break-even cost and is less expensive, with a savings on maintenance. Circiello said he supports the development of fields and that the 49 acres “is for everyone.” He observed, however, that there is no master plan. Landrigan said he would vote yes. “We need them and we should invest in the future,” he said.
All the candidates praised the volunteer commitment in the community. Landrigan emphasized his involvement with the Ambulance Corp and obtaining $71,000 in FEMA reimbursements. “We need to learn to be creative,” Vitale said. “We have fine volunteers and we should utilize that type of energy.” She has also studied to become a certified grants writer, she said. “There’s money out there.” Holden said she encourages volunteers to “run with a project” rather than following top-down direction. Several candidates said that a simple thank you is important.
When asked about public input at council meetings, Barbato responded, “I like this one.” He said that items are introduced with little discussion from the public and two weeks later the council votes. “The council is ready to move, but the town is still catching up,” he said. He said he would make himself available on Saturday mornings to talk to residents, especially between the council meetings.
Other candidates said they would also be available or would hold town meetings. “We should get council meeting dates to the public,” Landrigan said, “and publish what will be discussed.” Vitale added, ”We need to be responsible to those who elect us.” Conley said he had pushed for a change in bylaws to allow the public comment portion of council meetings earlier in the evening. McDowell said he has heard from residents that it’s hard to find financial information on the website.
Electric subsidies for the library, the Trades and Crafts Museum and the Community House also came up. Barbato pointed out that the electric utility is not generating the surplus it did years ago. Landrigan said that organizations should not count on the borough. There are no guarantees,” he said. But Vitale disagreed. “Absolutely, positively. It’s our responsibility,” she said.
All the candidates supported fundraising for the MRC Turf Project of $500,000. “The council has committed to make this happen at no cost to taxpayers. It’s the pride of Madison,” Conley said. Holden said that it’s a private/public partnership with the Madison Athletic Foundation and in 10 years it would pay for itself.
A question from the public ended the evening on a light note. When asked if restaurants could serve wine outside their establishments, Vitale responded, “I would support any glass of wine.” McDowell said, “As long as it’s good Italian wine.” Circiello cautioned that a restaurant should have a liquor license and be accountable. Holden noted that a liquor license in Madison costs $475,000 so this option should not be available to bring-your-own restaurants. Landrigan pointed out that Madison is competing with other municipalities for restaurant patrons. “We have great restaurants and a tremendous downtown,” Conley said.
Barbato observed that Madison has a $25 million operating budget, in addition to its own public utility. “This is like a multi-faceted, mid-size business. The residents are the shareholders and the sole customers,” he said.
Each of the candidates had opening and closing statements, emphasizing their commitment to the community, professional work experience and encouraging residents to vote on Nov. 8.