PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield’s League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum on Wednesday at Emerson Community School in advance of the June 5 primary election.
Participants included First Ward incumbent Diane Toliver and newcomer Ashley Davis. Joylette Mills-Ransome and challenger Cameron Cox, who was recently elected to the Plainfield Board of Education, are seeking the Second & Third Ward At-Large seat.
Opening remarks from Toliver and Davis:
Opening remarks from Mills-Ransome and Cox:
The candidates were asked about the most important city issue they want the council to tackle.
Toliver said constituents are very concerned about property taxes, especially seniors, while Davis said she’d like to see the revitalization of the business districts. Mills-Ransome said she wants the council to stay the course in continuing the renaissance that is already happening. Cox noted, “an honest and true diversity of thought."
On controlling budget costs, Cox said the council needs to take a deeper look at shared services. Mills-Ransome countered in her remarks, stating that there are already shared services in place, and noted that the city applies for grants to fulfill services that are needed.
Davis said the council needs to work on being more efficient and structured, while Toliver said the budget needs to be fine tuned to provide more for seniors and youth in the city.
Quality of life issues were addressed a few times over the course of the evening.
Davis said keeping street lights lit in the city is imperative, and she would speak directly to residents to learn what other issues they want addressed. She would also work to hold PMUA accountable.
Mills-Ransome said when she sees a street light out, she notes the pole number and forwards it to PSE&G. (You can report a street light outage here.)
Cox noted that the reestablishment of neighborhood organizations would help address may quality of life issues, and Toliver said, "It starts with ourselves."
Candidates were asked about actions that can be taken to improve downtown. Cox said that the current administration has had a difficult time in attracting big businesses, and Toliver said, "We need large retailers."
Mills-Ransome said the department of economic development has received grants for its sign and facade program, and quite a few small businesses have recently opened.
Davis said, "To improve downtown, we have to go downtown and patronize businesses."
Candidates were asked about next steps for Plainfield Vision 2025, the 2017 initiative that involved residents from across the city. Cox said people he talks to feel like it's gone nowhere. Mills-Ransome said the report is on the city's website, but wasn't sure of its current status.
Davis said she has read the comprehensive report that breaks down concerns and needs of citizens, and would work with the PV2025 executive team to see what recommendations can be implemented. "One recurrent theme that seemed to jump out from Plainfield Vision 2025 was communication, so we really need to do a better job making sure that residents know what's going on in the city."
The controversial raises for the mayor and city council were broached, and candidates were asked if they agree with what has been done.
Toliver said, "I was one of the two council members that voted no on Mayor Mapp's $40,000 increase. I was not in disagreement that the mayor didn't deserve a raise, which he did; what I was in disagreement with was the amount of the raise."
"The council deserved a raise as well."
Mills-Ransome said she was in favor of the raises for both the council and the mayor. She said that people in attendance at the council meeting when the vote took place spoke in favor of a raise for the council, but were concerned about the percentage of the increase. "The council actually passed one-third of what had originally been noted for them. That was in line with listening to the constituents who came to the mike."
"As far as the mayor, the statement 'part-time' is definitely a misnomer." Mills-Ransome added, "He has done tremendous work in rebranding Plainfield and having developers come to the city." She listed other accomplishments achieved under Mapp's leadership.
Cox called the mayor's raise unconscionable.
Candidates were asked if their campaigns had received more than $300 from city vendors since the pay-to-pay legislation had been rescinded last year.
Cox, Toliver and Davis said they had not received amounts in excess of that amount; Mills-Ransome said she would have to check with her treasurer.
The moderator posed a question about Muhlenberg, asking candidates for their ideas to attract medical services back to Plainfield if the court allows deed restrictions.
Cox said, "Honestly, that is a very tough question." He said the city needs to attract some type of medical center, something akin to Summit Medical Center.
Mills-Ransome said the city is in the process of formalizing the agreement with Hackensack-Meridian, and those services that are offered by the Meridian group, like dialysis and urgent care, cannot be offered by the developer. "We are looking to bring some medical services back in the form of a medical mall."
She added, "You will not see a hospital again."
Toliver said she found it very disturbing that when Muhlenberg closed, the city did not take advantage of negotiating with JFK. "As I said once before, they should have made it a municipal complex."
Davis added, "I would be fully in support of a medical mall which would provide medical services for the residents of this city."
Closing remarks from Toliver and Davis:
Closing remarks from Mills-Ransome and Cox:
Union County offices in Elizabeth and Westfield will stay open until 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 2 to accommodate anyone seeking a vote-by-mail ballot. Read more.
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