CRANFORD, NJ – On Tuesday, Nov. 3, voters will go to the polls to elect three members of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The incumbent Democrats Mohamed Jalloh, Al Mirabella, and Bruce Bergen will look to secure their bid for re-election despite criticism from Republicans Richard Fortunato, Rene Dierkes, and Joseph Bonilla.

At the Union County Freeholders Candidates’ Forum held in Cranford on Sept. 30, the six candidates were given the opportunity to debate several topics prior to the election.

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The League of Women Voters of New Jersey hosted and moderated the debate, fielding questions from Union News Daily editor Patrick Bober and TAPinto Publisher Mike Shapiro. 

While the candidates did agree on topics such as the proposed one-seat ride transit system between Union County and New York City, they did butt heads on topics involving spending.

Republicans did not hesitate to remind the audience of taxes that have risen in the past 20 years under the “Democratic machine.” Fortunato (R) pointed toward statistics revealing Union County as the 7th highest taxed county in the U.S.

“Give me your credit card, and I’ll do great things for you also,” Dierkes (R) said in his opening comments.

Bruce Bergen (D) shed light on the $1.5 million awarded to all 21 municipalities through the County’s Infrastructure Grant program and blamed the State’s lack of funding over six years for lack of services and increased taxes residents have experienced.

When asked if services performed by the county could be better performed by local or State government, the Democrats defended the impact of shared services in Union County, while Republicans suggested improvements.

Fortunato (R) agreed that parks, jails, the SWAT team, and certain other items are better performed at the county level.

Bonilla (R), with ten years of law enforcement experience, suggested to cut spending by merging the Sheriff’s Department and Union County Police just as Bergen County successfully did in March of 2015.

Jalloh (D) noted that the State is too big to deal with some of the issues in Union County, while Bergen (D) reminded the panel that each municipality has volunteer EMS services at no cost and Union County has its own ambulances available for emergencies.

In their concluding remarks, Democrats noted they will continue to partner with local police departments to reduce crime rates, create jobs, and improve the quality of life in Union County, standing by the decisions they have made in office.

The Republicans expressed the frustration they have experienced and overheard, promising to look out for the citizens of Union County and putting the interests of residents first while reducing taxes.

Voters can watch the entire debate on Cranford TV35.