UNION, NJ – The candidates for Township Committee participated in a debate at Town Hall Tuesday night, hosted by the League of Women Voters. All four of the candidates, vying for two Committee seats, were in attendance: Democrats and incumbents Clifton People Jr. and Suzette Cavadas, Republican Ashraf Hanna and Independent Jason Krychiw. Dawn Clarke from the League of Women Voters moderated the debate.
Committeeman People began opening remarks. People has lived in Union most of his life, is a graduate of Union High School and Rutgers University, a retired City of Newark employee, and a Vietnam Veteran.
“As we discuss the issues tonight,” said People, “I want you to understand my commitment to ongoing improvements throughout our town. We have accomplished a great deal.”
“Union has been home to my family for the last 18 years,” said Republican candidate Hanna. “My wife and I raised three children here.”
“I dedicate much of my time to serving my community,” Hanna continued. “I believe the best form of government is one where individuals are able to work across party lines to serve our citizens.”
“My six years as a Committeewoman has been an enlightening experience during which I’ve gotten the chance to truly understand our resident’s needs and let those needs guide me in all my decision making,” said Cavadas.
Cavadas, who has lived in Union for 26 years, has two children attending Union public schools. Cavadas is a practicing attorney and prosecutor. “I am invested in the people, the youth and their potential for success.”
“We need fresh energy, new vision and new ideas to bring change to Union and make us an example to all the towns around us,” said Krychiw. “That’s my vision for Union and that’s what I’ll bring to the Committee if elected.”
“I’ve lived in Union my entire life,” continued Krychiw. “I’m a product of the public school system here. I know its people. I know its businesses. I know its business owners.” Krychiw served two years on the Recreation Advisory Committee, two years on the Mayor’s Alliance against Drug Abuse, and one year on the Board of Health.
The moderator and audience provided questions to the candidates on a variety of topics including economic development, diversity, improving relationships and communication between the Township and its residents, and how to reduce crime and engage the Township’s youth.
Regarding economic development, Cavadas said she would continue to focus on economic development by seeking new businesses to invest in Union and continue to maintain and grow relationships with current business owners. “In the past few years alone, we have brought over 3,000 jobs. Today many existing businesses have remained and expanded, such as Deep Foods and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Others have chosen to open their business in Union, such as Marshall’s.
On the issue of reducing taxes while maintaining the quality of life, Krychiw said he would save the township money by “efficient, modernization of the techniques and services already being done in town.” He cited road paving as an example, using infra-red paving. “The increase in revenue for the town becomes a tax break for the citizens.”
Union has almost 58,000 residents of various socio-economic, religious and racial backgrounds. Clarke asked the candidates about promoting diversity and improving on the quality of life.
Committeeman People, elected the first African-American to the Township Committee in 2008, said “whether the nationality is African-American, South American, Caribbean or Asian, there exists a common thread that fosters itself in Union. I think it’s a testament to the diversity and commonality we have throughout this town.”
Asked how the candidates would improve the relationship and communication between the Township administration and residents, Hanna said, “the most important thing is the transparency of the Township to the citizens of the Township.” He said budget meetings should be held in the evenings so more people can attend and department heads should attend the township meetings and present their accomplishments and achievements.
Moderator Clarke asked the candidates, “if elected, what would be your priority.”
Cavadas responded that she would continue to analyze a more efficient government in Union and “all issues will be on the table and thoroughly examined.”
“My first priority would be savings for the town,” said Hanna. “This would allow us to use the money for other areas to lower taxes.”
Committeeman People answered that development of the town would be his first priority. “We attract a lot of good developers to Union, and I would look at ways to improve that.”
Candidate Krychiw responded that he would implement his “ACT Plan: Accountability, Communication and Transparency.” Krychiw explained Accountability is about the direct election of the mayor. “We need the people to have more say in how the mayor is elected.”
He added, “we need better communication between our reps and our people.”