WAYNE, NJ – Candidates for four of the six Wayne ward council seats sat together to answer questions from their constituents in their first and only group forum hosted by the Wayne League of Women Voters. For the most part, the event was very civil and respectful, but there were a few remarks made that were contentious during the evening.

This was not a debate. The forum format allowed each candidate an opening remark, a chance to respond to questions with equal time and a closing remark.  The candidates were arrayed along the long, curving council table at the back of the chamber.

The Ward Two candidates were Republican incumbent Councilman, Al Sadowski and Democrat challenger Dianne Douthat who sat on the far right of the council table. Next to them were the candidates for Ward Three: Republican incumbent Councilman and current President of the Wayne Town Council, Franco Mazzei sitting next to his challenger, Democrat Karen Dowicz-Haas.

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In the center, was the League of Women Voter’s host for the forum, Louise Davis, who read the questions to the candidates and kept the event on track.

Next to Davis, were three candidates for Ward Four: Budget Hawk candidate Chris Smith, Republican incumbent Councilman Joe Scuralli, and Democrat Ken Tahan. While on the left end of the table were the two Ward Five candidates, Democrat Fran Ritter and incumbent Councilwoman Aileen Rivera.

Absent were candidates from Wards One and Six.

Because of the League of Women Voter’s forum rules, a candidate cannot participate in the forum unless their opponent is also present. Republican incumbent Councilman for Ward One, Richard Jasterzbski could not attend, saying he had a conflicting family event.  This meant that Democratic candidate, Arlene Sullivan could not join in.  Republican incumbent Councilman Jonathan Ettman is running unopposed in Ward Six, and because of this could not join the forum. Ettman and Sullivan sat in the audience and listened.

During opening statements, each candidate introduced themselves, gave background as to their experience, careers and family life and spoke of why they were running. Then seven questions were read by Davis and each candidate had one minute to answer. Lastly, closing remarks were made by each with a two-minute time limit.

The event was civil except for a few barbs thrown back and forth between candidates. 

The one statement that drew a gasp from the crowd came from Rivera during her closing remarks: “With regard to my opponent, the sole purpose that she is running for council is because she wants our town, you the taxpayers, to subsidize Brittany Chase repairs that are in the millions of dollars. Her agenda is self-serving.”

A look of shock stole over Ritter’s face at the remark. Ritter is the current President of the Brittany Chase Condominium Association and she took the high road as she replied to Rivera in her closing remarks: “That is completely off base,” Ritter said. “If I were to be lucky enough to serve this community as the next Ward Five Council, and if there were any matters that would have to be taken by my trustees with respect to the township, as I would do ethically, I would recuse myself.” Directing her next remark to Rivera, she said: “As you would too, if you were faced with the same situation in your home-owner association.”

When the question of addressing high property taxes came up earlier in the evening, Scuralli admonished a few of the democrat candidates. “If you’re going to run for town council, you should know how the government works,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that only 20 cents on the dollar goes to the township of Wayne.”

Scuralli was referring to the distribution of Wayne’s property taxes. According to Rivera, 53% of collected property taxes goes to the Board of Education, 26% goes to the County of Passaic and only 20% goes to the Township.

“You’re paying 73 million dollars a year to the county,” said Scuralli. Then he challenged anyone listening: “Can you name three things that you get for that? Why is the county sucking more dollars out of your paycheck every year than Wayne township needs to fund its own operations? Blaming the township for all these other entities that collect; It makes no sense.”

The theme from the Democratic candidates seemed to center around a few items. One was a lack of transparency. Douthat commented: “People are concerned that there are deals being done in this town without residents’ knowledge or input.” Though, Sadowski had already said: “If people think there are back-room deals going on, well I must not be invited to those meetings. Because all the work that I do is done out in the open right here in this room.”

Another issue brought up by several Democrat candidates was that the current council did not listen or communicate with the residents of Wayne, bringing up the lack of dialogue during the format of town council meetings, and that the only chance residents had to speak at these meetings occurred “after 10:00pm.” 

Ritter stated: “What seems to be missing at the council meetings is the town.” The Democrat solution is to change the format of the meetings to allow for the public portion to occur earlier and to allow more back and forth between the public and the council during the meetings.

Scuralli addressed this in his usual fact-of-the-matter tone and facial expression: “We have a lot of the people’s business to conduct at meetings. We have meetings twice a month, we have to pay a tremendous amount of bills, we have to pass ordinances, we have to deal with emerging issues. There is time for the public during the public portion, but the most important thing that we have to do is keep the township going and we accommodate all of those things in our meetings.”

Smith, the independent candidate for Ward Four sided with the Democrats on this issue, saying: “Open dialogue at the meetings is the most critical of things. Being allowed to voice a difference of opinion among council members can lead to openness and transparency.”

The Republican candidates voiced their conviction that they listen to their constituents through their accessibility, with all of them echoing what Rivera said on the topic: “Whenever any resident has reached out to us to ask us questions publicly, we’ve answered the questions and if we don’t have the information, we get back to them, and we’re available at any time.”

Democrat candidates Haas, Douthat and Ritter mentioned harassment and bullying of residents during the town council meetings. Ritter said: “It seems to be a common occurrence that this is a time for certain of our councilmen to use the closing remarks for these meetings as a way, in a manner to verbally abuse our residents instead of taking care of the issues of this town, and it’s disgraceful.” 

Haas stated: “I think they’re not treated properly sometimes. It seems disrespectful to me the way it’s been going, and I would like to see that improved.”

While Douthat, in her closing remarks, said: “I will not be silent when I witness harassment, intimidation or bullying perpetrated by members of this Town Council.”

No Republican candidate addressed these challenges in any of their remarks.

There were seven questions asked by the public during this forum and TAPinto Wayne will use continuing articles to provide the answers to all of these questions from the candidates at the forum as well as from Councilmen Ettman and Jasterzbski, and Ward One Democrat Candidate Sullivan who did not participate in this forum.

The candidates forum was broadcast live on Wayne Cable channel 77, but it was brought to TAPinto Wayne’s attention that the first fifteen-minutes did not show during the live showing. There is no on-demand recording online, and the Wayne Township Clerk’s office could not say when the event will be re-broadcast, though Peggy Yates, the President of the League of Women Voters said that the event would be re-broadcast twice before the election.

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All are welcome to use the TAPinto Wayne “Letters to the Editor” section to voice their opinions on any of the candidates forum answers.  This can be accessed by clicking on the “Submit Content” link in small green letters near the upper right of any Tapinto Wayne page. Publication of these letters are at the sole discretion of the Editor.