"Run with Cory" Booker Route Altered as Caldwell College Controversy Brews: Durkin Blames Dassing

Credits: Cheryl O'Brien
Credits: Cheryl O'Brien

CALDWELL, NJ – “Run with Cory,” a casual one-mile run open to the public, starting at Academy Road and ending at Gelotti Ice Cream of Caldwell took place Friday night. Sen. Cory Booker provided an introduction to the run and was available to speak with and take photos with residents at Gelotti’s.

Originally, the run was scheduled to begin at Caldwell University but the school reneged its plan to host the starting location.

“I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to highlight the great town of Caldwell as we have recently welcomed the governor several times in the past,” said Caldwell Township councilman and chairman of Public Works and Utilities, Edward Durkin. “I believe all of our state and federal officials should always have a warm welcome to the borough of Caldwell.”

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According to Durkin who organized the event, Caldwell University agreed to be the starting location for the run. However, Durkin received word from the school that they were going to renege their involvement because Mayor Ann Dassing contacted them and said hosting the run could be “hurtful” to the school.

Additionally, Durkin said he was informed that the mayor and her family have a “deep involvement at the school.”

“As a two-time alum of the university, and fellow elected town official I'm outraged that the mayor interfered with this great event,” said Durkin.

“We were able to reroute the start of the event to Grover Cleveland Middle School,” said Durkin. “I was informed by my police chief that someone contacted the Board of Education and that since we did not have permission we could not use the school property.”

“I hope the mayor did not use her influence as mayor and a board of trustee of the Caldwell Education Foundation to interfere with our start location once again,” added Durkin.

When questioned about her involvement in having Caldwell University removed from the Booker walk route, Dassing stated, "I had nothing to do with that, that is a false statement. I didn't have anything to do with it being switched."

When asked by TAP into West Essex why the university decided not to be the starting point for the run, director of media relations at Caldwell University Colette M. Liddy said, “We first learned about the event late Monday afternoon and it appeared to be okay, but the next day we learned it was being promoted by a political party.”

“We are a 501©(3) organization, therefore we must follow restrictions regarding political activity,” added Liddy.

Liddy said the decision to withdraw was “absolutely not” due to Booker and his political party or the mayor’s influence.

“This was something that once we learned was being promoted by people running for office in town and promoting on Facebook, we could not go forward. We have to follow restrictions,” said Liddy.

“This all started with good intentions but petty politics had to get involved,” said Durkin.

“We had a great turnout, said Durkin. “This is a beneficial event for all of Caldwell.”

Caldwell resident John Schaeffer said, “I really like how Cory Booker comes to the town to get to know everyone.”

“Tonight is not about politics, it’s about community,” Booker said. “I want to thank folks for coming out.”

When asked by TAP into West Essex staff what is his favorite aspect of participating in events such as this one, Booker said, “I love that I get the chance to meet a lot of people in the community.”

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