WEST ORANGE, NJ - Mayor Robert Parisi will face three challengers in the Nov. 4 elections. TAP into West Orange has contacted allmayoral candidates and hopes to publish interviews with all candidates. The first of those interviews was conducted with Rodolfo Rodriguez and is summarized below.
Anyone who followed the 2012 township council elections will be familiar with the name Rodolfo Rodriguez. Two years ago, with the encouragement of his current campaign manager, Rabbi Jerry Altman, he started putting together a team to explore a run for public office. His first attempt was for a seat on the council; a campaign he says was targeted more at getting his name into the public spotlight than at sitting on the council.
Though he lost his bid, Rodriguez says the campaign worked at raising his profile and he believes that public displeasure with the council at the time was strong enough that if he’d invested more in the campaign he would now be on the council. “We didn’t raise any money,” he says, “but if we had, we would have won.” He said he believes that residents are still unhappy and that his experience as a manager will help right the ship.
Rodriguez is the Dietary Director for Alaris Health, a large health center operator that specializes in post-hospital rehabilitation and long-term and specialty care. Along with his wife, Mercedes, he owns and operates Fogon Latino, a fast food restaurant downtown that caters to local workers and businesses. It is the downtown, along with several other issues, that Rodriguez says has pushed him to run for office.
“The first thing you think of when you want to go to a restaurant, you think of Montclair,” says Rodriguez. “Why?” Rodriguez added that getting business permits in West Orange takes too long and that many businesses are uninterested in the township because of the ongoing battles over redevelopment.
Rodriguez believes that West Orange residents are also unhappy with the mayor the council, high property taxes and an unsafe corridor along Pleasant Valley Way. He hopes to renew the downtown as a means of increasing the tax base and easing the burden on local residents.
“If you encourage business to succeed, it will create taxe [revenues],” Rodriguez said, “That will reduce the burden on the homeowners. But if no one wants to come to West Orange because of the regulations, then things won’t change.”
Rodriguez said that ideally, the Edison Battery Factory would be a part of a more diversified downtown redevelopment driven by new businesses that would populate the area and not add to the population of the school system, something he said the current redevelopment plans would do, burdening local tax payers further still.
“Each student costs us $21,000,” said Rodriguez, “If we add 600 apartments down the hill it will add more students that the schools can handle. Our schools are already overpopulated. [These new students would] necessitate the creation of another school.”
Rodriguez said, “Businesses don’t send kids to school,” and that they would add more to the tax base than the current plan, which grants tax abatements to Prism Capital Partners, LLC, the downtown redeveloper.
Rodriguez said that ideally, he would take away Prism’s contract when he becomes mayor, but admits, “I don’t know if I would have the power to take away the contract. It’s in the [State] Supreme Court. There’s nothing nobody can do about it.” Rodriguez was referring to the current litigation filed against the town council by five local residents who object to the town issuing bonds to help pay for infrastructure improvements at the Edison Battery Factory site. Rodriguez stated that he is on the side of the plaintiffs in the case.
“The township should not be giving $6 million to Prism,” he said.
Like Councilman Joe Krakoviak and Mayor Robert Parisi, Rodriguez has taken on a running mate. Jean Claude Cenatus is a French teacher at West Orange High School and he appeared at the Sept. 23 council meeting to speak during the public comment portion. He is running for council and he echoed Rodriguez’s disappointment at the pace of downtown redevelopment and said that even West Orange residents are more likely to go elsewhere for their entertainment and food options.
Along with the closely paired issues of downtown redevelopment and property taxes, there is also a public safety angle to Rodriguez’s campaign centered on Pleasant Valley Way and the pedestrian accidents that have plagued the area. He wants to make improvements to the design of that busy corridor to make it safer for local students and seniors.