WEST ORANGE, NJ – The West Orange Township Council Forum sponsored by the West Orange African Heritage Organization was held Oct. 23 at Washington Elementary School to provide the seven candidates running for office on Nov. 4 an opportunity to introduce themselves and respond to questions.
The candidates are: Susan McCartney, current Council President; Victor Cirilo, incumbent; Dr. Akil Khalfani; Jean-Claude Cenatus; Robert Hoatson; Irv Schwarzbaum; and Christopher DarConte. The debate was moderated by Joanna Duncan of WOAHO.
Candidate introductions began the evening, followed by a question and answer session.
McCartney, in addition to serving as current council president, said she initially ran because her graduate thesis was in early educational theories. McCartney then became a member of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce.
“I have a working relationship with various groups in town,” said McCartney.
Cirilo said his family immigrated to the United States in 1985, which gave him a unique perspective on hard work and appreciation for the quality of life enjoyed in West Orange. Cirilo has served as a councilman for four years, and said, “I have a personal understanding of development as I have been involved with public service in West Orange for 14 years.”
Khalfani, who obtained his doctorate degree in sociology from University of Pennsylvania, is a professor of African American studies at Essex Community College and has resided in West Orange for 16 years.
“It is now my decision and responsibility to make a positive change,” said Khalfani.
Cenatus is a ten year resident of West Orange and a French teacher at Roosevelt Middle School, as well as a former SISCO advisory committee member for West Orange High School.
“We will change the history of West Orange by making downtown beautiful,” said Cenatus.
Hoatson is the president of Road to Recovery, Inc., a non-profit charity assisting victims of sexual abuse and their families, and has held multiple roles in educational leadership including the Dean of Undergraduate Education at St. John’s University in New York.
“It was a turning point where I really learned the life, culture and climate of West Orange,” said Hoatson.
Schwarzbaum, a 29 year resident of West Orange, obtained a Masters of Business Administration degree in Finance at New York University and has more than 30 years of experience in operating and advising businesses.
“I decided to run because I was very upset with the status quo,” said Schwarzbaum.
DarConte is the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in prime brokerage technology and has a Masters of Business Administration with concentration in management and management information systems.
“My platform is smart spending,” said DarConte.
Duncan asked the candidates, “How would you address downtown development and how would you bring new business development to West Orange?”
DarConte said, “There is a lot of foot and car traffic and a lot of opportunity for development.”
DarConte also noted the current Prism project, and said we need to bring in a new developer and start the project over.
McCartney said, “I created a chamber spotlight where businesses can create free commercials as well as social networking events to promote new businesses.”
McCartney stressed the township needed to work as a group to address issues.
Hoatson also noted Prism and said, “If you’re not going to develop it, sell it.”
Cirilo said the purpose of an economic development commission is to bring business investors to the area.
“The township has a process for those who do not pay property taxes,” added Cirilo.
Cenatus said, “We will change the history of West Orange with a downtown.” “We will no longer have to increase taxes year after year,” added Cenatus.
Schwarzbaum also mentioned the Prism project in his answer and said, “It is clear that Prism does not have the money and the project does not make sense.”
Schwarzbaum added, “We need to look at tax incentives for people to start businesses.”
Khalfani said, “Now it’s time to bring in a new plan and group to execute a plan successfully.”
Khalfani also stressed the idea that downtown is only a portion of development and that there is a need for “holistic development.”
Rebuttals were allowed, and McCartney said, “West Orange does not own the property in question, Prism does.”
Cirilo said, “This proposal is a vision and there are incentives built in.”
“It is a failed vision and poor planning,” Khalfani responded to Cirilo.
Schwarzbaum noted, “I would argue that they do not want to develop. It is time for us to enforce our rights.”
When asked what is each candidate’s biggest strength and weakness, McCartney said her strength was the ability to assemble a group and form partnerships, and said regarding weakness, "“I don’t have an answer, I’ve been so strong in my years on the council,” said McCartney.
Hoatson said his strength lies in organization and management, and his weakness is patience.
Cirilo said a strength is understanding of public policy and government and his weakness is transparency.
“I am an open book which can be used against me,” said Cirilo.
Cenatus said his strength is his ability to endure. For weakness, Centatus said, “I am always willing to give a second chance, but I am not ready to give a second chance anymore for what is going on in town.”
Schwarzbaum said his strength is as a consensus builder, and his weakness is that he is intolerant of people who make decisions based on individual interest versus that of the greater good.
Khalfani said his strength is finding easy solutions to complex questions, and his weakness is he has a difficult time saying no.
DarConte said the ability to execute a plan is one of his strengths and a weakness is that he is “tough and serious” except when interacting with his daughters.
Candidates were asked how they plan to address wasteful spending. Cirilo said, “We have managed to focus on what is essential. We lowered the budget in 2010 to 2008 levels. We also have to look at shared services with other municipalities.”
Hoatson said, “You have to spend what you bring in. We need to do what is necessary for the residents of the town but do not put any fat into the budget.”
Cenatus said, “If it is necessary, we spend. If it is not, we don’t.”
Schwarzbaum said, “When I go into a business, I ask them to give me ideas that will eliminate cost without reducing personnel.”
Khalfani said, “We need a council that is going to analyze the budget, we need to find out where money has been wasted.”
DarConte said, “We have a reactive policy, we need a proactive policy.”
McCartney said, “My actions speak louder than my words. I supported and introduced a single stream recycling program that saves two million dollars with our new vendor.”
TAP into West Orange has reached out to all township council candidates and asked each one the same four questions as part of an interview series that will appear beginning Oct. 26.
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